Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Blu-ray Releases: The Week of Feb. 7th, 2011 - I Spit On Paranormal Activities!

Well, the Packs won and the much-hyped Superbowl ads are now over and done with. Sprinkled among the commercials were several blockbuster movies debuting their new trailers, most for the first time. There was the JJ Abrams-Steven Spielberg collaboration, "Super 8" (is it E.T or is it Cloverfield?), "Captain America: The First Avenger,"  "Thor," "Transformers 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 4" and a bunch of others. Did you see them? What did you think?

The first Paranormal Activity was a resounding success for two simple reasons: one, it was genuinely scary and two, it was not a cookie-cutter horror film. In fact, it was not even a proper movie per se. In the context of what we have come to assume how a typical movie should be like, Paranormal Activity defied all expectations. It was made on an indie garage film budget of approximately $15K, a pittance in terms of movie budgets and was picked up by Paramount and went on to make close to $200M worldwide! It is a Cinderella story not unlike Saw (the first film). Of course, when such good fortunes happen, people just want to cash in on the immense interest for the film and guess what? Here comes the sequels! Paranormal Activity 2  was released last October and has a pretty good theatrical run and it is now available on Blu-ray and DVD this week. Also releasing this week are a couple more horror flicks, comedies and Criterions. Here is the list of this week's Blu-ray new release highlights:

Paranormal Activity 2 (Unrated Director's Cut) (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)I Spit on Your Grave [Blu-ray]I Spit on Your Grave [Blu-ray]My Soul to Take [Blu-ray]Ong Bak 3 Collector's Edition + Digital Copy [Blu-ray]Life as We Know It (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)You Again (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)Middle Men [Blu-ray]Amarcord (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]Still Walking (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Paranormal Activity 2, based on the reputation of the original, scared up close to $170M worldwide, yet another successful outing for the franchise. As most critics agreed, this sequel is a much better made movie (remember that the first one was made without any studio support) with a better story but guess what, it does not "break new ground." Yes, that was the major complaint, that it was more of the same thing. Well, I got news for you, pal, the title says Paranormal Activity 2, doesn't it? What did you expect? So, if you liked the first one and it scared you, then you should probably like this one as well. The hype hasn't abated for this franchise (yet, just wait for sequels number 3 and 4) and it should do well on Blu-ray as well. This sequel comes in a 2-disc Unrated Director's Cut (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy) package. Recommendation: A good rental if you are looking for a scary movie night.

The original I Spit on Your Grave, released in 1978, was a very controversial film for its graphic depiction of gang rape and extreme violence. Even by today's standards, the horrifically drawn out rape scenes are still considered vile and unnecessary. However, more current reappraisals of the film have redeemed it somewhat, calling it a "feminist wish fulfillment" film, not for the rape but for the violence against the male perpetrators that came after. That a remake was greenlighted at all is a big surprise but bringing the film into the new millennia doesn't make it any much better. In fact, the new I Spit on Your Grave (circa 2010) keeps to the same violent tone but makes the seconds half revenge sequences seem very Friday the 13th-like, proving that newer doesn't necessarily mean better. I Spit on Your Grave (2010) comes to Blu-ray in a single disc version and for those interested in the original as well, the 1978 I Spit on Your Grave gets a release this week as well. Recommendation: Rental, only if you have really nothing else you would rather watch.

This week seems to be big on horror films. My Soul to Take is the third and final one and it comes from well known horror movie director, Wes Craven. The creator of such classics as the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream series, as well as The Hills Have EyesThe Serpent and the Rainbow and The Last House on the Left, Craven seems to have lost his mojo on this one. The story sounds like a good one: a serial killer who swore that he would return to kill the seven children that were born on the night that he died. The film has been generally condemned for its lack of coherence in the script and substituting cheap thrills for real horror. My Soul to Take comes in a single disc movie-only package with some general extras like deleted scenes and audio commentary. Recommendation: Skip it.

 Even though Ong Bak 3 was only released to theaters about a month or so ago in the U.S., it is now available on home video. If you are a fan of Tony Jaa, then getting this release is a no-brainer. Like the previous installment in the trilogy, the story is paper-thin but you don't watch a Tony Jaa movie for the story, do you? If you are into martial arts, especially the Muay Thai discipline that Jaa practices, then Ong Bak 3 comes highly recommended. This release is a single-disc Collector's Edition and it includes a Digital Copy of the film. Recommendation: A must for Tony Jaa and martial arts fans, all others need not apply.

Following popular perception, with a new baby, life as we know it is just about over. Well, that's at least what the latest Katherine Heigl rom-com, Life as We Know It, is trying to convey. Together with Josh Dushamel, they play single adults who hate each other but are brought together by a new baby in their lives following the death of their mutual best friends. Life as We Know It offers nothing new except they typical formulaic poop jokes and everything we've come to expect from a comedy that has a baby in it. This theme was done way better in Three Men and a Baby and that was more than a couple of decades ago. This film is released in two packages, a loaded 2-disc one with Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy and the other, a barebones movie only release. Recommendation: A rental at best.

Next is the cross-generational comedy You Again that stars Kristen Bell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Odette Yustman and Sigourney Weaver as mother-daughter rivals who must now come to terms with the fact that they are going to be one big happy family. The story sounds ripe for some comedic hoopla but as most critics noted, the film switched on its autopilot and cruised to yet another generic location. With a great cast (including Betty White and Kristin Chenoweth), you would think that You Again would be a shoo-in for some great laughs but alas, not a chance. This film comes in a Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo package. Recommendation: Yet another rental.

The film, Middle Men is described as Boogie Nights for the internet age. It does not quite reach the heights of the Mark Wahlberg film, but Middle Men is an interesting film nonetheless. Yes, it is all about the porn industry and how it boomed together with the internet. Luke Wilson plays Jack Harris, whose vision of peddling porn through the internet is not only prescient and enriching, he becomes a target of the FBI, trying to make sense of the new digital frontier and also the mob, who wants their cut. While the film may lack focus (it can't decide whether it wants to be a comedy, a drama or a crime thriller), it is probably worth checking out. Middle Men comes in a single disc movie-only release. Recommendation: A good rental.

Finally, the Criterion Collection is gracing us with not one but two Blu-ray classic releases this week. One is the Federico Fellini coming of age comedy, Amarcord and the other, Still Walking, a lesser known Japanese film directed by Hirokazu Koreeda. Amarcord marks the first color Fellini film to get the high-def treatment and it is a great choice with the film's rich color palette and equally colorful characters. While Amarcord is a vibrant and funny film, Still Walking strikes the opposite tone, as Koreeda explores the day in the life of a Japanese family as they commemorate the death of a family member. Koreeda has been hailed by Roger Ebert as the next Ozu and his emotional themes of loss and memory is prevalent in all of his other works. Both films come with the usual Criterion knack for high quality video transfer and audio plus tons of extras. Recommendation: Buy them!

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