‘Tropic Thunder,' ‘The Universe' top list of latest Blu-ray titles

by Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

17 November 2008


A marvelously zany comedy, “Tropic Thunder” (DreamWorks, 2008, $39.99), and a dazzling documentary series, “The Universe: Season One” (A&E, 2007, $79.95), lead this week’s new releases arriving on Blu-ray.

Ben Stiller stars, directs, co-writes and who knows what else for “Tropic Thunder,” the hilarious spoof of moviemaking and just about anything else you can think of. Stiller plays Todd Speedman, an actor whose career is on the decline.

But he has comeback on his mind when he joins a group of other actors who are making a war film on location in a thick jungle. Or at least they think they are. Suddenly they find themselves involved with a group known as the Flaming Dragon gang, whose “game” is manufacturing heroin. The gang believes Speedman and his friends are DEA agents and ... well ... the humor comes fast and furious.

Robert Downey Jr. is great as Kirk Lazarus, who has turned his skin black to play an African American in the film. He gets so into his role, Lazarus begins to believe he actually is black. Other notables are Brandon T. Jackson as rapper Alpa Chino and Jeff Black as Jeff “Fatty” Portnoy. There are plenty of cameos by familiar faces. The Blu-ray includes the director’s cut, which means some extra laughs.

“The Universe Season One” (A&E, 2007, $79.95) marks A&E’s entry into the Blu-ray field, and it’s an impressive one. It is a visual treat that takes us on journeys throughout our solar system and beyond, excellently combining computer animation and real-life footage. The 3-disc set includes 13 episodes plus the documentary “Beyond the Big Band.”

Viewers get to explore the red planet Mars and find out if life is there or was once there. There are other stopovers at Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mercury and the Earth itself. You can also find out what is the most dangerous place in the Universe. One episode is devoted to the search for life in distant galaxies. A Blu-ray bonanza.

Other Blu-ray releases this week:

“Paul McCartney: The Space Within Us” (A&E, 2008, $34.95): Here is A&E’s second Blu-ray effort spotlighting legendary Beatles member McCartney during a 2005 tour of the U.S.A. Among the songs included are “Eleanor Rigby,” “Till There Was You,” “Good Day Sunshine,” “Hey Jude,” “Penny Lane” and many more. It looks and sounds great.

“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2” (Warner, 2008, $35.99): Amber Tamblyn as Tibby, Alexis Bledel as Lena, America Ferrera as Carmen and Blake Lively as Bridget are all back in this sequel of the successful 2005 film. Now they’re getting ready to go off on separate adventures as they head to college. If you liked the original, you’ll enjoy this one.

“Lucky Number Slevin” (Genius, 2006, $28.95): Josh Harnett is a guy who finds himself swept up into a feud in the New York underworld. At odds with each other are crime bosses Morgan Freeman and Ben Kingsley. Harnett soon realizes that assassin Bruce Willis is on his tail. Along the way he also runs into Lucy Liu and Stanley Tucci. Great cast makes it all worth it.

“Awake” (Genius, 2007, $28.95): Hayden Christensen, Jessica Alba and Terrence Howard star in this disturbing, yet absorbing thriller. Imagine being paralyzed but still awake during open-heart surgery and being able to hear everything being said and, even worse, feeling the pain. That’s what happens to Christensen.

“Blue Streak” (Sony, 1999, $28.95): Martin Lawrence is outstanding in this funny action-comedy as a jewel thief who, after a term in prison, ends up hanging around a new police station. The reason? The old building that once was there is where he hid the jewels before being put behind bars. Eventually, he is mistaken for a real cop and finds himself out on the street with partner Like Wilson.

“National Security” (Sony, 2003, $28.95): Martin Lawrence and Steve Zahn star as a pair who had their chances at being cops but failed. However, they still like to think of themselves as lawmen. This would be a mediocre comedy were it not for the presence of Lawrence and Zahn.

“MirrorMask” (Sony, 2005, $28.95): The Jim Heson company produced this stellar-looking fantasy that should please the youngsters. Stephanie Leonidas plays Helena, a 15-year-old girl who finds herself in a kingdom that is gradually being engulfed by darkness. It’s up to Helena to uncover the legendary MirrorMask that can restore the balance between light and darkness.

“Revolver” (Sony, 2005, $28.95): An ex-con wins a huge amount of money at a casino run by an old enemy. This supposed thriller constantly jumps around to the past, the present and the future until you don’t know where you are. Ray Liotta, Jason Statham and Vincent Pastore head the cast. Only for people who find meaning where there really is none. It proves that Blu-ray can’t make a bad film better.

“Southland Tales” (Sony, 2006, $28.95): This overlong and often puzzling film supposedly takes place two years in the future, which would be now. Some Texas towns have been bombed and World War III is under way and you won’t really care. Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott and Sarah Michelle Gellar star. All the great movies stored away in all the vaults in all the world and they put this one on Blu-ray?

All prices listed are the suggested retail price and can be purchased cheaper for those who shop around or go to www.amazon.com.

//Mixed media

'Two O'Clock Courage' Is Only a Quarter to Noir

// Short Ends and Leader

"This is a solid minor crime lark that tips its fedora to basic noir tropes.

READ the article