I Want My DVD: Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Forescore and one month ago, Lincoln lost the Best Picture Oscar to Argo.

Going into the just-wrapped Oscar season, Steven Spielberg's biopic about America's 16th president seemed unbeatable. Besides the towering performance of Daniel Day-Lewis -- who doesn't so much play Abraham Lincoln as become him -- the film also received near-universal critical praise and was a sizeable (and, some might say, surprising) box office hit, earning almost $200 million. That's pretty impressive for a film that avoids the grand sweep of most Spielberg pictures for a laser-focused, intensely talky narrative that spans only a few months in Lincoln's administration, during which time he marshaled all the political capital left in his arsenal to get the 13th amendment outlawing slavery passed through the House of Representatives. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the movie (next to Day-Lewis's Oscar-winning performance) is the way that screenwriter Tony Kushner manages to make all of this political gamesmanship entertaining without dumbing it down. Unfortunately, the movie's more biopic-y elements -- most notably the relationship between Abraham and his family, including wife Mary (Sally Field) and son Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, looking especially out of place) -- are bland and rote; those scenes feel obligatory rather than necessary. Spielberg also can't stop himself from allowing the movie to run ten minutes longer than it should, bypassing a perfectly satisfying final scene for a needlessly protracted, overly sentimental denouement. That ending was undoubtedly one of the many elements that wound up tipping the scales in the direction of the eventual Best Picture winner, Argo.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes featurettes, ranging from a general making-of documentary to a look at the movie's post-production process.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see the Lincoln movies we wish that Steven Spielberg would have made

Killing Them Softly
Dumped into theaters late last fall with minimal marketing support, Andrew Dominik's adaptation of the George V. Higgins crime novel received decidedly mixed reviews and was mostly ignored by audiences. Those viewers who did seek it out gave it extremely low marks; Softly is one of only 8 movies to receive an "F" grade from CinemaScore, joining the ranks of such flops as Steven Soderbergh's Solaris and Richard Kelly's The Box. It's failure isn't a huge surprise as -- much like Dominik's previous collaboration with Pitt, the arty Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford -- the film is about as anti-commercial as a gangster picture starring Brad Pitt could be. Here's hoping that time proves kinder to it, though, because Killing Them Softly is actually a pretty terrific satire of American corporate values masquerading as an ordinary crime movie. While subtlety isn't a weapon in Dominik's arsenal, the bluntness of Softly message and humor actually works in its favor; like Pitt's hitman, Jackie Cogan, the film is lean, mean and to the point. And while Dominik at times undercuts the film's gritty aura with highly-stylized bits of violence that take too much pleasure in spilling blood, his darkly comic script (which boasts last year's best cut-to-black punchline) and the terrific ensemble (including Richard Jenkins and James Gandolfini, in a Sopranos-level supporting turn) make this a minor crimeland classic that more people should revisit in the years to come.
Extras: A making-of featurette and a small collection of deleted scenes.
Click here to read our original review

The Collection
Easy Money
Stand Off
Like Killing Them Softly, these three movies flew in and out of theaters and are now landing on DVD where they probably should have been all along, because -- unlike Killing Them Softly -- none of them are especially good. A latter-day Saw knock-off, The Collection seeks to revive the dormant torture porn subgenre with the story of a sadistic "collector" of human victims, whose most recent acquisition is the daughter of a well-off family. How well-off? So well-off that her dad forcibly "hires" a man lucky enough to escape The Collector's gasp to break back into his lair -- which, of course, is tricked out with deadly booby traps -- to free her. Easy Money at least comes with some prestige behind it; Martin Scorsese himself lent his name to the Swedish crime thriller's U.S. theatrical release, which didn't exactly help elevate its box office profile. But Scorsese wasn't wrong -- this is a fun Goodfellas-esque tale of a wanna-be gangster who gets in too deep with the wrong crew of people. In case you were wondering whatever happened to Brendan Fraser, his face is prominently displayed on the DVD cover for the British-made hostage movie Stand Off, in which he plays a visiting American that's taken prisoner in a fishmonger's shop by a desperate criminal. It's exactly like Dog Day Afternoon in every way except, you know, being great.
Extras: The Collection comes with a commentary track from the director and screenwriter, alternate scenes and five making-of featurettes. Both Easy Money and Stand Off are bonus features free.

From Beyond
Phantasm II
It's a bonanza of new-to-Blu-ray cult titles from the good folks at Shout! Factory this week, leading off with Stuart "Re-Animator" Gordon's 1986 movie version of H.P. Lovecraft's From Beyond, in which a short-sighted scientist on the verge of creating a way to control our "sixth sense" instead ends up opening a doorway to a parallel dimension populated by hostile (and gross) creatures. Those who bemoan the absence of practical make-up and gore F/X from contemporary horror movies will have a grand old time watching the whacked-out menagerie of freaks that Gordon and his team created. The Michael Crichton-directed 1973 sci-fi action movie Westworld is a deserved genre classic, but did you know that they made a Crichton-less sequel three years later? Futureworld returns to the same resort, Delos, where a cyborg played by Yul Brenner (who is back for another go-around as well) malfunctioned and killed a bunch of people. Now, two journalists (Blythe Danner and Peter Fonda) have been invited to visit the new, improved Delos, but -- wouldn't you know it? -- things start going wrong again. Last, but certainly not least, Don Coscarelli had to wait almost ten years to make a sequel to his 1979 horror movie Phantasm, but 1988's Phantasm II was more than worth it. A delightfully crazy blend of over-the-top gore and wild, barely logical plot developments, Phantasm II was, for many, a gateway drug into more whacked-out horror like Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, as well as the work of Dario Argento (which had an obvious influence on Coscarelli). Twenty-five years later, it's still a ton of (bloody) fun.
Extras: From Beyond includes a commentary track with Gordon, two featurettes, new interviews and an extensive photo gallery. Futureworld also comes with a photo gallery, plus vintage radio spots and the original theatrical trailer. Phantasm II offers up a Coscarelli-led commentary, fresh interviews and deleted scenes.

Also on DVD:
Like every other one of last year's Oscar-nominated foreign language features, the Danish costume drama A Royal Affair didn't stand a chance of beating Amour, but it's an enjoyable film in its own right, recounting a slice of real-life Danish royal history in compelling, if slightly stiff fashion. A hitman seeks to quit his profession, but predictably encounters lots of serio-comic obstacles in English-speaking, but France-set movie, Dead In France. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler were dragged out of mothballs to headline Parental Guidance, a hard-PG rated family comedy in which they play grandparents tasked with keeping an eye on their unruly, obnoxious grand-brood for a few days. Yelling, pratfalls and crotch-punching gags ensue. Instead of Parental Guidance, do your offspring a favor and introduce them to the lovely kiddie baseball movie The Sandlot: 20th Anniversary Edition instead. This anniversary edition doesn't offer much in the way of extras -- just a featurette and a few TV commercials -- but it's a reminder of why The Sandlot belongs in the baseball movie Hall of Fame. But The Sandlot isn't the only piece of two-decade old cinematic nostalgia getting a high-def release this week. You've also got the much-loved Ted Demme small-town drama Beautiful Girls; the all-star ensemble rom-com Playing By Heart, with Sean Connery, Angelina Jolie and Jon Stewart; and Down to You, starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Julia Stiles just as they were about to plunge off their respective career peaks.

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