Say it ain't so, Bruce! Has my favorite action hero officially joined the old-timer's club? Did the AARP come calling and good old Brucie man up (like he always does), stood up and say, "Aye!"? Even the ever beautiful Diane Lane decided to go retro in Disney's 1970's equine tale of overcoming incredible odds. Add a John Lennon biopic into the mix and we might as well step into Marty's DeLorean and journey into retro-land! All jokes aside, this week is actually looking good on the home video front, with a bunch of good Blu-ray releases that I believe, would be great additions to any collection, either now or later.
First, let's start with the action comedy flick, Red, which stars Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich as retired ex-CIA agents who must now battle against their former employer after years of executing the Agency's dirty deeds. Based on a DC Comics mini-series of the same name, written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Cully Hamner, Red (the title is actually a playful acronym for "Retired, Extremely Dangerous"), despite its geriatric cast, is an enjoyable and funny romp. The sight of Dame Mirren stoically firing a giant machine gun-ny thing-y has to be priceless. Yes, parts of the movie may consist of the usual mindless high-octane action sequences but the veteran actors know how to make it work through their sometimes mockingly oddball humor. It's may be silly and over the top at times but boy, is it fun to watch. Red will be released in 2 versions, one a barebones one with only the movie and the other a Special Edition with an audio commentary, deleted scenes and a couple of featurettes. Early reviews have praised both the video (1080p) and audio (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) quality as almost reference material. Oh, and the best thing is the regular version Blu-ray is on sale at Target for only $13 this week, the same price as the DVD. Recommendation: At $13, buy it!
After the success of the movie Seabiscuit in 2003, it was only a matter of time before the story of Secretariat, one of the most celebrated Thoroughbred racehorses in history, made it into your local cineplex as well. But in Disney's Secretariat, the journey of the 1973 Triple Crown winner's rise to stardom is diminished somewhat by the syrupy sweet, overly-clichéd story of various characters overcoming great odds to achieve success. Yes, these kinds of stories are meant to inspire but in Secretariat's case, it came at a price: predictability and emotional excessiveness. However, Diane Lane and John Malkovich deliver good performances as Penny Chenery (Secretariat's owner) and Lucien Laurin (the trainer) respectively, pulling the movie up from the doldrums. Lane is no stranger to playing women who must overcome big challenges in order to succeed and here, she shines yet again. As for Malkovich, he is again at his crazy-uncle best. Secretariat is available in a Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack and the video (1080p) and audio quality are reportedly to be superb (no surprises there). Recommendation: Buy it for the family, just wait till the price drops to $15 or less.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the final chapter in Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy books and it is finally being released this week on Blu-ray, together with The Stieg Larsson Trilogy, the box set containing all three movies. The twisted tale of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) finally reaches a stirring and satisfying conclusion. This may be the weakest movie compared to the first two but the need to unravel the mystery of Lisbeth's past keeps us going. The entire trilogy is a must-watch if you haven't already. These movies were actually made for Swedish television instead of for cinematic release but watching them, you wouldn't notice the difference. This made-for-TV fact, unfortunately rears its ugly head in the video transfer. Details are lacking, as well as depth of images, common to hi-def transfers. Film grain is ever present but I'm told that it is a stylistic choice of the director. It seems that the transfers have gotten worse with the release of each film in the trilogy but sometimes it is the story that matters and here, it sustains us through all the visual artifacts. An American version of the trilogy is already in the works with David Fincher (The Social Network) directing and Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara in the lead roles. Recommendation: Buy the trilogy box set when it drops to $45 or less ($15/movie).
Biopics are funny beasts. Depending on the celebrity in question, they can be engaging or just pedestrianly interesting. Much have been said and told about The Beatles and perhaps its most popular member, John Lennon. This week, two new releases about the different stages of Lennon's life premiers on Blu-ray. The first is Nowhere Boy, a motion picture film that focuses on Lennon's adolescent life growing up in Liverpool and the other is LennonNYC, a PBS documentary (part of its "American Masters" series) that takes an intimate look the time Lennon lived in New York City in the 70's with Yoko Ono and his son Sean. Nowhere Boy has been positively received, giving first-time director Sam Taylor-Wood a debut notch on his belt. It stars Aaron Johnson (Kick-Ass) as Lennon and takes us through his teenage years, examining Lennon's relationships with his estranged mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff) and his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), which help shape and influence his journey into rock n' roll stardom. From Lennon's first meeting with Paul McCartney and George Harrison to the creation of The Quarrymen, and ending with the band heading off to Hamburg, Nowhere Boy is an engaging story that no Beatles fan should miss. Nowhere Boy on Blu-ray features outstanding 1080p video and a great DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. If you are interested, also check out Backbeat, the tragic story of "the fifth Beatle," Stuart Sutcliffe.
For a less dramatic but no less engaging look at John Lennon's later years living in NYC, try watching PBS' documentary, LennonNYC. It is an intimate and personal look at the life of one of rock n' roll's most important figures leading up to his shocking murder. With this doc consisting mainly of archival footages, don't expect to see or hear hi-def quality video or audio. If you are a Beatles or music fan in general, having both releases in your movie library should be a no-brainer. Recommendation: Buy them!
January has been kind to fans of the Criterion Collection. From the intrepid studio this week, comes just about one of the best films ever made about the TV news business, James L. Brooks' classic 1987 drama/comedy Broadcast News. It stars Holly Hunter (her big break), Albert Brooks and William Hurt as dysfunctional co-workers in a network newsroom as they try to maneuver the treacherous waters of the cutthroat news business. Brooks' witty script is smart poignant and most of all, very memorable. Like all of Criterion's releases, Broadcast News has pristine audio/video and plenty of supplemental material to keep fans occupied. Recommendation: No doubt about it, get it! Right now!
Finally, in the "indulge if you must section" comes the final chapter (hopefully) in the Saw movie franchise. Once described as the architect of the "torture porn" genre, the Saw franchise has seen the quality of its films decline precipitously with each installment. Saw: The Final Chapter is the 7th installment in the series and it is going back to its roots, back to the first film that made it a horror sensation in the first place, with the return of the Cary Elwes character, Dr. Lawrence Gordon. Not much to say here but expect a thin plot and more morbid ways to maim and kill. Saw: The Final Chapter comes in Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo/Digital Copy and Saw 3D versions. Recommendation: Rental if you must indulge but this is definitely bargain bin material.