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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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to May

I remember a simpler time when May was still considered part of spring, but these days, the studios are so eager to beat the competition to the punch with the first big blockbuster of the season that it’s now widely accepted as the start of summer. That’s all fine and well, but by extending the season by an additional month, it also increases the chance of disappointment, which is looking pretty likely based on the May release schedule, despite the fact that a certain superhero film will be kicking off the festivities.

“THE AVENGERS”

Who: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Cobie Smulders and Samuel L. Jackson
What: Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers in order to save the Earth from Loki and his invading army.
When: May 4th
Why: The idea of an Avengers movie may not sound like much of a gamble today as it did four years ago when Marvel first announced its ambitious master plan, but it’s a risk that certainly seems to have paid off. Anyone that considers themselves a fan of comics or the recent Marvel solo films has undoubtedly placed this movie at the top of their must-see list. After all, the prospect of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the rest of the Avengers sharing the screen is simply too awesome to ignore, and the decision to bring back Loki as the main villain (hands down the most interesting of the Marvel film baddies) only makes things that much more exciting. Sure, Joss Whedon has never taken on a project of this scale before, but as a self-professed geek with a great track record of managing ensemble casts, there’s no one more qualified for the job than him.

“THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL”

Who: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith and Dev Patel
What: British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel, only to find that it’s less luxurious than its advertisements.
When: May 4th
Why: It’s hard to imagine a better piece of counterprogramming to “The Avengers” than this John Madden dramedy, because although studios have typically put a chick flick up against a surefire blockbuster to lure female moviegoers in the past, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a film that both sexes can enjoy. And the best part is that it actually looks pretty good, although that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering the cast includes four of the most respected British actors working today. While the movie could have easily come across as being too schmaltzy in the hands of another director, Madden appears to have struck the right balance between comedy and sentimentality.

“DARK SHADOWS”

Who: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter
What: An imprisoned vampire is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.
When: May 11th
Why: I’ve never seen the late ‘60s TV show that serves as the inspiration for this big screen adaptation, but based solely on the early reaction to the trailer, it’s not exactly what anyone was expecting. Though it may seem strange that director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, both of whom claim they were massive fans of the gothic drama as kids, would re-imagine it as a comedy, their version seems to be less about damaging the show’s memory and more about embracing its campiness. While they admittedly might have taken it a little too far (cue Alice Cooper cameo), the cast is simply too good for “Dark Shadows” to be a complete disaster. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

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