For the week of April 2nd, Magnolia Pictures is bringing John Dies at the End to Blu-ray. The film is an adaptation of the cult horror novel, which - as developed by David Wong (the pseudonym of Cracked senior editor Jason Pargin) - does not immediately lend itself to big-screen treatment. On the page, Wong indulges in the kind of freewheeling creativity that often proves prohibitively expensive in film; he strands his affable heroes in between dimensions populated by all manners of bizarre, hideous creatures. However, Phantasm director Don Coscarelli has an innate knowledge of how to mine outlandish thrills from a minimum budget, and he helps infuse John Dies at the End with its sloppy, enjoyable charm.
Also hitting the HD format is Entertainment One's The Sweeney. This title might resonate more with Anglophiles than with U.S. viewers; The Sweeney takes its inspiration from the popular ITV crime drama about Flying Squad police officers Detective Inspector Jack Regan and Detective Sergeant George Carter. Regan and Carter applied atypically hard-hitting methods to their daily duties, and director Nick Love makes their actions appropriately violent and intense for this movie version. In the days of The Shield and Southland, The Sweeney isn't ground-breaking, but it's entertaining enough, and it gets a big charge from the great Ray Winstone, who turns Regan into a brawling force of nature.
Jeffrey Kauffman writes in his Blu-ray review that Winstone's "lead cop Jack Regan...is a decidedly more shaded character, one not immune to lifting a few gold Krugerrands from a crime scene in order to pay off an informant or even bedding the wife of one of his superiors. He's also prone toward violence, something that pushes him ever closer to the edge of questionable behavior throughout the film and does in fact ultimately lead to his imprisonment - at least for a little while. If The Sweeney never quite escapes its television roots, often playing like a slightly slicker and better produced version of any given police melodrama that wafts over the pond courtesy of Masterpiece Theater, it still has moments of excitement and is graced by some excellent performances."
HBO Home Entertainment is releasing Hemingway & Gellhorn on Blu-ray as well. This star-studded telefilm (Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman play the title characters, and they're supported by a cast that includes David Strathairn, Parker Posey, Tony Shalhoub, Jeffrey Jones, Joan Chen, Robert Duvall, and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, of all people) focuses on the relationship between iconic author writer Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn, an emotionally and physically fraught union that inspired Hemingway's seminal war saga For Whom the Bell Tolls. Despite making its premiere on television, Hemingway & Gellhorn feels appropriately epic, and Owen and Kidman's combined presence lends the picture considerable impact. More importantly, it's the first film from director Philip Kaufman since 2004's Twisted, and while it doesn't reach the heights of his great The Unbearable Lightness of Being and Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, it offers enough reminders of why Kaufman was such a force to be reckoned with in the 1970s and 1980s.
Michael Reuben's Blu-ray review notes that "you don't get a literary education from Kaufman's film; for that, you'd have to read For Whom the Bell Tolls, the novel that Hemingway wrote during the period portrayed in the film and dedicated to Gellhorn. Nor do you get a clear understanding of the history of the Spanish Civil War, the invasion of Normandy or any of the various theaters of World War II on which Gellhorn reported; for that, you'd have to read her dispatches or the history books that have used them as source material. What you do get is a sense of two exceptional, frequently difficult, sometimes dislikeable people, who had the drive to accomplish things that others couldn't and were willing to sacrifice everything in the process, including each other."
This week also hosts a number of catalog titles, the most exciting of which is Twentieth Century Fox's That Thing You Do. This bright, sunny comedy casts an affectionate eye on the pop-music culture of the 1960s; it details the trajectory of the fictional Wonders band, which rose from low-key Pennsylvania origins to national fame and fortune. Director Tom Hanks - yes, the Tom Hanks - has a real affection for period, and he steeps the film in details both lived-in and accurate. Best of all are the title song (created by Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger), which never gets tiresome despite its near-constant repetition, and the accomplished cast, which includes Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Steve Zahn, Giovanni Ribisi, Charlize Theron, and Hanks himself, as well as cameos from Chris Isaak, Jonathan Demme, Kevin Pollak, Peter Scolari, and Bryan Cranston.