A Trip Back to 2010 Warner releases BLU-RAY catalog Favorites Plus: THE READER and more
April is usually a fairly quiet month for new video releases, and 2009
has proven to be no exception. However, a few major titles and a slew
of catalog Blu-Ray discs from Warner Home Video take our lead-off
position this week:
2010 (***, 116 mins., 1984, PG; Warner):
Peter Hyams faced an impossible task trying to follow Stanley
Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi classic “2001: A Space
Odyssey,” but truthfully, the writer-producer-director (he also
photographed the movie as well!) did a commendable job with this
sturdy, compelling adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s outstanding
With no hopes of living up to the mystical visual heights achieved by
Kubrick, Hyams and Clarke attempted to make a logical narrative out of
the questions raised by its ambiguous predecessor, something that
turned off fans of “2001" but satisfied others hoping for a more
plot and character-driven sci-fi film.
Roy Scheider immediately makes the viewer feel more at home than anyone
in Kubrick’s movie, giving us a human Dr. Heywood Floyd who,
admittedly, comes off more than a little as “Chief Brody in
Space.” Tagging along on a Russian expedition to find out what
happened to the crew of the Discovery and the huge monolith floating
outside the orbit of Jupiter, Scheider brings his “A-game,”
while John Lithgow offers some comedic support as a fellow American
engineer who designed the Discovery, and Bob Balaban essays Dr.
Chandra, HAL-9000's creator, who’s likewise searching for
answers. After they gain entrance into the Discovery, they find a
ghostly Dave Bowman (Keir Dullea again, quite creepy) with prophetic
warnings and a frazzled HAL (also voiced by Douglas Rain) who meets
with a surprisingly redemptive conclusion.
Hyams was a one-man show on “2010" and the movie, while not
perfect, holds up visually far better than most ‘80s sci-fi
fantasies: Richard Edlund’s marvelous special effects and the
futuristic designs of Syd Mead among others make for a film that
(outside of its clunky, then-cutting edge 1984 computers!) still looks
fresh. David Shire’s fine, under-rated score is another plus
(Shire replaced Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks during production, and
his “New Worlds” theme is quite moving).
Where the movie gets off-track is in Hyams’
pre-“Glasnost” political commentary, which smacks far more
of its era than anything in Clarke’s original novel. The tensions
between the Americans and the Russian crew (lead by cosmonaut Helen
Mirren) turn preachy and heavy-handed at times, dating the movie and
leading to a bit of an obvious (if satisfying) final message.
That aside, “2010" is still a remarkably entertaining film which
Warners has splendidly brought to Blu-Ray. Given that MGM’s
prior, late ‘90s, non-anamorphic DVD was never re-issued
(Warner’s re-packaging offered the exact same disc), this new
VC-1 encoded transfer is basically a revelation: while the print shows
some extreme grain in certain sequences (such as when Scheider first
tells wife Madolyn Smith of his departure for Jupiter), the composition
and crispness of the image really breathes new life into Hyams’
visuals. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is restrained more often than not,
while extras include the trailer and a vintage promotional featurette
sporting behind-the-scenes footage and comments from Arthur C. Clarke.
Speaking of Clarke, fans of “2010" would do well to pick up the
excellent book “The Odyssey File,” a 1984 paperback
released to coincide with film’s debut, offering the
then-miraculous email correspondence between Clarke in Sri Lanka and
Hyams in LA., working on the picture in pre-production. In addition to
an insightful portrait of the filmmaking process, it also shows how
technologically advanced simple email was back in 1983, and also how
prescient Clarke was in predicting that the computer would eventually
replace the telephone as a way of connecting the global village. Like
the film, highly recommended!
FINAL DESTINATION (***, 98 mins., 2000, R; New Line/Warner):
Better than expected teen horror thriller with a cutting sense of
humor, thanks to former “X-Files” vets James Wong and Glen
Morgan, who co-wrote, produced and directed this spring ‘00
sleeper hit (which generated over $50 million in domestic revenue).
Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, and Kerr Smith are high-schoolers being pursued
by the Grim Reaper after Sawa's premonition of a crash on their
school's plane trip to Paris ultimately saves their lives -- at least
until Death comes back, stalking the would-be crash victims one-by-one.
Wong and Morgan's mostly clever script, based on a story by Jeffrey
Reddick, never becomes too maudlin or depressing, and instead adheres
to a smart application of genre formulas with numerous doses of black
humor spicing up the action (most notably a none-too-subtle use of John
Denver songs on the soundtrack!). Larter and Sawa are amiable
protagonists in a movie where you're mainly rooting for some of the
more obnoxious teen characters to be knocked off, while Tony Todd has a
great cameo role as a coroner.
True, the movie does get sillier as it goes along, and has a tacked-on
finale that shows -- despite the intriguing plot scenario -- that the
filmmakers painted themselves into a corner they couldn't quite get out
off. Still, “Final Destination” is a surprisingly smart and
effective chiller for much of its duration, and despite being followed
by a pair of inferior follow-ups, has held up as one of the better
studio horror films of the last decade.
Warner’s Blu-Ray disc is impressive: the VC-1 encoded transfer is
top-notch, while Dolby TrueHD audio features a fine score by the late
Shirley Walker. Extras include two commentary tracks, Shirley
Walker’s isolated score track (in 5.1) with composer comments,
additional scenes, an alternate ending, the trailer and two featurettes.
THE WEDDING SINGER (***, 1998, 100 mins., Unrated [originally PG-13]; New Line/Warner):
Blu-Ray “Unrated Edition” of the 1998 box-office hit
extends the film by three minutes but, more importantly, offers a
satisfying (though a bit soft at times) new VC-1 encoded transfer that
looks appropriately colorful in high-def, and at least appreciably
superior to the DVD.
Tim Herilhy’s script does the best job of any Adam Sandler
vehicle in terms of juggling the comedian’s manic persona with a
genuinely sweet story, where Sandler’s wedding crooner Robbie
Hart falls for a bride-to-be (Drew Barrymore) about to question her
pending nuptials. Barrymore resurrected her career with a winning
performance playing off Sandler here, the film maintains a light touch
with some uproarious moments throughout, and unsurprisingly has become
something of a cult classic since its initial release...perhaps bumping
“The Beastmaster” out of its previous pedestal as the
most-shown theatrical film on basic cable TV.
Warner’s Blu-Ray also includes a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and the
original trailer, as well as a promotional look behind the scenes at
the “Wedding Singer” Broadway musical. Well worth a
purchase for “Wedding Singer” fans.
TAKING LIVES (**½, 109 mins., 2004, Unrated [originally R]; Warner): Unsurprising
but effectively handled thriller stars Angelina Jolie as an FBI
profiler working to solve a series of serial killings in Canada. It
seems the culprit has been brutally murdering his victims, stealing
their identities, then moving on to claim another life. Jolie's first
assignment up north is to verify the story of Ethan Hawke, who claims
he was at one of the crime scenes, and has a seemingly combative
relationship with a "business associate" (Kiefer Sutherland, in a
blink-or-you'll-miss-him supporting role).
"Taking Lives" isn't groundbreaking by any means, but at least
screenwriter Jon Bokenkamp (adapting Michael Pye's novel) and director
D.J. Caruso develop supporting players and give the material some much
needed atmosphere. Thankfully, neither are trying to make another
"Silence of the Lambs," and the material feels less formulaic than most
cookie-cutter Hollywood thrillers (say, "Kiss the Girls" or "Along Came
a Spider"). The performances are strong, from Jolie's heroine to Oliver
Martinez and Tcheky Karyo as her Canadian counterparts, while Gena
Rowlands also offers support as the mother of one of the victims.
