Though they came out earlier this month, my coverage of The Elia Kazan Collection (Fox), The Night of the Hunter (Criterion) and Modern Times (Criterion) is new to my blog this week, due to a combination of late-arriving discs, a weekend not watching any movies and the head cold that followed. As for the rest, read on…
The Expendables (Lionsgate) – Sylvester Stallone has a spotty track record as a writer/director: passably effective at best, painfully misguided and lost in blind alleys of melodramatic kitsch as worst (“Driven”). He’s best at serving his own screen image (especially if already established by a previous filmmaker, as in the Rocky and Rambo sequels).
With The Expendables, he manages to fashion an original picture (if you can describe this update of The Seven Samurai and The Dirty Dozen as original) round not simply his image but those of Jason Statham, Jet Li and a few veterans who never made more than a dent in the B-movie action culture (Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin) and one action star ringer (the always entertaining Terry Crews, better known for comedy than action chops). He comes up with a perfectly enjoyable mercenaries-on-a-mission-of-redemption adventure with a mix of testosterone-fueled camaraderie and this-time-it’s-personal seriousness. Yes, it does feel like a party thrown by Stallone for his friends and fellow action heroes aging out of mainstream leads, but compared to the ADD direction and CGI effects of modern films (and yes, there is plenty of digital blood and fire thrown around the frame), the old school action direction is more satisfying than it ought to be. And it doesn’t hurt to have Eric Roberts as bad guy who has the stones to pull off such smarmy arrogance, Mickey Rourke as a greasy but genuine compatriot to the mercenary bunch and cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both tossing off quips like the old days.
The DVD features an easy-going commentary track by director/co-writer/star Stallone, a deleted scene and the featurette “From the Ashes: Post Production” among the supplements. The three-disc Blu-ray Combo features the “Ultimate Recon Mode,” a picture-in-picture track that combines pieces of Stallone’s audio commentary with new video commentary of Stallone and others (including co-stars Dolph Lundgren and Randy Couture and the film’s producers) stepping in on select scenes, pausing and rewinding for effect, while production footage, interview clips and other footage runs through the rest of the presentation. It won’t mean much if you don’t like the film, but it’s well produced and an inventive extension of the commentary format. And it’s pretty entertaining in its own right. Also exclusive to the Blu-ray is the detailed 90-minute “Inferno: The Making of The Expendables” and a 45-minute panel discussion with Stallone and select stars from ComiCon 2010 (including a surprise Bruce Willis visit), plus a bonus DVD and digital copy.
Avatar: Extended Collector’s Edition (Fox) – James Cameron isn’t one to leave a film alone so his ultimate home video version of Avatar is centered by a new “Extended Cut,” which runs 16 minutes longer than the theatrical version, most of it in a new opening scene on Earth and added pieces of backstory with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and Grace (Sigourney Weaver). It doesn’t redefine the film and it won’t win new converts (in one new scene, a character picks up a copy of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax; subtle, Mr. Cameron), but fans will appreciate the added character notes. The three-disc box set features the original theatrical cut and the longer re-release version in addition to the new “Extended Cut,” plus an hour-long presentation of deleted/extended scenes (in various stages of completion), the excellent 98-minute documentary “Capturing Avatar” (which traces the origins of the film back to experiments in motion capture includes plenty of production and test footage) and an edited “family friendly” commentary track. Exclusive to the Blu-ray is a “Pandora’s Box” of supplements, including interactive scene deconstruction through the stages of effects, Cameron’s original “Scriptment” and hours of bonus featurettes and other supplements. It is still the “flat” 2-D version. Cameron is still not satisfied with 3DTV.
Killing time while awaiting disc I actually wanted to see, I checked out Fire & Ice: The Dragon Chronicles (Entertainment One), a Euro-pudding fantasy co-produced by the SyFy Channel, directed by French director Pitoff (Catwoman) and starring minor genre names. Amy Acker (TV’s Angel and Dollhouse) does the headstrong princess thing, idealistic yet impulsive, and Tom Wisdom responds with the disillusioned young knight thing, both serious and intent but not much fun. Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) is the well-meaning king manipulated by a traitorous advisor and John Rhys-Davies (Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lord of the Rings) as an eccentric inventor and loyal squire to the broody knight in exile. It’s basically a 21st century Godzilla movie in medieval fashions, but without the fun of suitmation effects and physical puppets. There’s a somewhat vague CGI Fire Dragon that burns as it flies and a less convincing Ice Dragon with freeze breath. You might say the film blows hot and cold as they do what is intended to be epic battle, but that would suggest a sense of humor that is nowhere to be found in this stale, spiceless production. It is better than the usual SyFy Original, but that’s not really much of a yardstick.
For real heft, Facets releases Edgar Reitz’s complete The Heimat Trilogy (Facets) in one package at a reduced price. It’s still expensive, but then it is 53 hours on 17 discs. See MSN here.
I reviewed The Extra Man (Magnolia) at Parallax View here (the DVD details are at MSN here) and the documentary Countdown To Zero (Magnolia), about the nuclear sword of Damocles hanging over the world, on MSN here. And I was unable to make the time to see the documentary Harlan: In The Shadow Of Jew Süss (Zeitgeist), but it’s high on my to-do list.
Also new this week: Eat Pray Love (Sony) with Julia Roberts, the Rob Reiner-directed Flipped (Warner), The Winning Season (Lionsgate) with Sam Rockwell, the high-concept mock-doc satire I’m Still Here (Magnolia) that almost destroyed the career of Joaquin Phoenix, The Disappearance of Alice Creed (Anchor Bay) with Gemma Arterton, Roger Nygard’s documentary The Nature of Existence (Walking Shadows) and Craig Baldwin’s avant-garde feature Mock Up on Mu (Facets).