The Good, The Bad, and the Blu-ray is Moviepilot's weekly Blu-ray/DVD roundup feature. These are the Blu-ray releases that are worth your green.
21 & Over
The Film: When reading the words “from the writers of The Hangover” on the cover, apprehension was unavoidable. After all, that watershed celebration of the male id lead to the despicable and aggressively callous Project X, in so much as served as producer there. However, 21 & Over falls comfortably in the middle of a continuum that sees Project X on the left and The Hangover to the right. The characters, despite their pursuit of debauchery, are actually very charming and face real consequences even as they maneuver through a series of progressively more fantastical college experiences. I would equate this more to something like After Hours than Project X, and that is why it works.
Sight & Sound: What’s most impressive about the picture quality on 21 & Over is that it manages to look so sharp despite the number of outdoor night shots. At no point are details lost to shadow. The DTS-HD 5.1 is solid. There are interesting moments during which our heroes find themselves in totally chaotic situations; the mix spreading the sound to capture the enveloping madness of these moments while the center channel adequately handles the film’s ample doses of witty dialogue.
The Goodies: Fox kind of shortchanged us on the bonus content here. While there are a couple of featurettes and a gag reel, the longest of those is a mere four-minutes. The gag reel is quite amusing, but concludes before it feels to have started. The trailer is also included.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you find yourself enjoying single-day comedy-of-error films, pick up 21 & Over. Again, it’s far better than Project X.
Come Out and Play
The Film: Highly enigmatic masked filmmaker wears almost all the hats on this 2012 horror film. A remake of the 1976 Spanish oddity Who Can Kill A Child, Come Out and Play is a thoroughly chilling film on a number of levels. It allows you to become invested in affable characters before placing them in highly unexpected peril, and it throws disciplined punches when it comes to the shocking imagery. It isn’t just the horrific nature of the events themselves that latch onto your nerves; it’s the unnervingly challenging implications of those moments and how you find yourself responding to them. Come Out and Play is also a violent communication of the fear of parenthood, specifically motherhood.
Sight & Sound: Makinov intentionally blurs the images at times in order to create atmosphere, but when the aesthetically intentional fog clears, the picture is outstanding. Lots of fine detail apparent, and the azure of the ocean is absolutely breathtaking; no trace of false enhancement to the natural beauty. I will say that the contrast is washed out in some of the earlier scenes, making it impossible to differentiate between dark hair and the darkness of the dimly lit rooms behind the characters in the foreground. This problem seems to be corrected early on. Though not the most elaborate 5.1 mix I’ve ever heard, Come Out and Play’s audio makes great use of the textural score.
The Goodies: I’m not sure what anyone could have expected from a film directed by a man who, at least at the onset of production, doesn’t even show his face to his actors, but suffice to say Makinov makes no appearance in the special features. A few deleted scenes, and a couple of awkward interviews with the cast are the anchor supplements here. Also included is the trailer and a bizarre making-of featurette in which the viewer is a fly on the wall as the stunt coordinator instructs the multitudes of child actors on safety.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you need convincing that not all horror remakes are garbage, or if you happen to be on the fence about parenthood, Come Out and Play is a film you should pick up.
The Howling: Collector’s Edition
The Film: Long before made Gremlins, he gave us one of the strangest and most captivating of werewolf movies in 1981’s The Howling. That’s not to say this subcategory of horror has ever had a strict formula, but The Howling is still unlike any werewolf movie you’ve previously seen. Utilizing a healthy dose of satirical comedy and dazzling practical special effects, The Howling has earned the visceral niche in horrordom which it has viciously ripped out for itself.
Sight & Sound: Shout Factory’s Scream Factory has gone above and beyond to bring us a stellar transfer of a lesser classic. Dante’s cinematographer, John Hora, amplified the dreamlike quality of the story by shooting several scenes in overly soft lighting, and yet the high-def transfer manages to remain clean and precise throughout. Flesh details and fine hairs standout, but the natural grain has not been so reduced as to give the characters a plastic-like appearance. Shout Factory has once again provided reversible cover artwork that offers you the ability to choose between the original poster and a gorgeous new painted cover. The 5.1 mix, which is a recent addition considering the film’s original mono track, is loud, but not well distributed to the surrounds.
