For the week of September 24th, Disney and Marvel Studios are bringing their blockbuster smash Iron Man 3 to Blu-ray. Common wisdom dictates that sequels suffer in comparison to their predecessors - certainly that was the case with 2010's sloppy, thrown-together Iron Man 2, which gave the characters in the Iron Man universe ample room to riff at the expense of anything resembling narrative coherence - so it's doubly surprising that this second Iron Man installment bests even director Jon Favreau's acclaimed first feature. Part of what makes Iron Man 3 the best in the series is a greater understanding of the physical and emotional stakes thrown at Tony Stark (the incomparable Robert Downey Jr.). Iron Man 3 puts Stark through the ringer, stripping him of his armor and gadgets for most of the film's runtime and forcing him to deal with the ramifications of The Avengers' apocalyptic finale: not only did Stark almost die, but he witnessed an alien enemy capable of overpowering his own impressive weapons armory. As a result, Stark isn't just trying to prevent Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce's terrorist-industrialists from realizing their goals of world domination - he's trying to make himself whole. The film's other great asset is director/co-writer Shane Black. Black's scripts for Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, and The Long Kiss Goodnight have so many quirks and oddball gags that they almost work as action-movie parodies just as well as they satisfy typical genre conventions, and he brings the same sense of deadpan lunacy to Iron Man 3. It's more emotionally satisfying, yes, but that resonance doesn't come at the expense of Black and his Kiss Kiss Bang Bang co-conspirator Downey's sense of insouciant wit.
In his Blu-ray review, Kenneth Brown writes that "above all, Black's run at Iron Man is a fittingly dazzling, vulnerable and, let's just say it, daring introduction to the Starkverse 2.0 and the new stakes of the post-alien invasion Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nearly as big, bad, funny and grand in scale as the most thrilling MCU extravaganzas (even without flying Leviathans, dimensional portals, or Green Behemoths smashing puny gods), it's a fine farewell to the standalone Iron Man movies... if we're to believe reports that Downey Jr. will part ways with the MCU after Avengers 3, without starring in any further IM one-shots. With the right script -- and the return of Downey's pal Shane in the director's chair -- anything can happen, of course, and I doubt many would complain. Black and Pearce infuse Iron Man 3 with a sense of immediacy, urgency and spontaneity (out of the armor and in), as well as an enviable dose of wiry wit and unassuming ease. Like Stark, the third Iron Man has style and swagger to spare, yet still has the innate sense to sacrifice self for the greater MCU good."
These days, serial killer procedurals are a dime a dozen on television (see: The Bridge, The Killing, or FOX's dispiriting The Following), so it's probably not a shock that NBC helped bring a weekly hour-long about iconic fictional psychopath Hannibal Lecter to air. Even less shocking: this new Hannibal jumps on the prequel bandwagon as it focuses on the relationship between Lecter (The Hunt's Mads Mikkelsen) and FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) before Lecter's incarceration at the Baltimore State Hospital for The Criminally Insane. But just as Iron Man 3 benefited from the guiding light of Shane Black, Hannibal has Bryan Fuller, and that makes all the difference. In shows like Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and Dead Like Me, Fuller brought a whimsical and often surreal vantage point to matters of life and death, and though those previous programs were more overtly comedic, Fuller's sensibilities prove ideal for Hannibal's Grand Guignol attention to murder. The crimes that Lecter and Graham investigate (as well as the ones that Lecter himself perpetrates) operate on a hyperrealistic, operatic scale. The violence is equal parts savage and beautiful, and that mingling of senses fits in line with the show's tonal M.O. - rather than shoot for dramatic realism, Fuller turns Hannibal into an expressionistic nightmare, manipulating time and consciousness until the show shares more in common with Twin Peaks or The X-Files than it does with something like Criminal Minds. Add to that style Fuller's literate, often witty writing and the brilliant performances from Mikkelsen, Dancy, Lawrence Fishburne, Scott Thompson, Kacey Rohl, Eddie Izzard, Gina Torres, and Gillian Anderson, and you've got a series that isn't just the most original serial killer procedural on television but is also one of 2013's best new shows.
Jeffrey Kauffman noted that "this first season's focus tends to remain a bit more resolutely on Will than on Lecter, though Lecter begins to assume a more important role during the latter half of the season. What's fascinating here is the slow cat and mouse game between Lecter and Will, with Will not really realizing...that Lecter is often working at cross purposes to him and, in fact, the FBI and various investigations. The show, while viscerally disturbing due to its extremely graphic nature, actually comes out of the gate relatively slowly, and fans of the Lecter character will need to be patient for the show to ensnare them - which (for this viewer anyway) did happen by the end of the fifth episode. Hannibal pulls some fantastic sleights of hand in its closing couple of episodes, again bringing up comparisons to Homeland. And in fact the comparison doesn't stop there...Graham, like Homeland's Carrie Mathison, finds himself needing institutional 'professional help' (whether he wants it or not). So far, Hannibal has been a rather brisk and well written reboot of the Lecter character, and there's every indication this series could end up being one of the standouts for a resurgent NBC."
