Thursday, December 30, 2010

December '10 Blu-ray Roundup

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The A Team (Fox) - Another unnecessary reboot of an old TV show, the new A-Team stars a motley crew led by Liam Neeson who, along with his sidekicks Bradley Cooper, Rampage and Sharlton Copley, takes on the jobs too dangerous for regular cops or military men. Like an overlong television episode, The A-Team moves at a snail’s-pace bringing in the intelligence apparatus, which gives Cooper (the cute one) a romantic interlude with CIA agent Jessica Biel. There’s routine action, which looks passable on Blu-ray; the extras are making-of featurettes, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

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And Soon the Darkness (Anchor Bay) - Two cute American girls on vacation in a foreign country get caught up in a terrifying ordeal: sound familiar? Aside from the energetic and attractive Amber Heard and Odette Yustman as unsuspecting tourists, And Soon the Darkness is mired in clich├ęd melodramatic trappings: typically nasty foreigners do in dumb, ugly American tourists. The terrific Argentine locales (and Heard and Yustman) look great on Blu-ray, so there’s at least something to look at; extras include deleted scenes, director’s video diary and an audio commentary.

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Cronos (Criterion) - Guillermo Del Toro’s unpleasant first feature, which set the stage for his strange, creepy career, follows a scarab that makes its wearer immortal, which only begins the trouble. Del Toro shoots with a certain distinction and flair, which he later put to better use in Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and Mimic, although he works on a constrictive canvas that ignores humanity. Oh well. Criterion’s package, as usual, is outstanding, from the stunning-looking transfer to the plethora of extras, which all have Del Toro’s stamp.

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Dear Mr. Gacy (Anchor Bay) - This true story recounts a teenage student’s decision to contact convicted serial killer Wayne Gacy for a capital punishment term paper; after he responds, they begin an unnerving correspondence that ends with Gacy’s execution. Well-acted by Jesse Moss (Jason) and William Forsythe (Gacy), the movie shows Jason’s psychological difficulties with minimal exploitation. Director Svetozar Ristovski navigates treacherous waters; too bad the Blu-ray—which includes a solid transfer—only includes one extra, a 20-minute featurette about Gacy.

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Flipped (Warners) - Rob Reiner, despite some critical acclaim, has never been the most subtle of directors, with a penchant for sentimentality and obviousness. This story of a boy and girl who are “perfect couple” material since they met as youngsters, though too saccharine, does contain talented young newcomers Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll who make things palatable, considering the sugary sentiment Reiner piles on. The movie looks first-rate on Blu-ray although it’s not standard-type material; skimpy extras include cutesy on-set featurettes with the two stars.

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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’hoole (Warners) Kathryn Lasky’s fantasy novels have become a beautiful-looking animated feature by Zack Snyder, whose live-action 300 and Watchmen aren’t far removed from this far-away world. A story of brave warrior owls might seem precious, but with the help of stellar voices (Abbie Cornish, Helen Mirren, Sam Neill, Geoffrey Rush), Snyder has made an enjoyable, even thrilling family film. The hi-def transfer accentuates the superb computer animation; extras include featurettes on the film’s origin and artwork and a new Looney Tunes cartoon.

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The Other Guys (Sony) - This comic odd-couple movie pairs Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell as pencil-pushing desk cops who get a chance to shine after the department’s stars (tongue-in-cheek Samuel Jackson and Dwayne Johnson) die on duty. There are laughs (best joke: Wahlberg’s astonishment that no less a babe than Eva Mendes is nerd Farrell’s wife), but The Other Guys is a failed SNL skit wasting a cast that could do the job with better material. The Blu-ray has a crisp, clean look; extras include deleted/extended scenes, gag reel and “mom-mentary” by Farrell, writer and director’s mothers.

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Step Up 3 (Touchstone) - Have there really been three Step Up movies? There must be an audience for these average street-dance dramas that gives attractive young performers the chance to perform dance routines as they fall in and out of love. Too bad there’s no urgency to this dully-scripted and acted movie, and I doubt there will be a Step Up 4—but that’s not my call. The Blu-ray transfer looks good, but I doubt its target audience will care; flimsy extras include deleted scenes and music videos.

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24—Complete Season 8 (Fox Blu-ray) - Jack Bauer’s last hurrah, the final season of 24 follows the world’s greatest (and deadliest) agent through New York streets chasing down a terrorist threat that could mean the end of the world as we know it. Rarely has a TV show stretched credibility for so long, but thanks to its clever gimmick—real-time episodes—and a solid cast led by Kiefer Sutherland, 24 hits its intended target. The show’s action looks even more explosive on Blu-ray; extras include extended episodes and The Ultimate CTU, Chloe’s Arrest and Virtually New York featurettes.

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The Year of Getting to Know Us (e one) - No one will mistake him for Marlon Brando, but Jimmy Fallon acquits himself decently in this dark comedy about a 35-year-old whose relationships are falling apart as his father does what he wants. Alongside Fallon, the motley but enterprising cast—Tom Arnold (dad), Sharon Stone (mom), Lucy Liu (girlfriend)—is game, so it’s too bad that Patrick Sisam’s script/direction bogs down in lame situations and unfunny comedy. The movie gets a decent Blu-ray transfer; the lone extra is a Sundance Festival press conference.

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