BLOGS

Movies Without Pity
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Jennifer Lawrence gets her Hunger Games face on.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
An evolutionary leap forward from the commercially successful, but creatively stunted first installment in The Hunger Games franchise, Catching Fire is an A-level piece of blockbuster filmmaking. Returning champ Jennifer Lawrence once again anchors the proceedings as Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant revolutionary and ace archer who maneuvers her way through another go-around in the titular competition that only one person is intended to emerge from alive. Although unbeknownst to her, she's got a few ringers on her side as events outside the battle arena find their way into the game, as the tyrannical regime in charge of this post-apocalyptic realm reaches its tipping point. Ably backed-up by a strong ensemble that includes Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lawrence remains the heart and soul of the series, but the surprise star of Catching Fire is incoming director Francis Lawrence, a helmer of slick, empty spectacles like Constantine and I Am Legend, who steps up his own game here. Where the previous film struggled to make the world around Katniss feel as fully realized as the heroine, Lawrence adds texture and depth to the universe that should pay off handsomely in the next two installments, which unfold far away from the Games. There are still elements of the franchise that don't quite work (most notably that non-starter of a love triangle that has Katniss choosing between Josh Hutcherson's boy-in-distress Peeta and Liam Hemsworth's blank-faced Gale), but Catching Fire instantly joins the shortlist of sequels that surpass both the original film, as well as the source material.
(The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Blu-ray and DVD streets on Friday, March 7.)
Extras: A commentary track with J-Law and the film's producer, deleted scenes, an exhaustive nine-part making-of documentary and a preview of Divergent, the would-be YA franchise-starter angling to become the next Hunger Games.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see what reality shows the Catching Fire cast should compete on
Click here to see which current TV characters should compete in The Hunger Games

12 Years a Slave
Ladies and gentlemen: your 2014 Best Picture winner. An awards-season heavyweight since it hit the festival circuit in the fall, Steve McQueen's remarkable third feature re-tells the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor, who probably would have won the Best Actor trophy another year, but got steamrolled by the Great Matthew McConaughey Revival), a free black man who was sold into slavery in pre-Civil War era America. Fearlessly diving into this painful period in American history, McQueen sketches a remarkably complex and nuanced portrait of the way this "peculiar institution" operated and how so many people turned a blind eye towards its injustices in the name of business as usual. 12 Years a Slave also depicts the brutal physical and psychological impact of slavery, not just on the black labor toiling in the fields, but also their white masters -- represented primarily by Michael Fassbender, whose sadism is made permissible (and even, to some, admirable) by the climate of the times. And don't think what we see here is ancient history; all it takes is a glance at the national and international headlines to see that the legacy of slavery is still very much felt here and around the world. That ensures that 12 Years a Slave, unlike other Best Picture winners (coughChicago/Braveheart/Dances With Wolvescough), won't fade into irrelevance as the years pass.
Extras: Three behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Click here to read our original review

Oldboy
People were right to be skeptical when the American remake of South Korean auteur Park Chan-wook's cult favorite Oldboy was announced, but if someone had to helm this utterly unnecessary re-do, at least it was a filmmaker like Spike Lee. Over the course of his groundbreaking career, Lee has proven himself incapable of phoning in a directing gig; sure, he's helmed his fair share of bad movies (She Hate Me for one), but they all vibrate with his distinctive energy. And even if it lacks the cold, calculated brilliance of the original, this Oldboy is funky and fun, as Lee hews closely to the general arc of Chan-wook's narrative, but shakes things up stylistically, juggling tones and visual flourishes that consistently unmoor the film from reality -- a device that reflects the jittery mind of our "hero" (played here by Josh Brolin), an alcoholic who emerges from nearly two-decades locked away in a windowless room to become the unwitting participant in a grand revenge scheme. Dismissed and ignored at the time of its Thanksgiving Day theatrical release, Oldboy distinctly occupies the middle ground in Lee's filmography -- an entertaining romp where his command of style makes up for the uneven substance.
Extras: Alternate and extended scenes and three making-of featurettes. Sadly, the three hour director's cut that Brolin claimed was his preferred version of the film is nowhere to be found.
Click here to read our original review

Cold Comes the Night
Hours
Bryan Cranston celebrated the end of playing a New Mexico-based criminal in Breaking Bad by… playing a Polish criminal in the glum indie thriller, Cold Comes the Night. While ferrying a cash payment to his bosses, Topo (Cranston) stays over at a rundown motel where a misunderstanding with his partner-in-crime results in their ill-gotten gains being seized by the authorities, leading him to team up with the mousy desk clerk (Alice Eve) to retrieve it. Sorry to say, but even a pro like the ex-Walter White can't snap this plodding picture out of its lethargy. Shot prior to his untimely death last November, one of Paul Walker's last completed films Hours found its way into theaters the following month. And while it's an effective showcase for the actor, who plays an expectant father whose wife gives birth to their daughter in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, it's a problematic film due to some blatant plot holes and a neglect of the wider implications of this disaster. Still, if you assumed the Fast and the Furious franchise was the extent of Walker's abilities, Hours indicates that he possessed a wider range that had yet to be tapped.
Extras: Cold Comes the Night includes deleted scenes, while Hours offers a music video for the track "All I Feel Is You."
Click here to read our original review of Cold Comes the Night
Click here to read our original review of Hours

Also on DVD:
Wong Kar-Wai's sort-of biopic of the legendary martial arts master Ip Man was heavily edited for its U.S. release and it's worth noting that the Blu-ray edition of The Grandmaster doesn't include the reportedly superior international version. This cut offers you a taste of what makes the film unique -- gorgeously shot fight sequences and a poetic narrative that focuses more on Ziyi Zhang's fictional female warrior -- but the overall effect is compromised by the reduced runtime and oddly-inserted bits of historical exposition that were concessions to the film's American distributor. You'd be better off tracking down a region-free release of the longer Grandmaster. Liev Schreiber leads a crew of astronauts on a mission to Mars that goes horribly wrong in the plodding sci-fi thriller, The Last Days on Mars. Notable new-to-Blu library releases this week include the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour time-tripping romance Somewhere in Time, the Southern-fried lesbian love story Fried Green Tomatoes and the immortal "John Lithgow Meets Bigfoot" comedy, Harry and the Hendersons.

Comments

SHARE THE SNARK

X

Get the most of your experience.
Share the Snark!

See content relevant to you based on what your friends are reading and watching.

Share your activity with your friends to Facebook's News Feed, Timeline and Ticker.

Stay in Control: Delete any item from your activity that you choose not to share.

MOST RECENT POSTS

BLOG ARCHIVES

Movies Without Pity

March 2014

16 ENTRIES

February 2014

22 ENTRIES

January 2014

21 ENTRIES

December 2013

25 ENTRIES

November 2013

21 ENTRIES

October 2013

26 ENTRIES

September 2013

16 ENTRIES

August 2013

22 ENTRIES

July 2013

22 ENTRIES

June 2013

21 ENTRIES

May 2013

22 ENTRIES

April 2013

19 ENTRIES

March 2013

28 ENTRIES

February 2013

16 ENTRIES

January 2013

16 ENTRIES

December 2012

21 ENTRIES

November 2012

19 ENTRIES

October 2012

23 ENTRIES

September 2012

20 ENTRIES

August 2012

23 ENTRIES

July 2012

20 ENTRIES

June 2012

29 ENTRIES

May 2012

26 ENTRIES

April 2012

27 ENTRIES

March 2012

33 ENTRIES

February 2012

26 ENTRIES

January 2012

26 ENTRIES

The Latest Activity On TwOP