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The Shelf: “The Last Stand,” “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Shelf May 21

It’s a jam-packed week of Blu-ray and DVD releases this week with action, horror, adventure, comedy and Hayao Miyazaki. Hooray!

The Last Stand

After years of state government-mandated retirement, Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to action movies in The Expendables 2 and this movie, directed by Korean director Jee-woon Kim. In it, Aaaaaahhhhhnold plays an inexplicably Austrian-sounding small-town sheriff who has to defend his people against an escaping drug cartel kingpin. Massive explosions, fast cars, tanks, and Arnie talking about how old he is ensues.

The Blu-ray contains a making-of, a dissection of the big car chase, a thing about the weapons used in the film, some jackassery by co-stars Johnny Knoxville and Jaime Alexander, and deleted and extended scenes.

My Neighbor Totoro

Famed Japanese animator Hayao Miyazki’s 1988 film gets a fancy new Blu-ray release, thanks in no small part to Disney animation head John Lasseter’s love of both the man and his movies. In this one, two young daughters of a professor befriend woodland spirits in post-war Japan. Miyazaki is fascinated by spirits and the magic of the natural world and it begins here. It’s a lovely adventure with some truly excellent animation, all in that signature style of Studio Ghibli, and with a sense of childlike wonder he kept even in some of his more disturbing family films. The Blu-ray contains the original Japanese soundtrack plus the newer English-language one, featuring the voice talents of Tim Daly, Dakota Fanning, and Elle Fanning.

There’s an incredibly extensive making-of on the disc as well that takes you through filmmaking aspects like writing, character design, and score. A must for Miyazaki fans and fans of animation in general.

Howl’s Moving Castle

Another Miyazaki movie, this time from much later in the director’s career. This 2004 film is about Sophie, a girl who works in a hat shop, who is cursed by the Witch of the Waste for her friendship with the handsome wizard, Howl. She must jump aboard the eponymous air Winnebago to try to break the spell and return to her normal life. The English cast for this film includes Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Billy Crystal, and Jean Simmons. The visuals are, like all of Miyazaki’s work, truly remarkable, and the HD transfer is as gorgeous as any animated film could hope to be. Maybe not as powerful as Princess Mononoke or as fanciful as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle is still a beautiful and moving fantasy adventure well worth your time.

It has fewer in-depth special features about the film itself, but it does contain interviews with the English cast, a chat with Pixar’s Pete Docter (him what did Up), and a video of Miyazaki taking a tour of Pixar.

If you’d like a chance to win both of these excellent Blu-rays, head over to TOKYOPOP’s contest page.

Also Available This Week

Mel Brooks: Make a Noise – A terrific documentary that premiered yesterday on PBS’s American Masters, about the life and films of Mel Brooks. The man himself, always the funniest person around, talks about his childhood, comedy career, personal ups and downs, and his way of beating Hollywood at its own game. A truly delightful 90 minutes.

The Burning – The very first film produced by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, The Burning is a camp (and campy) slasher flick about a badly burned and disfigured groundskeeper who takes a pair of pruning shears to a whole bunch of unsuspecting campers. Gore legend Tom Savini did the gross and awesome makeup effects.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown – A truly creepy little movie based on a true story about a masked killer who took out several residents of Texarkana following WWII.

LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite – For those who love the toys that became a video game, this movie brings together the LEGO versions of your favorite DC Comics superheroes in a funny, exciting adventure. Voice acting legend Clancy Brown returns to voice Lex Luthor.

Captain America – No, not the new one; rather, one of the older attempts at it. This one, from 1990, features Matt Salinger as Steve Rogers, who wears a mask with plastic ears. Enjoyable garbage.

The Aquabats! Super Show! Season One – The first season of The Hub network’s off-the-wall superhero and music program for kids, starring everybody’s favorite Orange County ska band, The Aquabats.

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