Movie of the Week
Senna (Arc Entertainment) - Blu-ray
Release Date: Aug 12, 2011
Director: Asif Kapadia
Cast: Ayrton Senna. Full cast + crew
Between already being available on DVD and Netflix it might not be entirely accurate to call Senna a new release, but it's still only a year old as far as the US release is concerned. And since it's such an incredible documentary we're going to count its first trip to a Blu-ray a new release, anyway. Even if people have had plenty of opportunity to catch it on home video already, we'll take any excuse to write about this remarkable look at the life of Formula One racer Ayrton Senna.
Even if you have no idea who Senna is or can't tell an F1 car from a bumper car, it doesn't matter. This is a captivating portrait of a man who didn't just live his life on the edge, he redefined where the edge was for other people. He was an athlete of the highest order, a man who constantly demanded more from himself than anyone else did, and whose career was shaped by those who sought to see him dethroned. The way director Asif Kapadia uses archival fotoage to tell the story of his life is both engrossing and fascinating, and there's really no reason anyone should miss this fantastic piece of filmmaking.
Special Features: Filmmaker audio commentary, plus nearly two hours of additional interviews left out of the film.
The biggest new release of this week is surely American Reunion, a sequel very few people asked for, but that should satisfy any original American Pie fans out there. If you're not into the series, this will be a poor place to try to enter the franchise. On its own it's a fairly standard raunchy comedy where the men act like complete and utter idiots and where none of the couples have anything even close to a normal relationship. If you want to see a caricature of early adulthood through the eyes of these still sex-obsessed buffoons, though, it does deliver exactly that. And if you are already a fan of the series, once it gets over its initial need to remind people it's a sex comedy, there are twinges of 'adulthood just isn't what we thought it would be' realizations that certainly make it more mature than the last two films (and certainly all of the straight-to-video spinoffs.)
After that are a few indie dramas that have earned some solid praise: Margaret, which took forever to release but was well met by critics once it finally did, and the memoir-based Being Flynn. After that is the less well-received Chinese war movie The Flowers of War starring Christian Bale, and the grindhouse throwback Cherry Bomb.
Blu Upgrade of the Week
Chariots of Fire (Warner Bros.) - Blu-ray DigiBook
Release Date: Sep 26, 1981
Director: Hugh Hudson
Cast: Ben Cross, Ian Charleson, Nigel Havers, Nicholas Farrell, Ian Holm. Full cast + crew
Hoping to capitalize on some Olympics fever, Warner Bros. Home Video has put together a rather nice DigiBook release for 1981 Best Picture winner Chariots of Fire about two British runners in the 1924 Olympic Games. It's unquestionably the best film ever made about the Olympics, but it's also one of the best films about athletes ever made. (In that regard it would make for an interesting pair with Senna above.)
In addition to the nice packaging and the 36-page booklet of behind-the-scenes photos and film facts, there's a mixture of SD and HD goodies to enjoy, including nearly an hour of new documentaries about the 1924 games and a retrospective on influential British producer David Puttnam.
Spotlight of the Week: Warner's Sci-Fi Classics
For unknown reasons it seems Warner Bros. have decided to drop quite a few classic sci-fi films onto Blu-ray for the first time this week. My personal favorite of the batch is Ken Russell's indelible, contemplative sci-fi/horror hybrid Altered States. This exploration of one man's obsession with pushing the boundaries of human perception has been a favorite of mine for quite some time and it's great to finally see it get a worthy HD facelift. Sure, there are some heavily dated effects here that don't exactly need to go under the hi-def microscope, but the practical elements all look dynamite.
And then we have Outland, Peter Hyams' pseudo Western in space that finds Sean Connery playing a new Marshall on a mining colony on Jupiter. It's a tight little thriller on its own and I'm happy to report that it still holds up incredibly well to this day. Other sci-fi films of this period - particularly those that venture into outer space - can't claim the same endurance, but thanks to the confident and unassuming production design, Outland still looks and feels fresh despite being 30 years old. If you've never seen it before and are a sci-fi fan, this is worth a blind buy for sure.
Next up we have Coma and Brainstorm, two more sci-fi thrillers that use the medical world in very different yet very freaky ways. Coma was actually directed by the late and great Michael Crichton, and it's a fascinating film both for its intriguing mystery - why are so many patients at one hospital entering comas for no apparent reason - and its strong, progressive female lead. Brainstorm, directed by effects legend Douglas Trumbull, isn't quite as gripping, but it's still a unique story about human consciousness that was ahead of its time.
And finally we have Frequency, the 2000 movie about a time-space defying ham radio. It's not quite the brilliant piece of science fiction as the others above, it's more like an extended Twilight Zone episode, but it's still a worthwhile watch with a simple heart and a simple story.
Unfortunately not all of WB's sci-fi releases this week or worthy of a pickup. The Astronaut's Wife and the director's cut of Spawn both hit as well. If you're already a fan of either film, the low price point on both will be a treat, but these films just aren't in the same league as the others.
And finally the week rounds out with a mix of random titles: Dark Nemesis, Steven Seagal's Mercenary for Justice, Twins of Evil and Royal Deceit, a new DVD of a forgotten Christian Bale film that is clearly hoping someone might accidentally buy it instead of Bale's other period piece out today, The Flowers of War.
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