Blu Tuesday: Nazis, Mermen and More

After last week’s less than stellar offerings, movie fans will be delighted to see the wealth of new releases to choose from this week, including the Blu-ray debut of a certain whip-cracking archeologist, the latest from the mind of Joss Whedon and more.

“Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures”

As one of the last great film series yet to be released on Blu-ray, Paramount’s five-disc box set finally puts an end to the wait with an awesome collection that features digitally remastered versions of the first three movies, as well as a copy of the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, “The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which will at least be welcomed by completionists and George Lucas apologists alike. Enough has been written about the Indiana Jones films over the years that it would be silly to gush about them all over again – and if you’ve seen them yourself, then you already know how great they are – but there is something that warrants mentioning, and that’s just how incredible these movies look in high definition. “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which received a frame-by-frame restoration in addition to the color-correcting process performed on “The Temple of Doom” and “The Last Crusade,” looks especially brilliant, with its 20-plus years miraculously erased to the point that it’s almost like a brand new film. Though it would have been nice if fans were given the option between the original trilogy and a set collecting all four movies (that’s how bad “Crystal Skull” is compared to the others), it’s hard to complain too much when the studio has done such an amazing job giving the series the tender loving care that it so richly deserves.

Blu-ray Highlight: A lot of good bonus material has been brought over from previous releases, but the all-new making-of featurette “On Set with Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the undisputed gem of the set. Compiled from vintage footage of the production, the featurette offers an intimate look at filming certain scenes and the decision-making process behind those sequences. That footage is also supplemented by outtakes, deleted scenes and alternate takes, giving audiences a peek at what could have been.

“The Cabin in the Woods”

Leave it to Joss Whedon to take the horror genre and turn it on its head. The guy has been defying convention for years – from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” – and if there was any genre in need of a shake-up, it’s horror. Directed by Drew Goddard and co-written with Whedon, “The Cabin in the Woods” is an entertaining and remarkably original genre hybrid film that, although it may appear to be a typical slasher flick at first sight, has more than a few tricks up its sleeves. Fueled by a great script inspired by horror classics like “Evil Dead” and boasting a wicked sense of humor, the movie is a fun twist on a tired formula. The cast of victims is also much better than your average slasher film, although it’s Richard Jenkins and Bradley Cooper as the pair of mission control guys pulling the strings that really steals the show. It does go a bit off the rails in the final act (though anyone familiar with Whedon’s work won’t be too surprised), but for a movie this ambitious, sometimes it takes that kind of risk to yield such a refreshing reward.

Blu-ray Highlight: In addition to a really fun and informative audio commentary by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon, there’s an excellent making-of featurette called “We Are Not Who We Are” that includes a look at shooting the climactic elevator sequence and a hilarious tour of the control room with actors Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford.

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SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day One

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“The Cabin in the Woods”

Leave it to Joss Whedon to take the horror genre and turn it on its head. Though it appears to be nothing more than a typical slasher flick at first sight, “The Cabin in the Woods” (which was directed by Drew Goddard and co-written with Whedon) is an entertaining and completely original genre hybrid film that has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. The setup is simple: five friends head to a cabin located in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of fun, only to find themselves fighting for their lives when they accidentally resurrect a family of killer rednecks from the dead. Of course, there’s much more to the story than that, as the audience learns very early on that there’s a third party behind all the death and destruction. It’s an excellent twist on a tired genre, with Whedon and Goddard’s script not only defying convention on several occasions, but also lightening the mood with deft strokes of humor. Though the film features Chris Hemsworth in a role that precedes his “Thor” days, the real stars are Fran Kranz (from Whedon’s short-lived “Dollhouse”) as the pot-smoking comic relief, and Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford as the men orchestrating all the mayhem. It goes a bit off the rails in the final act, but for a movie this ambitious, sometimes it takes that kind of risk to yield such a refreshing reward.

“The Babymakers”

It may not be an official Broken Lizard movie in theory, but that’s not going to stop some people from comparing “The Babymakers” to the group’s other films, mainly because it was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar and features him and fellow member Kevin Heffernan in supporting roles. But while it definitely shares the group’s brand of goofball humor, “The Babymakers” feels like a cheap imitation without the other Lizards. Fortunately, it still has its share of funny moments thanks to Paul Schneider, who delivers a wonderfully dry performance as a man so desperate to impregnate his wife (Olivia Munn) that he plots to steal the last vial of sperm he donated years before after learning that his current count is too low for conception. Much like fellow “Parks and Rec” alumnus Adam Scott, Schneider has been on the verge of a big breakout for years, and “The Babymakers” proves that he’s a more than capable comedic lead. Munn is better than usual, but she’s definitely not leading lady material, while the rest of the cast fails to do much with a script that goes for the easy joke far too often. And that’s a shame, because with a sharper script and better execution, “The Babymakers” could have been the perfect Broken Lizard vehicle.