In a neat turn, this week finds two other famed screen psychopaths sharing the Blu-ray market with Hannibal Lecter: Michael Myers and Norman Bates. Michael gets his due in Anchor Bay's glorious new 35th Anniversary Edition of Halloween. The Friday the 13th series and its lead baddie Jason Voorhees might have popularized the notion of the slasher movie icon, but Halloween introduced the concept to the world: with Michael Myers, director John Carpenter turned an unstoppable brute in a modified William Shatner mask into a movie monster for the time capsule. However, the similarities really stop there; the central hook might be the same (masked killers stalk and kill unsuspecting teenagers), but Halloween evinces a level of artistry that outpaces anything in the Friday the 13th movies. This was the first of five collaborations between Carpenter and cinematographer Dean Cundey, and they bring the same sense of gliding menace that made The Fog and The Thing so enduring. Carpenter and Cundey shot Halloween using anamorphic lenses, and that wide widescreen frame both ups the picture's production values (it cost a beyond-modest $325,000) and gives Michael Myers an unsettling, supernatural aura - often times, Cundey will position him just at the edges of the frame, almost out of our view, a move that allows the killer to permeate the film on a subconscious level. Better still, while the Friday the 13th's drown their on-screen victims in gore, Carpenter eschews graphic bloodletting, creating terror through patience and suspense. It takes a long time for Michael to attack the first of the film's unlucky protagonists, but the wait is excruciating, thanks to the brilliant staging, nighttime photography, and Carpenter's uncanny synthesizer score. Halloween is a spare, clean masterpiece of horror - it and The Thing are the best two movies to come from Carpenter's very distinguished career - and this new Blu-ray edition has a beautiful HD transfer that rectifies most of the issues from the 2007 Blu-ray edition.
Martin Liebman was effusive in his praise for the film, calling "Halloween...not only a seminal end-of-October scare picture and a staple of the slasher sub-genre but also a gargantuan influence across the Horror landscape and a herculean presence on the greater world of cinema. It's also one of the handful of quintessential films that perfectly demonstrate how vision, skill, and dedication can overcome any financial hurdle or the burden of any limited resource throughout the filmmaking process. This is a film that gets everything right, and even in its small little flaws there's a charm to the basic effectiveness and fundamental workmanship of the crew's problem-solving skills. Halloween is, daresay, a near perfect film in a terribly imperfect film world, one crafted through inspiration and with purpose, both of which would shape a movie that would become the template for so many others to follow and hope to copy but also one that could never quite be replicated to the same level of simplistically effective, moody, musical, and atmospheric success."
Regarding Norman Bates: Scream Factory - which is quickly revealing itself to be the Criterion Collection for the horror genre - is offering a Blu-ray of Psycho II, Richard Franklin's sequel to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock chiller. For some viewers, sequelizing one of the greatest films ever made is already cause for dismissal, but I'd argue that this second Psycho deserves your consideration. No less a cinematic authority than Quentin Tarantino has called Psycho II superior to the original, and though I can't agree with such a hyperbolic claim, this movie is still a worthy follow-up and an accomplished piece of work. Spoilers to follow: Franklin jumps into Norman's story just as he is released from a mental institution. Racked with guilt from his crimes, Norman is committed to living in peace, but any semblance of normalcy crumbles under the vengeful presence of Marion Crane's sister Lila (Vera Miles) and the return of his own "Mother." In Psycho, the thrill came from the shock; we thought Norman was a nice (if slightly odd) kid until Hitchcock revealed that he assumed the psychotic persona of his dead mother in times of great stress. Franklin, however, can't repeat that trick - we already know Norman's secret - so he generates a lot of suspense from us wondering when Norman will erupt. He's the human-being equivalent of Hitchcock's famed "ticking bomb" speech, yet we still care about the outcome because star Anthony Perkins is so sympathetic. He viscerally conveys the torment of living with so many demons - Norman wants to be free of his mother more than we want him to. That emotional battle gives Psycho II its unique spine and helps distinguish it from Hitchcock's achievement.
Jeffrey Kauffman also praised this uncommonly absorbing sequel, writing that "Psycho II is actually a remarkably well plotted film, one which holds its cards neatly to its vest until the last possible moment. While [screenwriter Tom] Holland perhaps throws a few too many red herrings into the mix, he also manages to wend his way to an unusually satisfying conclusion. Perkins does very admirable work here, to the point where the audience is never quite sure if Norman has returned to his bifurcated ways of yore or not....Part of what undoubtedly contributed to Psycho II's success was a cast and crew only too aware of the huge footsteps in which they were following. Director Richard Franklin had been a long time student and acolyte of Hitch's, and he brings a measure of Hitch's technical brilliance to the project, and a lot of the technical crew on the film either had worked with Hitch or been around Universal during his tenure there. Perkins is obviously having a ball revisiting the role, relishing in his chance to keep the audience guessing as to whether or not Norman is back to his old ways. Chances are you won't be sure until the last moment, and maybe not even then."
