Monday, January 17, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Jan 17th, 2011 - Justifying the Week

When the only Blu-ray release highlight of the week is a cable TV series (albeit a good one), you just know it's time to catch up with the previous weeks' releases that you were not able to get to. Looking down the list of releases this week, nothing stands out, except for maybe for two Samuel Fuller films that are getting the Criterion treatment and a couple of hidden gems that never got much traction in their theatrical runs.

Justified: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray]Buried (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Animal Kingdom [Blu-ray]Takers [Blu-ray]Shock Corridor (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]The Naked Kiss (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

The cable network FX has been pretty consistent in churning out some of the best, most intriguing TV series the past decade. It all started with The Shield, then it was Nip/Tuck, then Rescue Me. Now, we have Sons of AnarchyIt's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and finally, Justified, the crime show that debuted last year and stars Timothy Olyphant (HBO's DeadwoodLive Free or Die HardHitman) as a no-nonsense US Marshall, Raylan Givens, who gets reassigned to the last place he wanted to be, Harlan County, KY, where he was born and raised. Donning his trademark cowboy hat, Givens must deal with old ghosts from his past: a now-remarried ex-wife, an ex-con father, an old friend turned white supremacist, an old girlfriend and plenty of crime to keep him busy. Created by Graham Yost (SpeedBroken Arrow), the show and the character of Raylan Givens is based on crime fiction novelist Elmore Leonard's short story, "Fire in the Hole."

Justified: The Complete First Season comes to Blu-ray in a 3-disc set that includes all 13 episodes from the first season of the show plus a host of extra features like audio commentaries and some featurettes. All the episodes come in 1080p video and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Having caught the entire first season of Justified on TV last year, I can attest to its brilliant writing and the intriguing development of the various characters and storylines. I can't wait for the next season to start in March. However, I can never justify (no pun intended) shelling out more than $20 for a TV show purchase. So my recommendation is to wait for the price to drop to below $25 before you buy this one. Or you can catch the first season on reruns these coming weeks. I'm sure FX will be broadcasting a Justified marathon before Season 2 starts airing.

Claustrophobic and quite brilliant, Buried is Spanish director, Rodrigo Cortés' updated ode to one of our biggest fears, being buried alive. It stars Ryan Reynolds as a US truck driver named Paul Conroy, working in Iraq as one of many contractors. One day he wakes up to find himself kidnapped, bound and gagged and buried alive inside a coffin with nothing else but a lighter and a cellphone. With the kidnappers/insurgents demanding a large ransom, Conroy must race against time to secure his own release but his efforts seem to meet with skepticism from the relevant authorities and roadblocks at every turn. Although Buried received a wide theatrical release courtesy of Lionsgate back in October of last year, the film never received much attention, despite its remarkable 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Now coming to Blu-ray in a Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo package, Buried should get more attention this time around. It boasts an average 1080p video (how much detail can one expect from inside a box?) and DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio. Recommendation: Great rental, own it when price drops to $12 or less.

Recipient of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Animal Kingdom is the Australian equivalent of the crime family drama. Although many of us may not have heard of it, Animal Kingdom has received universally positive reviews from almost all critics who have seen it, scoring an impressive 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. After his mother overdoses on heroin, Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) is forced to move in with his grandmother (Jacki Weaver), the matriarch of a notorious Melbourne crime family and her three sons (the Cody Boys), armed robber Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), drug dealer Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and the youngest brother Darren (Luke Ford), who tries to follow in his brothers' footsteps. Animal Kingdom is an engrossing character drama and a grim and suspenseful thriller all wrapped up in a well-acted package about a previously unknown underworld. This Blu-ray comes with the requisite 1080p video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio. Recommendation: Buy it!

As much as it tries to distinguish itself from the competition, Takers is yet another run-of-the-mill heist movie that is as slick as it is generic. More style than substance, Takers stars Matt Dillon and Jay Hernandez as police detectives and Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Michael Ealy, Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen and rapper T.I. as a crew of sophisticated bank robbers. Formulaic and shallow, Takers never hits its stride, as meaningless subplots only detract from the already outlandish story. Like most modern action flicks, this single disc release boasts detailed 1080p video presentation and a bombastic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Recommendation: Rental at best.

Samuel Fuller is a screenwriter and film director most known for his wartime movies like The Steel Helmet and The Big Red One. Criterion Collection had previously released Fuller's first three films as part of its Eclipse Series and is now releasing two more of his films, Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss on Blu-ray. Shock Corridor (1963) tells the tale of a journalist, played by Peter Breck, who gets himself committed into a mental hospital in order to investigate an unsolved murder while The Naked Kiss (1964) features a prostitute, played by Constance Towers, who tries to turn her life around, and has been critically described as part melodrama, part sensationalism and part surreal. Both films are classic Fuller, whom, time and again, delves into controversial subjects. Both films are great studies of Fuller's body of work and should be in the movie library of anyone interested in classic cinema. Both releases feature 1080p video and LPCM mono audio and contain Criterion's extensive list of special features. Recommendation: Buy them!

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