For the week of April 16th, Anchor Bay Home Entertainment is bringing Django Unchained to Blu-ray. With this feature, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino returns to the realm of historical revenge fantasy that galvanized his 2009 war epic Inglourious Basterds; in Django Unchained, Tarantino visualizes an American South steeped in the violence and depredations of slavery. Tarantino renders these horrors in thrilling, visceral details, and there are at least two instances where the on-screen carnage almost becomes too much to take. However, the operative word is "almost." Despite the brutal subject matter, Django Unchained is never dull and often very funny, leavening the carnage through Tarantino's Academy Award-winning gift for gab and a quartet of brilliant star turns from Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz - who won an Oscar for his work as Django's silver-tongued partner, Dr. King Schultz - and Samuel L. Jackson, who should have at least gotten a nomination - this is Jackson's best, most complicated performance in a long time.
Jeffrey Kauffman's Blu-ray review notes that "if there's one thing you can say about Django Unchained, it's that if anything it is more rather than less of all the elements that tend to drive Tarantino bashers positively batty. The film is all over the place from both a narrative as well structural and tonal standpoints, and yet it's undeniably entertaining (if more than occasionally quite disturbing). The film is unabashedly post-modern in its 'meta' references (including lots of contemporary source cues, which I personally found at least a trifle distracting), and as in many other Tarantino outings, the film can lurch rather dramatically from horrifying violence to almost buffoonish comedy. But that is after all part and parcel of Tarantino's allure: he willfully defies filmic tropes, even as he just as willfully pays homage to tradition. It's probably just another irony that a film about slaves and slavery is so brazenly free in its approach to the subject matter."
Also hitting the HD format is Shout Factory's A Monster in Paris. Directed by Bibo Bergeron, this animated adventure was a huge hit internationally, garnering rave commercial and critical notices both in France and in England. Taking inspiration from both Georges Feydeau's A Flea in Her Ear and The Phantom of the Opera, the film centers on a shy film projectionist who finds himself embroiled in a farce that includes singing monkeys, mad scientists, and giant flies. A Monster in Paris isn't up to the standards set by recent Disney and Pixar entries, but it has an infectious sense of whimsy, and the animation is gorgeous.
In his Blu-ray review, Jeffrey Kauffman wrote that, "Americans have gotten pretty spoiled over the past several years with a number of stellar animated features from Pixar, Disney, and DreamWorks (among many others). The bar is so much higher now that features that might otherwise be seen as incredibly ingratiating are perhaps unfairly maligned as not capturing magic in a bottle in quite the same way (or to the same extent) as the blockbusters that regularly fill American cineplexes. That's probably the case with A Monster in Paris as well. The film is undeniably charming, with a breezy animation style and a generally engaging plot, and yet it fails to really connect with the audience in that 'straight to the heartstrings' way that so many Pixar features especially seem easily able to. This film is no doubt going to appeal to younger kids especially, who will probably be entranced with the visuals."
Additionally, the latest Disneynature documentary, Wings of Life, is arriving on Blu-ray this Tuesday. Academy Award-winner Meryl Streep narrates this look at pollination, believe it or not, and how creatures like bees, bats, butterflies, and hummingbirds interact with flowers to fulfill this vitally important process. The subject matter might sound less immediately thrilling that Disney's Earth or Oceans, but Wings of Life proves surprisingly compelling, and the high-speed nature footage looks stunning in HD.
Finally, we end the week with the Criterion Collection's great Repo Man. Director Alex Cox made his mark on the American independent film scene in a big way with this feature (his first full-length one); it's safe to say that he's never quite topped Repo Man. When Universal Studios released the film in 1984, it found popularity primarily through its soundtrack, which included such iconic punk luminaries as Iggy Pop, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, and Suicidal Tendencies, but in the subsequent years, Repo Man has steadily amassed a sizable non-punk following. For a movie as defiantly strange as Repo Man is, it also has something for everyone: pick your poison, whether you think it's a satire of American consumerism, an ode to paranoia in the nuclear age, a trippy sci-fi head flick, an absurdist hang-out comedy, or the weirdest buddy picture ever made, thanks to Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez's wonderful deadpan act. Cox hit gold with this one, and as enjoyable as his Sid and Nancy, Walker, and Straight to Hell are, they still aren't Repo Man-level good.
Svet Atanasov's Blu-ray review called the film "wildly unpredictable...[it] oozes a type of nihilism that was prominent during the Reagan era. The film is extremely cynical but never offensive; rather it is entertaining, and it produces excellent observations about a culture and a way of thinking that were greatly influenced by the Cold War and the nuclear arms race America was obsessed with during the '80s...Despite the random political overtones, however, Repo Man is not a political film. It is an honest film that simply does not see America through rose-tinted glasses like most Hollywood produced films do. Its honesty, however, is eventually replaced with LSD inspired madness that pushes it into a territory reserved for an entirely different crop of films."
Let us buy these titles for under $10 each and that would have been a great deal. As it is, I already purchased a dozen of these (at about $10-12 each I might add). Can't imagine any enthusiast not having some of these titles already.
To paraphrase a great man: Those who think [Django Unchained" is a near-perfect film] are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve.
It's a fun movie but c'mon, it's not *that* good. Personally, I await a price drop (i.e. 50% off sale) on Repo Man, another good, fun--but not Great--movie worth owning.