Pick Of The Week: New
Argo (Warner Bros.)
In less than two months, Argo has gone from an awards-season also-ran, snubbed in the Best Director category, to the odds-on favorite to win Best Picture. It’s a lesson in consensus: With torture politics freighting the more substantial CIA thriller, Zero Dark Thirty, voters can feel better about supporting a movie that nearly everyone liked, even if there’s not much passion behind it. And Argo, though woefully conventional down the backstretch, remains a hugely satisfying entertainment, telling a stranger-than-fiction true story about a hostage extraction mission with an assist from Hollywood. The DVD/BD includes a commentary track by director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio and a few features on the real-life mission, including interviews with former CIA officer Tony Mendez, Jimmy Carter, and some of the actual hostages.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
The Monster Squad (Blu-ray) (Olive Films)
There are no special features on this Blu-ray edition of The Monster Squad. You know why? Because The Monster Squad is special enough already! (A previously released 2007 DVD, from Lionsgate, was larded with extras that aren’t ported over to this edition.) It took a while for a cult to rally around director Fred Dekker and writer Shane Black’s creature feature, but its premise of a group of pint-sized monster-movie enthusiasts doing battle with classic creatures was bound to find a home someday. The film holds up really well, too, with plenty of lively Black banter and monster turns from great character actors like Tom Noonan (as Frankenstein) and Jon Gries (as a werewolf).
Don’t Break The Seal
Atlas Shrugged, Part II — The Strike (Fox)
The first part of Atlas Shrugged, the three-part adaptation of Ayn Rand’s rip-snorting Objectivist adventure, ended with a major industrialist “going Galt,” the term used to describe big-business pant-wetters taking their toys and going home. Atlas Shrugged, Part II — The Strike is about a bunch of other industrialists going Galt, including our magical train-producing entrepreneur Dagny Taggart. In other words, there’s not much that happens in Part II that would lose viewers for Part III, other than it being a by turns stultifying and stupefying moviegoing experience. The big change is the recasting of all the actors, including Samantha Mathis as Dagny, in what we can only imagine is a bold narrative experiment in the spirit of Todd Solondz’s Palindromes and not a concession to market realities. The special features are minimal, unless you order from the website, which upgrades them to paltry.
Game Of Thrones: The Complete Second Season (HBO)
The second season of HBO’s Game Of Thrones opened up its universe while adding complexity to the struggle between the Lannisters, the Starks, and other warring parties. The behind-the-throne intrigue powered the show, as usual—the various Joffrey slappings, the Peter Dinklage one-liners, etc.—but the extra money spent on The Battle Of Blackwater proved the show could stage an exciting, epic conflict that uses its resources wisely.
Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome (Universal)
Battlestar Galactica fans—at least those that remained after the disappointing finale and the prequel series Caprica—were treated to the three-hour Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome, which deals with the first Cylon war, which falls between the original series and Caprica chronologically. In his “B” review, The A.V. Club’s Rowan Kaiser writes, “Compared to the magnificent Battlestar Galactica pilot, B&C suffers, but compared to virtually any other science fiction pilot, it's quite good as a self-contained story.”
Top Gun (Paramount)
A 3-D version of Top Gun enjoyed a brief IMAX release in early February and now it’s available on a combo disc that includes the 3-D version for the weirdoes with compatible TVs and a Blu-ray/digital copy for us mere savages. In any format, the film is guaranteed to take you right into the danger zone of your latent sexual preferences.
At a time when studios are inclined to release watered-down PG-13-rated horror, Sinister is a bracing hard-R, an immensely disturbing (if exploitative) thriller about dark supernatural forces and serial murder. It’s also scary as hell, anchored by a strong Ethan Hawke performance as a true crime writer whose relentless pursuit of the next, elusive bestseller puts his family in terrible danger. Ace supporting turn by James Ransome (“Ziggy” on The Wire), who supplies the comic relief.
The Insider (Blu-ray) (Buena Vista)
A digital restoration of the Michael Mann docudrama The Insider promises to make an already-gorgeous film look all the more fetching. It’s also one of Mann’s most gripping and accessible recent efforts, examining the true story of a tobacco industry whistle-blower (Russell Crowe) who had to put his trust in a 60 Minutes producer (Al Pacino) dealing with pressure from the network.
On The Waterfront (Criterion)
The packaging alone on the new Criterion edition of Elia Kazan’s landmark On The Waterfront ranks among the most striking artwork the company has produced—and this from an unquestioned leader in graphic design. The two-disc DVD/BD has plenty of extras, too, and Kazan’s agonizing drama of individual and institutional corruption remains resonant. Full review coming next week.
Prison (Shout! Factory)
Before clawing his way up the studio ladder with The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane, Die Hard 2, and Cliffhanger, director Renny Harlin cut his teeth on low-grade genre fare like Prison, his 1988 horror-thriller about a innocent man (Viggo Mortensen) who gets the electric chair for murder in the ‘50s and comes back to prison all charged up (literally) and ready for revenge. Never on DVD before, the film is being released in a souped-up version as part of Shout! Factory’s “Scream Factory” series.
Undefeated (Anchor Bay)
The inspirational documentary Undefeated follows the efforts of a white volunteer coach from suburban Memphis to turn around the struggling football program at Manassas High School, an inner-city school that was routinely booking one- or two-win seasons and hadn’t won a playoff game in its 110-year history. It’s compelling to a point, but the film’s pre-cooked narrative and Blind Side-esque view of white patronage limits its complexity.
That Cold Day In The Park (Olive Films)
Having graduated from directing TV shows like Bonanza and Kraft Mystery Theater, Robert Altman was on the cusp of the one of the greatest runs in American movie history—M*A*S*H, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us, California Split, and Nashville, among others in a five-year period—when he made the 1969 psychological thriller That Cold Day In The Park. The film, about a lonely older woman (Sandy Dennis) who holds a teenager captive in her home, doesn’t get talked about much, but a new Blu-ray edition could change that.
Highlander 2: Renegade Version (Olive Films)
The idea of an immortal warrior battling other immortal warriors throughout time was always more potent than the reality of the Highlander movies, but there’s no excusing Highlander 2: The Quickening. The “Renegade Version” is director Russell Mulcahy’s preferred cut, however, and fans claim it’s a significant improvement.
Irreconcilable Differences (Olive Films)
Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers would make all kinds of insufferable movies together—Baby Boom, the two Father Of The Bride remakes, and I Love Trouble—but the insufferable elements of 1984’s Irreconcilable Differences, most having to do with a little kid (Drew Barrymore) attempting to divorce her parents, are checked by genuine intrigue. Specifically, the rise and fall of a husband/wife filmmaking team (Ryan O’Neal and Shelley Long) has some fascinating Hollywood parallels.
Though released to kind reviews theatrically last year, the candy-colored Russian musical Hipsters didn’t get the attention it deserved for its affectionate portrait of teenagers in 1955 Moscow who are inspired by forbidden American culture. Their interpretation of American “hipsters” is infectiously goofy.