The Goodies: The new Howling Blu is so overflowing with extras that it leaks like blood through a sieve. Brand new HD interviews with the editor and one of the producers, as well as classic featurettes about the making of the movie and a rare interview with not only a young Dante, but the great effects wizard as well. Deleted scenes, outtakes, and a phenomenal commentary with Dante, , , and . Cap all this off with a photo gallery, multiple trailers, and a fun piece called Horror’s Hallowed Ground (which examines the locations of famous horror movies), and you have another Scream Factory pinata bursting with treats for genre fans. Oh, and keep a sharp eye out for the hidden Easter Egg on the menu screen.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you’ve ever been fan of The Howling, or if you are looking for the optimal first viewing experience, definitely pick up Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-ray. We promise it won’t come back to bite you.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
The Film: Despite boasting ’s best performance in years, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone nevertheless feels like an entirely paint-by-numbers comedic affair. The motions through which is flailing are the worst sort of yawn-inducing, and the setups feel so familiar, i.e. smack of properties, that perhaps the movie’s greatest illusion is the idea that it was written for Steve to begin with.
Sight & Sound: One of the things that did manage to impress me about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone was its engaging color palette. The Vegas stage performances burst with vibrant color, but the muted autumnal tones later in the movie effectively shift the mood of the story. A few isolated flaws notwithstanding, the Blu-ray does a respectable job elevating that use of color. As far as the DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix, the only moments that really sound full and, frankly, alive are the moments dedicated to showcasing the soundtrack. There’s nothing particularly off about the rest of the mix, but it’s sad when the best thing I can say about the audio is that Steve Miller Band’s “Abracadabra” sounds terrific.
The Goodies: Once again, a chintzy week for supplements. Warner Brothers has put together one rather extended series of deleted scenes, and a gag reel slightly funnier than the film itself, but beyond that is a somewhat indulgent fake performance from “Steve Gray” and a needless advertisement for David Copperfield masquerading as a special feature.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you’re a fan of enormous, absurd hairdos, or if you feel you need comedic retribution for being subjected to a childhood full of bad birthday part magicians, go for it. If you’re looking for something legitimately funny, you’ll find Burt Wonderstone less than incredible.
Jack the Giant Slayer
The Film: A passable fantasy epic, Jack the Giant Slayer is another of the revisionist fairy tale crop growing like weeds at the multiplexes of late. Ultimately, ’s film is more spectacle than substance, opting for some oppressively silly gags and an ending as dopey as that iconic dwarf who will probably end up with an origin story of his own by 2017. What’s truly baffling about Jack is that it continually leans toward dark content while cognizant of the fact that it has to cut away from the more gruesome shots. It’s a strange case of trying to have one’s cake and eat it too.
Sight & Sound: The Warner Brothers Blu-ray does emphasize the one titanic strength of Jack the Giant Slayer: its picture and sound. The transfer is downright crystalline, despite the preponderance of digitally crafted characters. In fact, I went so far as to pause the film during a moment of intense giant action and every infinitesimal detail of the CGI leviathan was seamless. The sound, DTS-HD 5.1, is also extraordinarily dynamic; the rumbling of giant footsteps not the only attraction as environmental ambiance equally encompasses the room via the surrounds. If I had a complaint it would only be that I would have liked to have seen what the 7.1 mix could have offered.
The Goodies: Relatively few supplements given the enormous size of the production. One cleaver compensation for this is that WB has made an interactive game out of their EPK. As the viewer makes choices about which direction to head up an animated beanstalk, guided by the voice of , they uncover “bonuses” that they can click on; taking them to various behind-the-scenes materials. Nothing so captivating, but the presentation is at least interesting. As with the Warm Bodies Blu, It is once again the gag reel, featuring a wholly sincere and surprisingly foul-mouthed Hoult, that steals the show.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you’ve found yourself enraptured by the recent trend of fairy tale revisionist cinema, you’ll probably get a kick out of Jack the Giant Slayer. Also recommended as a relatively family-friendly option for demonstrating the full range of your home theater setup.
Lifeforce: Collector’s Edition
The Film: At cursory glance, Lifeforce may seem just another trashy 80s sci-fi horror outing; for crying out loud its source material origin is a novel called The Space Vampires. However 1985’s Lifeforce has far more at play than mere drive-in gimmickry. The film examines the phenomena of vampirism through a fascinating science-fiction lens. The performances, photography, and effects of the film are all top notch and the script was written by none other than the incomparable of Alien. Plus, it's thrilling to see just how apocalyptic things get by story's end.
