Alice in Wonderland
It's a new Tim Burton movie! It's based on a classic fairy tale about a "bizarre dream world"! Johnny Depp is The Mad Hatter! It's in 3D (albeit the afterthought kind)! What could possibly go wrong? "There's so much going on, it's almost impossible for the human eye to keep up," wrote our own Jenni Miller in her review. "And as wondrous as the talking animals are, as fabulous as the costumes are, as huge as the Red Queen's head is, it's nothing but a house of cards." (Psst - that's not a good thing.) I suspect there's still a strong curiosity factor here, especially for the Blu-ray version, so may I suggest: Rent it.
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It's a revival of a classic character from the Universal vault! It's got Benicio del Toro as a guy who turns into a wolf! It's got the handsome Anthony Hopkins and the beautiful Emily Blunt! What could possibly go wrong? "It's the kind of relentlessly-paced junk that moves so fast and looks so cool that you barely have any time to process how empty it all is before the end credits roll," sighed Cinematical's John Gholson. (You already know that's not a good thing.) Both the theatrical and unrated director's cut are included on DVD and Blu-ray versions. Todd Gilchrist got an early look at the unrated director's cut on Blu-ray, which he says only marginally improves on a film he hated. Skip it.
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Also out: Wild Things: Foursome (if you must), The Stranger (the Steve Austin version).
If the name and white suit look familiar, that's intentional. Directed by Pablo Larraín and hailing from Chile, the film follows a 50-year-old man who is obsessed with the title character played by John Travolta in the 70s disco sensation.
In his review for Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully writes: "For me, Tony Manero's most striking trait is its feverishly demented tone-a fusion of so many clashing styles that it spins on a dance floor of its very own." Tully acknowledges that the film might not be for everyone, but if you're in an adventuresome mood, it definitely sounds like it's worth a rental.
One of the best-reviewed movies from 2005 finally arrives on DVD, courtesy of Kino International. Aleksandr Sokurov's film focuses on Emperor Hirohito after he is confronted by General Douglas MacArthur. Cinematical's Jeffrey M. Anderson said that Issei Ogata "gives an amazing performance as Hirohito" and found the film to be "surprisingly enjoyable." In another review for Cinematical, Martha Fischer wrote: "The film's visual artistry is so profound that it becomes almost overwhelming."
Also out: Undisputed III: Redemption (Chilean action hero Marko Zaror as a bad guy), Small Town Saturday Night (Chris Pine in a drama).
War of the Worlds
Also known as Steven Spielberg's How I Spent a Lousy Weekend With My Dad, with Tom Cruise as a divorced father, estranged from his two children (Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin), who must deal with puberty blues AND an alien attack while living in New Jersey. The invasion footage is chilling, disquieting, and terrifying, which makes the domestic squabbles tolerable.
The Blu-ray version includes all the extra features included on the two-disk DVD release, according to High-Def Digest. The picture is "highly-stylized" rather than "eye candy," which may give pause to some viewers, though the audio presentation is said to be "pure reference quality."
Oh, Michael Bay, we hardly knew ye! The music video director made his feature debut in 1995 with this rollicking, comparatively low-budget buddy cop / action flick that teamed Martin Lawrence with Will Smith; it was so long ago that Lawrence was top-billed. Nothing in particular stands out, except perhaps for the villainy of Tchéky Karyo and the spectacle of Téa Leoni pretending to be a brainless bimbo.
Bearing in mind that the source material is 15 years old -- not exactly an eternity -- the reviewers at High-Def Digest debate whether it's good enough on Blu-ray, with one arguing that the movie looks better than it ever has, and the other complaining about it's "less than perfect" appearance. Some of the extra features from the 2006 special edition DVD have been left off.
Also out: Absolute Power, Class of Nuke 'Em High, The Enforcer/Sudden Impact, Heartbreak Ridge, Kelly's Heroes/Where Eagles Dare, The Rookie.
The Man With No Name Trilogy
Ah, now this is more like it! Clint Eastwood turned 80 yesterday, as Elisabeth Rappe celebrated and the angels sang. Clint, minor TV star, became Clint, worldwide movie star, thanks in large part to Sergio Leone's classic trilogy. It all began with A Fistful of Dollars, an unofficial remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo, which itself was inspired by Dashiell Hammett's superb novel Red Harvest. But Eastwood and Leone made it their own, creating a lean, mean, laconic character that became an iconic representation of the strong and silent type. Ennio Morricone's lonely music underscored the cleverly-staged action.
Eastwood teamed with Lee Van Cleef to hunt down an outlaw in For a Few Dollars More. The Eastwood / Leone partnership scaled new heights with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, as Eli Wallach joined the party. Taken together, the films are endlessly re-watchable: great looking, stylish, with characters that don't get on your nerves more than needed.
You could, theoretically, justify your purchase of a Blu-ray player with this set. Except that the trilogy might not be worth the investment of time or money because of questions that have been raised about cropping on one disk and softness on another. Head on over to DVD Beaver for details before you click the 'buy' button.