Blu Tuesday: Scorpion Jackets, Alien Shape-Shifters and More

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.

“Drive”

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.

“The Thing”

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.

“In Time”

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.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to October

October has never been known for offering much in the way of quality at the cineplex (in many respects, it’s the dumping ground of the fall movie season), but usually, horror fans can at least expect a bunch of scary movies to help get them in the mood for Halloween. This year is a little different, however, because there are very few horror films in sight. But while the month certainly looks to be short on scares with the exception of “Paranormal Activity 3,” “Red State” and perhaps “The Thing,” the rest of the schedule is filled with some interesting titles that really have the potential to surprise.

“REAL STEEL”

Who: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lilly and Anthony Mackie
What: Set in the near future where robots have replaced humans in the ring, a former boxer and his estranged son discover a junkyard bot that could become champion.
When: October 7th
Why: It’s easy to see how someone might be a little skeptical about a film that looks like “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots: The Movie,” but after visiting the set last summer, any concerns I might have had were quickly laid to rest following a chat with director Shawn Levy and star Hugh Jackman. I’ve also had the opportunity to see the finished product since then, and while the movie certainly isn’t going to earn a spot alongside “Rocky” and “Raging Bull” as a boxing classic, it’s still a really enjoyable underdog sports drama with strong central performances and plenty of awesome robot-on-robot action.

“THE IDES OF MARCH”

Who: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti
What: An idealistic staff member for a Democratic presidential candidate gets a crash course on dirty politics during his latest stint on the campaign trail.
When: October 7th
Why: With a big name like George Clooney attached to a movie come big expectations, especially when he’s the one calling the shots. Thankfully, his latest directorial effort appears to be more “Good Night, and Good Luck” than “Leatherheads,” and it doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded himself with such an incredible ensemble cast. In addition to the film’s multi-hyphenate star, “The Ides of March” features two other Oscar winners and two nominees. It might not be considered the year’s strongest awards contender, but the Academy always loves a good political thriller, and this definitely looks the part.

“THE THING”

Who: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
What: When an alien life form begins wreaking havoc at an Antarctic research site, a graduate student teams up with a helicopter pilot to prevent it from escaping.
When: October 14th
Why: There’s been a lot of debate over whether Universal’s “The Thing” is a remake or a prequel to the 1982 John Carpenter classic (the fact that it shares the same title certainly hasn’t helped matters), but it’s now been confirmed that it takes place prior to R.J. MacReady’s trip to the Antarctic and will detail what happened at the Norwegian camp featured in the original film. I’m not sure if that makes this prequel any less unnecessary, but at least it’s got a couple of good actors in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Joel Edgerton. That’s definitely a start, but it still has a ways to go to winning back the fanboys after Ronald D. Moore’s script was reportedly scrapped back in late 2009.

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