Not Quite Pixar's Best
Brave - Disney/Buena Vista - Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD
Release Date: Jun 22, 2012
Director: Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell
Cast: Kelly MacDonald, Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly, Julie Walters, Kevin McKidd. Full cast + crew
Even just a few years ago you could get away with saying that an OK Pixar film was still better than everyone else's animated films. That's just not true anymore. The animation industry has seriously stepped up its storytelling game in recent years, with all major studios putting out quality, original animated films every few months. And so we've entered an age where an OK Pixar film is, well, an OK animated film. But that's all industry competition talk that's less a reflection on the film and more on the change in the animation landscape.
Regardless of what other animated films came out this year, Brave just isn't a particularly great film. It has odd tonal shifts in its comedy, which flips from juvenile sight gags to heavy mother-daughter conflicts and back again. Once magic is introduced to the story, though, it realigns with the normal wonder and awe one feels when swept up in a Pixar story. In a way, it's refreshing because it is indeed abnormal for Pixar to make a movie as incongrous as Brave, but that doesn't make Brave a better movie, it just makes it an interesting footnote in the studio's filmography.
Special Features: Commentary with Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brian Larsen and Nick Smith; short films (La Luna and The Legend of Mor'Du); 13 minutes of extended scenes; 50 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes, diving into everything from an initial research trip to Scotland and an introduction to the core artists at Pixar; marketing materials; another handful of short, two-minute featurettes on art and characters.
The Pleasant/Vulgar Surprise
The Watch - 20th Century - Blu-ray and DVD
Release Date: Jul 27, 2012
Director: Akiva Schaffer
Cast: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade,Rosemarie DeWitt. Full cast + crew
Once again we have a case of bad marketing and overall bad buzz resulting in a pleasant surprise. The Watch, written by the minds behind Pineapple Express and from the director of Hot Rod, bombed over the summer, both at the box office and with fans and critics alike. So, when I popped this disc in, it was with appropriately low expectations, despite the talent involved. Imagine my joy, then, upon realizing that it's not nearly the disaster people made it out to be.
Oh, sure, it is absolutely overflowing with product placement, and is utterly shameless in this regard. But once you get past the production realities of the film (product placement isn't going anywhere), The Watch is an enjoyable enough film about a group of suburban dudes hunting an alien in their uptight neighborhood. It's not complicated. It's not art. But it is an amusing excuse to watch some funny men, particularly Richard Ayode, talk dirty and blow some stuff up in between shots of Budweiser beer cans.
Special Features: deleted scenes, gag reel, alternate takes, and some standard, fluffy behind-the-scenes materials.
The director of Clueless has reteamed with Alicia Silverstone for a comedy about two vampire gals and their dating life. Yep, Vamps is exactly what you'd expect it to be. It's simple, but not without its charms and wit, and so long as you don't go expecting another Clueless, you'll have fun. Similarly, as long as you don't expect Savages to be as singularly perfect as Platoon or JFK, you'll find a bold, energetic Oliver Stone film that's a bit of a cross between Wall Street 2 and Natural Born Killers.
The rest of the week is filled with a grab bag of new releases offering something for everyone. The environmental/political documentary The Island President; the SXSW darling Natural Selection; the Julie Delpy-directed 2 Days in New York; Todd Solondz' Dark Horse, which might just find its way onto some top-10 lists this year; an updated release of the George Romero documentary Document of the Dead; the modern grindhouse Western Dust Up; the Jackass-esque stunt movie Nitro Circus 3D; and the documentary The Queen of Versailles.
The Best Film Ever Made
Lawrence of Arabia - Sony Pictures - Collector's Edition and Regular Blu-ray
Release Date: Dec 10, 1962
Director: David Lean
Cast: Peter O'Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Omar Sharif. Full cast + crew
Lawrence of Arabia is the best film ever made, and there's nothing I can add to decades and decades of conversation about it, only to reiterate that it's an astonishing piece of filmmaking that instantly clarifies the true definition of epic. And it's finally available on Blu-ray, in both a standalone disc and a collector's edition that contains a book and a third bonus disc of special features.
I haven't gotten my hands on this set yet, but I am very, very curious to see how the HD transfer came out, and will certainly update this space once I've had a chance to see it for myself.
Special Features: A pop-up fact/map feature that explains the historical relevance of every scene in the film; Peter O'Toole's reflections on the film (21 minutes); "Making of Lawrence of Arabia" (61 minutes); "A Conversation with Steven Spielberg" (nine minutes); a further assortment of short featurettes about the film's original release.
If you're eagerly awaiting Steven Spielberg's latest historical epic, Lincoln, then why not revisit one of his first: 1987's Empire of the Sun, which not only told a remarkable, true story about the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, but also introduced the world to a very young Christian Bale. But if serious, heavy dramas are not your thing, then you should certainly turn your retail dollars to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, which is surely the most bodacious time-travel movie ever made. Next up is a new three-film Harold & Kumar box set, which comes in an aluminum case shaped like a lighter and contains burger-scented air fresheners and a set of coasters. The discs themselves aren't any different than past releases, but if you've got a Harold & Kumar fan in your life, might not be a bad stocking stuffer this holiday season.
And if you'd like to get back to the serious side of this week's new releases, we end with four impressive Blu-rays of some truly landmark films: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Battleship Potemkin and Strike, Trilogy of Life (The Decameron, The Cantebury Tales, Arabian Nights), and Jean-Luc Goddard's Weekend.