One of television's most consistent shows is South Park, and Paramount is releasing its complete sixteenth season this Tuesday. On the show's fifteenth season Blu-ray set, showrunners Trey Parker and Matt Stone share their secret of that consistency through the great Six Days to Air documentary: for the first half of a given season, they churn out episodes from story concept to production on a six-day turnaround. One might expect this frantic schedule to lend itself towards greater unpredictability, but it actually results in fairly predictable quality shifts - most seasons start with a bang, and then they flail between good and bad as Parker and Stone try to generate ideas for each weekly deadline. By the midpoint, things can seem pretty grim, creatively, and that's when Parker and Stone take a four-to-five month break, which lets them plan for the (usually more satisfying) second half. So it goes with Season 16. After a terrific season premiere - "Reverse Cowgirl," which is positively Swiftian in its satiric flaying of TSA-era America - the show stumbles through groaners like "Cash for Gold," "Faith Hilling," and "Butterballs," with only "Jewpacabra" and "Cartman Finds Love" breaking the tedium. After the break, though, things improve dramatically, and Parker and Stone drop a great run of episodes, including highlights like "Sarcastaball," "Raising The Bar," "A Nightmare on Face Time," and "A Scause for Applause." The second half is so good that that I wish the scattershot, politically surreal "Obama Wins" finale were stronger, but if there's anything South Park has taught viewers over the years, it's that you can set your watch to the bad stuff going with the good.
Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review praised this season as "more of the same, but that's exactly as it should be. South Park: The Complete Sixteenth Season delivers hearty laughs and endless social and political commentary disguised as, literally in one episode, toilet humor. Only Matt Stone and Trey Parker's show could so expertly ravage the nanny state, the sad state of professional football, Internet memes, the decline of the video rental store, and the rise of foreign influence in even the most trivial matters with such precision. It's as deliciously entertaining as it is timely and timeless both. Sure it's not for the kids, but adults who can compartmentalize the crudeness and appreciate the high level of intelligence and sophistication underneath will be hard-pressed to find a better social commentary anywhere in media."
From Lionsgate comes the British crime thriller Redemption (or Hummingbird, as it was known in the U.K.). Redemption stars Jason Statham, and at first glance, it appears to be exactly the kind of violent programmer with which Statham has defined his career; he plays a former soldier who's adrift in downtown London until his killing abilities place him between a frightened nun (Agata Buzek) and the gangsters that terrorize her. What differentiates Redemption from, say, The Transporter or Safe or Parker is director Steven Knight. The acclaimed screenwriter behind Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises, Knight specializes in finding the humanity buried in London's underworld, and he attempts to give Redemption the same humanist touch. Statham isn't just a taciturn bruiser - he struggles with mental and emotional issues that have made him an outsider - and the mobsters he alternately supports and attacks have been so marginalized on society's fringes that crime is the only way they can assert their existence. Ultimately, Redemption isn't as bracing as Knight's early features simply because in trying to straddle both realms (the Statham actioner and the social-realism drama), it ends up doing neither as well as it could, but Statham is quite good, and Chris Menges' gorgeous nighttime cinematography proves spellbinding even when the movie isn't.
Jeffrey Kauffman commented that "Knight also hedges his bets with his portrayal of what's actually causing Joey's post traumatic stress disorder. We get little snippets of it—perhaps psychologically astute, given Joey's fractious state of mind—but all we really know is there was carnage—lots and lots of carnage, and Joey may have gone off the deep end with an Afghani native. The film does create a nice metaphor between an all seeing government and its use of camera equipped drones called hummingbirds and a fascinating if disturbing sequence where Joey, perhaps in the grips of delirium tremens, is actually beset upon by 'real' hummingbirds. The irony here is that for all the omnipotent voyeurism, no one can really penetrate into what's really eating Joey in his soul of souls. Redemption is inarguably ambitious, and it certainly provides Statham with a chance to do more than merely kick butt (though he gets to do that a couple of times, too). But like Joey himself, the film wanders through a lot of back alleys without any sure sense of direction. Maybe Knight conceived this film figuratively as the hummingbird flies, but in the grim mean streets of London, the route is decidedly more tortuous."
