[15 September 2009]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
A pair of movies starring Hugh Jackman — the superhero saga “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (20th Century Fox, 2009, $39.99) and the horror fantasy “Van Helsing” (Universal, 2004, $26.98) — lead a hefty list of new titles arriving on Blu-ray this week.
“Wolverine” excellently tells the history of the character played for the fourth time by Jackman. The film opens in Canada’s Northwest Territory in 1845 when young half-brothers James (eventually to be Wolverine) and Victor (Liev Schreiber) discover they are hard to kill and also possess some special powers.
As the opening credits unfold, we see the grown-up James and Victor fighting in the Civil War, World War I, World War II and Vietnam. The two have also honed their powers. James has the ability to make boney, sharp spikes emerge from his knuckles while Victor, sporting two vampire-like teeth, can turn his fingernails into claws whenever he wishes. Victor will one day become known as Sabertooth.
Col. William Stryker (Danny Huston) recruits the two for a special-forces unit that is made up of several other mutants with unique powers. After participating in a foreign mission that includes murdering women and children, James becomes disgusted with it all and leaves. An angry Victor, who enjoys the killing and the rewards that come with it, tells his half-brother that he will regret his decision.
So it’s no surprise that James and Victor will square off against each other in the future. Several incidents (including the “death” of his girlfriend) lead James to accept Stryker’s proposal to become part of an experiment that will turn him into a super-being that eventually becomes part of the X-Men. There are many twists and turns in the latter half of the film and it all unfolds crisply without any lag time. It is a tale well told. Highly recommended.
“Van Helsing” has Jackman playing a legendary 19th-century monster hunter. He is sent on a mission to Transylvania, where evil still roams the countryside. There he encounters a flock of flying female vampires as well as Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man.
He is joined in the battle by a princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Braksdale), who has a personal score to settle with Dracula. The film is filled with terrific special effects and epic battles that are a wonder to watch.
It’s sort of a super version of Universal’s old monster roundups such as “House of Frankenstein” (1944) and “House of Dracula” (1945). Van Helsing originally appeared in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” and in the 1931 film version. However, in that movie, he was portrayed as an elderly doctor who was an expert on vampires. In this film, he is an agile action hero. It makes for great entertainment. Recommended.
Other Blu-ray releases:
“An American Werewolf in London” (Universal, 1981, $26.99): Two American students, traveling in London, are attacked by a vicious wolf during full moon. One of the victims dies while the other, David (David Naughton), survives. David begins to have nightmares and is told in one of the dreams the wolf that bit him was a werewolf. Now David believes he might be a werewolf, too. Directed John Landis, who was responsible for “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” this is part horror and part comedy.
“Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Fifth Season” (Walt Disney, 2008-09, $69.88): Ellen Pompeo stars as Dr. Meredith Grey in this well-done series about the personal and professional of a number of surgeons and interns. Among others in the class are in the cast are Sandra Oh as Dr. Cristina Yang, Justin Chambers as Dr. Alex Karev and Katherine Heigl as Dr. “Izzie” Stevens. The set includes 23 episodes. Recommended.
“My Name is Earl: Season Four” (20th Century Fox, 2008-09, $59.99): Jason Lee is back as Earl, the guy who at one time didn’t give a rip about anybody but suddenly decided to change his ways. Earl is still trying help people he did wrong in the past. NBC announced earlier in the summer that the show has been canceled. This set contains the final 27 episodes.
“Child’s Play” (MGM.UA, 1998, $24.99): This film is sure to freak out anyone who has a fear of dummies. A young boy named Alex is given a popular doll for his birthday. Problem is, Chucky’s no ordinary doll. He’s “alive” and doesn’t mind killing people.
“Misery” (MGM/UA, 1990, $24.99): Kathy Bates is terrific and frightening as former nurse Annie Wilkes, who is a huge fan of author Paul Sheldon (James Caan). One evening Sheldon is injured a car accident and, unfortunately for him, Wilkes discovers the accident. She takes Sheldon to her home and nurses him back to health. But when she discovers he has killed off one of her favorite characters, the wacko makes Sheldon’s life a living hell. Based on a Stephen King novel and directed by Rob Reiner. Recommended.
“Army of Darkness” (Universal, 1992, $29.98): Bruce Campbell plays Ash, who is transported back to the 13th century where he ends up leading a battle against an army of the living dead. Ash also finds the ancient book that can destroy the demons if he says the right words. Ooops! He says the words in the wrong order.
“Varsity Blues” (Paramount, 1992, $29.99): This crude teenage film only comes alive during the climax, when the football team defies jerky coach head football coach Jon Voight. Led by quarterback John Moxon (James Van Der Beck), the team hits the field and does it their way.
“Deep Impact” (Paramount, 1998, $29.99): A huge comet is heading toward Earth and scientists work feverishly in an effort to find a way to stop it. If they can’t, only a limited number of people will be allowed into existing shelters. Robert Duvall, Tea Leoni, Morgan Freeman, Vanessa Redgrave, Elijah Wood and Maximilian Schell headline the cast.
“The Ultimate Force of Four” (Miramax, $109.98): This martial-arts collection includes “Hero” (2002) with Jet Li, “The Legend of the Drunken Master” (1994) with Jackie Chan, “Iron Monkey” (1993) with Chan Siu Wah and “The Blind Swordsman Zatoichi” (2003) with Takeshi Kitano.
“Easy Virtue” (2008) Jessica Biel, Colin Firth; “Crash: The Complete First Season” (Anchor Bay, $79.98) Dennis Hopper; “Camille” (E1, 2007, $24.98) Sienna Miller; “The Hannibal Lecter Anthology” (MGM/UA, $69.98) William Petersen; “Wrong Turn” (20th Century Fox, 2003, $29.99) Eliza Dushku; “Wrong Turn 2: Dead End” (20th Century Fox, 2007, $29.99) Henry Rollins