This week, Universal Studios is offering a Blu-ray upgrade for one of the most beloved titles in its back-catalog: Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Over the years, the film's reputation has become even greater than itself. It made a generation scared to go swimming; it inspired a global interest in sharks; it ushered in the type of broad-appeal summer blockbuster that all major Hollywood studios now use to pad their coffers. Jaws made such an impact on the zeitgeist that it is easy to forget what a genuinely terrific movie it is. Without sacrificing any of its thrills, Spielberg gives Jaws a weight and a human cost that many populist summer epics often choose to ignore; Jaws works so well because viewers care about its three leads (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss) and their desperate hunt of the titular great white beast.
In his Blu-ray review, Jeffrey Kauffman echoes the universal praise that critics and audiences has bestowed upon the picture over the years, writing that, "Jaws continues to be a near perfect film experience now several decades after its release. Terrifying, disturbing and against considerable odds, often very funny, this film put Spielberg firmly on the map and continues to be one of his defining achievements. There's virtually no element out of place in this brilliantly structured film. Performances and direction are spot on, and the technical achievements are for the most part stellar."
Not to be outdone, the Criterion Collection has also scheduled an HD version of one of its catalog favorites. Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums found the iconoclastic writer/director reaching a personal benchmark in his filmmaking career. After his Bottle Rocket and Rushmore found indie success, many critics had pegged Anderson as the heir apparent to Jacques Tati, what with their shared penchant for dry humor, formally stylized aesthetics, and gently melancholic tones. With The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson simultaneously deepened and distanced himself from that connection. His 2001 dramedy sees him working with a level of visual abstraction that he would not top until 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, but he also puts his protagonists through darker, more emotionally wrenching traumas that neither he nor Tati had ever inflicted. The Royal Tenenbaums remains Anderson's masterwork; only his recently released Moonrise Kingdom comes close to matching its comic and dramatic power.
Svet Atanasov's Blu-ray review comments on the tension between the film's humor and sadness, how "The Royal Tenenbaums is, without a doubt, Wes Anderson's most polarizing film. It could be outrageously funny, but it could also be an enormously sad film, to the point of actually being seriously depressing. A good reason why could be the fact that there is a certain degree of sincerity in it that is missing from the director's other films...the rapid mood swings that leave one unsure whether to feel good or bad about the main protagonists. If one has ever been as desperate as the Tenenbaums are, the film could be a fascinating experience. But if one has never been as lonely - and thus forced to be eccentric - as the Tenenbaums are, their behavior could be both puzzling and enormously frustrating."
Of the more recent features arriving on Blu-ray this Tuesday, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's The Raid: Redemption ranks as one of the most sheerly enjoyable. The Raid has none of the subtlety and nuance of The Royal Tenenbaums or even of Jaws - in its broad strokes, it's a live-action, side-scroller video game. We follow a SWAT team as it takes on a drug lord and his gang in a rundown apartment building; every floor the SWAT officers breach has different foes and a new boss to defeat, and all lead to the Big Bad on the top floor. But The Raid knows this, and what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in nonstop, fantastically choreographed mayhem. Director Gareth Evans is a student of the Pencak Silat fighting style, and he structures his picture as a full-length showcase for this lightning-fast, incredibly brutal martial arts discipline.
Martin Liebman uses his Blu-ray review to outline exactly what the film's intentions are, that "anyone who wants to see relentless violence, amazing fight choreography, incessant bloodshed, and all sorts of chaotic gun, blade, and fist action, The Raid: Redemption is the movie to see. Anyone who doesn't get excited reading that last sentence should stay far away. The Raid: Redemption is no masterpiece, but it's an exemplary action-only movie that knows its place and gets every last bit of blood and sweat out of its premise. There's minimal story and characterization, just enough to give the movie some sense of purpose beyond spilling blood."
For those viewers seeking something a little more off the beaten path, the dark thriller Kill List might prove an engrossing experience. Filmmaker Ben Wheatley structures his film as a hybrid of two genres, the first of which is the British crime thriller. For roughly its first half, Kill List pays homage to cult classics like Mike Hodges' Get Carter and Stephen Frears' The Hit with its tale of two low-rent assassins (Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley) contracted to kill three seemingly unconnected people. Wheatley keeps the violence brutal and the interplay between Maskell and Smiley darkly comic, and had Kill List proceeded along this note for its entirety, it would have ranked as a tough, mean little gangster picture. What makes it more unique, however, is the second genre that Wheatley weaves in, the type of which I wouldn't dare spoil. Suffice to say, Kill List takes some twists that send its two leads down darker and far more insidious paths than they could ever imagine.
How Katz can judge Tenenbaums as anything but a contrived mess is beyond me. The palette is beautiful but Rushmore is far better than either it or Moonrise Kingdom, which itself is only better than Mr. Fox.
This week is big for me, with four films arriving from preorders: The Royal Tenenbaums, La promesse, Rosetta and Shaft (1971).
In very short order I plan to buy the blu-ray book edition of Jaws from Best Buy (and will later receive the UK steelbook edition of the film). And, at some point, I'll check out Les Vampires and New Jack City.