Warner’s Blu-Ray disc offers a sharp VC-1 encoded high-def
transfer plus a robust Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, sporting a generally
unobtrusive Philip Glass score. Extras include a somewhat lengthy
"Making Of" split into four featurettes, which examine the production
with cast and crew interviews. It's mostly fluffy, but seems to confirm
that the filmmakers had a good time making the picture, which is also
evidenced by the three-minute gag reel which rounds out the
TANGO AND CASH (**½, 104 mins., 1989, R; Warner) ABOVE THE LAW (**½, 99 mins., 1988, R; Warner) POINT OF NO RETURN (**½, 109 mins., 1993, R; Warner) COLLATERAL DAMAGE (**½, 109 mins., 2002, R; Warner): Warners has also dusted off four action catalog titles for Blu-Ray this month. Here’s a quick capsule recap:
TANGO AND CASH is the
moderately enjoyable Christmas ‘89 teaming of Sylvester Stallone
and Kurt Russell as a pair of L.A. cops in a standard “buddy
movie” script from the era. Andrei Konchalovsky’s direction
is sturdy but the film is pretty much standard-issue, coasting on the
chemistry between the two stars. Warner’s VC-1 encoded transfer
is a bit soft here and there but is generally satisfying, backed by a
throbbing Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sporting an enjoyable (if dated)
Harold Faltermeyer score and the original trailer.
Steven Seagal made his big-screen starring debut in
“Fugitive” helmer Andrew Davis’ formulaic but
well-crafted ABOVE THE LAW,
which opened to surprisingly positive reviews in the spring of 1988.
There are times during the Blu-Ray’s VC-1 encoded transfer where
there’s an abundance of grain, but generally it’s a decent
HD presentation with adequate Dolby TrueHD audio (the film’s
modest budget may explain the film’s less than stellar HD
transfer). The trailer is also on-hand.
John Badham’s POINT OF NO RETURN is
a stylish-looking Americanization of Luc Besson’s “La Femme
Nikita,” but some 16 years after the film’s release, few
remember this U.S. remake as anything other than an inferior retread of
its predecessor. Badham gets some juice out of a solid supporting cast
(Gabriel Byrne, Harvey Keitel, Dermot Mulroney and Anne Bancroft) and
one of Hans Zimmer’s more bombastic scores of the era, but
Bridget Fonda isn’t overly convincing as this version’s
Nikita, making there little reason to check out “Point of No
Return” when Besson’s superior version is readily
available. Warner’s VC-1 encoded transfer is top-notch at least
on Blu-Ray, with fine Dolby TrueHD audio and the original trailer also
Finally, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last starring role in Andrew Davis’ okay 2002 terrorist thriller COLLATERAL DAMAGE
has also been issued on Blu-Ray from Warners. Likely due to the
film being the most recent of the group, Warner’s VC-1
encoded transfer is fresh and quite satisfying, while Dolby TrueHD
audio and several featurettes (commentary from Davis, additional
scenes, the trailer, and two featurettes) round out the package.
AMERICAN HISTORY X (**½, 119 mins., 1998, R; New Line/Warner): Powerful
performances from Edward Norton and Edward Furlong make this
controversial, uneven but compelling 1998 film from director Tony Kaye
and writer David McKenna worthwhile. Warner’s Blu-Ray disc
includes a well-balanced VC-1 encoded transfer with Dolby TrueHD audio,
alternate scenes and the trailer in HD.
JOHN Q. (**, 116 mins., 2002, PG-13; New Line/Warner):
Disappointing 2002 drama stars Denzel Washington as a distraught father
trying to get care for his dying son. Nick Cassavetes’ movie has
a terrific cast (Robert Duvall, James Woods, Ray Liotta) but rams home
its health care commentary with a sledgehammer, while the drama itself
feels overly manipulative. Warner’s VC-1 encoded HD transfer is
pleasing, at least, with another Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and numerous
extras (commentary, deleted scenes, the trailer, Making Of featurettes,
a Fact Track) on-hand as well. Also New This Week
*There are about a dozen different ways one could open up a review of Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT (*, 102 mins., 2008, PG-13; Lionsgate),
but I’m afraid none of them could do justice in detailing what an
abomination this box-office dud from last December turned out to be.
