This week on DVD and Blu-ray brings Edge of Darkness with Mel Gibson, as well as Daybreakers with Ethan Hawke and Legion with Paul Bettany. Plus. we’ve got a dark German serial killer classic, some leg-sweeping fun, and plenty of ribald jokes from Mel Brooks.
Martin Campbell adapted this Mel Gibson vehicle based upon his own highly acclaimed BBC series. If critics didn’t find Edge of Darkness satisfying as a whole, they mostly praised Gibson’s intense performance after a long layoff from the big screen. Gibson stars as Thomas Craven, a Boston detective whose daughter is murdered; reeling with grief, Craven pieces together the details of her killing, and finds that a vast conspiracy is responsible. The DVD and Blu-ray feature interviews with the cast and crew and making-of featurettes.
It sat on the shelf for a year with little explanation, but this vampire redemption story/oil allegory still did pretty well for itself with the critics. Set in a world after humans have been largely exploited to death (sucked dry in bleeding facilities), Daybreakers shows a society of vampires living a civilized, luxurious existence as they manage their blood-lust. When they lose a grip on their daily platelet intake, they turn desperate and become bat-like beasts. With a reputation for good atmospherics and a long production history, it’s no surprise the Blu-ray boasts a pop-up feature that compares animatics to the final film. A commentary with production designer and both directors is included as well as an exhaustive feature length doc about the making of film.
How many British dramatic actors have to buff up to make a good Armageddon actioner? (Answer: more than one.) Legion finds the dashing Paul Bettany (that’s Mr. Jennifer Connelly) protecting a not-so-random truck stop waitress from the armies of the Apocalypse — as the Archangel Michael. We should be surprised to see him with automatic rifles, but religion is highly interpretive here. The film’s far less an engrossing story-arc than a collection strong of visual effects, and that’s what you’ll learn about in the extras. Featurettes “Creating the Apocalypse,” “Bringing Angels to Earth,” and “From Pixels to Picture” should inform the effects-fan, while the Blu-Ray movieIQ+sync lets you find cast and crew info as the film plays.
An early masterpiece of the sound era, Fritz Lang’s shadowy exploration of the criminal underworld in pre-Nazi Germany remains one of the most haunting classics of World cinema. In this procedural thriller, Peter Lorre stars as a serial child killer who finds himself on the run from the cops and organized crime figures. Lang’s grim view of the society around him is reflected in his pitch-black visual style, and many filmmakers in the years since – from David Fincher to Alex Proyas – owe M a debt. The Criterion Blu-ray includes oodles of historical goodies, including the English language version of the film, interviews, documentaries, and newspaper articles from the time of the movie’s release.
Are you the best around? Is anything ever gonna keep you down? Or are you a man who will fight for someone’s honor? Are you the hero that she’ll be dreaming of? Do you dream in getting in fights in the good ol’ USA, or do you pine for fisticuffs in distant, faraway lands? Whatever your mood, there’s a Karate Kid movie to suit your needs. With a reboot hitting theaters this Summer, there has never been a better time to revisit Ralph Macchio’s defining big-screen work, which remain stirring and enjoyable despite their cheesy 1980s trappings. The Karate Kid /The Karate Kid, Part II boxed set on Blu-ray also offers pop-up trivia while the movie plays, and features plenty of making-of documentaries and bonus materials.
An American remake of Akira Kurosawa’s towering masterpiece The Seven Samurai, John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven is no slouch itself — it’s a tense, action-packed Western that transports Kurosawa’s epic from feudal Japan to just south of the border. It also features a rich ensemble cast that includes Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn, among others – needless to say, rarely has gunslinging in the name of social justice looked so cool. If the three sequels don’t quite match the original, they’re still pretty high-quality stuff, and The Magnificent Seven Collection brings the four films together.
Did you ever have a junior high English tutor tell you that those classic plays you had to read (The Odyssey, Oedipus Rex) were all about sex? Mel Brooks took that lesson and ran with it — really far. In spoofing antiquity, Brooks took history and transformed it into one big bawdy joke. Despite plenty of wit and some huge laughs, the execution was a little less consistent here than on classics like Blazing Saddles, so the world never came to know a History of the World Part II (which we can assume would have been mostly poop jokes). This Blu-ray release includes “Making History: Mel Brooks on Creating the World,” but the home version’s real highlight is a running “Real History” track that scrolls along with the film to (ahem) reveal the facts behind these funny, dirty lies.
Hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when Clint Eastwood was best known for the movies he made on European soil. Beginning with A Fistful of Dollars, his work with Italian director Sergio Leone helped redefine the Western. One early attempt to bring the spaghetti Western sensibility to our shores was Hang ‘Em High, the tale of an innocent rancher (Eastwood) who’s sentenced to death in a case of mistaken identity. When our hero escapes the gallows, he makes it his mission to take revenge on those who accused him.
Look, I know you probably don’t care about history, because that’s not where you want to be. However, if you want to get some kicks (preferably while hanging out with cool chicks), you may want to get your hands on the Blu-ray reissue of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, starring everyone’s favorite leather-clad “bruddas,” the Ramones. Roger Corman’s punk rock cult classic is a hearty introduction to the tuneful ruckus of Joey, Johnny, Marky, and Dee Dee, and its profoundly silly plot offers a chance to watch cult heroes like Mary Woronov, Clint Howard, and Paul Bartel in action. This Blu-ray reissue offers commentary tracks from Corman and director Allan Arkush, along with tons of interviews, documentaries, and behind-the-scenes stuff. Gabba gabba hey!
This week at the movies, we’ve got an angry detective (Edge of Darkness, starring Mel Gibson and Ray Winstone) and a Roman holiday (When in Rome, starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel). What do the critics have to say?
It’s been nearly a decade since Mel Gibson has played a leading role onscreen. And critics say the reason Edge of Darkness works as well as it does is Gibson’s presence, which elevates the film above a run-of-the-mill revenge thriller. Based upon the 1980s British TV series of the same name (also directed by Martin Campbell, who helms here), Edge stars Gibson as a Boston detective filled with grief after the murder of his daughter. However, as he investigates, he learns her death is part of a larger conspiracy. The pundits say Gibson is in fine form, delivering a world-weary, compelling performance that mostly makes up for the film’s contrivances. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Gibsons’s best-reviewed films.)
When in Rome attempts to meld romantic comedy and fairy tale tropes into a picturesque travelogue. However, critics say this long-delayed would-be confection is hardly worth the trip — it’s a forced and unconvincing attempt at whimsy that falls flat. Kristen Bell stars as Beth, a single gal who finds herself in a sticky situation: after removing coins from a “fountain of love” in the Eternal City, she’s followed back to New York by a string of obsessed suitors. The pundits say When in Rome is leaden, generic, and occasionally creepy, wasting an excellent cast (including Will Arnett, Anjelica Huston, and Danny DeVito) on a largely laugh-free script.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Finally, we’d like to send a big “EEYEAHH” to King Crunk (WHAT?!) for successfully guessing Legion‘s 17 percent Tomatometer. (OKAY!)
Eight years is an eternity in Hollywood. Why, in 2002, Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond, Nia Vardalos was a budding film mogul, and Ryan Reynolds was still just that guy from National Lampoon’s Van Wilder. It was also the year Mel Gibson starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs, an eventual $400 million hit — and the beginning of an unexpectedly long absence for one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Aside from an appearance in The Singing Detective the following year, Gibson has been uncharacteristically camera-shy for almost a decade now, but all that ends this week, with his starring turn in Martin Campbell’s Edge of Darkness. Seeing Mel return to his action roots has us in a celebratory mood — and what better way to celebrate than a look back at his best-reviewed films? Yes, folks, it’s Total Recall time!
Okay, so maybe there’s still grumbling in the critical community about it taking the Best Picure Oscar. And it may very well have deserved its high ranking in the London Times’ list of the most historically inaccurate movies of all time. Whatever its flaws, though, it takes a special kind of historical epic to hold an audience in thrall for nearly three hours, and that’s exactly what Braveheart did — to the tune of a $210 million worldwide gross and five Academy Awards against a rather incredible 10 nominations. Making his directorial follow-up to 1993’s The Man Without a Face, Gibson initially resisted casting himself as Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace, but once he took the role, he made it his own, infusing what might have been a fusty period piece with plenty of timeless, vein-bulging action. Forgive Braveheart its arguably bloated length, as well as the many smirking cries of “Freedom!” it triggered; applaud it instead, because, in the words of Film Scouts’ Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, “At the heart of Mel Gibson’s tumultuously entertaining epic is the almost-quaint notion that movie heroics should mean something more than a play for the much-coveted 18-25 box office demographic.”
