This week (last Saturday, August 18th, to be exact), Lionsgate is bringing the box-office smash The Hunger Games to Blu-ray. Like author Suzanne Collins' dystopian novel of the same name, the film aims to provide young adults with a fantasy far more unnerving than that of Twilight or Harry Potter; The Hunger Games takes place in a future where the haves lord their power over the have-nots and children are forced to fight to the death as a grand display of civic pride. The book doesn't sugarcoat this environment's harshness, and the film mostly pulls no punches as well, thanks to its convincingly gritty production design and Jennifer Lawrence's flinty, understated lead performance.
Where The Hunger Games stumbles somewhat is in the direction; Seabiscuit helmer Gary Ross takes this story seriously, but he slathers it in handheld camerawork so aggressive that it renders some scenes visually incoherent. In his Blu-ray review, Jeffrey Kauffman acknowledges the film's limitations while praising what it gets right, how The Hunger Games had, "a huge hurdle to overcome, namely pleasing rabid fans while trying to bring the two or three people who hadn't actually read the book...into the club without boring those who already knew the gist of what was going on. The results are mixed, but at least now the foundation has been built for what could indeed be an incredibly exciting set of films. There's probably no denying that the film works best for those who have already read the books and can 'fill in the blanks,' so to speak, but there's certainly enough here for newbies to get involved."
Just as noteworthy is Sony's HD package of A Separation. Director Asghar Farhadi's intense drama won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the most recent Academy Awards Ceremony, and it isn't hard to see why. Though Farhadi's subject matter might appear insignificant - he focuses on an Iranian married couple seeking a divorce - his film is so carefully wrought, so precisely detailed, that this intimate tale takes on the grandeur of a great opera. In making a movie about his home country of Iran, Farhadi has come up with something universal and deeply affecting - this is one of the best films to reach theaters in the past few years.
Martin Liebman's Blu-ray review is similarly effusive in its praise, lauding the picture as "a powerfully dynamic motion picture shaped by a number of incredible performances...Never does the movie or its characters feel like a fictional piece of work...So real are the characters, so urgent are their problems, so involved are their lives, so captivating are their stories that this is the sort of movie audiences want to move through quickly so as to know what's to come of them but to at the same time move slowly to savor the experience, to cherish filmmaking at its finest. Any picture that can pull off that feat is worthy of commendation, and A Separation deserves every last accolade it receives."
Surprisingly, Paramount Pictures's farce The Dictator also has a strong message, albeit one buried under copious amounts of vulgarity. The Dictator is the most recent creation of Borat auteur Sacha Baron Cohen, and it shares that earlier film's propensity for graphic shock comedy. How much you enjoy the movie certainly depends on your tolerance for excessive ribaldry, but Cohen doesn't traffic in gross-outs for gross-outs' sake. He wants to expose the brutal indulgences perpetuated worldwide by powerful warlords and dictators, and that keen sense of social injustice gives The Dictator a flavor reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin's WWII-era satire The Great Dictator.
Martin Liebman uses his Blu-ray review to outline The Dictator's success at hitting its satric targets: "It's vulgar and at times distasteful, but it's also a brilliant send-up of third-world dictators and the world in which they live and the shape they give it...When something is this far over the top, the unthinkable becomes hilarious and the unspeakable a fountain of humor. It all works very well, in spite of some lengthier segments that veer the movie far off its track. Fortunately, The Dictator understands what works and always finds its way back to its source. It's easily one of the funniest movies of the past few years."
Tuesday also sees Millennium Media's Blu-ray of Bernie, the newest feature from Richard Linklater. As he did in his underrated docudrama Fast Food Nation, Linklater is mining the real world for cinematic inspiration; Bernie tells the true-life story of Bernie Tiede, a funeral director in sleepy Carthage, Texas, so beloved by the town's residents that they barely bat an eye when he murders his wealthy companion, the much-older - and much nastier - widow Marjorie Nugent. This is outrageous material on its own, and Linklater wisely doesn't torture it for laughs; he lets the humor develop naturally from the situation and from Bernie himself, who Jack Black plays as a sweet, whimsically odd life force.
This week's films to arrive from my preorders happen to be two of my top favorites from last year: A Separation and Weekend (2011). (The latter is an upgrade of the BD edition released by Peccadillo Pictures).
Later I may buy The Hunger Games and blind-buy Bernie. Richard Linklater is always interesting.
I'll be getting Rescuers/Rescuers Down Under and Pocahontas. Rescuers Down Under was one of my favorite Disney films as a kid, and I think its underrated. I could do without Pocahontas 2 being bundled with the first film. Never saw it, but I haven't heard too many good things about those Disney direct to video sequels.
Already picked up The Hunger Games over the weekend. My most anticipated catalog release this week is WarGames!!! Also getting Disney's The Rescuers, Pocahontas, The Tigger Movie and Chimpanzee. Will rent A Separation and Weekend. I was disappointed with The Dictator when I saw it at the theaters. That said, when is Borat coming out on Blu in the U.S.?? Been waiting for it.
Bernie is a fun, whimsical movie, as light-hearted as you can get considering it's based on a murder that actually happened. I'd recommend a rent but not a blind buy.
A fan of foreign movies, I think A Separation is an interesting movie, as much for its offering a sociological look at another culture, but I think the praise it received is disproportionate to what I saw. (Translation: I didn't think it was *that* great.)
The Dictator is exactly what you expect from the maker of Borat and Bruno. It falls somewhere between those two on the over-the-top spectrum.
@boothill: With that kind of language that's where you belong! Can you not be critical but also civil to your fellow members?
However I do agree with you on the trolls here who vote thumbs down on everything. It would be great if the mods. were to just show us the thumbs up and thumbs down counts but not hide the messages themselves. It makes no sense to do so and implies an attempt to censor the postings of anyone who chooses to think differently than the majority.
I'm not defending The Hunger Games but Battle Royale was not a good movie. The premise is absurd and makes no sense. It's just murder porn for people who think The Boondock Saints is profoundly philosophical.