Clockwise from top left: Get Smart, Transsiberian, Kung Fu Panda, Budd Boetticher Box Set, Planet of the Apes 40th Anniversary Collection.
Welcome to this week's edition of Spin-ematical, chock full of alternatives to election coverage!
Kung Fu Panda
Though some of the celebrity voices were useless, Jack Black is great, and the film itself is pleasant, good-natured, and respectful of Asian culture. Available in at least seven editions, including widescreen, full-screen, Spanish, a Christmas gift set, with and without Secrets of the Furious Five (a 20-minute short), and on Blu-ray; oddly, this doesn't release until Sunday. Buy it.
Traveling by train in the dead of winter from Beijing to Moscow should be much more restful than what happens to Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer in this adventure / suspense / thriller; Ben Kingsley plays a menacing Russian detective. I'm recommending this one sight unseen because Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) directed. Includes a 34-minute "making of"; also available on Blu-ray. Replays are inevitable. Buy it.
The bumbling Maxwell Smart as a generic action hero? (*sigh*) Steve Carell makes the character his own by repeating the old catchphrases without enthusiasm and proving to be far too adept for his own -- or the movie's -- good. Anne Hathaway is a very sexy spy, but Dwayne Johnson is miscast and even Alan Arkin struggles. The TV series never took itself too seriously; if only the movie had done the same. Available in widescreen and full-screen editions, as well as a two-disk version and on Blu-ray; a plethora of bonus scenes are included, notably a 5-minute "vomit reel." Ugh. Skip it.
After the jump ... Indies on DVD, more Blu-ray debuts, and Collector's Corner.
When Did You Last See Your Father?
Dying father, son seeking reconciliation. Jim Broadbent is The Dad, Colin Firth is The Son. Hospital, terminal cancer, and, I presume, plenty of tears, sadness, and poignant memories. The subject matter strikes too close to home for me to objectively recommend a purchase, but if you're feeling sentimental and/or nostalgic, this might be your cup of British tea. The DVD includes an audio commentary and deleted scenes. Rent it.
What We Do Is Secret
I came of age in Los Angeles in the late 70s, when Darby Crash and the Germs were a vital part of the punk scene. Though I wasn't a fan of their music, I'm still curious to see this bio-pic (with Shane West as Crash), despite the very mixed-to-negative reviews it received. I couldn't find any mention of extras on the DVD. Rent it.
Henry Poole is Here
On the other hand, I'm not curious at all about Mark Pellington's fable "about the unexpected wonders of the everyday," starring Luke Wilson and Radha Mitchell. The two-minute trailer looked like it summed up the essence of the film. The DVD includes an audio commentary, "making of" featurette, two music videos and the trailer. Also available on Blu-ray. Skip it.
In addition to Get Smart, Transsiberian, and Kung Fu Panda, also debuting on Blu-ray this week:
Planet of the Apes 40th Anniversary Collection
When Planet played on network TV, you better believe it was the talk of my junior high classroom the next day! I was hooked, and promptly checked out Pierre Boulle's novel from the school library and obediently watched the sequels when they popped up on TV. (Shoot, I even loyally watched the TV series.) Not having seen any of the sequels for many years, I'm almost afraid to tamper with my fond memories -- the original's flaws were much more apparent when I watched it again recently -- but, dang it, I'm an ape boy through and through. The Blu-ray set includes all kinds of extras. Buy it.
A Christmas Story (Ultimate Collector's Edition)
The two-disk special edition at the heart of the tin is the same, but it's been surrounded with cookie cutters, apron, cookbook, magic dust and fairy powder. (OK, I made the last two up.) You know you want it, even if you already have all the previous editions in every format ever produced, cuz it's Blu-ray! Buy it.
The Final Countdown
I love time-travel movies, and The Final Countdown poses one of the classic questions: if you commanded a modern aircraft carrier and were transported along with your ship back in time to the eve of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, what would you do? As I recall (it's been a loooong time since I've seen it), the film doesn't do much more than pose the question, but when Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, and Charles Durning are around to chew the scenery, who cares? Note that the Blu-ray evidently does not include a couple of the extras (still gallery, Douglas bio) found on the previous DVD edition. Rent it.
Vexille (Special Edition)
This futuristic action anime looked stunning on the big screen, but I'm afraid it put me to sleep with its convoluted plotting and indifferent pacing, feeling much longer than its 109-minute running time. It might be heresy, but Vexille might be better appreciated in an environment where you can pause the action as needed; a more episodic structure might aid digestion. The special edition includes two hours of extras and should look stunning on Blu-ray. Rent it.
Notoriously awful and not erotic at all -- at least, that's what my friends told me -- Caligula purports to portray the true and shocking story of the most outrageous Roman emperor of them all. With Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole, and John Gielgud. The Amazon listing quotes Mirren's description: "An irresistible mix of art and genitals." The Blu-ray includes the original uncut theatrical version, an alternate version, audio commentaries, a "making of" doc, and a new interview with director Tinto Brass. Skip it.
Budd Boetticher Box Set (Tall T, Decision at Sundown, Buchanan Rides Alone, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station)
A Western poet of the highest order whose chosen canvas was celluloid, Budd Boetticher made a series of spare, terse classics with Randolph Scott in the lead during the late 1950s. But neither the decade nor the genre should deter anyone from picking up these long-awaited DVDs; the films transcend preconceptions. The five-disk set includes audio commentaries on three of the films (which have all been restored), original trailers, and a documentary on Boetticher. (DVD Savant has a wonderful, detailed review of the set.) Buy it.
Waterworld (2-Disc Extended Edition)
Putting aside the near-legendary tales of budget overruns and conflict/control issues between leading man Kevin Costner and director Kevin Reynolds, Waterworld was a thumping bore when I saw it theatrically, so I'm not sure that the "extended edition," which adds 40 minutes to the original 136-minute running time, will solve its problems. The extended version is evidently sourced from a screening on US broadcast TV and supposedly is Reynolds' preferred cut, but the profanity is dubbed over, some special effects shots were not completed, and the poor picture quality makes for "a cruddy viewing event" (per DVD Talk). The original theatrical version is included. Skip it.
The Gregory Peck Film Collection (To Kill a Mockingbird, Cape Fear, Arabesque, Mirage, Captain Newman M.D., The World in His Arms)
Now that it's November, the box sets come a-flooding into the marketplace. The six-film, seven-disk Gregory Peck Film Collection has two classics, a curiosity, and two I haven't seen. DVD Town has the run down on the extras. The price might sound tempting,
but it's apparently simply a repackaging of films that have already been available on DVD. Get the stand-alone versions of Mockingbird or Cape Fear instead. Skip it. *
* UPDATE 11/05: Apologies for the mistake; four of the titles (other than Mockingbird and Fear) are new to DVD, which makes the box set vastly more interesting.