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DVD Lounge: What’s New On Blu?

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After the jump check out reviews for Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything, Warrior, Shameless: The Complete First Season, Quigley Down Under, The Big Country, Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark, Margin Call and Final Destination 5.

Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything
BBC Home Video / Released May 27, 2008

The Pitch
36 hilarious episodes and three specials, 14 awards, and countless bottles of Bollinger, BBC Video™ combines every hilarious escapade from Absolutely Fabulous into the long-awaited DVD box set release – Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything. Starring the ever-hysterical Jennifer Saunders (French and Saunders, Shrek 2) and Joanna Lumley (Clatterford, Corpse Bride) as Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, the world’s foremost fashion femme fatales- viewers can experience all their unimaginable antics in this gorgeous nine-disc box set, glamorously packaged in a photo journal-style case with quilted cover and leopard print bookmark. Additionally, this side-splitting collection boasts over four hours of bonus material including a behind-the-scenes look “How to be Absolutely Fabulous,” “Modern Mother and Daughter,” the original French & Saunders sketch that inspired Ab Fab, outtakes, commentary and more.

The Review
Having never seen the beloved Ab Fab before, I jumped at the opportunity to check out this set prior to the reunion specials currently airing on BBC America.

I have friends that love the series but after sitting down to watch it, I made a startling discovery.

I don’t get it.  I can understand why the humor and characters are appealing, but it did nothing for me.  To make the it worse, it suffers the same albatross that turns me off of many British comedies, that  tedious laugh track that is so distracting and invasive that it pulls me out of the series immediately.  The characters and dialogue are well crafted and I there’s no doubt why it’s beloved, but it just really didn’t appeal to my sense of humor.  (That being said, I don’t get Monty Python either).  Extras are plentiful and the picture and sound quality is good, but progressively gets better as it goes on.  Absolutely Fabulous: Absolutely Everything is a must have if you are a fan of the series but if you are curious I’d recommend a rental first.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Blu-ray)
Sony Pictures / Released  January 3, 2012

The Pitch
Sally, a young girl, moves to Rhode Island to live with her father and his new girlfriend in the 19th-century mansion they are restoring. While exploring the house, Sally starts to hear voices coming from creatures in the basement whose hidden agenda is to claim her as one of their own.

The Review
Writers Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins used the original telefilm Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark as little more than a starting point for their reimagining.  Setting up the premise with a rich backstory and fairy-tale like mythology in some ways enhances the source material from the original, but also loses the matter-of-fact horror of the original.  In this version the protagonist is a young girl (as opposed to the newlywed in the original), confirming the fairy tale like nature of this interpretation.  Director Troy Nixey does an excellent job orchestrating the action and I was pleasantly surprised to find it more enjoyable on Blu-ray that I found it when I saw it during it’s theatrical release.

Young actress Bailee Madison gives an excellent performance as Sally and the supporting cast are all engaging, especially Guy Pearce as Sally’s father, Alex and Katie Holmes as Alex’s girlfriend, Kim.  Extras include Three-Part Making-of Documentary and a Conceptual Art Gallery.  Don’t Be Afraid of The Dark is a visually rich, thoroughly suspenseful and creepy film.  Recommended.

Margin Call (Blu-ray)
Roadside Attractions /  Released December 20, 2011

The Pitch
Set in the high-stakes world of Wall Street, Margin Call is an entangling thriller involving the key players at an investment firm during the earliest hours of the 2008 financial crisis. When an entry-level analyst unlocks information that could prove to be the downfall of the firm, a roller-coaster ride ensues as decisions both financial and moral catapult hte lives of all involved to the brink of disaster.

The Review
Margin Call is the best horror film in recent memory.

Taking place during a twenty four hour period beginning with a downsizing of an investment firm and ending with the first steps toward the 2008 financial collapse. Analyst Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) is laid off in the opening moments of the film, handing off a flash drive to his protege, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) with the warning “be careful.” Under the advisement of supervisor Will Emerson (Paul Bettany), to “keep his head down” during the firings, Sullivan finishes Dale’s risk assessment, discovering the crash before it happens. As members of the firm (Demi Moore, Simon Baker and Kevin Spacey) assemble with it’s CEO (Jeremy Irons) to discuss their next move, it becomes obvious that it’s every man for themselves. Irons’ John Tuld declares, ” There are three ways to make a living in this business. Be first, be smarter, or cheat. And I don’t cheat.”

