Blu Tuesday: Gladiators and Fairy Tales

There are some pretty big Blu-ray releases coming up over the next few weeks, but unfortunately, that only makes this week’s offerings look lackluster in comparison. To be fair, the pickings would be slim regardless, but there are a couple titles that should help pass the time until you can dig into the awesomeness that September holds.

“Spartacus: Vengeance – The Complete Second Season”

The bloody, sweaty and sex-drenched historical drama “Spartacus” may be unlike anything else on TV, but no one could have anticipated the roller coaster journey that the show has taken over the last few years. After Starz delayed production on a second season (filling its place with the prequel miniseries “Gods of the Arena”) in order for star Andy Whitfield to recover from leukemia, the lead role was ultimately recast after Whitfield sadly passed away. Newcomer Liam McIntyre does his best to make you forget that a different actor is playing the title character, but while his version of Spartacus isn’t necessarily bad, it just doesn’t feel like the same show. The absence of John Hannah’s Quintus Batiatus is perhaps felt even more strongly than the loss of Whitfield, while Lucy Lawless’ Lucretia isn’t nearly as interesting without her better half. Though Season Two gets off to a pretty rocky start, it eventually finds its groove midway through as the war between the rebel slaves and Roman army heats up. But while the action scenes are bigger and better this time around, “Spartacus” is no longer the pulpy guilty pleasure that it used to be.

Blu-ray Highlight: Anchor Bay may have chosen quantity over quality in the special features department, but there are a few extras worth watching, including a featurette on the “Legend of Spartacus” with the show’s historical consultants, and another one aptly titled “Famous Last Words” where the actors talk about their characters’ deaths.

“Snow White and the Huntsman”

All the commotion surrounding Hollywood’s dueling Snow White movies seems to have been all for naught, because the two films couldn’t be more different. Whereas Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror” was a light and comical take on the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and the Huntsman” is a much darker adaptation with some revisionist twists. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t work quite as well as you’d hope. Though Charlize Theron delivers a great performance as the Evil Queen, playing the iconic villain as a raging psychopath, she goes missing for large portions of the film, while Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman isn’t given enough to do to warrant his top billing. And then there’s Kristen Stewart, who’s not only a terrible choice to play Snow White, but fails to prove that she has the talent to carry such a big movie, especially one as disjointed as this. The troupe of British character actors that play the dwarfs inject some much-needed humor and energy into the story, and there’s some truly stunning visuals on display, but the sum is quite equal to the parts.

Blu-ray Highlight: The making-of featurette “A New Legend is Born” contains some good bits about the film’s production (including Colleen Atwood’s fantastic costumes), although it’s a little awkward to listen to Kristen Stewart fawn over director Rupert Sanders in light of recent events. There’s also a great featurette on the dwarfs that covers everything from casting to the visual effects used to make the actors look small.

  

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to June

With the exception of Marvel’s “The Avengers” (which not only lived up to expectations, but is also currently destroying the competition at the box office), last month wasn’t exactly the greatest start to the summer season. Thankfully, June looks like it’s going to fare a little better, with a return by director Ridley Scott to the genre that made his name, the latest from animation giants Pixar, and even some good old schlock in the form of Abraham Lincoln versus vampires. It’s hardly the type of blockbuster month we’re used to, but there’s enough variety and promise among these films that it doesn’t matter.

“SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”

Who: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Sam Claflin
What: A twist on the classic fairy tale where the Huntsman ordered to kill Snow White winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.
When: June 1st
Why: First-time director Rupert Sanders’ coming out party looks mighty impressive from a visual standpoint, and I’d like to believe that a cast of this caliber (from the three leads down to the seven dwarfs) wouldn’t have signed on to the project if the script wasn’t good. The idea of adapting the popular story into a fantasy action film is certainly an inspired one, as it not only broadens audience appeal, but allows for the introduction of newer elements as well. I’m a bit surprised that Universal hasn’t revealed more of the aforementioned dwarfs in the marketing campaign, but while they’ll likely play a bigger part in the movie, it’s quite refreshing not to have every single detail ruined in advance.

“PROMETHEUS”

Who: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron
What: A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind, leading them to a distant world where they must fight to save the future of the human race.
When: June 8th
Why: Whether or not “Prometheus” has anything to do with the original “Alien” (and at this point, I don’t think even Ridley Scott knows for certain), it’s shaping up to be one of the coolest movies of the year, despite my concerns that it’ll pull a “John Carter” at the box office. The trailers have done an excellent job of whetting our appetites while still remaining fairly elusive about what the hell is going on, and from the footage I’ve seen, it’s obvious that the film shares many of the same visual and tonal cues with the 1979 sci-fi horror classic. Though Noomi Rapace has a lot to prove in her first Hollywood leading role, Scott has smartly surrounded her with enough talent that she’s under no real pressure to carry the movie on her own. With that said, however, she certainly looks the part of an Ellen Ripley substitute, and that’s something worth getting excited about.

“SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED”

Who: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass and Karan Soni
What: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.
When: June 8th
Why: I had the good fortune of seeing the Sundance hit at SXSW earlier this year, and I can’t say enough great things about it. Based on a real-life classified ad that became an Internet meme, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a magical film about the human spirit whose charm is difficult to ignore. The character-driven dramedy is an amalgamation of everything that’s great about indie filmmaking – from its hugely original script, to the quirky characters, to the incredibly honest and funny performances by its cast. But the one thing that it does better than anything else is create a cinematic experience that’s rich in both comedy and emotion. A lot of movies have tried to juggle the two in the past, but “Safety Not Guaranteed” is one of those rare few that pull it off almost effortlessly.

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