Sight & Sound: There’s no better way to describe it so I’ll just say that it’s ridiculous how amazing Lifeforce looks on Blu-ray. We’re talking about a movie that most people couldn’t pick out of a lineup let alone remember as part of the catalog of the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And yet the picture has been so painstakingly polished and the result is sharp contrast, exceedingly high levels of detail and a clarity at times that doesn’t seem feasible. The opening sequence on the alien spacecraft could have been shot yesterday for how clean it appears. Truly remarkable is the fact that even under this exacting high-def microscope, the film’s imaginative effects still hold up to contemporary scrutiny. The original DVD art is offered on the flip-side, but it is beyond me why anyone wouldn’t want to prominently display the superb new painted default cover. The dynamic range of the audio mix fares better when stretched to 5.1 than did The Howling. In fact, in the iconic scene in which the corpse on the operating table opens its eyes, rises, and sucks the life from one of the surgeons, the blood-curdling growl seems to swing like a pendulum across the front channels.
The Goodies: Once again, Shout Factory, via Scream Factory, has not skimped on the goodies. The Collector’s Edition of Lifeforce is fully loaded with everything from new interviews with , , and the alluring to original television making-of specials. Trailers and galleries are also present, as are a couple of commentaries, but the biggest bonus here is the long-estranged U.S. theatrical cut. This version was edited by the studio, removing some graphic content. The fact that it appears here is further testament to the fact that Shout loves these movies as much as we nerds do and their affinity shines brightly in HD.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you haven’t seen Lifeforce, it’s high time you introduced yourself, and Shout has provided you the ideal handshake. Additionally, if you’re intrigued by unique takes on the vampire mythos, or if you just like the idea of possessed by a female space vampire, stop reading this and go buy Lifeforce: The Collector’s Edition.
The Film: When trailers first appeared for Movie 43, an overwhelming feeling of dread swallowed most of us. Could they really have gotten so many A-list actors into a sketch comedy movie that looked far more crass than competent? As it turns out, as paltry praise as it may seem, Movie 43 is nowhere near as bad as it looks. It’s an ambitious comedy anthology that, like any anthology, is a stronger whole than the sum of its parts. That said, there are plenty of laughs to be enjoyed here with only the occasional, if epic, misfire. But even in the misfires, the film often benefits from actors who are funnier than the material they are given. I will strongly advise not sticking around after the credits for the last vignette. As much as I like , his post-credit short is abysmally bad.
Sight & Sound: Despite the involvement of many different filmmakers, there is a uniformity to the picture quality, which is to say it’s…fine. The images are clean and clear, but the photography isn’t exactly taking risks. The movie is a standardized celebrity distribution system and there's not much to sing about in terms of the picture or the sound.
The Goodies: It's interesting that not one of the dozens of celebs in the movie could be bothered to come back for a commentary, interview, or...well...anything. The only features here are the extended edition (yawn), and a mildly amusing unused short featuring and .
Optimal Purchase Conditions: If you need constantly shifting background noise at a party,_ Movie 43_ might be just the ticket. Again, I found it to be more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined, but there is certainly no shame in skipping around and only watching those vignettes that really tickle you.
The Film: Based on a true story, Phantom is the story of a Soviet submarine that went missing in the most formidable days of the Cold War, and the treacherous events that took place within that sub that brought the world to the brink of annihilation. There is an embarrassment of riches here in terms of cast (, , and especially), and the movie does build a nice fog of tension. However, the film ultimately failed to latch its emotional hooks into me and I met the ending with a shrug and an only somewhat satisfied nod. Also, I found it hard to excuse the lack of anything resembling a Russian accent on any of the actors. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of movies in which English has been spoken by characters in other realms, on other planets, etc. And yes, there have been woefully many Americans cast in the roles of historic personages from other countries that have failed to raise my ire. But when the entire crew of this Soviet sub is talking about those dastardly Americans without so much as an attempt at a Russian accent to mask their own American dialects, it took me out of the world of the film.
Sight & Sound: I was quite impressed with the presentation here. While most submarine movies are cast in cold blues and grays, echoing the construction of the underwater vessel as well as communicating a sense of isolation, Phantom utilizes a goodly amount of warm yellows. The flesh tones are strong and the contrast is excellent. The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix was also quite respectable. The surrounds are used with particular effectiveness as the submarine dives or engages its SONAR system.
The Goodies: A goodly amount of special features provided here. There are making-of featurettes, as well as insights on the real story, and a commentary featuring Ed Harris and director . There is also a music video for "An Ocean Away" from the soundtrack. A decent song, but don't blink at the end or you'll completely miss who sings it. The artist is also not credited on the menu option.
Optimal Purchase Conditions: Military history aficionados will likely appreciate Phantom. Also anyone who fell head-over-heels in love with 's Crimson Tide are going to enjoy the similar character dynamics and plot points. That's not to say Phantom is cribbing from Crimson Tide, true stories and all, but it will be enough of an overlap to please Tide fans.