But does he? Is he smarter to protect himself and the firm at the expense of millions of people? As Spacey’s Rogers tells Tuld, “You’re selling something that you know has no value.” What he’s doing isn’t right, but is it better to be first? The film also features terrific performances all around. Spacey, Irons, Bettany and Baker all deliver some of their best work in recent memory and Moore, as the lone woman in the mix who has put aside a family for career only to become a corporate scapegoat, is excellent. Tucci is as good as ever and co-star/producer Quinto quickly makes you forget Spock and Sylar as the junior analyst suddenly thrust into the limelight. Mary McDonnell and Penn Badgley are also memorable in their supporting roles. Margin Call is hardly sympathetic, but there are sympathetic characters. Extras include commentary, deleted scenes and featurettes.  First time writer/director J.C. Chandor has crafted a timely, smart and memorable film and is a must see for everyone. Highly recommended.

The Big Country (Blu-ray)
MGM / Released November 1, 2011

The Pitch
One of Hollywood’s greatest directors teams with a cast of incredible screen legends for this bold, sweeping tale of a ship’s captain who ventures west to find a hotbed of jealousy, hatred and dangerous rivalries. As the reluctant hero is thrust into the maelstrom, he must summon all of his resolve to save not only his own life, but also the life of the woman he loves.

The Review
A visually rich Western with Gregory Peck, Carroll Baker, Charles Bickford, Burl Ives, Chuck Connors and Charlton Heston, The Big Country suffers from a slow pace that drags this story with a 165 minute running time.  Gorgeous cinematography and fine acting all around, but this is hardly the American Western that we’re used to; it’s far too cerebral.  Peck’s character is very much a “stranger in a strange land,” and Peck portrays him with his usual sense of authority and confidence that is found in much of his filmography.  Extras are slight with a trailer, commercial and promo reel.  Picture and sound are pretty impressive and the scope of this picture definitely deserves the largest screen possible.  Director William Wyler’s The Big Country isn’t one of the most iconic films in the genre, but for a cinegeek, and in particular fan of epic filmmaking, this one is a definite must see.

Quigley Down Under (Blu-ray)
MGM / Released November 1, 2011

The Pitch
Arriving in Australia with nothing more than a saddle and his prized six-foot Sharps rifle, American sharpshooter Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) thinks he’s been hired to kill off wild dogs. But when he realizes instead, that his mission is murder – to “eliminate” the Aborigines from a wealthy cattle baron’s land – Quigley refuses and quickly turns from hunter to hunted. Forced to wage a savage war against his former employer, Quigley proves that no one gets the best of a steely-eyed American gunfighter – no one, that is, except the mysterious beauty (Laura San Giacomo) who rides by his side and captures his heart.

The Review
Everyone knows that Tom Selleck was supposed to play Indiana Jones and instead became tv’s Magnum P.I.

As a result, his success on television hampered his success on the big screen where he likely deserved to be a movie star.  Quigley Down Under is proof of that, as Selleck conquers a genre that theatrically has limited success in recent decades (The Western) and elevates the film by his mere presence.

Alan Rickman, one of cinema’s best bad guys, also plays the cattle baron who’s hired Quigley and then turns against him.  Selleck creates an iconic character in Quigley Down Under and it really should have kicked off a series of Quigley films (Quigley Goes East, Quigley Goes West, Quigley in Space…), but unfortunately, most people aren’t familiar with this title.  Hopefully, this Blu-ray release will change that.  Picture is amazing and the sound quality is acceptable.  Extras include a featurette, tv spots and trailer.  Quigley Down Under is a fun, slightly undiscovered gem that deserves a wider audience.  Highly recommended.

Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Blu-ray)
MGM / Released November 1, 2011

The Pitch
A gang of thugs who have hijacked a subway train near New York’s Pelham Station threaten to kill one hostage per minute. Forced to stall the assailants until a ransom is delivered or rescue made, transit chief Lt. Garber (Walter Matthau) must somehow ad-lib, con and outmaneuver one of the craftiest, cruelest villains (Robert Shaw) ever. It’s a race against time, and no one knows whether things will end heroically or tragically in this pulse-pounding thrill ride!

The Review
Unlike the tepid remake, this film is an enormously entertaining thriller that is an immediate must buy.  Transit Authoity lieutenant Matthau must keep negotiating with train hijackers Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, Earl Hindman (Home Improvement‘s Wilson!) and Robert Shaw who want a million dollars in exchange for the hostages.  Matthau is always fun to watch and the supporting cast (which also includes Jerry Stiller, Tony Roberts, James Broderick and Doris Roberts) are all fantastic.  This is very much a Seventies New York film, and it’s pretty hard not to be charmed by it.  With sharp and witty dialogue, solid thrills and action and increasing intensity, this film should not be missed.  Picture quality is good, albeit a bit dark and a bit of grain (which is perfect for a film like this, but Blu-ray enthusiasts might cry foul) and the mono soundtrack does it’s job adequately.  Extras include only the trailer.  Taking of Pelham One Two Three is an engaging, must-see film and an easy recommendation.

