For the week of January 15th, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment brings Taken 2 to Blu-ray. The action-adventure slightly twists the format established by its 2008 predecessor; this time around, it is Liam Neeson's former CIA operative who finds himself kidnapped and at the mercy of some very nasty criminals, and only his teenage daughter (Maggie Grace, reprising her role from Taken) can save him. However, the emphasis is on slightly, as director Olivier Megaton (replacing Pierre Morel) keeps Neeson shackled for the bare minimum of screen-time before returning him to the world of kicking and throat-punching. Unfortunately, Taken 2 doesn't feel as fresh as the first film. Megaton's action choreography errs on the side of spacially disorienting, and Neeson just doesn't seem as engaged in the material as he was during the last go-round. Here's hoping the Blu-ray extended cut improves on the film - if nothing else, Fox would be wise to restore the more graphic violence that the PG-13 theatrical cut artlessly and obviously excised).
January 15th finds the Criterion Collection bringing The Man Who Knew Too Much to retailers. This 1934 thriller deserves a place in the cinematic canon for one major reason: it announced the arrival of filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock as we know him today. By 1934, Hitchcock had made some credible features - the best of which are The Lodger, Blackmail, and Murder! - but The Man Who Knew Too Much works on a whole different level. It's funny, exciting, and gently subversive, and it has a great heavy in the form of M madman Peter Lorre. In The Man Who Knew Too Much, we can see the origins of films like Saboteur and North by Northwest, to say nothing of Hitchcock's own 1956 remake.
Svet Atanasov's Blu-ray review is succinct in its praise for the film, noting that "What makes this film intriguing is the fact that it offers a glimpse of what is to come from the Master of Suspense. Its plot isn't terribly convincing but there are sections of the film where the classic Hitchcock touch is very easy to recognize. For example, after the big melee in the chapel the film becomes unusually dark yet there are a number of sequences that are infused with plenty of humor, some of which is served with a degree of seriousness that will become quite prominent in Hitchcock's later films. Also, not everything in the film is made painfully transparent. There is plenty left to the viewer's imagination, again just as is the case in many of Hitchcock's best known films."
Also streeting on Tuesday is Image and Drafthouse Films' Wake in Fright. A bleak, uncompromising look at masculinity gone astray in the Australian outback, Wake in Fright has a history almost as interesting as the film itself. After director Ted Kotcheff premiered the film in 1971, the general viewing public abandoned it, despite it having received largely positive critical notices. The picture then virtually disappeared, popping up on television and in muddy film prints, only to resurface in 2004 when editor Anthony Buckley found a copy of the negatives slated for destruction. In essence, he rescued Wake in Fright, and this Blu-ray copy showcases the film's 2009 digital restoration.
In his Blu-ray review, Michael Reuben calls the film "a unique and harrowing tale of a civilized man's systematic disassembly by . . . what exactly? That's the intriguing question that hangs over the end of WIF. What is it about the outback that proves so irresistibly alluring to someone like John Grant—or, for that matter, Doc Tydon, in whom Grant perhaps sees too much of himself for comfort? What makes Grant take a "bonded" position in a place he despises and then, as soon as he's offered the opportunity for an escape, fling himself more deeply into the same vile muck? A character flaw? Sun stroke? Original sin? Wake in Fright doesn't even give you a hint, and that's one of its most unsettling elements."
Finally, this week receives a triple-shot of Woody Allen: Sleeper, Hannah and Her Sisters, and this year's To Rome with Love all debut on the HD format. Viewed back-to-back, the three films perfectly encapsulate Allen's career trajectory over the last forty years. Sleeper comes from his early 1970s period, and as such, it centers on Allen the absurdist, as he uses the this sci-fi-comedy to string together a series of brilliant, Buster Keaton-esque set-pieces. With 1986's Hannah and Her Sisters, Allen had deepened his craft to allow for more psychologically probing insights (a trend that started with Love and Death and his Academy Award-winning Annie Hall), lending the picture the texture of a story by Tolstoy or Chekhov. Finally, To Rome with Love - released just last summer - is representative of Allen's late-stage filmography; the films from this period tend to be more hit-or-miss, just as the individual stories are within this comedy anthology.