This week: Priests kick vampire butt for the Lord, the Dude still abides on Blu-ray and John Carpenter returns with his first feature-length movie in a decade.
Paul Bettany—who previously played an angel warrior for director Scott Stewart in Legion—pairs up with him again to play the titular character in this supernatural action-thriller loosely based on the Korean comic. We learn in an animated prologue that humanity and vampires have been at war for centuries and that Priest—a veteran of the last Vampire War—keeps a low profile inside one of the Church's walled cities until his niece is captured by bloodsuckers. Breaking his vows, Priest hunts down his niece's kidnappers with the help a former vampire slayer (Maggie Q) and his niece's boyfriend (Cam Giganet).
Priest has a stylish and polished look, and fans of the genre will get some kick out of watching Bettany unleash his own brand of holy retribution onto the vampires. The film is also available on Blu-ray 3D, but since much of the movie has murky subterranean scenes, the best use of the 3D effect doesn't come until the Wild West train sequence towards the end. Viewers who think the vampire genre has been bled dry will find nothing new here—Priest is pieced together with elements of Underworld, Resident Evil and general vampire lore that you've sunk your teeth into before.
Best extras: Both the DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D versions contain an unrated version of the movie with featurettes, deleted scenes and commentary. The Blu-ray versions add picture-in-picture commentary to the mix.
Verdict: Rent Me
The Big Lebowski (Blu-ray)
Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) truly was a man of his time when Joel and Ethan Coens' The Big Lebowski opened in theaters in 1998. But in the 13 years since, thanks to a devoted cult following, the Dude has become a timeless slacker icon. Watching the Dude—a pacifist, unemployed stoner with a penchant for White Russians and bowling—get tangled up in the supposed kidnapping of the Big Lebowski's trophy wife is still a laugh-out-loud riot no matter what you are smoking, as are the choice supporting players: Julianne Moore as the avant-garde feminist whose art and agenda are "highly vaginal," Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Big Lebowski's uptight assistant, and John Goodman as the Dude's best bud and all around loose cannon who "won't roll on Shabbos."
The best part of this must-own comedy being on Blu-ray is getting to see the outrageous, surreal fantasy sequences that the Dude has about bowling in high definition. The BD itself also comes packaged in a handsome 28-page limited edition Digibook filled with production information, an interview with Jeff Dowd (the inspiration for the Dude), photos and trivia about all things "Lebowski."
Best extras: All of the bonus features from the 10th anniversary edition DVD and the 2007 HD DVD are ported over to this Blu-ray debut, including a funny intro by film preservationist Mortimer Young, several making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes, an interactive map, a photo book by Bridges and interviews with the cast 10 years later. A cool new Blu-ray exclusive is the trivia game "Worthy Adversaries: What's My Line?" that tests your knowledge of the movie's forever-quotable dialogue, such as "Mind the beverage, man!"
Verdict: Buy Me
In director John Carpenter's first film since 2001's Ghost of Mars, Amber Heard stars as Kristen—a young woman who torches a farmhouse and finds herself being carted off to the funny farm in 1966. Kristen has no memory of her life before the incident despite Dr. Stringer's (Jared Harris) controversial methods—including hypnosis and electroshock therapy—to help her recover. As Kristen befriends the other girls in the asylum, she learns of a frightening entity named Alice that they all fear. When the other girls start to disappear one by one, Kristen decides to make a break and escape, but what she is running from is not at all what it seems.
The Ward isn't on par with Carpenter's finest films like Halloween or The Thing, but it's an effective psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the surprising conclusion. Carpenter's signature style comes through with his creepy shots of long, dark hallways of a building that actually is a mental hospital, although we wish his return to filmmaking also included another one of his haunting scores (he passed on this one). In any event, The Ward is a welcome return for one of horror's masters.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain a commentary track with Carpenter and Harris.
Verdict: Rent Me (If you would like a chance at winning one of six The Ward posters signed by John Carpenter, please leave a comment below about what your favorite Carpenter movie is and why. Winners will be chosen at random and contacted via e-mail—all we ask is that you keep the comments clean and be old enough to watch this R-rated movie. Good luck!)
Also New This Week: Dexter: The Fifth Season, The Conspirator, Jane Eyre (2011), Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, Something Borrowed, Demolition Man (BD), Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil, The Specialist (BD), Assassins (BD), Cobra (BD), Armed and Dangerous (BD), Hush (BD) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (BD)