For the week of January 8th, Walt Disney Home Entertainment brings Tim Burton's Frankenweenie to Blu-ray. The film has taken an unusual path to the big screen; in 1984, it began its existence as a short film about the relationship between a boy genius and his recently deceased - and scientifically revived - dog. The short immediately found critical and commercial acclaim, and almost thirty years later, Burton created this expanded 3D edition. Frankenweenie's transition from short to full-length feature hasn't been seamless - with an hour of material added to the short's thirty-minute runtime, it's no surprise that some padding exists - but it's still a winning, effortlessly enjoyable animated romp, and the most wholly satisfying Tim Burton venture since 2003's Big Fish.
Kenneth Brown writes in his Blu-ray review that "Burton sets a beautifully offbeat stage but neglects to fill it with captivating people or engrossing fantasy...When the third act settles in, Frankenweenie springs to life. The monster madness injects some much-needed vitality into the film, the undead animals are a blast (particularly the gremlin-esque sea monkeys), and the final burning windmill set piece brings thrilling yet intensely focused closure to an otherwise meandering misadventure. Is Frankenweenie a complete failure? Not at all...It's simply the ghost of a quaint but affecting short film."
Also streeting on Tuesday is another 2012 release, the action-thriller Dredd. Inspired by the cult science-fiction anthology 2000 AD, Dredd follows the title character (Star Trek's Karl Urban) through a nightmarish siege situation where he and his rookie partner (indie stalwart Olivia Thirlby) find themselves under attack within a futuristic tenement block. The film is a rarity: an engaging, unpretentious B-movie that doesn't sacrifice too many brain cells for thrills (though one could argue it borrows much of its structure from The Raid: Redemption). Plus, Urban delivers a full-throated movie-star turn as the fascistic lawman, and Game of Thrones star Lena Headey also does great work as the frightening crime lord who wants Dredd dead. Ignore the film's anemic $13 million box-office gross - Dredd is good enough to wash away the taste of Sylvester Stallone's misbegotten vanity project.
In his Blu-ray review, Jeffrey Kauffman assessed the film from the context of today's post-Newton psyche as he "wonder[s] how this new Blu-ray is going to be received in the current climate that is understandably touchy over mass shootings, something that is part and parcel of this film. But without getting into the seemingly eternal debate of how much influence media violence has on impressionable minds, Dredd is a remarkably exciting film, one that doesn't waste a lot of time on psychology and motivation, and instead just gives us that equally eternal showdown between good and evil."
January 8th finds the Criterion Collection bringing Two-Lane Blacktop to retailers. In an era of such high-octane chase movies as Vanishing Point, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and Gone In 60 Seconds, director Monte Hellman's 1971 road picture certainly ranks as the strangest. Ostensibly the story of a cross-country car race from the southwestern United States to Washington, D.C., Two-Lane Blacktop eschews most standard racing for a mood both eccentric and contemplative. Hellman's goal is not to elevate the race itself but rather the losers behind it, and as such, he puts a grand premium on character, be it James Taylor's impassive rebel or Warren Oates' chatty, self-delusional drifter. The film certainly isn't for all tastes, but it's always startling and interesting, and a real find for fans of 1970s experimental cinema.
Svet Atanasov's Blu-ray review is succinct in its praise for Two-Lane Blacktop, noting that he "think[s] that director Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop is an essential film to own. It is a beautiful, very atmospheric time capsule that is rightfully considered by many as one of the greatest American films from the 1970s. Criterion's Blu-ray release of Two-Lane Blacktop is undoubtedly the best all-around package currently on the market."
Finally, Magnolia Pictures is distributing Compliance this week. Though little seen during its limited release window last year, this psychological thriller has the power to unnerve even the most hardy of viewer constitutions. Based on a true story, the film illustrates that tenuous division between morality and authority; after a police officer calls the manager of a local fast-food chain (Ann Dowd) with allegations of employee misconduct, he uses his position to have the manager subjects the "guilty" employee (Dreama Walker) to a series of ever-more degrading punishments. Without subjecting viewers to excessive violence or exploitative content, Compliance manages to tap into a remarkably unnerving vein - it's a very wise movie about why human beings feel the need to comply with orders, no matter how venal they might be.
Frankenweenie, Dredd, and Two Lane Blacktop for me. Does anyone else think it's pathetic that House at the End of the Street finally broke down and just used a super closeup of Jennifer Lawrence's face for their promotional materials, because the film is so terrible, all they can do is try to cottail into some of that Katniss money?
Archer: Season 3
The House at the End of the Street
Hit & Run
Stolen (When the price comes down)
Compliance (When the price comes down)
Driving Miss Daisy
Sleep Tight (When the price comes WAY down)
None of these. Although Dredd was not bad - certainly better than $13 million box office! Wow talk about bad marketing. I still prefer the insane fighting stunts of The Raid to the CGI gunplay of Dredd.
Received from my preorders this week are Samsara (one of my top films of 2011) and a blind buy of Two-Lane Blacktop.
I must say the trailer for Compliance looks very good, so that may merit a blind-buy.
Down the line I'll definitely buy Cape Fear (1962); Driving Miss Daisy; and Grand Hotel (there's a steelbook edition of Grand Hotel available in the UK) and consider Frankenweenie (2012) and Mrs Miniver.
And I should receive, any day now, the copy of Assassins (2012) that I won in a Blu-ray.com giveaway. (I've never seen the film.)