The top release this week is the most popular live-action superhero comedy of all time, The Green Hornet, but there are some other interesting offerings including the innovative U.K. series Being Human, an action-packed live-action Japanese Robin Hood saga., and some vintage horror films with cult appeal.
Theatrical Releases
This week’s big release is The Green Hornet (Sony, “PG-13,” $28.95, BD/Combo $49.95), a superhero comedy that didn’t appeal to critics (only a 45% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but which earned $228.3 million worldwide, which makes it the most successful live-action superhero comedy film of all time. With Michel Gondry directing, there’s lots of talent both behind and in front of the camera on this film, which stars Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christolph Waltz, and Cameron Diaz. Older viewers who remember the Van Williams/Bruce Lee TV series fondly will be disappointed, but those who enjoy absurdist contemporary “bromance” comedies will have a good time. A good portion of the humor falls flat, but not to worry there’s another riff coming before you can blink your eye.
With Seth Rogen having slimmed down for his Green Hornet role, those looking for a real “heavyweight” bromance” will have to be satisfied with Ron Howard’s The Dilemma (Universal, “PG-13,” $29.98, BD $39.98) starring the massive Vince Vaughn and the doughy Kevin James. The Dilemma, which also has a stellar supporting cast that includes Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder, and Queen Latifah, mixes humor and heartbreak, but ultimately doesn’t quite work in spite of the efforts of all involved. There is a serious disconnect between Vaughn’s cynical screen personality and director Howard’s basic “Opie-like” decency that never quite gets resolved. While giving The Dilemma credit for a critical examination of the “honesty is the best policy” maxim, neither critics (only 21% positive) nor audiences (it earned only $48 million against a budget of $70 million) found the film to be a very enjoyable experience.
Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (Cinema Guild, Not Rated, $29.95) is director Damien Chazelle’s homage to the French new wave, bebop jazz, and the musical. Shot in black-and-white in 16mm, the film springs to life in its dynamic musical sequences. While neither the songs nor the choreography are all that memorable by themselves, the energy of the performers is, and star Jason Palmer has some serious trumpet chops. Compared with the typical Hollywood musical, Guy and Madeline is as energetic, dynamic, unpolished, and vital as “punk rock.”
From Prada to Nada (Lionsgate, “PG-13,” $19.98, BD $19.99) is a contemporary barrio version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibilty that pits culture against consumer goods as two rich assimilated Latinas are forced out of their posh Beverly Hills home and find refuge with an impoverished aunt in East L.A. Not a big hit with critics (19% positive) or audiences (it earned just $3 million), but From Prada to Nada is a better film than its unfortunate title would suggest.
The top release this week comes from the U.K. Being Human: Season 3 (BBC, 345 min., $49.98, BD $59.98) contains all eight episodes of the third season of the supernatural drama about three young people living together who just happen to be a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost. Being Human is not only being shown in the States on BBC America, it has inspired an American spin-off version that appears on the Syfy network.
The American releases of interest are animated--Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Vol.2: Power Struggle (Warner Bros., 230 min., $19.98), a 2-disc, 10-episode collection of the popular Cartoon Network series that was produced under the editorial leadership of the late Dwayne McDuffie, The Super Hero Squad-Quest for the Infinity Sword: Vol.4 (Shout! Factory, 138 min., $14.93), a single-disc containing 6 episodes of the cute and cuddly superhero adventures of super-deformed versions of the Marvel superheroes, and The PJ’s: Season One (Lionsgate, 312 min., $19.98), the claymation, stop-motion animated series created by Eddie Murphy and set in a Detroit housing project.
Continuing series out this week include the sitcom According to Jim: Season 3 (Lionsgate, 594 min., $29.98), Boy Meets World: Season 5 (Lionsgate, 576 min., $29.98), Drop Dead Diva: Season 2 (Sony, 569 min., $29.95), the telefilm Harry O: Smile Jenny, You’re Dead (Warner Bros., 90 min., $14.93), Melrose Place: The 6th Season, Vol.1 (Paramount, 569 min., $42.99), Penn & Teller: Season 8 (Showtime, 275 min., $31.99), and The Yellow Rose: The Complete Series (Warner Bros.,1058 min., $39.95), a DVD-R collection of the 1983-84 Dallas-like soap opera.
Another fascinating U.K. series out this week is Identity: Season 1 (Acorn Media, 279 min., $39.99), a 6-episode police procedural. about the “identity theft” unit of the London police force. ABC has a U.S. version of this series in development and it is easy to see why. The first story about a twisted young hacker with access to medical records who takes random revenge on victims who cheat on their spouses is truly scary given that the amount of harassment that the identity thief is able to inflict often goads his victims to suicide. The fact that the lead investigator in the Identity unit is extremely conflicted about his own identity as the result of spending 15 years undercover adds another level of interest to the story.