The oft-told tale of Captain Bligh and his unwieldy crew got the revisionist treatment in this watery Roger Donaldson-directed epic, which gave a young Gibson (as the mutinous Fletcher Christian) the chance to lock big-screen horns with Anthony Hopkins (as the tyrannical, or perhaps merely beleaguered, Bligh) for the fate of the HMS Bounty. Of course, we all know how things turned out for Bligh and his men — so it’s to Gibson and Hopkins’ immense credit, as well as a testament to a stellar supporting cast that included Laurence Olivier, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Liam Neeson, that The Bounty was such a critical success. Though some critics took issue with the script’s historical errors, as well as an overall absence of the type of fireworks one might expect from a cast of this caliber, the majority had kind words for the film — including Roger Ebert, who wrote, “this Bounty is not only a wonderful movie, high-spirited and intelligent, but something of a production triumph as well.”
The first two films in the trilogy are widely acknowledged action classics, leaving 1985’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome the runt of the litter. Of course, an 81 percent Tomatometer rating is nothing to sneeze at, particularly when we’re talking about the third installment in a series, but Thunderdome is easily the most hotly contested of the franchise, with fans and critics either hating it (“Definitely the worst movie in the Mad Max series,” wrote James O’Ehley of the Sci-Fi Movie Page) or preferring it to its predecessors (Roger Ebert called it “more visionary and more entertaining than the first two”). No matter how you feel about Thunderdome, though, one thing’s for sure: Between George Miller halfway bailing on the project after the death of his friend Byron Kennedy, and the stunt casting of Tina Turner as the power-hungry Aunty Entity, things probably should have turned out a lot worse than they did. In fact, Thunderdome has some of the most memorable moments and quotable lines in the series — and boasts, according to Time Out’s Derek Adams, “Enough imagination, wit and ingenuity to put recent Spielberg to shame.”
After the immense success of 1987’s Lethal Weapon, and the enduring popularity of the buddy cop genre it helped define, it came as no surprise to anyone when a sequel surfaced two years later. What was shocking, however, was just how much fun Lethal Weapon 2 turned out to be. Boasting further opportunities for Gibson to test the limits of action-hero funny business as nutty LAPD sergeant Martin Riggs, some of the nastiest bad guys in any late ’80s action thriller, and rapid-fire comic relief in the form of Joe Pesci, the second Weapon flew in the face of conventional wisdom by scoring with filmgoers and critics alike. In fact, some preferred it to the original — including scribes like Brian Orndorf, who called it “One of the finest examples of the genre, and, in my humble estimation, one of the greatest sequels put to film. Perhaps deranged hyperbole, but rarely does a follow-up outgun the original film as swiftly as Lethal 2 does.”
A number of films have tried to send a message about the futility and waste of war, but few have done it with the plain and heartbreaking precision of Peter Weir’s Gallipoli, which recounts the terrible saga of the Australian soldiers who perished in a poorly planned attempt to break a stalemate on the Turkish peninsula during World War I. By focusing less on the action-heavy aspect of the war and more on the doomed friendship of two soldiers named Archy Hamilton (Mark Lee) and Frank Dunne (Gibson), Gallipoli underlined the human cost of the campaign, culminating in a harrowing final sequence that painfully illustrates the human cost of battle. “Weir’s work has a delicacy, gentleness, even wispiness that would seem not well suited to the subject,” observed Janet Maslin of the New York Times, “and yet his film has an uncommon beauty, warmth, and immediacy, and a touch of the mysterious, too.”
Later in his career, Gibson acquired a rep for gravitating toward films that depicted grievous bodily harm, but anyone who’d been paying attention knew his taste for cinematic pain wasn’t a recent development. Take, for instance, 1983’s The Year of Living Dangerously, in which Gibson plays a journalist whose hunger for a big story leads him into the heart of an Indonesian coup — and earns him a busted eye in the process. Gibson’s second film with director Peter Weir, Dangerously benefited from its star’s heightened post-Mad Max profile, although it was his co-star, Linda Hunt, who walked away with an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress (and for good reason: She played a half-Chinese dwarf named Billy Kwan). “The Year of Living Dangerously is a flawed film,” wrote Dan Jardine of the Apollo Guide, “but it is richly textured and imbued with enough emotional and intellectual subtlety to make it a rewarding experience.”