A self-indulgent, uneven mismash that fails completely in bringing Will
Eisner’s comic book to the screen, “The Spirit” has
got to be a leading candidate for Worst Super-Hero Movie of All-Time
– and that’s with a cast of gorgeous female stars like Eva
Mendes, Sarah Paulson, Jaime King and Scarlet Johansson appearing in it.
Gabriel Macht stars as the title character, a masked crimefighter in a
snowy, computerized metropolis that looks an awful lot like
Miller’s “Sin City,” who takes on crazed villain The
Octopus (an insanely over-the-top Samuel L. Jackson) while his former
flame Sand Saref (Mendes) pops up back on the scene, looking for the
second box of...well, your guess is as good as mine in trying to
decipher Miller’s convoluted, ridiculously inane screenplay.
Paulson, meanwhile, appears as The Spirit’s central love
interest, whose father (Dan Lauria) captains the city’s police
force, while Johansson is totally wasted as The Octopus’ top
It doesn’t take long for you to realize that something is
seriously, undeniably wrong with “The Spirit.” Miller
bathes his over-stylized imagery in the same glossy, digitzed hues as
his “Sin City,” but aims – it seems – for a
lighter tone, a la “Sky Captain” or Warren Beatty’s
“Dick Tracy.” For all of his visual flourishes, though,
Miller isn’t much of a writer or director without the likes of
Robert Rodriguez (“Sin City”) or Zack Snyder (“300")
around, as this movie’s tone abruptly shifts from campy
lightheartedness to grotesque, violent imagery, punctuated by leaden
dialogue that sits there, DOA, from its opening frames. There’s
no story, no human connection, to draw you in, and the performances
are, accordingly, a rambling wreck across the board. And what more can
you say about Louis Lombardi’s embarrassing role as a cloned line
of evil henchmen -- seeing “24"’s Edgar getting run over by
a truck, stabbed, shot, and jumping around as the laughing head on a
galloping foot (you have to see it...or not...to believe it) is nothing
short of a new low for the genre.
Lionsgate has released “The Spirit” on both DVD and
Blu-Ray. Expectedly, both versions are nothing short of excellent: the
AVC encoded Blu-Ray presentation is every bit as dynamic as you’d
anticipate, while the DVD’s 16:9 (2.35) transfer is razor-sharp
by standard-definition standards. The overly bombastic DTS Master Audio
(Blu-Ray) and 5.1 Dolby Digital (DVD) sound is as relentless as
Miller’s visual assault, with extras on both platforms including
commentary by Miller, an alternate storyboarded ending (don’t
worry, it’s not any better than what Miller came up with), Making
Of features and a digital copy for portable media players.
*Kate Winslet copped an Oscar for her role as a former Nazi guard whose
torrid affair with a teenager comprises the opening section ofTHE READER (***, 126 mins., 2008, R; Genius).
Stephen Daldry directed and David Hare adapted Bernhard Schlink’s
international bestseller, which follows young Michael Berg (David Kross
as a young man; Ralph Fiennes as an adult) as he engages in a sexual
relationship with Winslet’s Hanna Schmitz. Berg knows nothing
about Schmitz’s past, which comes roaring back to haunt both of
them years later when Berg is a law student and Schmitz goes on trial
for her crimes.
Effectively directed and superbly performed by Winslet, Kross and
Fiennes -- all of them eloquently underplaying their roles --
“The Reader” is an absorbing, well-made picture that offers
no easy answers to its compelling premise, despite a few sections of
the picture having been “dumbed down” for audiences (in
addition to an occasionally obtrusive score by Nico Muhly, did we
really need a “Usual Suspects”-like succession of
flashbacks to comprehend the movie’s obvious “big
twist”?). That said, “The Reader” is a fascinating
and low-key movie that encourages viewer discussion and boasts some
terrific performances. Recommended.