Speaking of confounding expectations: the video essay Room 237 takes a whole new approach to the "making-of" documentary. While director Rodney Ascher centers his film around Stanley Kubrick's 1980 masterpiece The Shining, he isn't terribly interested in the concrete how's and what's behind the film's production; instead, Ascher lets a number of conspiracy theorists detail why the picture matters so much. The prevailing insights argue that this isn't just a simple haunted house story - embedded within are coded messages about the plight of the American Indian, or the sexual chasm between men and women, or post-Holocaust guilt, or even subtle admissions revealing Kubrick's complicity in faking the Moon landing. Many of the theories on record seem...unhinged (to put it mildly), and in that sense, Room 237 can function as a darkly comic examination of minds that spin at a different frequency. But all the ideas in the film, crazy or otherwise, generate their spin because of one of cinema's greatest architects. From Paths of Glory through Eyes Wide Shut, Stanley Kubrick amassed a body of work that hinged on the tension between his meticulously realized physical worlds and the teasingly ambiguous internal and thematic concerns contained inside, and The Shining is certainly no exception. What these theories represent are the logical extremes of Kubrick's on-screen puzzles: we try to fit them together any which way we can.
Casey Broadwater looked at Room 237 as not "primarily a documentary about how to read The Shining; it's an assessment of how films now - in the age of YouTube, blogs, and online forums - are being watched and assessed, picked apart and shared and reinvented. The Shining is just a sterling example of the plurality of approaches available to today's obsessive cinephile. Ascher could've just as easily gone with Mulholland Drive. Or Last Year at Marienbad. Or any film that, in its ambiguity and critical open-endedness, provokes a response. There is an interesting contradiction here, though, that is Kubrick-centric. Given the director's reputation as notoriously detail-oriented, most of the interviewees imbue him with a Pope-like sense of infallibility, as if Kubrick never made mistakes, always knew exactly what he was doing in every frame, and had clear purposes for the minutest of on-screen choices. While their means of evaluating the film may be poststructuralist—in that they all tend to read whatever the hell they want into the movie, using their own highly specified methods—they also fall back on structuralist assumptions about directorial authority and intent. Is it likely that the chair that goes missing in the background from one shot to the next means something, or is it more likely that it was a simple continuity error? What Ascher is asking in Room 237 takes a meta-step back: Can the missing chair have meaning even if it was only a continuity error?"
Finally, Anchor Bay is bringing the brutal horror-thriller I Spit On Your Grave 2, the sequel to the 2010 remake of the cult 1978 shocker. That initial remake actually improved on Meir Zarchi's disreputable slice of exploitation cinema; while the 2010 version maintained the same graphic charge of the original, director Steven R. Monroe brought a sleek - and, at times, beautiful - eye to the madness, and he got a sympathetic, fearless performance from star Sarah Butler, who so grounds her character's emotional turmoils that she almost transcends the material. Well, Monroe's back for I Spit On Your Grave 2, but Butler isn't, and the film suffers in her absence. It's the worst kind of "more of the same" example. Monroe virtually remakes his own remake, changing only a few details: now, his heroine is an aspiring fashion model (Jemma Dallender) who seeks bloody revenge after some bad men abduct her, imprison her in Bulgaria, and brutalize her. Again, Monroe's presence ensures that I Spit On Your Grave 2 looks good enough, but it is relentlessly unpleasant, and Dallender proves less compelling a protagonist than Butler. What we're left with, oddly enough, is the ultimate endgame when you travel far enough down the rabbit hole in the whole "making sequels from remake"; with its blend of Friday the 13th Final Girl and Hostel-esque setting, now there's nothing original about I Spit On Your Grave 2's gory proceedings.
Already received Psycho II, Psycho III, and Prince of Darkness, and have Iron Man 3 in 3D, Halloween, VHS 2 and I Spit on Your Grave 2 per-ordered from best buy! This was a big release week for me. I don't believe I have ever bought 7 movies released on the same day.
The calm before the storm for me -- not that IM3 is much of a calm, but next week has The Little Mermaid 3D, The Wizard of Oz 3D *and* From Here to Eternity. Gotta prepare my wallet for the onslaught...
I wanted to decide between blind-buying Pacific Rim 3D next month or picking up Iron Man 3 today. I am going with PR. Iron Man 3 was great, and I want to own it, but I didn't feel it was really a day-one purchase, since I just saw it a few months ago. I also think i'll skip the 3D edition and just go for the cheapest set. I remember the Avengers CD wasn't that great, so I don't expect much out of the IM3 one. Also, the 3D review on here left me thinking it would be a waste of money. Anybody think Black Friday we will see some deals on IM3?
@anyone who is thinking about 237: I watched it a while back and there is absolutely nothing new in it that's not already out there or hasn't already been mentioned 100 times over. Though, if you haven't looked into this particular hysteria before, you will most certainly enjoy the doc.
Is the Dark knight collection the same transfers as the single releases? I bought the collection just because i'm a die hard batman fan but just curious since i haven't had the time to watch the discs yet. will there ever be a review?