Animal Kingdom (Sony) – This gritty Aussie gangster flick is exceptionally well-made and superbly-acted: the only problem is that I didn’t care about these people and what they do to one another. The conflicts among the Melbourne underworld are clichéd and uninteresting, so what mainly separates Animal Kingdom from second-rate direct-to-DVD knockoffs are those delicious Down Under accents. Director David Michôd, though too ham-handed at times, guides us adroitly through this familiar journey, which has been given a knockout Blu-ray transfer. Extras include a 70-minute making-of documentary, a director commentary and Q&A footage.
Broadcast News (Criterion) – James L. Brooks’ movies combine sitcom sappiness with hard-hitting drama, and his 1987 critical hit that goes behind the scenes of a TV news organization is no exception. The powerful performances of William Hurt, Holly Hunter and Albert Brooks allow the less successful parts (melodramatic romantic triangle, self-serving “bits” like Joan Cusack’s run through the newsroom) to slide. Brooks’ dialogue and directing waver between dead-on and dreadfully soft. Unsurprisingly, Criterion has again served up a perfect package, led by a flawless (and grainy) transfer, commentary by Brooks and editor Richard Marks, deleted scenes and alternate ending, a 30-minute Brooks career retro, vintage interviews and on-set footage.
Buried (LionsGate) – Ryan Reynolds holds his own while onscreen for all 90 minutes of Rodrigo Cortés’ gimmicky but effective thriller about a man trapped in a coffin in war-torn Iraq. Instead of needlessly priming a fantastically riveting story with unnecessary visual flourishes (see Danny Boyle, 127 Hours), Cortés keeps things claustrophobic, trapping us as we watch the hostage desperately trying to contact anyone. That he uses his cell phone throughout is risible, but we’ll let it pass; less forgivable is the “sick joke” ending that we are forced to endure. The film's flickering light and low-contrast footage look very good on Blu-ray; the lone extra is a short making-of featurette.
Fire on the Amazon (Anchor Bay) – There wasn’t any need for this forgettable 1993 adventure to be released on Blu-ray: except that it contains some steamy nude love scenes featuring future Oscar winner Sandra Bullock. The lucky guy is Craig Sheffer as a journalist who hooks up with Bullock’s idealistic volunteer in the Amazon jungle where they fight a corrupt government allowing the rainforest's destruction. Even with a spunky Bullock and stunning landscapes (which look terrific on Blu-ray), this Roger Corman-produced mess is a pretty tepid affair. No extras.
Gun (Image) – Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson wrote and stars in this shoot-em-up about a gang leader whose latest bodyguard is a newly ex-con out to avenge his wife's death. 50 does what he can with stilted, laughable dialogue written by 50, while Val Kilmer keeps a straight face while sleepwalking through the embarrassingly obvious ex-con role. Even the gunplay is routine; the most original moment is an over-the-top sex scene between 50 and lovely AnnaLynn McCord, obviously cast as eye candy. The movie gets an acceptable Blu-ray transfer, probably more than it deserves. No extras.
My Dog Skip (Warners) – This heartwarming 1999 memoir about a young boy and his dog is lovely family fare, thanks to expressive performances by Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon as the parents, Frankie Muniz as Willie and that adorable terrier Skip. Why this particular movie received a Blu-ray upgrade is a legitimate question, but the movie looks excellent on hi-def; the extras include deleted scenes and two audio commentaries.
Once Upon a Time in America (Warners) – Sergio Leone’s underworld epic, butchered mercilessly upon its release in 1984, is back in its original form. If four hours of jumbled chronology don't, in the long run, measure up (too much melodramatic soap opera crammed into its running time), it’s often stunning to look at and features solid work by Robert DeNiro, James Woods, Treat Williams and then 13-year-old Jennifer Connelly giving amazing performances. The Blu-ray transfer could have a little more visual oomph, but it’s certainly the best the film has ever looked on disc. Extras include critic Richard Schickel’s commentary and documentary excerpt about the film’s making.
Paper Man (MPI) – This low-key character study about an author with advanced writer’s block wastes time and energy trying to be offbeat while its best moments are precise and understated. Jeff Daniels (author) and Emma Stone (sarcastic teenager he befriends) make their scenes together ring truthfully, while Lisa Kudrow (estranged wife) and Ryan Reynolds (his imaginary friend) lend fine support. Shot on well-used locations in Montauk, Paper Man is dramatically flimsy but worthwhile. The Blu-ray transfer shows the movie off to its best advantage; extras include a making-of featurette and extended/deleted scenes.
Piranha (Sony) – Tongue firmly in cheek, this trashy Jaws rip-off begins with Richard Dreyfuss fishing on a pristine lake, the first victim of marauding flesh-loving fish. After that bit of jokiness, the movie then wallows in more jokiness, with spurting blood and T&A thrown in for good measure. It depends how many B-movies you’ve seen, I guess: teens should enjoy it more than finicky adults. Elisabeth Shue is on hand to give a proper performance; the rest of the cast does “torn apart” and “jiggly” quite well. Lots of red (and brightly-colored bikinis) onscreen will give your Blu-ray player and widescreen TV a workout. Plentiful extras include an audio commentary, deleted scenes and a two-plus-hour (!!) making-of documentary.
Red (Summit) – Anyone who enjoys watching over-the-hill stars hamming it up while gunning down everyone in sight should see Red immediately. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and Helen Mirren reunite as former agents for one last job against their ultimate foe (Richard Dreyfuss). While it's a lot of fun watching these oldsters blow things up, the jokes pale quickly, and Mary Louise Parker comes off best as a ditsy gal along for the ride. Shot in florid colors, Red receives a solid Blu-ray transfer; extras include interviews, audio commentary, deleted/extended scenes and Access: Red.
Stone (Anchor Bay) – What begins as a cat-and-mouse game between a soon-to-retire correctional officer and prisoner up for parole soon morphs into a bizarre adultery drama between said officer and the prisoner’s sexy young wife. Dropping any pretense of credibility, John Curran’s straight-faced “moral dilemma” drama ends up relying on the strong performances by Robert DeNiro, Ed Norton and Milla Jovovich. Still, Stone is considerably less than the sum of its well-made parts. The movie's authentically semi-documentary look is retained on Blu-ray; the lone extra is a making-of featurette.