It's an interesting mix of releases this week. There aren't any huge blockbusters, but there are some good films and some great TV offerings. Here's the breakdown:
Endless Love -
There's no reason on earth I should have enjoyed this movie It's a cliched, hackneyed story about young love. At least on the surface. But underneath that, there's a story about a father (and a family) trying to cope with the death of a teenaged child, and it's that story that gives the film its depth. Add to that the fact that the father in question is played by the exceptionally talented Bruce Greenwood, and the film manages to be something other than just another ten love story. It's not going to make my top 10 list or anything, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -
Wes Anderson's quirky comedy makes its way to the Criterion Collection (as all of his films will eventually, it seems.) I'm a pretty unabashed non-fan of Anderson, and this tim is right in the middle of where I fall with him. It's not nearly as pretentious as "Rushmore" or "The Royal Tenenbaums," but not as fun as "Bottle Rocket" or "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." It tries to be as fun, and the result is a film that's goofy and doesn't take itself too seriously, yet is still weighed down by excessive Anderson-ian quirk. Still, with the usual Criterion extras and newly remastered picture and sound, Anderson fans should be thrilled.
Doctor Who: An Adventure in Space & Time -
This BBC TV-Movie is the first official BBC fictional film about "Doctor Who"; not the character himself, but rather the show itself. This telefilm tells the story of the creation of the show and the first Doctor, William Hartnell. Its an interesting look behind the scenes at the creation of a sci-fi icon that's been a staple for 50 years, and "Doctor Who" fans should love it.
How to Train Your Dragon -
Just in time for the theatrical release of "How to Train Your Dragon 2," we have a new Special Edition release of the first film. This is mostly for people who don't already own the film, as it's mostly a repackage of the original discs. However, in addition to all of the original extras (and there are quite a few), you also get the the kick off episode of DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk animated series, plus a movie cash coupon for up to $7.50 off admission to see "HTTYD2." So if you don't already have the first one this, is worth grabbing.
Sleepaway Camp -
One of my favorite bad/great horror films ever, "Sleepaway Camp" is a cheese-tastic slasher from the early '80s with a dark, twisted center to it. Now, Shout Factory's excellent Scream Factory imprint has released the film on Blu-ray for the first time, and I couldn't be happier. Sure, the film "pays hoagie" (i.e. rips off) "Friday the 13th," but it's got a whole different story underlying the carnage. If you've never seen it, check it out. It's way more fun than it should be.
Death Spa - On a similar note, we also have the Blu-ray debut of "Death Spa" from Gorgon Video, another fantastically cheesy '80s slasher flick, but in this case, the slasher is ghost/computer system in a health club that starts killing off all the clients in exceedingly gruesome/ridiculous ways. This movie is about as '80s as you can get, with leg warmers and shoulder pads in excess. It's a lot of fun, and it boasts possibly the best cover art you've ever seen.
Also available on Blu-ray this week:
- Asian superstar Stephen Chow writes, directs, and stars in this incredibly odd "Journey to the West," an action/fantasy mash-up that revels in weirdness. Still, it has a lot of action, a lot of hour, and I've seen a lot worse.
- John Hawks'classic John Wayne film "Red River" comes to Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection, which adds copious extra features and an essay booklet to the restored and remastered sound and picture. Gitalong!
- Colin Firth, Cameron Diaz, and Alan Rickman headline "Gambit," a heist comedy that received only a very limited release here in the US. It's one of those films that looks like it might be more enjoyable than it is, but is also not bad at all. Perfectly average is really the case here.
- Guy Pearce stars in "Jack Irish, Set 2," a fierce Australian-set crime drama based on Australian writer Peter Temple’s award-winning novels. The show sees Jack, a lawyer who is grieving after the murder of his wife, become a sort of investigator-for-hire, fighting not only bad guys but his demons, often with a bottle of liquor to aid him. It'ss dark and well-written, but of course the real star here is Guy Pearce, who is utterly terrific in the lead role.
- Pat Healy, Sara Paxton, Ethan Embry, and David Koechner star in "Cheap Thrills," a black comedy about a man who takes on a series of increasingly outrageous (and dangerous) dares to amuse a rich couple. I expect this is a movie only certain people will like, but I also suspect those people will like it a lot.
- Jack Palance stars in "Dan Curtis' Dracula," which has quite the vampire pedigree, as it was written for the screen by sci-fi/horror master Richard Matheson and produced by the legendary Dan Curtis ("Dark Shadows"). Jack Palance as Dracula? What more do you need to know?
- The History Channel's hit exploration of the cosmos continues with "The Universe: Season 7 - Ancient Mysteries Solved," which is available on Blu-ray as well as DVD.
- Claude Chabrol directed The Color of Lies, a dark but terrific mystery about a murder in a small time and the psychological effects it has on the townspeople. Gripping stuff.
- Kino Lorber releases two more films to Blu-ray from acclaimed French director Alain Robbe-Grillet. "The Man Who Lies" features Robbe Grillet's trademark mixture of eroticism, seduction, and mystery, while "Eden and After" is completely different, offering up eroticism, seduction, and psychology.