For the week of June 25th, the biggest Blu-ray - quite literally, in many ways - making its HD debut is Criterion's Shoah package. The film is director Claude Lanzmann's massive record of the Holocaust: for over nine hours, Lanzmann chronicles first-person accounts from historians, concentration-camp survivors, and former SS officers. The volume of this material affords Shoah a comprehensiveness that exceeds any other films about the Holocaust, including Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. Like that Academy Award-winning epic, Shoah is not an easy watch, both in terms of its length and its content, though it remains essential viewing. Lanzmann does not shy away from describing the worst horrors of the event, but he also affords those devastated by it genuine moments of grace - he uses no archival footage of the concentration camps, choosing instead to show them as they are now (or, rather, circa 1985), and that temporal shift reminds viewers that life does go on, no matter how terrible it might seem.
June 25th also sees the Blu-ray debut of Help! The Beatles made far too few fiction films together, and while Help! isn't as polished as their great A Hard Day's Night (that earlier screwball comedy plays like a missing Marx Brothers picture), it's still a rollicking, energetic delight. If A Hard Day's Night showed the Beatles riffing on the concert film (it's practically the verité antecedent to This Is Spinal Tap), Help! is their Bond movie, as the Fab Four find themselves on a globetrotting adventure with some very bumbling cultists. It's all exceptionally silly, and narrative-wise, nothing really comes together in the end, but John, Paul, George, and (especially) Ringo are so winning together that issues of coherence and plot don't matter. Best of all are the songs; it hardly matters that tunes like "You're Going To Lose That Girl," "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away," "Ticket To Ride," and "The Night Before" don't really correspond with the on-screen action because they are so fresh and engaging.
Jeffrey Kauffman noted thatHelp!"has a much more obvious hit or miss quality than did A Hard Day's Night...[but] there are two ebullient buoys keeping Help!'s head above the water: first is the innate charm of the Beatles themselves, something that shines through even the lamest gags. And second, there are the songs, an incredible kaleidoscope of mid-sixties pop perfection. The Beatles hadn't quite started to experiment with studio tricks and more convoluted song structures as they would starting with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour in a couple of years, but within the confines of the standard 32-bar pop tune, there are glories galore in this score. Help! the film may in fact occasionally be in need of a little aid, but the Beatles' songcraft does quite well, thank you very much."
Just as goofy as Help! - albeit not as successful - is Warner Bros' The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. As comedies go, this one has an irresistible setup: it's a spoof of gaudy, Vegas-stage magicians like Davids Copperfield and Blaine, and it features a cast that includes Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, and Jim Carrey. That said, for the most part, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone represents unfulfilled promise. None of these elements cohere into anything truly satisfying, and with the exception of Carrey, who is brilliant as a David Blaine-styled nutso, the actors never deliver on their comedic potential. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone isn't a bad movie (it's practically the reason Redbox exists), but you could do a lot better.
Kenneth Brown's Blu-ray review likens the film, "to a loose series of ongoing SNL character sketches (the sort that continue to pop up week after week long after the sparse laughter has dwindled to polite chuckles). Any hope of a side-splitting big screen comedy is lost; any shot at classic status a shattered dream. Had Carell fashioned Wonderstone into a glib but well-intentioned underdog - a bullied manchild clinging to fame as a placeholder for self-worth - or if the filmmakers had devised a sharper satire of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Magicians' Oath, high-dollar Vegas showstoppers, or the culture clash between street and stage magicians, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone might be an entirely different film. And a much better, much funnier one at that."
Finally, we end the week with Upside Down, a sci-fi romance from Millenium Media. The movie presents a reality where two worlds exist right on top of one another; to the inhabitants inside, it appears as though the world above mirrors the one below it. However, distinctions do exist, particularly regarding the economic straits between the Up and Down planes, and these variances get tested when two people from the separate worlds (Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst) fall in love with each other. You can practically count the different source texts that director Juan Solanas used to cobble together Upside Down - a little Romeo and Juliet here, a little Have/Have-Not drama there, a healthy dollop of 1984 to balance things out - but that doesn't stop the film from being decently absorbing. The visuals are striking (3D is a must), and Sturgess and Dunst give spirited performances.
In his Blu-ray review, Martin Liebman wrote that Upside Down has "a standard plot that's far too flimsy and unspectacular for the rest of the movie. Opposing worlds are met with a basic story of love, and one propped up and dramatized by one of the oldest crutches in the book. It's a story of little consequence, particularly within the greater prism of the spectacular visuals. Fortunately, actors Dunst and Sturgess build highly likable characters out of the stock emotions they're given, and that chemistry creates an almost enchanted romance that nearly covers the tracks of an otherwise disappointing story. Almost. The film flops around elsewhere, too, away from the romance. The idea that those who trick gravity and travel to the other world catch fire over time seems wholly contrived, there only to force some drama and excitement where none really needs to exist...There's also the obligatory chase scenes that add some dull action to a movie that really doesn't need it and shouldn't use it. A film of this magnitude, of such visual brilliance, of such high conception, certainly could have found a core story of more novelty and import, but at least the actors carry the burden well and leave Upside Down feeling right side up, flaws and all."
@jhunter1976: Yea, Lebowski and all of those other similar looking comic-book design steelbooks you see here have been in retailers since May...I've seen them in Best Buy and Target, they're at Wal-Mart too.
people here are snobs. They dont like when you point out what's missing from Blu-ray. They're abviously losers who are proud to have only DVDs of Bad Boys 2, Vanilla Sky, Team America, True Lies, Bad News Bears, The Fly 2 and others in the year 2013!!
They mustve bought that HDTV and Bluray player for all their DVDs. That's the only reason I could think of for the members here voting an innocent wishlist I posted "down". Idiots.
@eiknarf: Maybe if you lightened up, things would be different. Your "wishlist" appeared sarcastic and off topic as the titles being release were listed.
As for True Lies, that's later this year or sometime 2014. It depends on who you listen to. Spouting off about things won't change anything. You "yelling" at the wrong people!
Yelling? Did I type in all caps?
I'm poking holes in the "coming soon" bullshit.
Let's think back, shall we?
It's 2007. I buy my first bluray player, and the first disc I put in plays a trailer showing, "Coming Soon to Bluray: Bad Boys 2"
What does "soon" mean to you? Six years? Seven?
And every week that the major catalog titles aren't released, I'm going to post the same sarcastic post. Its nothing against anyone here.