A pretty weird mixture of things on Blu-ray and DVD this week. I’m probably most excited about my favorite anime series of all time coming out in Hi-Def for the first time ever, something which many of us have been clamoring for for years. Fire up your Yoko Kanno CDs and get ready for greatness. After I talk about some other things, of course.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
A lot of people have been really worried about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie “because Michael Bay.” Bay is a producer on the movie along with his company Platinum Dunes. It’s not a Michael Bay movie, that much needs to be established right away. Why? Because, while his fingerprints are all over Jonathan Liebesman’s film, from frenetic action you can barely follow to shots leering at parts of Megan Fox’s anatomy, the new Ninja Turtles movies actually DOES feel like it’s for kids, more or less. Not people around 30 years old who grew up with the first cartoon (which is actually terrible, by the way; I watched a couple of episodes recently and they do not hold up at all), but for kids today. The whole feel of it is that of a big, actiony movie for the under-twelves. That doesn’t make it any good, by the way; it just means, it’s just not for grown ups, so stop worrying.
There’s a surprisingly small amount of action in the film, save a couple of big sequences. The longest one is equal parts super entertaining and super confusing. The Turtles escape from Sachs’ compound in the snowy mountains (somewhere that’s only a short drive away from Manhattan in the springtime, by the way) with the help of April and Vern and end up sliding for a million miles downward in a semi truck while the Foot Clan in Hummers chase after them, firing electricity tethers. This sequence goes on SO LONG and is so kinetic and, I’ll say it, physically impossible, that I don’t even think falling down Mount Everest would take this long. Not to mention the Turtles hurl their bodies at cars and things and barely get hurt at all, much less the broken back or caved-in skull they probably would have gotten. That said, it’s actually fun to watch because it’s so fast-paced. Speed ramping happens too much, but hey, take what you can get.
The Maze Runner
There is a basic formula these days for box office gold and it starts with the written word: write a trilogy of young adult sci-fi novels, wherein an unlikely hero has to rise up and become a beacon of hope to the hopeless in the middle of a dystopian, nigh-totalitarian future where the kid (or kids) has to take down the entire regime. If you can adhere as closely as possible to Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, all the better. Then, sell those film rights to make four films out of your three books (the third book will ALWAYS get split in half for the sake of theatrical returns), make sure the filmmakers cast an alluring up-and-coming young actor in the lead role, then sit back and watch the money start piling up on your desk. While Twilight may have been the catalyst for the overall model, the godfather of these types of films is certainly The Hunger Games, which are exceedingly popular. I’m on record with how much I despised Divergent. The most recent of these is The Maze Runner which I did not have very high hopes for. However, much to my surprise, it’s far and away the best of these movies.
The Maze Runner is based on the first book in James Dashner’s high-concept sci-fi trilogy for young adults in which a teenage boy wakes up to find himself in an amnesiac state in a freight elevator that opens up to a pastureland inhabited by other young men who’ve all arrived the same way, over the course of three years. The pasture is surrounded by impossibly high walls; one portions opens from dawn to dusk every day and allows people (runners they’re called) out into the giant, dangerous maze that changes every day. While many, if not most, of these boys have settled into their survivalist lifestyle (they get supplies and a new recruit, a “Greenie,” every month), our main character is of course not content with this and rallies people to try to escape, leading to a shift in the status quo and a smashing cliffhanger for the next book.
Cowboy Bebop The Complete Series
There is no two ways about it: if not for Cowboy Bebop, I and many people like me wouldn’t have given anime the time of day. It had everything I thought was awesome going for it: spaceships, gunfights, western symbolism, and acid jazz. I didn’t even know I liked acid jazz until I saw this show, but I do know now. This sci-fi action series was a landmark in almost every aspect, with all of the production team firing on all cylinders, including director Shinichirō Watanabe, screenwriter Keiko Nobumoto, character designer Toshihiro Kawamoto, mechanical designer Kimitoshi Yamane, and composer Yoko Kanno.
Following the exploits of bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, a former mafia enforcer hiding from his past, and his friend Jet Black, a former police officer who now pilots a dilapidated ship called the Bebop as they try to make enough money to buy beef for their dinners, and usually failing even when they succeed. Quickly, they start picking up more ragtag drifters, like Faye Valentine, a con woman with a sordid past of her own, a young and weird genius who calls herself Edward, and a genetically-engineered Welsh Corgi named Ein and their adventures get a lot more complicated. Spike is the epitome of cool, walking through life with a scruffy suit, a bent cigarette, and a lackadaisical attitude, but inside he’s full of doubt and turmoil at the thought of his former love, Julia, and his best friend turned arch nemesis Vicious. The series features some of the best action of any series, anime or otherwise, and the visuals and eclectic storytelling style set the precedent that anything goes. There’s even a whole episode where the crew takes drugs and hallucinates, and another where a creepy hopping clown guy is chasing them.
After such a long wait, you’d hope the Blu-ray would be worth it. On top of pristine visual and audio, something Funimation do very well, we also get a good pile of extras including: a 68-minute special where the English voice cast get together for dinner, talking, and a special script reading; a 95-minute retrospective documentary; commentary on five episodes by a mix of Japanese and English cast and crew; interviews, music videos, and more.
Peter Pan Live! – It was just on TV, so of course you want to own it and watch it when the whole live aspect of it is gone.
Arrested Development Season 4 – Not everybody liked this season, but it’s one that continually rewards as you watch it, following specific characters each episode and finding out different parts of the backstory along the way.
The Americans Season 2 – FX’s action series about a couple of KGB spies living in suburbia during the Cold War picks up steam with its second season in which they meet a second KGB couple.
The Skeleton Twins – The chemistry between Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig is palpable in this indie dramedy in which the SNL alums play estranged, and weird, siblings who reunite when the brother attempts suicide, the news of which stops the sister from doing the same. Dark stuff, but the actors make everything pop.
Stonehearst Asylum – Very loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe short story, this thriller is set in Victorian times at a very unconventional sanitarium where a new doctor has just arrived, who quickly finds out the patients have literally taken over the asylum, and the doctors aren’t doing much to stop them. Impressive cast, including Kate Beckinsale, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, and Jim Sturgess.
Intruders Season One – BBC America’s creepy sci-fi/horror series about a secret society that inhabits the bodies of others to seek immortality. John Simm and Mira Sorvino star.