For the week of March 12th, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is bringing Life of Pi to Blu-ray. Director Ang Lee took on a formidable task when he elected to adapt Yann Martel's beloved novel of the same name to the big screen. The book, while nominally a fantasy-adventure set on the high seas, concerns itself more with examining spirituality and notions of faith: how people find faith, how they lose it, and how it tests them. These are weighty issues - hardly the stuff of your standard $120 million blockbuster (and in 3D, no less) - but Lee brings the same grace and complexity of his Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Pi's cinematic iteration. He gives the film a curious (and satisfying) mixture of intensity and mediation, and how he employs 3D is genuinely inspired; Lee uses the third dimension to root us in his protagonist's tortured psyche.
Also hitting the HD format is Disney Home Entertainment's Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Director Robert Zemeckis' live-action-animation hybrid is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary this year, and Disney's new Blu-ray offers viewers a digitally scrubbed and upgraded way to re-experience the film afresh. To date, it's Zemeckis' most successful technological experiment; in blending the on-set performances of his cast (headlined by a great, understated Bob Hoskins) with cartoon creations (in addition to the title character and his sultry, Kathleen Turner-voiced wife Jessica Rabbit, we also get the rare, on-screen partnership of Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, thanks to a contractual agreement between Warner Bros. and Disney), Zemeckis creates an uncanny sense of physical space where the fantastic and the mundane regard one another on equal terms. However, the reason Who Framed Roger Rabbit soars while Zemeckis' The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol stumble is due to story. Who Framed Roger Rabbit has a great one: a hard-boiled L.A. mystery that owes as much to Raymond Chandler and Chinatown as it does to Steamboat Willie and Looney Tunes.
Finally, we end the week with two catalog releases from the Criterion Collection: Ministry of Fear and The Blob. The bad news about Ministry of Fear is that, as director Fritz Lang's English-language film noirs go, it isn't as vivid as 1953's brutal The Big Heat or his 1945 masterpiece Scarlet Street; Ministry of Fear doesn't shoot for the same kind of sustained darkness, and its ending feels like a studio compromise. The good news is that middle-tier Lang is better than most directors get, and as such, Ministry of Fear still comes off like gangbusters. Lang uses his roots in German expressionism to create a terrifying noir atmosphere, and his method of putting leading man Ray Milland through the wringer recalls early Alfred Hitchcock classics like The 39 Steps.
Svet Atanasov calledMinistry of Fear "a bit uneven. There is this domino effect where one event typically leads to another and then another, but Lang does not always reveal why they occur or what roles the different players in them have. The approach, however, enhances rather well the sense of paranoia...Milland's character isn't easy to embrace, partially because of the fact that his past remains veiled in secrecy for a rather long period of time, but his struggles to solve the puzzle he has suddenly become a part of are fascinating to behold."
The Blob, on the other hand, makes no pretensions towards conjuring a legitimate menace. The 1958 monster movie is one of the sci-fi genre's most blissfully goofy entries. Its plot is simplicity itself: a meteor crashes near a bucolic American town, and it releases a ravenous alien goop, which proceeds to devour everyone in its wake. The title threat looked like Jell-O in 1958 and hasn't aged well in the fifty-five years since its premiere, but The Blob is so energetic a creature-feature that it satisfies simply as a piece of '50s nostalgia. Best of all is star Steve McQueen, whose overly earnest hero lacks the slow-burn intensity of his Bullitt and Papillon characterizations, and is all the more entertaining as a result.
In his Blu-ray review, Svet Atanasov writes that "the charm of this cult film...comes from its genuine desire to impress in its own way. On one hand, it is sort of a political allegory - there is a big red monster quietly destroying America in the year 1958, but no one wants to believe it exists. Senator Joseph McCarthy did, but he was convinced that the red monster had entered America quite a few years earlier. On the other hand, this is a film that desperately wants to appeal to teenagers - it immediately sides with them and goes on to make a point that their parents should listen to them. On top of all this, the film also repeatedly pokes fun of itself, which makes it incredibly easy to enjoy...The atmosphere...is great. Boldly introduced by Burt Bacharach's now legendary song, the campy feeling is on right from the get-go. The film also looks quite incredible. Shot in beautiful Technicolor, primarily on locations in Pennsylvania, large portions of The Blob at times overwhelm the eyes with their bright and vivid colors."
Smashed continues to be te most overlooked film of last year. Can't Even get a picture of the cover on this page? Mary Elizabeth Winstead gave, arguably, the best female performance of last year. I hope more people discover this film so it may lead to more offers for better roles for Winstead. She is usually in crap and is far better than her previous films deserve.