Also of interest to those who enjoy police shows and murder mysteries is Murdoch Mysteries: Season 3 (Acorn Media, 624 min., $59.99, BD, $69.99), a Canadian series about a Victorian-era detective who solves crimes using cutting-edge (for the period) forensic techniques. In Season 3 Murdoch receives help from “real-life” figures H.G. Wells and Nicholas Tesla.
Foreign Films
Goemon (Funimation, “R,” $24.98, BD $29.98) is a Japanese Robin Hood tale set in 1582, a martial arts epic with more green screen work than Sin City and over 2,500 visual effects shots. Director Kazuaki Kiriya (Casshern) keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace. The first two-thirds of the film are rather lighthearted in the manner of Warner Bros.’classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, but the last third becomes much darker as Goemon exacts a bloody revenge on his enemies. The story often takes a backseat to the dynamic over-the-top action sequences that strain credulity but like the fight in the bamboo forest in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon are vastly entertaining. The film’s numerous chase scenes (samurai parkour?) should appeal to those who like video games, and unlike most foreign film releases, Goemon includes a second disc of interesting extras about the making of the film.
A very light week of releases is headlined by Dragon Ball Z Kai Season 1 Part 5 (Funimation, “13+,” 325 min., $29.98), which includes 13 more episodes of the re-mastered and streamlined DBZ Kai series that has been stripped of filler episodes so that only the Akira Toriyama manga narrative remains. DBZ Kai currently airs on the Nickelodeon network.
The Right Stuf’s Nozumi Entertainment is releasing Junjo Romantica: Season 2 (Nozumi Ent., “17+,” 300 min., $49.99), which contains the final 12 episodes of the Studio Deen-produced anime from 2008 in an excellent transfer of the original Japanese version with English subtitles. This series, which is based on the Shungiku Nakamura manga (published here by Tokyopop), is one of the most accessible and enjoyable yaoi (boys’ love) comedy anime every produced. Nozumi has produced a superior package that includes a full color 24-page booklet that breaks down the shows many characters.
This week’s re-priced re-release is Shingu: Secret of the Stellar Wars (Nozumi Ent., “13+,” 650 min., $29.95), which includes all 26 episodes of the Madhouse science fantasy series from 2001, which the Right Stuf previously released in 5 single-disc volumes. This collected edition includes a deluxe 44-page with English production notes and an interview with Director Tatsuo Sato.
Classics on DVD
Dementia 13 (HD Cinema Classics, BD $15.99) is Francis Ford Coppola’s first film. Produced for just $42,000 in Ireland with money left over from Producer Roger Corman’s The Young Racers, Dementia 13 is an interesting film that fans of the director of The Godfather Trilogy and Apocalypse Now will have to see. While the quality of the image on the Blu-ray isn’t even close to modern HD transfers, this is the best looking version of the film ever on DVD or VHS.
}Also just released on Blu-ray is The Terror (HD Cinema Classics, BD $15.99) a 1963 horror film directed by Corman, though Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson also directed some scenes. The best thing about this period horror drama set in 1806 might be the fact that scenes from it were used in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, though it is interesting to see a callow young Jack Nicholson before he became “Jack” and Boris Karloff doesn’t disappoint, nor does the underrated Dick Miller as Karloff’s butler Stefan. Once again the image is soft for a Blu-ray, but still better than what has been released on DVD before.
MGM is releasing no-frills DVD versions of some of its lesser known films and The Black Sleep (MGM, $19.98), a black-and-white horror film from 1956 is worth watching just for its cast, which includes horror icons Basil Rathbone, Lone Chaney, John Carradine, and Bela Lugosi in his last true film role. Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson is also featured in a prominent role as is the ubiquitous Hollywood character actor Akim Tamiroff in a role that was written for Peter Lorre. The director Reginald Le Borg is unfortunately not in top form, but The Black Sleep is worth seeing just for the way in which it revives Universal’s monster team-ups from the 1940s like House of Frankenstein, only with an entirely different roster of monsters.
The Captive City (MGM, $19.98) is an interesting realistic film noir from 1952 directed by Robert Wise, written by Time Magazine reporter Alvin Josephy, Jr., and based on the organized crime investigations of the Kefauver Committee. In the 1950s film noir became more realistic and more focused on organized crime and how criminals used violence to protect their empires of vice. Lee Garmes’ superb black-and-white photography makes The Captive City worth watching all by itself.
Another very interesting 1950s film noir is Cop Hater (MGM $19.98), which was directed by William Berke and adapted from an 87th Precinct novel by Ed McBain. Cop Hater shows the 50s film noir genre merging with or morphing into the “police procedural.” The filmmakers do a good job of evoking the sweltering atmosphere of the big city in the midst of summer in an era before air conditioning was widespread.