Genius’ Blu-Ray edition of “The Reader” is
highlighted by a terrific VC-1 encoded transfer that’s so clear
you can occasionally spot the creases in Winslet’s old age
make-up. The Dolby TrueHD sound is often restrained, while extras
include deleted scenes and numerous Making Of featurettes profiling the
picture’s genesis under the auspices of late producers Anthony
Minghella and Sydney Pollack. Coming Soon On Blu-Ray and DVD
THE GRUDGE (**, 91 mins., 2004, PG-13; Sony):
The first decade of the 21st century will be remembered for numerous
cinematic trends, most notably an influx of Japanese horror adaptations
which reached their peak about five years ago. While the Americanized
"The Ring" offered a substantial improvement on its source, the Sam
Raimi-produced remake (actually more of a sequel) of "Ju-On," titled
“The Grudge,” is only a negligible improvement on its
predecessors, which frankly weren't all that good to begin with.
At least Raimi did recruit original "Ju-On" director Takashi Shimizu to
helm "The Grudge" in his native Japan, and subsequently, the movie does
boast the same languid pace as the original film and an atmospheric use
of cinematography and sound design. Alas, if only the plot (what little
there is of it) was as satisfying.
Sarah Michelle Gellar plays the film's heroine: an American nurse
living with her exchange student boyfriend (Jason Behr) in Japan. After
a fellow nurse goes missing, Gellar is sent to the home of an American
couple with an incapacitated mother, only to find the couple also
missing and the restless spirits of a murdered family hard at work.
See, in the universe of "The Grudge," whenever someone dies a violent
death, they haunt the location in which they died, and anyone who comes
in contact with them is doomed to meet a violent, disturbing end.
Once this set-up is established, "The Grudge" has the same central
problem as its Japanese predecessors (which included a TV series and a
slew of sequels): namely, there's literally nowhere else for the movie
to go except to show the demises of its lead characters. Unlike "The
Ring," there's no real story in Shimizu's film (adapted by Stephen
Susco), but rather a series of flashbacks showing what happened to the
characters that triggered the event, and the deaths of the missing
individuals. In those scenes, sure enough, we get all the standard
Japanese horror devices: a restless female spirit with long dark hair
and a wide-open iris (so scary!), dripping water, creepy sound effects
and quick cutaways whenever the murders take place (at least the
Japanese understand the meaning of restraint). If
you've seen "The Ring" or other Japanese horror films, "The Grudge"
offers no surprises, except how thin the character development and
central scenario is. Since there's no solution to Gellar's plight, the
movie grows increasingly tiresome as it plods along, with the ghostly
set- pieces leading to the same resolutions and Shimizu taking his time
setting up the situations (too much time, as "The Grudge" feels
overlong, even at 91 minutes).
At least "The Ring" had some mystery and a plot to compliment its
horrific moments. "The Grudge," like "Ju-On," is a one-trick pony
that's all about the scares and not about plot or character
development. As a result, the film comes across as a one-dimensional
thriller with a frustratingly conventional conclusion that sets up what
has become an endless series of sequels.
Sony’s Blu-Ray disc is a virtual reprise of their original DVD,
obviously with the added benefit of a pleasing AVC encoded 1080p
transfer and creepy, occasionally quite effective Dolby TrueHD audio
(particularly when the ghost of a young Japanese boy pitter-patters
around the room!). Supplements include a fun group commentary with Sam
Raimi, his brother Ted (who also appears in the film), Gellar and
others, along with a several Making Of featurettes and short films.
KNOTS LANDING: Season 2 (1980-81, 873 mins., Warner): Abby
Cunningham (Donna Mills) moves to Knots Landing in this saucy second
season of the long-running CBS night time soap, a spin-off of
“Dallas” with the occasional Guest Star stint from Larry
Hagman and Patrick Duffy (as J.R. and Bobby Ewing, respectively).
Warner’s second DVD release of “Knots Landing” offers
its entire sophomore season in satisfying full-screen transfers and
mono soundtracks, with English and French subtitles. NEXT
TIME: The animated X-MEN storm onto DVD! Until
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