We're getting to the halfway point of the year, and as unbelievable as it may seem, my two favorite movies so far came out on the same weekend in February, and now both come out on Blu-ray today. Yes, Jupiter Ascending and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water are the two most imaginative, joyful, cosmos-spanning, eye-stimulating and mind-bulldozing cinematic entertainments of 2015 so far, and if you've allowed any naysayers to dissuade you from seeing either, don't. SpongeBob is a lot weirder and trippier than you'd expect, and the CG/live-action stuff they promote in clips is only a small part of the tale. Jupiter Ascending, meanwhile, is like a more crowd-pleasing take on Dune, with three aristocratic, space-vampire siblings jockeying for supremacy while secret princess Mila Kunis strives to save earth from becoming their food, with the help of air-skating wolf-man Channing Tatum.
Eddie Redmayne gets a lot of grief for supposedly overacting in a role that's written as an immortal version of King Joffrey who never grew up, but it seems to me a note-perfect portrayal of a spoiled, crybaby legacy child who's never had to do any work for millennia because he became a decadent immortal cannibal. If anybody knows a real one who behaves differently, I shall retract that statement.
And if you have a 3D TV and a prescription for a certain recently decriminalized "medication," you should run out and buy both of these now - but since running isn't likely to be in your future any more than getting off the couch is, just use Amazon Prime.More >>
So far, the acting is better in this movie than what we've seen from Zack Snyder's film. Though Axel Braun's cheating a bit by continuing to have a Heath Ledger-style Joker - he's playing on our nostalgia in the way a new tattooed Joker might not.
And it's thanks to Mr. J that this trailer has one of the most out-of-left field dark, twisted endings I've ever seen in any superhero movie of any kind. Hey, since the DVD also includes a "non-sex" version, maybe the actual story could be...not awful?More >>
Cannibal Ferox (Make Them Die Slowly) - If you're not quite down for the more serious nihilism of Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox is the best gateway drug into the Italian cannibal subgenre, with a slightly campier tone (and extremely campy dub), and a sense that an unrelated gangster movie was somehow separately purchased by the producers and badly spliced in at irrelevant points. Aside from the weird cops-and-drugs subplot, it hews pretty closely to theme - stupid westerners voyage down the Amazon, one winds up killing a native, and brutal jungle-style revenge ensues, along with absolutely amazing soundtrack music.
It's best not to listen to the director's commentary, though. Umberto Lenzi, in describing his movie, sounds like a complete moronic jerk who just wanted to shock (and kill real turtles), which may come as no surprise to people who hate these sorts of movies already. But if you dig what he's done, you'll come up with better justifications than he can.More >>
It's kind of a slow week for decent Blu-rays, so maybe now would be the time to check out Boardwalk Empire, today's biggest-deal box set? True, prohibition-era gangster takes aren't necessarily the stuff of geekdom, but now that we all love Charlie Cox as Daredevil, looking back at the show that includes him and General Zod (Shannon version) and Gollum, er, I mean Steve Buscemi, might be a fun journey.More >>
Battlestar Galactica - The Definitive Collection - Despite the modern graphics on the cover, Edward James Olmos is nowhere to be found in this set; we're talking old school! Remastered in high-definition widescreen for the first time, you get every episode of the original series, every episode of Galactica 1980 and the theatrical cut of the original pilot, which featured alternate scenes in movie form. Should you prefer, there's a slightly cheaper "Remastered Collection" that does not include the theatrical version, but you'd be doing yourself a disservice to skip it - purely as a movie, it holds up surprisingly well. (In Europe we got theatrical versions of every pilot, forming a trilogy of sorts with the sequels titled Galactica 2: The Cylon Attack and Mission to Earth. Not that I was allowed to see them - my parents saw them for the cash-grabs they were.)
Some episodes of the original show were a lot better than others, certainly, and some of the look has dated, but I think people forget what a good job the show did of building a rich and developed mythology while still having fun with things. Yes, the Starbuck-Apollo dynamic was pretty blatantly based on Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, but it worked, much more so than similar attempts to copy that chemistry (without them, the show suffered greatly in its 1980 iteration). I never made it very far into the remake series, but I suspect I'll be watching all these again. Yes, even the 1980 ones.More >>
Among nerdy modes of transportation, submarines may be underrated. I suppose that the spaceship - or maybe the TARDIS - is the ultimate dream vehicle for nerds, but the submarine would still be high on the list, and it has, abetted by comic book advertising, a sense of plausible attainability the others do not.
