RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Sherlock Holmes and An Education
Plus, more chipmunks, a couple of solid docs, two hit men, and two funny men.
This week on home video, our choices are headlined by Guy Ritchie's latest film -- a Hollywood reimagining of a classic literary hero -- and a multiple Oscar-nominated British film starring Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan. Those are followed up by a kid-friendly sequel, a dark horror-comedy, and a couple of highly touted documentaries to round out the brand new releases. In the classics/re-issues department, we've got a special edition of a Disney film, a couple of stylishly different crime thrillers, and a complete collection of a classic comedy duo's influential television show. There's some good stuff to be had this week, so check out what's coming and decide what'll go on your wish list.
Director Guy Ritchie is best known for his highly stylized and intricately plotted British gangster films, and though he has found somewhat mixed success with this formula, the one time he strayed away from it (2002's Swept Away), he wound up with a dismal 5% Tomatometer. So most weren't quite sure what to make of it when he was saddled with one of literature's most recognizable and iconic heroes, Sherlock Holmes. Luckily for Ritchie, most critics were charmed by his take on the classic detective (played with relish by Robert Downey Jr.) and his right-hand man Watson (Jude Law), who work together to thwart an evil conspiracy perpetrated by one Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Entrusted with what looks to be the beginning of a Hollywood franchise, Ritchie practiced some restraint with his typically frantic style but included enough little touches to leave his fingerprint on the film, and critics felt this worked to his advantage. At 69% on the Tomatometer, Sherlock Holmes (not to be confused with the Asylum production of the same name) wasn't a runaway critical success, but it performed well at the box office and worked well enough as a fun crowd-pleaser. This week, you can pick it up on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Carey Mulligan has become a name to look out for, thanks in large part to her role in last year's British hit An Education. Not only was the film nominated for both the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars, but Mulligan herself garnered widespread acclaim for her role as Jenny Mellor, a high school girl who is swept into a relationship with an older man, creating complications in her personal life. Though its central premise is nothing new, most felt that An Education delivered a mature portrayal of May-December romance and singled out Mulligan for her charming, nuanced performance. In fact, though the Best Actress race ultimately became a showdown between Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock, many critics expressed admiration for the way Mulligan carried her picture, even in the midst of a talented cast that included Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Rosamund Pike, and Emma Thompson. It only opened in limited release stateside, so if you missed it when it hit theaters, now's your chance to catch up.
What can we say? The first Alvin and the Chipmunks movie earned over $200 million at the box office in 2007, despite its 27% Tomatometer rating, so no one should have been surprised when a "squeakquel" made its way to the big screen two years later. Based on a cartoon that most of the film's target audience has probably never even heard of, the Chipmunks movies are the simplest of children's entertainment, relying on all-too-familiar plot clichés and the requisite slapstick humor. This time around, the Chipmunks are joined by their female counterparts, the Chipettes, who approach former JETT records excutive Ian Hawke (David Cross) about a record deal after witnessing the success that Alvin, Simon, and Theodore have achieved. Naturally, Alvin and the boys develop crushes on the girls, and they end up working together to put on a school concert. It's standard stuff, but the little ones seem to like it, so if you need a 90-minute distraction for your kids while you fix the toilet, this might do the trick.
Its super easy to look down your nose at pop culture but, like anyone who identified as a geek in the 80s can tell you, revenge will be had by the meek. In the case of Afghan Star, the Sundance award winning doc by Havana Marking, pop music is the force that unites over 11 million Afghanis and raises up four particularly talented singers in an American-Idol style singing competition called (you guessed it) Afghan Star. The four contestants, sporting no end of vocal talents, are from varying parts of Afghanistan, each of which experiences unique social and religious restrictions. In 2004, Afghanistan lifted a handful of restrictions on music and Tolo TV, the station that carries the show, swept in to fill a need. The singers do more than just excel in a field, theyre standing up against explicitly repressive forces and all this is public and in game show form. In a place where following your dreams is about more than choosing between guyliner or track suits, watching these singers (between 19 and 25) stand up speaks more loudly than anything they send through the mics. DVD includes a new video featurette by the director and subtitles.
Since "gothic" and "horror" are terms that, on mere principle, invoke excess, why not goof on them? So this comedy, produced by the omnipresent indie demi-urge Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, The Roost) goes back to the roots of gothy-gory (and now goofy) England to watch Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings and TV's Lost), awaiting execution for grave robbing, confess the monster-fraught dangers of his field to attending priest and comforter, Ron Perlman (Hellboy and TV's Beauty and the Beast if you wanna be old school). It's great casting at the least! See Hellboy absolve a hobbit of his monster related guilt -- the humor's written all over this in chiaroscuro. The Blu-Ray, which should make all those night shoots easy to make out, includes making of and effects featurettes along with audio commentaries by the director and stars and a print graphic novelization of the film.