Movies had been making cash out of the male buddy dynamic for decades before Lethal Weapon came along, so it would be a mistake to call it groundbreaking, but it was still one of the more influential (and successful) action flicks of the late ’80s. Of course, that influence was partially felt through turkeys like Tango & Cash — not to mention Weapon‘s three uneven sequels — but let us focus here on the positive: Gibson and Glover have the easy chemistry of two old friends, Richard Donner’s direction is at its sleekest, Shane Black’s script combines laughs and thrills in equal measure, and Gibson’s mullet was never more exquisite. The role of mentally unstable cop Martin Riggs wasn’t really anything new for Gibson (Time’s Richard Schickel cracked that the movie was “Mad Max meets The Cosby Show“), but it put him squarely in his wheelhouse, and introduced filmgoers to one of the more interesting and complex characters in the genre. “From a distance, Lethal Weapon might appear generic,” wrote James Berardinelli of ReelViews, “but a closer look reveals something special.”
Pop quiz: Before Paranormal Activity came along last year, what was the biggest cost-to-profit success in movie history? That’s right, it was 1979’s Mad Max, George Miller’s dystopian shoot-’em-up about an emotionally frayed cop (Gibson) driven over the edge after a gang of lunatics murders his wife and daughter. Gibson’s unthrottled performance as Max Rockatansky channeled the unfocused anger that led the fledgling actor into bar fights, launching a hugely successful film career in the process — and Miller’s brilliant way with an adrenalized set piece helped change global perceptions of the Australian film industry. Not bad for a movie with a shoestring budget, peppered with accents and slang its American distributors insisted on overdubbing, and little more on its mind than 95 minutes of very gruesome violence. The next time you’re caught in the grip of a filmmaker’s nightmarish vision of the future, thank Mad Max — the movie that, in the words of eFilmCritic’s Brian McKay, “launched not only [Mel Gibson’s] career, but the whole post-apocalyptic genre of the ’80s and beyond.”
Disagreements during its production ultimately led to a parting of the ways for Aardman Animations and DreamWorks Animation, but as far as critics and filmgoers were concerned, Chicken Run was nothing but a winner. The stop-motion animated adventure, which finds Gibson lending his voice to a suave rooster named Rocky, offered American audiences their first opportunity to get an extended look at the distinctive style of Nick Park and his cohorts — and it gave Gibson the chance to add another kid-friendly entry to a rather dark filmography. (Gibson’s previous foray into animation, 1995’s Pocahontas, left critics lukewarm at 55 percent on the Tomatometer.) Whatever led to the Aardman/DreamWorks divorce didn’t show up on screen; Chicken Run‘s feathery blend of comedy and adventure produced nearly $225 million in worldwide grosses and applause from critics like Bruce Westbrook of the Houston Chronicle, who called it “the most consistently entertaining animated film in years.”
If you’re going to make a sequel, it helps if the first installment leaves you enough room to grow — and a storyline open-ended enough to give the characters something truly interesting to do. George Miller was lucky enough to have both with 1979’s Mad Max, as well as a huge worldwide gross; two years later, he put them all to use for The Road Warrior, which placed Gibson, returning as Mad Max, at the center of a battle for one of the last working oil refineries in the world. But bigger battles and improved special effects weren’t all that The Road Warrior brought to the table — where the first film found Max tearing loose from the bonds of society after losing his family, the sequel gave him a few reminders of his own humanity. “The Road Warrior isn’t Citizen Kane,” wrote James Rocchi of Netflix, “but it has a lot of things — power, speed, brains and energy — in massive quantities and at a high degree of quality that many films can only dream of.”
In case you were wondering, here are Gibson’s top ten movies according RT users’ scores:
1. Braveheart — 93%
2. Lethal Weapon — 93%
3. The Road Warrior — 92%
4. Gallipoli — 92%
5. Lethal Weapon 2 — 88%
6. Mad Max — 86%
7. Maverick — 85%
8. The Year of Living Dangerously — 85%
9. Chicken Run — 83%
10. The Bounty — 81%
Finally, here’s Gibson in the trailer for the forthcoming epic, The Colonel: