Real Steel (2011, Shawn Levy) – Disney’s tale of a deadbeat father (Hugh Jackman) and his estranged son (Dakota Goyo) bonding one summer over the competitive near-future sport of robot boxing plays just as well on the small screen as it did on the big one, where it probably should have been a bigger hit with the family crowd than it ended up being.
Shawn Levy (the Night at the Museum movies) directs a game cast led by the always fun to watch Jackman. The robot battles are technical marvels, blending practical effects, CGI, and motion capture to sell its high concept premise. At a shade over two hours, it’s probably a bit longer than it really needs to be, but the film’s good will goes a long way.
The Blu-Ray combo pack includes a DVD and digital copy of the film and some pretty nifty special features. For his wildly in-depth commentary track, Levy utilizes the Disney Second Screen function – which allows viewers to sync their Blu-ray player to a laptop or iPad so they can access stills, 360 degree schematics, and exclusive featurettes without stopping the movie – to deliver one of the most informative and candid commentary tracks in quite some time. The Blu-ray also includes Levy talking about an excised subplot from the film involving the child’s mother, an in-character look at Jackman’s character in the film, and several featurettes that bring to light the staggering amount of detail that goes into some of the most seemingly minor bits of production design.
Paranormal Activity 3 (2011, Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman) – This found footage horror franchise brings a different, but not altogether unfulfilling viewing experience when they’re watched at home instead of in a crowded cinema. Sure, you don’t have everyone jumping and screaming around you, but there’s something equally disturbing about this domestic horror series at home with all the lights shut off.
This time it’s a prequel taking a look at younger versions series stars Katie and Kristi and their parents as they try to determine the origin of some spooky happenings at their house. Catfish directors Joost and Schulman take over here following a lacklustre second outing in the series, and bring the franchise to new heights with some inspired scares and some well thought out filming techniques.
The Blu-ray Combo pack features both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film, with the unrated cut running roughly ten minutes longer than the one seen in theatres. Aside from an in-character commercial and a montage of scary scenes from the film, there aren’t much in the way of extras. It also comes with a DVD and digital copy of the film. Single disc packages aren’t available yet, but they will be released on February 14th.
50/50 (2011, Jonathan Levine) – This touching and woefully underappreciated slice of true life comedy and drama from Levine, writer Will Reiser, and stars Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon Levitt should find a nice life on the home video market.
Based on Reiser’s personal experiences with cancer, Levitt gives the best performance of his career as an NPR reporter forced to deal with the disease head on. He finds little solace from his actual girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), but a great deal of strength and understanding from his best friend (Rogen, also never better) and a young counsellor (Anna Kendrick). Filled with pitch perfect performances and a killer screenplay, 50/50 might be one of the most undervalued films of the past year.
The Blu-ray comes with an audio commentary from Levine, Rogen, Reiser, and producers Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin that’s nice, but doesn’t contain much that one couldn’t get from the various featurettes on the disc. The highlights of these are easily watching and hearing Reiser and Rogen (who plays a character that pretty much exactly encapsulates his own relationship to the writer) talk about some really personal stuff. Also on display are some deleted scenes with optional commentary and one of the nicest looking Blu-ray transfers for such a low key film.
The Whistleblower (2011, Larysa Kondracki) – Speaking of overlooked films, this political potboiler from last summer takes a look at divorced Nebraska cop Katherine Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) who takes a job as a UN Peackeeper in Bosnia. When she uncovers a sex trafficking ring linked to high ranking officials, Katherine is bullied and coerced into keeping her mouth shut.
Based on a true story, first time Toronto based feature director Kondracki crafts a film that feels like a 1970s political drama in some really great ways. The film is also far from a slow burn, with far more action than one might expect from a film in this genre and some big performances from Weisz, Vanessa Redgrave (as a head UN Secretary), David Strathairn (as an internal affairs agent), and Monica Bellucci (as an ineffective and unsympathetic bureaucrat). Fans of recent British cinema should also keep an eye out for Attack the Block’s Luke Treadaway and BBC’s Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch in small roles.
The Blu-ray looks nice with the focus predominantly on the film itself. The only special feature to be found is an informative featurette on the real life Bolkovac. Thankfully, the film is strong enough on its own.
Also available this week: Gus Van Sant’s preciously twee story of love and loss Restless, Vincent Gallo playing a member of the Taliban on the run in Essential Killing, solid documentaries Revenge of the Electric Car and Queen of the Sun and the abysmal Peter Gatien doc Limelight, and the Criterion release of that Godzilla movie. You know, the one about that giant lizard with the bad dubbing and no Matthew Broderick in sight? That’s the one. Oh! And first ever Best Picture winner Wings!