It’s a week full of awesome on Blu-ray and DVD here on Ye Olde Shelfe. Edgar Wright takes us on a pub crawl, John Carpenter puts us in jail, the Doctor changes for the first time, and Spock meets Picard. And, on top of all that, other stuff is coming out also! What in the wide, wide, world of sports are we supposed to do? Oh, yeah: Talk about them.
I can’t begin to tell you how satisfying it is to watch a really well-done movie by people who both love and care about storytelling. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg have always been examples of this, since their first feature film collaboration, Shaun of the Dead. The loving homage to the zombie films of George A. Romero and others was also one of the funniest comedies of the 2000s and made it possible for their next pairing, Hot Fuzz, to get made, this time a comedic take on high-action cop movies. As repeated elements occur in both films, there started to be talk about them being the first two parts of a thematic trilogy, each with a different comedy/another genre story featuring largely the same cast and the appearance of a Cornetto ice cream. For the third installment, The World’s End, both the filmmaking and storytelling have grown up and have gotten a lot deeper.
Pegg plays Gary King, a former big fish in a small pond who was the ringleader of a gang of boys. 20 years later, he hasn’t grown up at all and is an alcoholic stuck in the past. He wants to get everybody back together to finally complete the “legendary” pub crawl in their hometown of Newton Haven: 12 pubs in one evening, culminating in the titular World’s End. Trouble is, none of the other four boys (as adults played by Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, and Eddie Marsan) want anything to do with Gary. That won’t stop the King, will it? When they get to the town, though, they start realizing the people are a bit too mannered and everything seems subdued and homogenized, probably because they’ve all been replaced by alien sort-of-robots who want everyone to conform. The friendships and past regrets are put to the test and Gary gets more and more determined to finish the crawl at any cost.
What all three movies in “The Cornetto Trilogy” do so well is to get you involved and interested in the characters and the setting of the comedy you start out watching before it slams the other genre in there. In the case of The World’s End, the changeover happens quite a ways into the movie and is quite sudden, but it nevertheless manages to maintain the level of interpersonal drama and even gets very dark from a character standpoint even amid the apocalypse around them.
Edgar Wright continues to get better and better with each consecutive film, which makes me wish he would make more movies, but also worry that if he did, there’d be no cinema left, because he’ll have perfected it. The first big fight sequence in the movie, in which the friends take on a group of robotic youths in a men’s room, was so impressive that people applauded in the cinema when it was over. I can’t recall that happening in too many R-rated sci-fi comedies, or movies in general.
In short, The World’s End is one of the best movies of the year, and a very fitting, touching, and slightly melancholy finale to a trilogy of very violent movies that have more heart than most Hallmark Channel originals.
True to form, the Blu-ray features hours of extras, including 3 commentary tracks, tons of production videos, outtakes, alternate takes, and a U-Control storyboard picture-in-picture option. It’s a beautiful thing to have on any Blu-ray shelf.
Before his seminal work of horror, Halloween, John Carpenter made this gritty urban thriller, Assault on Precinct 13. It was a modern, street-thug retelling of Carpenter’s favorite film, Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo in which a police station in a scary part (there are many) of Los Angeles on the last night it’s in service is asked to quarter three death row inmates. Elsewhere, some nasty gang members kill a man’s innocent daughter and he shoots one of them in revenge. They chase him to the police station, where a siege ensues. The couple of policemen and receptionists have to team up with the death row prisoners to defend their base and get out alive.
It’s a very simple and straightforward action setup, but it’s amazing how much filmmaking prowess Carpenter displayed even then, so early in his career. The gunfight scenes are brutal and exciting, and the gang is made out to be nearly demonic in their persistence and tenacity. Seriously, they’re all just so unfeeling and sadistic, it definitely feels more like a horror movie in parts, which the lesser (but still okay) remake jumped on in 2005. Frank Doubleday, who plays the leader of the gang at the beginning, is nothing short of freaky, a feature Carpenter built on when he cast Doubleday as a similar creep in Escape from New York a few years later.
The main protagonists are all very good as well. Austin Stoker as the police lieutenant put in charge of the crumbling station is a great hero, and his opposite number, Darwin Jostin as the murderer with a code of honor, is a terrifically laid-back but dangerous anti-hero. Carpenter gives him dialogue straight out of Sergio Leone when he says that he’s always felt like he’s had “something to do with death.” It’s a bit on the nose, but quite fitting for such a character.
