Altitude (Anchor Bay) – This tepid thriller takes its cue from the “Twilight Zone,” except that it takes 90 minutes to do what Rod Serling did in a third of the time: a young pilot and her friends take a spin in her small plane, only to find horror in the air; luckily, viewers are safe. The visuals are solid in the Blu-ray transfer, while extras comprise the director’s audio commentary, Altitude: Behind the Scenes and Green Storm featurette.
Assault Girls (Well Go USA) – In a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape, a trio of hardened females find themselves in a deadly battle for their lives as part of a virtual war game. This barely coherent 70-minute clunker contains a series of frivolous fight sequences, but little else. The hi-def transfer is good; the movie’s trailer is the sole extra.
The Darjeeling Limited and House (Criterion) – Although Wes Anderson’s 2007 road movie and Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 faux-horror movie have their cult fans, neither makes much of a dent while watching. Darjeeling fails to make us care for three bratty, brainless brothers on a train trip through India, while House is amazingly tame despite its reputation as a mind-bending experience. As usual, Criterion’s Blu-ray transfers are stunning, especially the colors that pop off the screen in House. There’s also the usual plethora of extras; special mention must be made of Anderson’s short Hotel Chevalier, starring Natalie Portman’s glorious behind.
Earth and Space (History) – This dynamite boxed set comprises the first seasons of two of the History Channel’s most popular programs: How the Earth Was Made and The Universe painstakingly explore the origins and mysteries of our world and the universe around us. The combination of scientist/expert interviews, hi-def location photography and CGI effects makes these series endlessly fascinating to watch. The visually spectacular results show that these series were made for the Blu-ray format. The lone extra is a feature-length documentary, Beyond the Big Bang.
The Human Centipede (IFC) – This crassly opportunistic horror vehicle was debated upon its release: can a film about a mad doctor who “operates” on three victims to link them together, mouth to anus, to become a “human centipede” be the ultimate in unwatchable screen horror? The premise is as ridiculous as any low-budget flick with Vincent Price, except the “ick” content is now much higher. Too bland to be upsetting, too proficient to be truly revolting, the movie ends up dull, which no horror fan wants. Extras include an interview with director Tom Six, deleted scenes and on-set footage.
The Last of the Mohicans (Fox) – Michael Mann’s revisionist 1991 historical epic based on James Fennimore Cooper’s classic novel returns in an all-new director’s cut, which kicks up both the action and romance a notch, which accentuates the chemistry between Daniel Day Lewis and Madeleine Stowe (whatever happened to her?). The Blu-ray transfer, though not perfect, is satisfactory, and the extras—a Mann commentary and introduction, and a new interview with Day-Lewis—give an adequate overview of the production and Mann’s own take on the classic text.
Mad Max (Fox) – Mel Gibson’s introduction to American audiences was in George Miller’s 1979 slam-bang actioner, which has lost none of its visceral thrills over three decades. On Blu-ray, the movie has a consistently good transfer, the best the movie’s ever looked on home video. Extras include a commentary and—on the accompanying standard DVD—several featurettes and interviews.
Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet (Fox) – Aussie director Baz Luhrmann lures audiences into his cinematic lair to foist ultra-campy silliness on them, from Strictly Ballroom (his most tolerable) to Australia (his most boring). Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet are both sound-and-light shows told by an idiot and signifying nothing, to paraphrase the guy Luhrmann so brazenly butchers in his 1998 R&J adaptation. Both movies look absolutely splendid on Blu-ray but remain irredeemably empty experiences. Plenty of bells and whistles are included as extras: picture-in-picture mode, interactive commentaries and on-set interviews and featurettes.
Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (Acorn Media) – Fond memories of Albert Finney’s over-the-top Detective Hercule Poirot in Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974) take a back seat in this new version, starring an understated and unhammy David Suchet, who may come closer to Christie’s original than Finney’s boisterousness. A decent supporting cast helps move the twisty plot along nicely, as the investigation and movie are wrapped up in 90 minutes. On Blu-ray, the famous train’s plush interiors and the snowbound exteriors come across superbly; the extra is a terrific 47-minute journey with Suchet as he rides the Orient Express for the first time (as himself!).
Robocop Trilogy (Fox) – Paul Verhoven’s 1987 parodic crime thriller about the police’s ultimate weapon remains a fun ride, but the two sequels provide vastly diminishing returns, with Robocop 3 especially DOA. It’s ironic, then, that as far as the hi-def transfers on these Blu-ray discs go, the original looks least good and the sequels look far better—partly due to the films’ respective ages but also because the original’s HD transfer hasn’t been upgraded since it was done a few years ago.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: 35th Anniversary Edition (Fox) – The granddaddy of all cult movies, this campy 1974 version of the off-Broadway musical didn’t exactly make stars of Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry, but they’re all still around, so it must be good for something. The Blu-ray transfer nicely retains the film’s grain, avoiding any polishing of the original, instead letting it look like the low-budget campfest it is. Extras include featurettes, interviews and even karaoke.
Score (Cult Epics) – Radley Metzger’s 1971 erotic drama about an experienced couple initiating naïve newlyweds into their swinging lifestyle is pretty tame by today’s porn standards, although this uncut version (released for the first time in any format) includes a few shots of homosexual fellatio, so you’ve either been warned or tipped off. The transfer is quite good, considering the limitations of Metzger’s budget; extras include an interview with the last remaining performer, Lynn Lowry, and a Metzger commentary.
Splice (Warners) – This unpleasant sci-fi film concerns two renegade scientists (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) who splice DNA genes to create a part-human, part-animal hybrid. Any dramatic points the movie may score as a cautionary tale about the dangers of scientists playing God are erased by a goofy scene of Brody and the female creature screwing—which Polley sees, of course! From there, foolishness becomes the norm; at least the movie looks spot-on in hi-def; the lone extra is a 35-minute making-of doc.
World War II 360 (History) – This boxed set contains Patton 360 and Battles 360, both mixing talking heads and computer-generated animation to throw the viewer right into the biggest battles and most brilliant strategy of the war. The CGI effects are off-putting since they simulate video games, but the History Channel people may hope to draw in gamers, so who am I to argue? Every episode has a breathtaking immediacy on Blu-ray, and the additional footage included as an extra completes the experience.