‘The Phantom,’ ‘A Serious Man’ top list of latest Blu-ray releases

[9 February 2010]

By Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

An exciting adaptation of a classic comic strip, “The Phantom” (Lionsgate, 1996, $19.99), and a comedy-drama, “A Serious Man” (Universal, 2009, $36.98), lead this week’s new titles arriving on Blu-ray.

The Phantom was created by Lee Falk as a daily newspaper strip beginning in early 1936 and it still runs today in various newspapers around the world. Unlike most costumed heroes, the Phantom has no super powers but relies on his mind and physical prowess to fight injustice and greed.

Although he is known to jungle dwellers as “the ghost who walks,” the Phantom is not immortal. Kit Walker is the 21st Phantom, with his roots dating back to 1536 when his ancestor Christopher Walker donned the first costume. Since then Christopher’s descendents have carried on. When one dies, another takes his place.

Set in the 1930s, the movie is faithful to its source and is blessed with several pulsating cliffhanger situations and beautiful photography. Billy Zane plays Kit Walker who leaves his jungle skull cave for New York City to hunt down a man named Xander Drax (Treat Williams). Drax is trying to locate three skulls that when lined up together will make him the most powerful man in the world.

The adventure eventually returns to the jungle where Drax is sure the final skull is hidden. The Phantom is right behind him. Also involved is Diana Palmer (Kristy Swanson), who develops a strong attraction for Walker. The Phantom also has Hero, a horse, and Devil, a trained wolf, to assist him in his crime fighting. This wonderfully entertaining film is highly recommended.

“A Serious Man” comes from the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, and is set in a 1967 Jewish community located in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) has tried to do everything right in his life. He’s got a (supposedly) loving wife and two children and is a successful professor of physics.

Then the roof falls in and Gopnik become the modern personification of the Biblical Job. One day his wife, Judith (Sari Lemmick), drops a shocker on him by revealing that she’s leaving for another man. His kids offer no comfort. Danny (Aaron Wolf), who loves marijuana, and his sister Sarah (Jessica), are too self-absorbed, His visiting brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is a wreck of a person.

Meanwhile, Gopnik has to deal with an irritating neighbor (Peter Breitmayer) whose seems to possess an anti-Semitic attitude. If that’s not enough, things aren’t going too well at work, either. You don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate this film. If anything, too many of us probably identify with it because we’ve all had those days where everything seems to be going wrong. Highly recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“The Time Traveler’s Wife” (New Line Cinema, 2009, $35.99): Here is certainly an unusual romantic tale. Artist Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) and librarian Henry De Tamble (Eric Bana) fall deeply in love. The only problem with the relationship is that Henry travels through time. It’s not something he wishes to do. It just happens and they never know when he’s going to be whisked away to either the past or the future. Eventually he always returns to the present. Not surprisingly, this complicates Claire’s and Henry’s relationship.

“The Stepfather” (Sony, 2009, $38.96): This remake of a 1987 film has its moments and Dylan Walsh turns in a good job as David Harris, the man referred to in the title. He meets and woos Susan Harding (Sela Ward), a mom with three kids. Eventually they marry and the children, especially the oldest Michael (Penn Badgley), begin to suspect not all is right with Harris. As they investigate his past, things begin to go from creepy to downright scary at home.

“Serious Moonlight” (Magnolia, 2009, $29.88): Screenwriter Adrienne Shelly won acclaim for the film “Waitress” in 2007. Unfortunately, she was not around to acknowledge the appreciation because she had been murdered in November 2006. This film is based on one of the screenplays she left behind. Meg Ryan plays Louise, a high-power Manhattan lawyer. Her world is jolted when husband Ian (Timothy Hutton), after 13 years of marriage, tells her he’s leaving for a younger woman. Louise doesn’t mope about it but instead decides to fight back. And does she ever.

“Hard Rain” (Lionsgate, 1998, $19.98): Tom (Christian Slater) decides to help his Uncle Charlie (Ed Asner), who drives an armored truck. The two are riding along with $3 million aboard when a terrific storm hits and unleashes a flood upon the area. After the truck breaks down, thief Jim (Morgan Freeman) and his gang attempt to rob it. Tom hides the money underwater. What follows is a non-stop action flick with numerous chases across the water. Randy Quaid plays the sheriff. Fast-moving entertainment.

“Couples Retreat” (Universal, 2009, $36.98): Four couples head to a vacation paradise, where they are supposed to improve their relationships in group therapy. It’s not exactly what they imagined and, thus, come the few laughs in the film. It should have been funnier. Among those in the cast are Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Kristin Davis.

“Drop Zone” (Lionsgate, 1994, $19.99): How about a skydiving action film? Well, here it is. Wesley Snipes plays U.S. Marshal Pete Nessip, who is on the trail of Ty Montcrief (Gary Busey) and his skydiving gang of bad guys. They plan to pull off a big heist but first they have to spring their leader Early Leedy (Michael Jeter).

“Bronson” (Magnolia, 2009, $36.98): Tom Hardy plays a guy who takes the name of movie tough guy Charles Bronson to pull off some robberies. He gets caught and spends most of his time in and out of jail. Bronson loves his battles with Britain’s police. Bronson also seems to enjoy the pain he endures after being captured. He’s one strange dude.

“Stargate Universe — SGU Season 1.0” (MGM, 2009, $69.99): In a spinoff from the original “Stargate” series, Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) and Everett Young (Justin Louis) find themselves trapped on ancient ship called the Destiny. It takes them on journeys throughout the universe where they encounter new worlds and strange beings. The two-disc set features the first 10 episodes.

“The Running Man” (Lionsgate, 1987, $19.99): A science-fiction tale that takes place sometime between 2019 and 2025. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a man who is wrongly sent to prison. Because of that he soon finds himself as a “contestant” on a reality TV show called “The Running Man” hosted by Richard Dawson (as Richard Dawson). The game takes a convict and allows him to run for his life while “stalkers” go after him, all for big TV ratings. The stalkers have never lost, but then they’ve never had to hunt down a guy like Schwarzenegger. Worth noting: The film was made before the reality-show craze hit TV.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/120557-the-phantom-a-serious-man-top-list-of-latest-blu-ray-releases/