New items on video include a box-office megahit, a ’60s classic, an overlooked thriller and an interesting independent film. And birds.
The hit is Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which ranked second to only the last Harry Potter movie at the U.S. box office in 2011 and pulled in more than $1.1 billion worldwide. Frankly, I don’t get the appeal. I thought the first film was dumb fun but this is not only dumber — especially in bringing John F. Kennedy and the U.S. space program into the saga of big robots — but slower. I got terribly restless waiting for the convoluted and often ridiculous plot to make its way to the next action sequence. Yes, the ’bots look great in Blu-ray (a 3-D version is also available), but they’re no substitute for story.
Paramount is releasing the film in several packages, including a standard DVD ($29.99), a Blu-ray/DVD/digital-copy combo ($44.99) and a specially priced four-disc “ultimate edition” that adds the 3-D Blu-ray ($39.99). Packages involving the previous films include a seven-disc collector’s edition on Blu-ray of all three Transformers movies for $99.99.
Looking back, we have To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition; the film, based on Harper Lee’s book of the same name, has long been available on DVD but the latest release includes a restored version on Blu-ray (Universal) in a standard combo pack ($26.98) and a limited-edition collector’s set ($39.98) in a book-look container.
The clarity of the Blu-ray version is something to behold, making even the smallest details more visible. If you do not already own the movie, you should, because it is a wonderful work and boasts Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance. But if you already have it on a good DVD, be aware that the great majority of the extras are from earlier sets, like the “legacy series” two-disc DVD Universal released in 2005.
I had already noted here that Ryan Gosling might be overlooked by the Oscars even though he had an impressive body of work in 2011, and that proved true when the Academy Award nominations came out and Gosling’s name was not among them. But you can see once again how good he is on Tuesday when the thriller Drive comes to DVD (Sony, $26.99) and Blu-ray ($30.99).
Gosling plays an all-purpose driver: movie stunts, racing and getaway vehicles for criminals. He says little and tries to reveal even less about himself; this is very much a Steve McQueen kind of role. But his life is complicated by a woman (Carey Mulligan) and involvement with a couple of very bad guys (Albert Brooks, who was also mentioned as an Oscar contender but did not get nominated, and Ron Perlman). The result is nasty and violent, but very well played. Extras include several featurettes and an interview with director Nicolas Winding Refn.
As long as we’re talking about thrillers, you may also want to make note of the independent Texas Killing Fields (Anchor Bay, $26.98 DVD. $29.99 Blu-ray), a tension-filled movie based on a real-life series of murders and disappearances of young women. It is directed by Ami Canaan Mann, daughter of director Michael Mann, and she knows how to unsettle an audience. (Michael’s latest project, the racetrack drama Luck, premieres tonight on HBO. See Channels for more about that program.) It’s a grim, often sad film that works very well most of the time; the cast includes Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chloe Grace Moretz and the seemingly ubiquitous Jessica Chastain (The Help, The Tree of Life). Extras include audio commentary by Mann and the film’s writer, Donald F. Ferrarone.
As for birds, they are central to The Big Year (Fox, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray). The movie stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black as three birdwatchers embarked on a Big Year — trying to spot as many species as they can in North America in a calendar’s span. (The record is 745.)
Greg Miller, a resident of Sugarcreek in Tuscarawas County, was the real-life inspiration for Brad Harris, the character played by Black. It’s a modest film effort at best, although the cast and characters are likable. And, if you catch a glimpse of the top of a red Ohio State cap, Miller is the one wearing it.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and in the HeldenFiles Online blog at http://heldenfels.ohio.com and on Facebook and Twitter. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.