There doesn’t seem to be as much thought put into when a movie is released on Blu-ray compared to when it’s released in theaters, because some weeks are a lot better than others when it comes to the number of titles to choose from. Granted, quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality, but there are several high-profile films out today that, although they’re not all winners, should still find an audience if they haven’t already.
Though I wasn’t that impressed by Nicolas Winding Refn’s previous films, they have an undeniable visual flair and originality that you don’t see very often. “Drive” takes those qualities and applies them to a conventional Hollywood thriller, resulting in a movie that feels much more mainstream without abandoning Refn’s art house sensibilities. The film is as beautifully poetic as it is strikingly violent, while Ryan Gosling has never been better as the soft-spoken yet brutally intense protagonist. For as much attention as the film’s graphic violence has received, however, it’s the opening sequence – an edge-of-your-seat car chase packed with tension so thick you could cut it with a knife – that is undoubtedly the biggest highlight. And when a movie can start so brightly and continue to build on it like “Drive” does (thanks in part to great supporting performances from Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks), it’s no wonder why so many people love this film.
Blu-ray Highlight: The single-disc release doesn’t offer as many special features as I would have liked, but there’s an excellent 25-minute interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn that is definitely worth checking out. In addition to discussing the origins of the film (including a funny anecdote about his first meeting with Ryan Gosling), Refn talks in length about securing independent financing, casting the actors and more.
It’s admirable of Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. to recognize that John Carpenter’s “The Thing” didn’t warrant a remake, but there are so many similarities in this mostly unnecessary prequel to the 1982 cult classic that it feels like a retread anyway. Though fans of Carpenter’s version will undoubtedly get a kick out of some of the Easter Eggs that have been planted throughout (including a potential clue to the mystery surrounding the ending of the original), the 2011 edition doesn’t deliver the same kind of suspense. For a movie that supposedly wants to honor its predecessor, it also fails to adhere to the same set of rules. Perhaps the most annoying difference is that Heijningen’s Thing doesn’t even try to assimilate its prey with any stealth, but rather makes a big scene out of every transformation, presumably to show off its flashy CGI makeover. But for as silly as some of the original film’s old-school effects look today, they’re still creepier than anything this movie throws at you.
Blu-ray Highlight: The U-Control picture-in-picture feature is probably the disc’s best asset, but the audio commentary with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. and producer Eric Newman is actually pretty interesting. Along with discussing the more obvious aspects of making the film, the duo reveals some of the other ideas that were never used, including a short-lived plan to have MacReady’s brother as the main protagonist.
As far as science fiction movies go, Andrew Niccol’s “In Time” features one of the more intriguing premises in recent years, which only makes its poor execution that much more disappointing. Although the idea of a future where time is literally money is ripe with potential, Niccol’s heavy-handed sociopolitical message never really gives the film a chance to develop beyond the initial setup. It’s hard to imagine that the movie was greenlit based on an actual script (and not just the idea), because most of the story is spent aimlessly following Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried around a not-so-futuristic city as they get stuck in a monotonous cycle between having too much time and not enough. And for a film about making the most of every second, “In Time” is nothing but a waste of about 6,540 of your own.
Blu-ray Highlight: None. The sole featurette on the disc – a faux-documentary called “The Minutes” that tries to sell the idea that the characters from the movie have agreed to appear on film to discuss the anti-aging gene – is incredibly lame, while the included deleted and extended scenes are small bits that don’t really add anything to the story.
David Frankel’s “The Big Year” is as harmless as comedies come; it’s not particularly funny or memorable, but it has a surprisingly sweet story at its core that makes up for the fact that, no matter how hard the film tries, the sport of birding just isn’t a very exciting subject to base a movie around. That has more to do with the sport itself (if you can even call it that) than anything Frankel or his cast does, but they were clearly fighting an uphill battle from the start. Nevertheless, the film’s three stars – Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson – still turn in some decent performances despite the lack of any real laughs in the script, and although the terrific supporting cast (which includes the likes of Kevin Pollack, Brian Dennehy, Rashida Jones and Rosamund Pike) is mostly wasted in throwaway roles, it makes “The Big Year” a lot more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
Blu-ray Highlight: The included making-of featurette (“The Big Migration”) isn’t a total waste of time, but if you don’t find a film about birding very exciting, then watching a featurette about making a movie about birding probably isn’t going to interest you either.