If you’ve not seen Assault on Precinct 13 in a while, or ever, then you’ll definitely want to pick up Shout Factory’s awesome Blu-ray, which looks better than any version of the film I’ve seen. Like all their recent (and excellent) Carpenter releases, this one has great extras, including two commentary tracks and great interviews with the cast and crew. This puts a really lovely capper on the 2013 Carpenter Blu-rays and takes you back to where it all began (if you don’t count Dark Star, which I don’t).
Just in time for the 50th Anniversary, this week the BBC is releasing, at long last, the final unreleased (prior to the discovery) episodes of the classic series on DVD; and it’s an important one, too. “The Tenth Planet” from 1966 is the very first story to feature the Doctor’s second most persistent nemeses, the Cybermen, and it’s also the story wherein William Hartnell changed into Patrick Troughton. Unfortunately, the fourth episode, which actually has the regeneration on it, is missing from the archives, but once again they’ve done an amazing job of animating it. It doesn’t quite match the style of the previous three episodes, but it has a cool anime quality to it which works very well, surprisingly, for the action-based story.
The Doctor and his two companions, Ben and Polly, land in Antarctica in the future, just as a mysterious planet begins to approach earth. This planet is Mondas, which used to be the tenth in the Solar System. (Remember back when we had 9 planets… Poor Pluto.) Mondas is exactly like Earth but upside down, and the people that once lived on it have changed themselves in hideous ways. In an effort to fix themselves and stave off death, the Mondasians began upgrading themselves via technology until they finally became the creepy and inhuman Cybermen. Perhaps no future version of the characters are as unsettling as they are here, with the actors wearing stockings with blanked-out faces and merely opening their mouth and a voiceover coming out, like a computer speaking. It’s very weird.
To support such a historic release, the DVD makers have packed this thing full of extras. There is a revolving-door commentary moderated by the excellent Toby Hadoke featuring Anneke Wills (Polly) and members of the guest cast as well as designer Peter Kindred. There’s a half-hour making of detailing the First Doctor’s final story, an extended interview with Wills, and a very rare 3 minute interview with William Hartnell from after he left the show, the only such thing that exists with the actor. There are also three other non-story-specific features which are very excellent. The first is “Boys! Boys! Boys!,” a response to the three “Girls! Girls! Girls!” features from other releases, in which three of the show’s male companions (Peter Purves, Frazer Hines, and Mark Strickson) discuss their times on the show. The second is “The Golden Age,” in which historian Dominic Sandbrook examines whether or not any era of Doctor Who really was better or worse than any other. And finally, “Companion Piece,” in which many people discuss the role of the companion on the show, featuring interviews with Arthur Darvill, Nicola Bryant, Sarah Sutton, and others.
As always, I say this is an excellent purchase for fans of the show, but even casual viewers will agree that this is one of the better releases and one of the most important stories of the show’s long history.
Paramount continues its fantastic Blu-ray releases of TNG with Season 5, a season that gave us the Borg Hugh and Spock’s return. By this point in the series’ run, the show was a pretty powerful ratings and critical darling and was taking a lot of chances that largely pay off. From the return of Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar’s Romulan daughter (?) to dealing with both Vulcan and Klingon issues, and also being willing to deal with the Borg’s status as a “person,” Season 5 has a lot of great stuff going for it.
You can also, if you want, get a feature-cut version of the two-part episode “Unification,” which saw Leonard Nimoy being Spock again. The previous two feature releases, “The Best of Both Worlds” and “Redemption,” were fantastic, and they continue the trend here. Hooray for Star Trek.
ALSO AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
We’re the Millers – Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston star in a comedy about people pretending to be a family. The outtakes are the best part.
Planes – The non-Pixar Disney movie that was initially meant to be direct-to-video, but got a theatrical release instead.
2 Guns – Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg team up in this graphic novel adaptation. They do, indeed, have two guns.
Night of the Comet – One of the best ’80s movies ever and a precursor to a lot of the post-apocalyptic movies that are so popular now, this tongue in cheek sci-fi horror movie features two valley girls and a Hispanic truck driver fighting nuclear mutants.
Tank Girl – Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, and Ice-T in a kangaroo costume fight against Malcolm McDowell in the desert future. It’s a thing, for sure.