The Bang Bang Club – Ryan Phillippe plays one of four photojournalists take to strife-torn South Africa in the early 1990s to make names for themselves and manage to stay alive as they hurl themselves into the middle of riots and extreme poverty. Despite the setbacks the protagonists face, the film makes their lives seem grittily glamorous, capturing the romance of putting yourself in harm’s way in the name of your craft. Director commentary and a brief featurette are the only extras.
The Big Lebowski Blu-ray – The 1998 Coen Brothers cult classic bowls its way to Blu-ray. Jeff Bridges plays an easygoing slacker who becomes entangled in a crime caper involving his wealthy namesake. John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and John Turturro swipe scenes as obsessive league bowlers, and Tara Reid and Julianne Moore play memorable parts. It’s the ultra-quotable dialogue that’s truly the star, though. The film comes stacked with a digital copy and a slew of new bonus features, including a look at the music, a dialogue-completing game and cast and filmmaker interviews, in addition to a bunch of stuff from previous DVD releases.
The Conspirator – Never has the Lincoln assassination seemed so boring. Rather than focusing on the events leading up to the shocking tragedy, director Robert Redford recounts the aftermath with a dry court procedural. While it’s interesting to catch a glimpse of anachronistic legal practices, the proceedings are too stiff and lifeless to capture the political and cultural undercurrents of the age. The movie is almost worth checking out to glimpse Justin Long in awkward period garb. Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood and Alexis Bledel also appear. An exhaustive set of extras examines the costumes, characters and production design.
Dexter: Season 5 – Finally breaking from its played-out Dexter vs. Guest Star Serial Killer formula, the latest season of Showtime’s serial killer with a heart of gold drama shakes things up. This go-round pairs Dexter (Michael C. Hall), who is recovering from the murder of his wife, inadvertently rescues the victim (Julia Stiles) of a brutal imprisonment and teams with her to exact vengeance on the syndicate of tormentors who captured her. The tired series receives some new life, and the central character is as complex and oddly endearing as ever. The slate of extras includes cast interviews and episodes of other Showtime shows, such as The Borgias and Californication.
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil – A follow-up to the largely forgotten 2005 animated fairy tale parody gets an unasked-for but mostly pleasant sequel, with Hayden Panettiere, Patrick Warburton, Andy Dick and Amy Poehler voicing characters. The story is a bunch of slapdash nonsense that’s little more than filler to allow the writers to mock pop culture and fairy tale conventions in a Scary Movie vein, but the film is harmless and not nearly as annoying as it could have been. Music videos, a featurette and stills gallery make up the unimpressive extras.
Jane Eyre – Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, In Treatment) continues to show impressive range, this time in a period piece adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel as a proto-feminist who endures a series of depressing indignities, keeping her head held high with a smart, sly wit. The film is a bit slow and measured for my tastes, but at least the actors, including Michael Fassbender and Jamie Bell, don’t fall into the trap of Masterpiece Theater-style overacting. Director commentary and scattered behind-the-scenes featurette fill out the package.
The Killing Blu-ray – Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 film noir masterpiece gets some Criterion Blu-ray lovin’, with a digital restoration and a boatload of previously unreleased extras, such as vintage actor interviews, a look at screenwriter Jack Thompson and an HD version of Kubrick’s 1955 film, Killer’s Kiss. The Killing stars Sterling Hayden as a career criminal determined to pull off one last heist before settling into marriage. Sharp dialogue and deft storytelling touches by the master filmmaker make The Killing a must-see. Killer’s Kiss is less polished, but is still a fascinating look into the master as he developed his talents.
Something Borrowed – Kate Hudson and Ginnifer Goodwin play BFFS who jostle over the same, tragically unworthy dude (Colin Egglesfield) in this romantic comedy, adapted from the novel by chick lit extraordinaire Emily Giffin. John Krasinski steals the film as the voice of reason for Goodwin, who plays a sad, unconfident career girl who lets the spontaneous, easygoing Hudson trample over her. The movie is far from perfect but still entertaining enough to hopefully merit an adaptation of the sequel, Something Blue. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo boasts a couple interesting extras, including one in which Giffin interacts with fawning fans on a bus ride.
Phil’s novel, Stormin’ Mormon, is available as a Kindle book for $1.