This week is a curious mixture of end-of-the-world, beginning-of-the-world, over-the-rainbow, under-the-sea, and get-out-of-the-house movies to make your Blu-ray collection wonder about your sanity. If you’re the kind of person to buy cartoons and horror movies in the same trip, then this is the week for you.
Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s directorial debut is a metatextual lampooning of the friends in their group, including James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, and Craig Robinson, as they attempt to survive under one roof whilst the apocalypse is happening. Emma Watson, Aziz Ansari, Michael Cera, and others make cameos in the violent and raunchy comedy about the rapture.
This Dreamworks digitally-animated feature tells the story of the eponymous family of cavemen who, led by their patriarch Grug (Nicolas Cage), are perpetually terrified of everything, never venturing out of their little rock formation home and eating only what’s very near them. They even sleep in a pile on top of each other so they know where everybody is at all times. Everybody’s pretty content with this except for eldest daughter Eep (Emma Stone), who longs to venture out and see what the world has in store. One evening, she finds Guy (Ryan Reynolds), a handsome and knowledgeable outsider who wears a sloth named Belt as a belt and knows how to make fire. She’s reprimanded for leaving the cave, but eventually they all have to vacate, as plate tectonics begin to make the ground crumble. They have to get somewhere safer, but that means going where they’ve never been before, and Grug is none too pleased about that.
The Croods, like a lot of these non-franchise, non-Disney-Pixar animations, is visually very stunning and even has a few genuine laugh moments, but isn’t necessarily the most entertaining movie for grown ups. I watched the movie in a theater with a lot of children and I didn’t hear all that much in the way of laughter from them. It’s not a complete waste of time, as the designs are really colorful and inventive, but it doesn’t hold a candle to something like Wreck-It Ralph. The voice cast is all very impressive, though, with Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, and Clark Duke rounding out the talent (Read our interview with Clark Duke right here!). The movie did okay here, but really cleaned up for whatever reason overseas, so a sequel is already planned for the spring of 2019, which is four years beyond hoverboard time.
What makes a movie timeless has very little to do with the time in which it was made. It actually has more to do with the way the story was told using the available techniques of the time, be they silent films from the ’20s or the newest CGI-filled epic; a well-told story is a well-told story. Perhaps no better example of this can be found than Victor Fleming’s 1939 adaptation (a remake at the time) of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. This is a movie you can watch a hundred times as a child and then again as an adult and not only get as much out of it, but even more now that you recognize just how much work went into it. Everybody knows the story: a little girl named Dorothy from Kansas gets caught in a twister and ends up with her little dog Toto in the land of Oz, going from black & white to color in the process, and encountering Munchkins, scarecrows, tin men, lions (and tigers and bears, oh my), horses of a different color, and witches both good and wicked. In narrative terms, it could not be any simpler, as it essentially follows the Joseph Campbell idea of the hero’s journey to the letter, but the stops Dorothy makes on her journey and the people she meets are so rich and fleshed out that it rarely seems so easy.
For the 75th anniversary, Warner Brothers (which now owns the film from the MGM collapse of a few years ago) has spared no expense in restoring the film and upping it to new HD vibrancy while maintaining its original aspect ratio and scenic integrity. Fleming was truly a master of making a studio look both super realistic and altogether artificial at the same time with massive sets and very colorful costumes. Technicolor was a relatively new thing at the time, and they wanted to make the most use out of it that they could. The film in this version truly hasn’t looked better. Another change has been 3D converting it for a limited IMAX theatrical run and now for 3D televisions. While I never think post-conversion is a great idea, or even a really necessary one, the stereoscoping of The Wizard of Oz is very well done and adds just that little bit of depth to make it seem that much more fanciful. This is the oldest movie ever post-converted to 3D, and there was a worry it couldn’t handle it, but it looks great.
There is a huge gift set that comes with the Blu-ray, a book, some figurines, and other mishegas for the collector, but it also comes in a regular multi-disc version if you just want the movie in its different formats. Film restoration is a real passion of mine, and the job they did on The Wizard of Oz has to be one of the best this side of Martin Scorsese. No matter how many times you’ve seen it, or how much you think you’ve grown out of it, you can’t watch The Wizard of Oz without feeling like you’re a kid seeing it for the first time. THAT is what makes it timeless.
Switching gears 180%, to mix a metaphor or two, is the release of the first three films in the inexplicably popular Amityville movies of the late ’70s and ’80s, The Amityville Horror (1979), Amityville II: The Possession (1982), and Amityville 3-D (1983). Based on the reportedly real occurrences happening to the Lutz family on Long Island, the first film has the family (made up of James Brolin, Margo Kidder, and some kids) moving into a house that had been the scene of grisly murders only a few years before. As based on the family’s actual reports, they began experiencing strange and violent phenomena that many at the time believed was due to the evil energy left over in the house coupled with the tension between George Lutz and his stepson. The movie sensationalizes it a lot more, with blood coming out of the walls and entities walking through the house and things like that. Brolin gives a totally unhinged performance as Lutz that allegedly kept him from working in movies for two years afterwards.
The success of the first movie gave way to a sequel, directed by Italian maestro Damiano Damiani, about the original murders that led to the Lutzes’ experiences. A teenage boy killed his entire family with a rifle one night and didn’t remember it happening the next day, even running to the police himself to report it. He could have been lying or he could have been crazy, but what was never known is why and how the entire family could sleep through the first few gunshots (as everyone was killed in bed) without getting up and trying to escape. So, this movie tries to make it seem like the devil did it.
The third movie, in 3-D like so many third horror movies were at the time, tells the wholly fictionalized account of a reporter staying in the house to try to debunk the stories and being besieged by the evil spirits himself. This is completely false, though, as none of the subsequent owners of the house experienced any kind of paranormal phenomena while they lived there and all lived very long, fruitful lives. Why did these two things happen? Was the ghost stuff real or fake? No one will likely ever know.
The Blu-ray set from Scream Factory has some great new features, mainly in the form of commentaries. The original film has a commentary by Dr. Hans Holzer, an acclaimed paranormal researcher and PhD in parapsychology, who wrote a book about the murders in the house. He talks a lot about the differences between what “really” happened in the Lutz case and what was made up entirely by the studios. He’s often very derisive about why they felt the need to add these things “when the real story is so interesting on its own.” The second film has a commentary by Holzer’s daughter Alexandra, who wrote a book about what it was like growing up with a famous ghost researcher as a father. The third movie has almost no features, but does contain both the 2-D and 3-D versions of the film.
The Amityville Horror is one of the most troubling ghost stories in American history, and this Blu-ray set does a good job of talking about the dramatization of that for the purposes of Hollywood entertainment. The movies themselves aren’t the best, but they do mark a very important time in the nation’s awareness of hauntings, and with its continued fascination with Amityville, which has led to a number of sequels and remakes even to today.
The Little Mermaid: Diamond Edition – Go under the sea with the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of the beginning of the Katzenberg regime at Disney Animation. Ursula’s still terrifying.
Doctor Who The Doctors Revisited 5-8 – The middle four BBC America specials chronicling each of the 11 Doctors. This one has the Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann ones and accompanying stories “Earthshock,” “Vengeance on Varos,” “Remembrance of the Daleks,” and “The TV Movie.”
House of Wax 3D Blu-ray – The old Vincent Price horror film was originally presented in 3D and is now again for those who have that technology. Paris Hilton is nowhere to be found.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Director’s Cut – Luc Besson’s preferred cut of his 2010 mixture of Indiana Jones and Amelie, which only came out here in the States a couple of months ago. Same special features as the earlier release.
New Girl Season Two – This is probably one of my favorite comedies on TV today, and its second season is even funnier than the first.
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The Heat - Paul Feig’s follow up to Bridesmaids has Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy as a mismatched pairing of FBI and Boston PD trying to foil a drug ring. Foul-mouthed hilarity ensues.
Pacific Rim – Guillermo del Toro’s sci-fi action movie about giant, man-made robots fighting enormous, transdimensional monsters is just about as awesome as that sentence would lead you to believe.