This week, Lionsgate is re-issuing the 1990 sci-fi-epic Total Recall on Blu-ray. While the release seems timed simply to capitalize on Sony's upcoming Total Recall remake, the film itself is so good that it is easy to overlook any corporate synergy at work. Director Paul Verhoeven - working in the same broadly satirical vein that made his Starship Troopers a subversive delight - uses the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" as a springboard for a fast-paced blockbuster that also asks some provocative questions about the nature of dreams and the subconscious.
Even twenty-two years later, Verhoeven's skewed (and extremely violent) vision of the future remains exciting and suspensful, thanks to Rob Bottin's terrific practical effects and a star performance from Arnold Schwarzenegger that matches his iconic work in the first two Terminator pictures. As Jeffrey Kauffman notes in his Blu-ray review, "Many science-fiction films don't age particularly well (Project X is a perfect example in this regard). Total Recall is the rare exception, a film whose innate intelligence still shines, leaving the viewer wondering exactly what's real and what isn't. Mix in some romantic sparks, what were then state-of-the-art special effects, and a lot of kick-ass action, and the result is one of the most uniquely satisfying films in Schwarzenegger's and Verhoeven's oeuvres."
Another screen favorite gets an HD upgrade from Lionsgate tomorrow: La Grande Illusion. Director Jean Renoir's anti-war masterpiece garnered world renown when it hit theaters in 1937 - of note, it was the first foreign film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards - and its story of WWI POWs trying to escape German captivity has influenced films as important to popular culture as The Great Escape and Stalag 17. What truly resonates about La Grande Illusion, however, isn't the wartime heroics but rather Renoir's melancholy worldview; in combat, he sees a force so destructive that it severs friendships, nullifies titles and customs, and turns nations into pawns in an ever-more terrible chess game.
Jeffrey Kauffman also reviewed this disc, and he was effusive in his praise, calling La Grande Illusion, "one of those 'must see' films for any serious lover of the medium. It's a more accessible 'entertainment'...than Renoir's The Rules of the Game, though like that film it gives up its social commentary subtly, so the viewer must not be lulled into a false sense that nothing much is going on. The film is perhaps the most brilliant examination of class versus nationality in a time of war ever put on celluloid, and its stinging rebuke of a crumbling aristocracy can still be felt quite strongly to this day."
Headlining the week's recent film releases is Sony's Hatfields & McCoys Blu-ray set. This miniseries debuted to critical and commercial acclaim when it premiered on the History Channel last May, and it isn't hard to see why; under the robust direction of Kevin Reynolds (The Count of Monte Cristo), stars Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton give powerful performances as the title families' patriarchs, two friends whose inabilities to cope with the psychological and physical realities of post-Civil War America drive a wedge between their respective clans and lead to acts of extreme savagery.
Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review praises the program's fidelity towards replicating the hardships of the time, how "Hatfields & McCoys is at once both enthralling and revolting in its storytelling prowess and unparalleled honesty in its depiction of the sorrows and brutality that defined the conflict. The latter in particular gnaws at the viewers, even if retributions, killings, planning, and payback seem in some way justified. This is a harrowing, challenging watch, but a rewarding dramatic experience."
Finally, Sony's Detention also streets on Tuesday, and it is already primed to become a cult classic. Director Joseph Kahn - the primary creative force behind the Fast and the Furious spoof/ripoff Torque - brings his hyper-kinetic eye to this bizarre horror-comedy, which centers on a group of high-school seniors trying to stop a serial killer. At least, that setup gives Detention its broad outline; Kahn is less concerned with adhering to familiar genre tropes than he is with deconstructing them through the prism of John Hughes-style teen dramedies, 1990's pop culture, and a punk-rock aesthetic all his own. Those influences can make Detention seem like a mess at times, but it is a fascinating mess all the same, with terrific performances and a feverish energy.
In his Blu-ray review, Martin Liebman comments on some of the wild tonal and narrative shifts included within the feature; he writes that, "the movie's partially incomprehensible beyond the basics; it's a smorgasbord of style, an avalanche of stuff, characters and a plot that move at the speed of bytes and texts and OMGs and incoherent quips and complex relationships and situations. Calling this a 'kitchen sink' movie would be to grossly underestimate all the randomness that efforts to come together into one tale, to coalesce into a nonlinear but lucid entity...Detention earns high marks for effort, an A+ for originality, but a failing grade in cohesion and substance."
Also, it's Arnold Schwarzenegger's 65th Birthday today! So I celebrated it by watching my Ultimate Rekall steelbook edition. The picture quality is STUNNING! And I have a critical eye... No DNR or any of that crap. Just pure cinematic excellence! Buy Total Recall if you haven't yet!
I bought me Total Recall =D "Damnit Cohaagen, give the people a great transfer!"The Forever Marilyn set will one day be mine!! My girlfriend would absolutely love it. La Grande Illusion is a classic film I'de love to add to the shelf.