The worldwide box office smash of the year (but not domestically, I hasten to point out) is among this week’s Blu-ray and DVD releases. Along with it, an indie food porn, the return of the guy with the worst days ever recorded, two sweeping epics about this country’s past, a couple of silly sci-fi/horror movies, and the complete collection of the world’s greatest sleuth.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
People make a lot of fun of Michael Bay and his loud, seizure-inducing metal explosions based on the popular Hasbro toys and television programs, but that doesn’t stop people from seeing them, by and large. For the fourth cinematic outing, Bay lost his star Shia LaBoeuf, who was busy at the time being an insane person, but he gained a new, and unarguably better, star in the form of Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays a father who lives in the country who discovers remnants of a transformer, which turns out to be Optimus Prime (of course). He repairs Optimus while in Washington, Kelsey Grammer is employing a robot of his own called Lockdown to kill off any remaining transformers, while Stanley Tucci, a technology big wig in the vein of Steve Jobs, discovers the ancient source of transformers, called Transformium, obviously, and makes his own robots in disguise, which turn out to be evil because they’re infected by Megatron. Make sense? No? Well, it doesn’t so that’s probably why.
Jon Favreau was making big-budget superhero movies for a bit and then he wasn’t. After directing the first two Iron Man movies, he didn’t return to helm the third installment. That honor went to Shane Black, though Favreau did reprise his role as Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s bodyguard and friend. However, there was something of a falling out between the director and the studio, and he’s turned that into his latest comedy film, Chef, in which he plays the titular culinary genius who is forced out of his beloved restaurant by an owner (Dustin Hoffman) who lacks vision and wants him to keep making the same old things. He eventually branches out on his own and buys a food truck, which doesn’t do great right away, but eventually becomes the talk of the town. I can’t imagine where the connections to Favreau’s film career are in this story. (Joke)
24: Live Another Day
Fox’s 24 came at just that right, unfortunate time in America, right after 9/11, when the country needed someone to be a little more right wing, someone who would take out terrorists with force and who would upset the apple cart to get the job done. That hero was Jack Bauer, played for 8 seasons and a TV movie by Kiefer Sutherland, and no one on television was better and murdering bad guys than he, wracking up a lot of enemies, usually of the Chinese and Russian variety, in the process. Nobody ever believed him, either. He was ALWAYS right about stuff. He must have felt like Cassandra, if you know your Green mythology.
At any rate, for a good while this was my favorite television show. Season 1, 2, 3, and 4 were all great fun, but Season 5 is where the show really stepped it up to a new level, winning the Best Drama trophy at the Emmy awards that year. Unfortunately, its final three seasons, and even that bridging film they did, failed to live up to the amazingness that culminated in its fifth season. However, after several years away, the desire to bring Jack Bauer back was too great and Fox produced a 12-episode series entitled 24: Live Another Day, this time bringing Jack, Chloe (Mary Lynn Rajskub), President Heller (William Devane), and his daughter, and Jack’s former lover, Audrey (Kim Raver) to London where a terrorist cell is putting the English people in great danger. Naturally, only Jack can stop them and, because it’s 24, there’s some treachery and deceit from people you think are good guys. While not as great as Seasons 1, 3, or 5, Live Another Day, by cutting out the fat of 24 episodes, does a great job of making me remember why I enjoyed the show to begin with and forget the swing-and-a-miss last three seasons.
Gone with the Wind 75th Anniversary
When the words “sweeping epic” are used in terms of films, they’re almost always, on some level, compared with David O. Selznick’s 1939 production of Gone with the Wind, directed by Victor Fleming (among many others who went uncredited) and starring Clark Gable as the romantic Southern gentleman Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh (chosen out of apparently 1,500 women who auditioned) as the Belle-turned-heroine Scarlett O’Hara. The movie is just about 4 hours long and, even though it is depicting a time when slavery was completely legal and fine, made in a time when the rights of African Americans were still very much lesser than white people, can’t help but come across today like it’s very tin-eared and unsympathetic for its treating of the slave characters, even if it led to Hattie McDaniel winning Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars, making her the first black actor or actress to do so.
Aside from that, you can’t help but marvel at the sheer spectacle that Selznick’s tenacity brought to the screen. Despite its length, the film was a massive roadshow hit and raked in more money than any other for decades to come. It’s still on the top ten highest grossing films, when adjusted for inflation. It was the Star Wars of its day, if you can believe it. It’s released here in a big anniversary box set with a full-color book and other keepsakes and has four discs containing almost a day’s worth of extras. It’s a time commitment, Gone with the Wind, but it’s something all film fans should see at least once.
Once Upon a Time in America Extended Director’s Cut
Sergio Leone is my favorite director, despite him only making seven films, and only six that really feel like his. After a director-for-hire gig on one of Italy’s long string of sword and sandal epics, Leone revolutionized a whole genre with his film A Fistful of Dollars in 1964. Though Italian westerns had been made before, this was the first of them that was truly Italian, not aping American white hats at all and ushering in a new and more dangerous lead character model, known in the states as “The Man with No Name.” After three highly successful films featuring this character, Leone made what he wanted to be his final western, the bittersweet Once Upon a Time in the West, in order to focus on his 1930s gangster epic. Though he eventually did make another western, the highly political Duck, You Sucker! in 1971, he didn’t make another movie until 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America, finally fulfilling his dream.
The movie was very long and was cut up something fierce by the studio, making it pretty incomprehensible. Leone’s love of epics made it so each scene bled into the next and cutting it lessened the impact of the whole endeavor. Robert De Niro and James Woods play two Jewish gangsters who made names for themselves during prohibition and De Niro has to deal with a betrayal he made that has haunted him the whole rest of his life. OR maybe he was just having a dope dream in an opium den. There’s kind of no telling. While not as personally enjoyable as any of his westerns, Leone’s final contribution to film, in its intended, extended form, is worth seeing. But it’s over 4 hours long so maybe do it in a few goes.
Leprechaun Movie Collection – All six movies starring Warwick Davis as the evil and mischievous Irish stereotype monster.
Krull – A weird ’80s sci-fi/fantasy movie that I’ve never been able to figure out.
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Series – This is perhaps the coolest: every episode and TV movie that starred Jeremy Brett as the master sleuth. All on Blu-ray for the first time. Really well worth the money.