G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Here's my problem with the picture: a furiously-filmed chase through the streets of Paris should be spectacular and thrilling. Instead, it's incoherent, routine, even disappointing. Director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy, Van Helsing) turns in another by-the-numbers action spectacle, this time starring Dennis Quaid, Channing Tatum, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Marlon Wayans, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. There are better ways to waste your time and money. Skip it. Also on Blu-ray.
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Tony Scott's remake is a higher-grade disappointment, coming achingly close to delivering an unqualified success. Derailed by John Travolta's unrepentant scenery-chewing, which goes far beyond the bounds of bad taste, and an unhealthy preoccupation with explaining everything, the film motors along reasonably well, fashioning a paranoid tale of post-9/11 terror and ticking time bomb suspense. Denzel Washington is eminently watchable, and James Gandolfini has a good turn as the Mayor of NYC. Recommended with reservations. Rent it. Also on Blu-ray.
I Love You, Beth Cooper
As I wrote in my review, Larry Doyle's very funny book has been transformed into a dreadfully boring movie. Hayden Panettiere and Paul Rust are miscast as a rule-breaking dream girl and the boy who loves her from afar, respectively. The spend a night together that seems endless. Chris Columbus directed, without distinction. Skip it. Also on Blu-ray.
Also out: Aliens in the Attic.
Indies on DVD, more Blu-ray picks, and Collector's Corner -- after the jump!
Do you know what you're eating? Robert Kenner digs into the true origins of the food that comes all nicely packaged and ready to eat; your apettite may never be the same after watching this documentary. I'm not sure it's really something you need to see twice, but I suspect a fair number of sincere people will buy it in the hopes of helping their friends learn a little bit more about the dangers of indiscriminate eating. You have been warned. Rent it. Also on Blu-ray.
Add to Netflix queue | Buy at Amazon
Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart
I'm not normally a big fan of banjo music, but Sascha Paladino's documentary won me over. Bela Fleck is a banjo player who travels to Africa in search of the origin of his favorite instrument. What he finds are people who love music, without regard to stereotypes and narrow definitions. And he also discovers that, as a stringed instrument, the banjo has many cousins in the least-likely places. Fleck's joy and enthusiasm are contagious. Rent it.
Add to Netflix queue | Buy at Amazon
Also out: Lemon Tree, Answer Man,The Way We Get By.
An avalanche of noteworthy releases today, making it difficult to pick just two to highlight, so I'll go with my personal favorites out of the bunch.
North by Northwest (50th Anniversary Edition)
I've read multiple, positive reviews on the Blu-ray version; the film has been remastered and word is that it looks rather spectacular. It's also available in a standard definition edition.
But the main thing is the movie, and I've lost count of how many times I've watched North by Northwest -- on television, on videotape, on DVD, and once even on the big screen. This is truly a case where all the elements coalesce; Cary Grant as the befuddled center of a byzantine spy plot involving Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Martin Landau, and the US government. Grant is charming and witty, whether he's righteously angry or simply bemused by the mysterious actions of people he doesn't understand.
Alfred Hitchcock establishes a breathless pace, yet masterfully slows down for the agonizingly quiet desolation of a bus stop in the middle of nowhere, speeding back up as the plot races toward its climax atop Mount Rushmore. To sum it up: Buy it.
Wings of Desire
A slow burning candle, Wim Wenders fantastical tale of an angel (Bruno Ganz) who falls in love with a mortal woman works best as a gorgeously rendered poem of unrequited desire. This is not for everyone: what I find incandescently beautiful, you might find to be intolerably precious, though a muttering Peter Falk as a version of himself warms the picture up considerably. Therefore: Rent it.
Also out: Say Anything (John Cusack at his most piercing, Ione Skye her most heartbreaking, Cameron Crowe before he got too serious), A Christmas Carol, Love Actually, Howards End, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Ultimate Collector's Edition), Two Girls and a Guy (Robert Downey Jr. is amazing in this one!).
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 1
Fox, Warner Brothers, and other studios have been slowly issuing their dark gems from the film noir period, and now Columbia gets in the game with their first set, collecting five starkly beautiful dramas, introduced by Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, and Christopher Nolan. Fritz Lang's The Big Heat, starring Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame, with Lee Marvin as a bad guy, is the best known, and deservedly so, since it's an incendiary classic.
The set also includes 5 Against the House (directed by Phil Karlson), The Lineup (directed by Don Siegel), Murder by Contract (with Vince Edwards) and The Sniper (directed by Edward Dmytryk).
Also out: Forrest Gump (Chocolate Box Giftset) [Blu-ray]; It's a Wonderful Life (Two-Disc Collector's Gift Set And Limited Edition Ornament) .