Blu-ray Today Says Hooray for the Mockingjay on Friday

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 at 6:30 am

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (available Friday) - I've seen Mockingjay Part 1 three times now, and I think it's my favorite of the Hunger Games movies. It's the least like Battle Royale, it's the darkest in subject matter, and even without context, it's a solid indictment of a political system that depends upon propaganda and media-savvy to win a war and a nation. I'm sure the inevitable series ending will be happy and triumphant, but I really hope there are still some off-notes about trading one kind of ruthless phoniness in for a newer, "better" kind.

The disc includes a commentary by director Francis Lawrence and producer Nina Jacobson, most of which focuses on what changes they made to the book and why. There's also a making-of documentary, a tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lorde's theme-song video and a making of for that too (though the producers backed the wrong horse on that tune, as it turned out Jennifer Lawrence singing "Hanging Tree" is what people remember), deleted scenes, and an extended trailer for the Divergent sequel that actually gives some indication of a plot.

I know we'll never see it onscreen, but a "Divergent Games" comic book in which Katniss battles Tris would probably be successful. Unless Tris won, and then it would be bullshit.

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Blu-ray Today: Watership Down, Big Hero 6, Sons of Anarchy - It's Family Film Day!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 at 6:30 am

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Watership Down (Criterion Collection) - Watership Down was one of my absolute favorite books when I was younger - an epic adventure with a quest, a team of heroes, a big bad evil villain who doesn't emerge until many other more abstract threats have been conquered, its own second language, and...aside from a weird last-minute twist, it's all about rabbits.

I didn't see the movie when it first came out, but when it finally came back around (in my youth, before everyone had a VCR, that happened a lot) I saw it and was disappointed that IT WASN'T EXACTLY LIKE THE BOOK. Hollywood didn't cater quite as much to authors as it does now - if the novel came out today, it would of course be planned as a trilogy with the third part split in two, converted to 3D and every last scene intact. But young me didn't get that sometimes things have to change, and an annoying Art Garfunkel song has to go somewhere in the middle.

I'd like to check it out again. Based on everything I hear, I bet it's actually a more decent adaptation that fundamentalist li'l me was willing to accept. A new director interview, as well as one with Guillermo del Toro for some reason, is included in the extras.

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Blu-ray Today: Birdman, Caveman, Doctor, Phantom...Fungus!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 6:30 am

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Birdman - Or, "That Movie With the Really Long and Extraneous Subtitle That Pedants Will Insist You Write out in Full Every Single Time, Even Though You Know Good and Well What I Mean When I Just Say 'Birdman.'"

At the beginning of a review of Birdman that I was going to write but never did, I framed it as Bruce Wayne vs. Bruce Banner, which seemed fair in a movie about former superhero actors, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. Then I realized that such a frame is increasingly silly - we're getting to the point where every A-list actor there is is going to be in a superhero film at some point. Besides, the superhero hook is mainly there, it seems to me, to entice audience members who might not otherwise want to see a movie about Hollywood actors being overly, seriously pretentious as they try to get back to their perceived roots and put on a play. Yes, it's Michael Keaton haunted by a superhero, but it could just as easily be Leonard Nimoy haunted by a sciencey alien, or even Jim Parsons stalked by the ghost of Sheldon Cooper.

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Every Kill From John Wick in Under Eight Minutes

Monday, February 16, 2015 at 3:30 pm

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If you aren't sold on Keanu Reeves' John Wick yet, maybe this will do it. If you've already seen it, it's a fun way to relive it.

Spoilers for the uninitiated, obviously. But considering they're making a sequel right now, it's not like you really thought he was going to die at the end, right?

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Blu-ray Today: Grindhouse, Lego and Necrophilia

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 at 6:30 am

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The Beyond - When I was around the age of 12, The Beyond, also known as Seven Doors of Death, was spoken about reverently, in hushed tones, as a holy grail of gore that only the luckiest kids had ever managed to see without a wrathful parent running interference. In those pre-Internet days, it fell to the few who had beheld its horror to retell us the story in gruesome detail, with all its face-melting and zombie/demon kills.

Watching it today, it's pretty clear that it influenced an entire generation of those who managed to set eyes on it - the early Resident Evil games in particular owe it a debt. The house on the bayou in this film doesn't conceal a chemical lab, but rather one of the seven gates to hell, out of which zombies come. It's cheesy but heartfelt and seriously violent, with an amazing score you'll never get out of your head. This is Italian ghoul-meister Lucio Fulci at the peak of his powers, and a must-see.