Final Destination 5 (Blu-ray Combo)
Warner Home Video / Released December 27, 2011 on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital Download

The Pitch
Death is just as omnipresent as ever, and in Final Destination 5 it strikes again. During the bus ride to a corporate retreat, Sam (Nicholas D’Agosto) has a premonition in which he and most of his friends — as well as numerous others — die in a horrific bridge collapse. When his vision ends, events begin to mirror what he had seen, and he frantically ushers as many of his colleagues — including his friend, Peter (Miles Fisher), and girlfriend, Molly (Emma Bell) — away from the disaster before Death can claim them. But these unsuspecting souls were never supposed to survive, and in a terrifying race against time, the ill-fated group tries to discover a way to escape Death’s sinister agenda.

The Review
I really, really wanted to like this.

I was prepared to turn off my brain and just watch the silliness that the Final Destination franchise has to offer.  Unfortunately, the series (which started with some solid actors in a legitimately entertaining first installment) has just become a way to showcase effects and little imagination.

Even Tony Todd, who reprises his role that still doesn’t have much of a character) is wasted, as the series has never sorted out it’s own mythology.  Bad CGI, dull performances and shock value for shock value’s sake define this installment, which is not only completely forgettable, but tedious.  Extras include featurettes, alternate death scenes and a fairly useless UltraViolet digital copy.  Final Destination 5 is a perfect example of a horror franchise that has worn out it’s welcome.  If you’re a fan of the series, it might be worth a rental.  Otherwise, skip it and save two hours of your life.

Warrior (Blu-ray Combo)
Lionsgate / Released December 20, 2011

The Pitch
The youngest son (Tom Hardy) of an alcoholic former boxer (Nick Nolte) returns home where hes trained by his father for competition in a mixed martial arts tournament — a path that puts the fighter on a collision course with his older brother (Joel Edgerton).

The Review
Lackluster box office should be no reason to skip Warrior, one of the most satisfying film’s I’ve seen in recent memory. Not entirely original and at times downright cliché, imagine Rocky meets The Fighter and mash in some mixed martial arts, Warrior succeeds with fantastic performances that elevate the material and provide a solid emotional connection.  With two characters to cheer for, it’s hard not to get caught up in both the story and the familial dynamics.  Extras include an enhanced viewing mode, deleted scene, gag reel, featurettes, and commentary.  Warrior is an exhilarating and highly engaging and entertaining film that features solid supporting performances from Nolte and Jennifer Morrison and two phenomenal and memorable acting from Edgerton and Hardy.  Highly recommended.
Shameless: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)
Showtime / Released December 27, 2011

The Pitch
Meet Frank Gallagher, a working-class patriarch who loves his six kids almost as much as he loves booze, cigarettes, his monthly disability check and booze. So he leaves it to eldest daughter Fiona to hold the family together and make sure everyone (except Frank) works to keep the lights on and food on the table. William H. Macy and Emmy Rossum lead a brilliant cast in the complete first season of Shameless, a big-hearted, irreverent, outrageous and outrageously funny series in the tradition of . . . well, nothing.

The Review
Having seen the first season of the original BBC version of Shameless, I was a little trepeditious before checking out it’s US interpretation.

Not only did I find it to be incredibly entertaining, but I also found it to be one of the rare cases where the remake was better than the original.  Keep in mind, a bit of that might be due to everyday conventions that are more alien in the UK version, but I found the cast and performances to be far stronger in this incarnation.

The first season follows the original’s plotlines and situations, but for whatever reason, is far superior.  The ensemble is great; I originally dismissed William H. Macy for portraying patriarch Frank as a cartoon, but his performance grows and the character gains depth and subtlety.  Emmy Rossum is also strong as the matriarch of the family (despite being one of the children herself) and the rest of the cast including Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan, Emma Kenney, Ethan Cutkosky, Joan Cusack, Justin Chatwin, Shanola Hampton, and Steve Howey are all excellent.  The Blu-ray features a crisp picture and solid sound and extras include a documentary on adapting the series (creator Paul Abbott stayed involved which in no small part explains it’s success), featurettes, commentary, deleted scenes and a sneak peak at season two.  Shameless is one of the best series currently on television and thankfully it’s arrival on DVD & Blu-ray means it can find a larger audience.  Highly recommended.

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