So with Black Sea, Kevin Macdonald's heavy-handed but agreeably tense submarine thriller, out on Blu-ray this week, here are a few of the many submarine adventures with nerd appeal. I've focused only on vehicles, by the way, not undersea stations, even though it meant skipping such favorites as Destination Inner Space and DeepStar Six...More >>
Mad Max - The relatively low-key franchise starter that launched both star Mel Gibson and director George Miller's careers gets less attention than the sequels, which created larger post-apocalyptic worlds from the ground up. Using limited resources, Miller initially made a more traditional '70s revenge movie with an amped-up level of action - inspired by the results of violence he'd seen as a medical student - that would become the norm in the next few years, including a specific tribute in Watchmen (the comic) that would also beget Saw.
If you're a fan, you already have a decent Blu-ray with most of the extras already. The major new addition is a featurette that includes new interviews with D.P. David Eggby, lead actress Joanne Samuel, and Mad Mel himself. There's not a lot of new information to be had, but Gibson is of course delighted to recount tales of violence, action, and what he imagines to be cavemen seated around a fire eating charred meat while telling primitive tales of revenge. It makes you both miss him as a screen presence and understand why people might be a little wary to work with the guy.
And before you see Hugh Keays-Byrne as the new villain of Fury Road, you'd be doing him a disservice if you didn't take one more look at his original villain, Toecutter. The Shakespearean actor rode across Australia with the actual biker-gang extras to make it to set, and by the time he arrived had become so method that nobody could tell he hadn't always been one of them.More >>
Hollywood Shuffle - Robert Townsend's 1987 comedy about the pitfalls of black stereotyping in the movie industry is still as relevant now as it was then - switch out the Eddie Murphy references for Kevin Hart or Tyler Perry, and it's disappointing to note how little has changed - though today, the notion that "black actors don't play well overseas" would be a key plot point too.
It surprised me to learn that Townsend has been working steadily ever since, despite Hollywood's usual vengeance at those who would attack it. Granted, his attempts to make more positive black films like Meteor Man haven't always been good, but in today's marketplace in which fans are crying out for more diverse superheroes, he might just have been 20 years ahead of its time (but seriously - Meteor Man is not a good movie. I wish it were).
In a move that somewhat proves Townsend's original point, Hollywood Shuffle is being released on a bare-bones Blu-ray retailing for $30, presumably because the distributor didn't want to pony up the cash for extras. It might have been nice to hear Keenan Ivory Wayans reflect back on his role in it, or even modern black filmmakers and actors discussing the impact it had on them - instead, it is literally the equivalent of Chris Rock's Nat X joke about being the only 15-minute show on TV, because 30 would give "The Man" a heart attack.More >>
Yes, yes, I'm super-late picking a Voices winner. Ask my writers how behind I am on invoicing sometimes.
At any rate, the winner of The Voices Blu-ray is BenCohen, whose mashup of comic strip and comic book produced this gem:
Alan Moore reboots "Beetle Bailey". It is now a violent, graphic deconstruction not only of military culture, but of the way it is sensationalized and glorified by the media as a recruitment push. Beetle's laziness is now primarily a result of drug use, PTSD from his first time in heavy combat, and a general desire to avoid the consequences of his enlistment in the Army, which he did out of high school assuming it would make him a hero. Sarge is so fixated on Beetle not because he is just a strict authority figure, but because he is a psychopath sexually obsessed with the perceived youth and defenselessness of his subordinate. That dog of his can't really walk on two legs, and only wears military clothing because the last person who told Sarge to stop was mysteriously killed in a landmine-spotting exercise. The General is so inept because he is impotent. The blonde secretary is secretly manipulating the entire base to her anarchic whim, which will eventually culminate in the units stationed at Camp Swampy being called into battle. There, they will be defeated quickly by the never-specified enemy they have always been preparing to fight: The United States.Ben, please email me your address. Everyone else talk amongst yourselves.
The Marine 4: Moving Target - It's easy to forget now, but the first The Marine was a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek attempt to make John Cena into a wise-cracking movie star in the Dwayne Johnson mode. When it didn't do as well as was hoped, WWE revived it on DVD in the (futile) hopes that switching out Cena for Ted DiBiase would get the legacy kid over with fans. By the third was being made, it had become such a dutifully respectful franchise that Randy Orton was cast and then booted when real-life Marines complained that Orton had deserted and been court-martialed while actually serving. The Miz was given the role instead, despite it being the polar opposite of his more humorous persona. It was okay DTV stuff, but nothing special.
The fourth film seems to exist for two reasons: one, to prop up the Miz's gimmick that he is in fact a movie star, and two, to make a star of female wrestler Summer Rae, whose strangely angular face reminds me of some obscure supporting character in the Moomintroll books. I don't see it working, but I'd be all for Damian Mizdow starring in part 5.More >>