[19 May 2009]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
The World War II thriller “Valkyrie” (MGM/20th Century Fox, 2008, $39.99), the science-fiction classic “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (Lionsgate, 1991, $29.99) and the animated charmer “A Bug’s Life” (Walt Disney/Pixar, 1998, $39.99) lead another heavy lineup of new titles on Blu-ray this week.
“Valkyrie” is based on the true story of a plot by members of the German army to assassinate Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. Despite the fact that we know the outcome of that attempt, director Bryan Singer and writers Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander manage inject plenty of suspense into the event as the plan unfolds.
Tom Cruise stars as Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, one of the driving forces behind the anti-Hitler movement. Even before he lost an eye and an arm during an Allied air attack, von Stauffenberg had preached the need to dispose of Der Fuhrer. It was obvious to many in the German ranks that theirs was a lost cause and the end was near. Some of them expressed revulsion over the evil Hitler had done.
It was up to von Stauffenberg and those in league with him to recruit others to help carry out their goal without tipping off Hitler or his feared SS troops. It is a fascinating piece of history that is excellently chronicled in the film. Kudos to Cruise and fellow actors Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Carice van Houten and Terence Stamp. Recommended.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” has Arnold Schwarzenegger returning from the future as a cyborg Terminator, except this time he is sent to protect young John Connor (Eddie Furlong), son of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton). In the original 1981 film, Schwarzenegger was sent on a mission to kill Sarah before her son was born.
John will grow up to lead a battle against the cyborgs and someone in the future doesn’t want that to happen. So another cyborg (Robert Patrick) has also come from the future intent on disposing of the boy. The film, directed by James Cameron, is a first-rate action, sci-fi, edge-of-the-seat ride.
There has been concern voiced by some critics about the Blu-ray high definition format and how, in some instances such as “T2,” it makes the picture look too clean. They note that the original film grain has been brushed away.
Be assured that “T2” looks terrific and sounds absolutely fantastic. This is being called the Skynet Edition because of its eight hours of interactive content as well as various other extras. Recommended.
“A Bug’s Life” is a computer-animated pleasure about an ant named Flik who has grown tired of being bullied by grasshoppers. He hopes to round up a group of other insects who are brave enough to take on the grasshoppers and keep them away forever. All he comes up with is a variety of circus bugs who aren’t exactly the Rambo type.
Still, Flik refuses to give up hope. His own determination soon inspires the other bugs. Thanks to the magic of the computer, the bugs truly do seem real with their own distinct personalities. The animation quite simply is dazzling and, yes, downright beautiful on Blu-ray.
Extras include the new “A Bug’s Life: The First Draft” and a filmmakers roundtable discussion about the making of the movie. There are also the shorts “Geri’s Game” (1991) and “The Grasshopper and the Ants” (1934). Highly recommended.
Other Blu-ray releases:
“3 Days of the Condor” (Paramount, 1975, $39.99): Robert Redford stars as CIA agent Joe Turner, who is finding it difficult to tell his friends from his enemies. After everyone in his office is massacred, Turner, whose code name is Condor, flees for his life. After reporting the killings to the CIA, Turner begins to realize that there might be someone within the organization who wants him out of the way. Photographer Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway) seems to be the only person he can trust. Or can he? This top-notch thriller in highly recommended
“Enemy at the Gates” (Paramount, 2001, $39.99): Jude Law plays Russian sniper Vassili Zaitsev, whose talent for dealing death has become a major stumbling block during the Nazi’s drive toward Stalingrad in 1942. The Germans have had enough and send their own expert sniper, Major Konig (Ed Harris), to take out Zaitsev. As the two stalk each other, they find time for a little romance as the war rages around them. Absorbing action drama. Recommended.
“Changing Lanes” (Paramount, 2002, $42.99): Gavin Baneck (Ben Affleck) is a rich, successful lawyer and Doyle Gipson (Sanuel L. Jackson) is an insurance salesman who is trying to save his marriage. These two have very little in common until one day they meet after their cars collide in what amounts to little more than a fender bender. After a few short words, Baneck rushes away after leaving Gipson a blank signed check. Gipson, a recovering alcoholic, is not happy with what he sees as a brushoff. What happens after that is an absorbing study in human emotions and behavior. Recommended.
“24: Season 7” (20th Century Fox, 2009, $69.99): Keifer Sutherland is back as federal agent Jack Bauer for another one of those action-packed cliffhanger days. This time he faces an old friend who has turned terrorist while the nation’s homeland system falls into enemy hands. Meanwhile, Jack begins to suspect that someone within the president’s cabinet is working for the other side. There are plenty of other tense moments in this 6-disc collection, which demonstrates why “24” remains one of the best shows to air on television. Highly recommended.
“True Blood: The Complete First Season” (HBO, 2008, $79.98): The premise of this series, set in a small Louisiana town, is that it’s OK for vampires to come out of the closet now. They no longer need to feed on human blood ever since the Japenese developed a synthetic blood for them to consume. Anna Paquin stars as Sookie Stackhouse, an easy-going waitress who has the power to read minds and becomes acquanted with a 173-year-old vampire. All the blood drinkers want is to be accepted as part of society and gain equal rights like everyone else. The 6-disc set includes 12 episodes. This wonderfully quirky concept in recommended.
“Batman: The 20th Anniversary” (Warner, 1989, $34.99): Tim Burton’s original vision of the Dark Knight gets the special Warner “book-style” Blu-ray treatment. Michael Keaton is just fine as Batman/Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson is outstanding as The Joker. The extra 50-page bonus book includes photos, notes, script pages and a DC comic book adaptation. One of the best superhero films ever, it is highly recommended. Previously included in the four-film Batman Blu-ray collection.
“Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (Sony, 2009, $39.95): Kevin James plays Blart, who takes his job as a security job at a shopping mall very seriously. Sometimes his overzealous approach gets him into embarrassing situations, but that doesn’t seem to deter Paul. Then things turn grim one day when a gang takes over his mall. Will Paul be able to outsmart them?
“The Machinist” (Paramount, 2004, $39.99): Christian Bale plays an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year. Naturally, his mental state is a little unstable and he also has lost a lot of weight (Bale dropped 60 pounds to play the role). When he begins to see images of someone who is not there and receives mysterious notes, he tries to find out if someone is trying to drive him mad. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Ironside co-star.
“Paycheck” (Paramount, 2003, $39.99): In this sci-fi effort, Ben Affleck plays a high-tech engineer whose memory is erased after each job. He attempts to uses several items to help him uncover his real identity and also the money he is supposed to have coming to him. Uma Thurman and Aaron Eckhart co-star.
“My Bloody Valentine 3-D” (Lionsgate, 2009, $39.99): Obviously aimed at the fans of slasher/gore films, who will not be disappointed. A guy returns to his hometown where a Valentine’s Day massacre of 22 people took place 10 years earlier. Another series of killings begins, all in glorious 3-D.
“Driven to Kill” (20th Century Fox, 2009, $29.99): Steven Seagal is back in action and again is on the trail of revenge. This time, he plays a former Russian criminal turned novelist. He returns to his old ways after his ex-wife is gunned down and his daughter’s life is in danger.
“Lions for Lambs” (MGM/20th Century Fox, 2007, $34.98): Robert Redford directed this film that tries to show Americans that we shouldn’t be in Iraq but offers few solutions on how to get out. Redford also stars along with Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise. Plenty of talk but little substance. Regardless of your politics, this one is pretty boring.