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Blu-ray Today: Studio Ghibli Is Great When Pigs Fly, and the Rest of the Time Too

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 6:30 am

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Pom Poko - Okay, Disney, let's see if I have your logic straight here:

Song of the South is considered unreleasable because it tells a G-rated tale, absent historical context, set in what was decidedly a non G-rated time immediately following the Civil War. Sins of omission and so forth. Got it.

In Pom Poko, a family of Japanese raccoon dogs fights to protect their land from developers...using, among other things, the power of their magic scrotums. This is just fine to distribute, so long as the English dub calls them "pouches."

Lesson learned: it is okay to like furry characters with huge nutsacks, but not to act like slavery didn't ruin people's lives. As that is pretty much the Topless Robot philosophy also, it seems I'm more in tune with Disney than I thought.

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Big Hero 6 Alternate Intro Features Dubious Treatment of Pets

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 10:00 am

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I think it's pretty clear why Disney didn't ultimately go for this - seeing good-guy kids put rocket-boots on their cat for cheap laughs may not have the greatest outcome when show to a theater full of young boys. The cat comes to no harm in the film, but the thought of the real-life substitutes that curious kids might come up with for rocket boots is more than just a little ugly.

Baymax is here to remind you that this was just "beta testing." And I give him props for not straining to call it BAY-ta testing.

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Frankenstein Fights a Mummy in Our Exclusive Clip From...Frankenstein vs. The Mummy

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 8:00 am

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Before Universal's highly likely to-be-bullshit "shared universe" of classic monsters can get there, Image Entertainment is taking advantage of public domain characters to get some inter-creature fights going first. Best of all, in this clip we have, it's a knife fight between the two.

Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Egyptologist Naihla Khalil are both professors at a leading medical university. Victor's latest grisly "experiment" is the re-animated corpse of a sadistic madman and Naihla's most recent find is the cursed mummy of an evil pharaoh. When the two monsters face-off in an epic showdown, no one is safe from the slaughter. Can the murderous rampage be stopped and the carnage contained before it's too late?
I must say, I think we have probably scored you the best two and a half minutes of the entire movie. Because unlike some clips, this one gets right to it: it is a fight, and there is a clear winner. Will bandages or bolts prevail? Just watch...

UPDATE: Well, that didn't last. The film's publicity department regretted their decision to show the winner a couple of days after I posted this at their request. So if you missed it, sorry, and here's a trimmed version...

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Blu-ray Today: Book of Life, Spying on Sasha Grey and Playing in Hell

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 at 6:30 am

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The Book of Life - For whatever reason, Fox was gung-ho about inviting me to various pre-release events to hype this uniquely Mexican-American animated feature, but less interested in making it easy to see the full movie, or even push it for the Animated Feature Oscar. I wouldn't necessarily put that down to its quality - more likely, they simply didn't know what to do with a film that uses CG to make its characters look like they're literally made of wood, then has the main hero actually die and become a skeletal form of himself quite early on. Not to mention that there's a soundtrack which includes Latin-style takes on the likes of Biz Markie, and Ice Cube plays God (I know they don't actually call him that, but c'mon).

I'm curious to see it some day - maybe it'll get a theatrical rerelease when Pixar puts out their Dia de los Muertos movie.

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Blu-ray Today: Lucy Gots Some 'Splainin' to Do, as Trolls Get Boxy

Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 6:30 am

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The Boxtrolls - Travis Knight and his crew at Laika should probably get used to the phrase "It's an honor just to be nominated." While the Academy will and should always appreciate the work that has gone into the company's elaborate stop-motion fantasies, the ancient Oscar voters are still too stuck on notions of cute animals and fairy-tales to fully appreciate the off-kilter, amicable nightmares for brave children that are the company's reason for being.

The Boxtrolls flirts with cuteness but never quite gives into it, in its tale of a boy raised by underground dwellers who speak in grunts and live in discarded cardboard cubes. On the streets above, in an absurdly rickety town perched awkwardly upon a mountain, the aristocracy obsess over cheese, while unsavory social climbers stoke the fires of prejudice against nonhumans. The climax involves a giant steampunk mech. Elle Fanning's English accent really isn't very good - why not cast an actual English girl if the voice is what matters? - but it's a tiny off-note in a symphony of mirthful mayhem.

If you don't have a 3D TV or any other Laika movies, just a couple extra bucks will buy you a disc with all three of their stop-motion features to date (not counting anything from the Will Vinton era that they'd rather you stop associating with them). Totally worth it.

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