Depending on your political leanings and socio-economic outlook, The Yes Men are either a bunch of liberal nerds with too much time on their hands, or a bunch of upstanding citizen-activists with an ingenious game plan. Either way, their exploits are outrageous and often hilarious, and if you're going to watch a political documentary, why not get a few laughs in as well? To offer some background, the Yes Men are a group of activists who operate copycat websites that mirror those of important corporations and government organizations; as such, they receive numerous invitations to speak and appear at various events, and they accordingly send pseudo-execs to stir things up and attempt to highlight problems inherent within the system through satire. The Yes Men Fix the World is the follow-up doc to 2003's The Yes Men, in which Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno targeted the World Trade Organization. Now they focus their attention on corporate fatcats as they impersonate execs from Dow Chemical and Exxon, appear on the BBC, and meet with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in front of a thousand contractors. Certified Fresh at 80%, The Yes Men Fix the World promises to be another hilarious probe into timely issues by a group of bold -- and shameless -- activists out to change the world.
Now that Tim Burton has put his stamp on Lewis Carroll's classic tale with Disney's blessing, the animation giant has decided to release its 2-disc Special Un-Anniversary Edition of Alice in Wonderland this week on DVD. Possibly the most surreal and puzzling entry in Disney's illustrious animated canon, Alice in Wonderland is an adaptation of Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, wherein a young girl follows a white rabbit down a hole and to an alternate reality full of colorful and bizarre characters. The new DVD edition will feature extras like a documentary featurette on the making of the film, a deleted scene narrated by the directors of The Princess and the Frog, and the Alice-inspired Mickey Mouse short, Thru the Mirror, among other extras. If you never owned this classic before, this could be a good time to pick it up.
John Woo might not be a household name quite yet, but those who don't recognize his name will still surely recognize some of the films he's directed, like Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II. But before making the jump to Hollywood, Woo had already amassed a cult following based on a few of his Hong Kong films, most notably those starring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's Chow Yun Fat; of these collaborations, The Killer is probably the most famous and most beloved. The plot revolves around retiring hit man Ah Jong (Chow), who inadvertently blinds a singer during a bloody shootout and decides to take on one more hit so that he can pay for an expensive operation that will restore her eyesight. Woo's films are known for their highly stylized action sequences, which often feature slow-motion, boatloads of gunfire (from firearms that never need reloading), doves, and Mexican standoffs. Currently rated at 100% on the Tomatometer with 30 reviews, The Killer is available in Blu-Ray for the first time, and though details on the extras are a bit sketchy, it appears the new edition will include interviews with Woo and a look at filming locations in addition to the standard fare.
Continuing on the theme of troubled hit men, Michael Mann's (Heat, Public Enemies) Collateral also hits Blu-Ray for the first time this week. This Certified Fresh (86%) thriller stars heavyweight Tom Cruise as the aforementioned hit man, Vincent, and Jamie Foxx as Max, the unlucky L.A. cab driver who picks him up, as the two embark on a tension-filled night during which Max is expected to dispose of five key witnesses in a case against a drug cartel. As the FBI catches on and begins to pursue them, the tables turn and Max finds that Vincent isn't as expendable as he was intended to be. Michael Mann has a superb knack for crime thrillers, and this film was no different; critics praised Collateral on several aspects, from its strong performances to its production quality to its tense, noir-ish atmosphere -- all executed admirably. Now even crisper in Blu-Ray, you can pick this up and catch special features like rehearsal footage of Cruise and Foxx, a 1-minute hidden camera short featuring Cruise posing as a FedEx delivery man, and other standard extras.
Touted as one of the best television shows of all time by the likes of Entertainment Weekly and TIME Magazine, The Abbott and Costello Show was a groundbreaking half-hour sitcom that ran from 1952-1954 and starred the comedy duo in a series of random scenarios. Those unfamiliar with the greater Abbott and Costello catalog might still recognize their most popular routine, known simply as "Who's on First?", a witty exchange about a baseball game in which the players' names (e.g. Who, What, Why, I Don't Know) become the source of mad confusion, or their films with some of the classic Universal Monsters (Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). Now, the entire series of the highly influential show is available on DVD and includes extras like a Season One Classic Routine Reel, Lou Costello's Home Movies, a 1978 TV special, and a short film from 1948, among others -- a must-have for classic TV enthusiasts.