Guardians of the Galaxy (Disney, Blu-ray+Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) is based on one of the more obscure Marvel Comics to get the big screen treatment, but everything about the film suggests a filmmaker trying to recapture the sense of energy and color and sheer fun of Star Wars and the pop space opera. That’s a pretty good marriage and director James Gunn, whose talent for balancing genre tropes with tongue-in-cheek humor and colorful characters came through nicely in Slither, makes it a winning union.
It’s not that the story is particularly fresh—there’s a super-evil megalomaniac (Lee Pace) bent on exterminating an entire race of beings and he needs a fabled super-weapon to execute his plan, which intergalactic soldier of fortune Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), who calls himself Star Lord, happens to have—and frankly the whole everything-hinges-on-a-series-of-showdowns third act is getting a little tired by now. That’s par for the course for both comic book action spectacles and space opera adventures and this doesn’t shake it off.
But Gunn does make the journey a lot of fun, with an oddball cast of renegades who, tossed together in a deep space prison, team up to escape and wind up staying together because it suits their purposes, but really because it sucks to be alone. These guys are all outlaws, but they are not villains, and in the right place at the right time, that makes them heroes. The script is tossed through with entertaining banter, the action sequences are spirited and filled with inventive imagery, and the spirit of the whole enterprise is bright and energized, right down to the bouncy jukebox of seventies tunes that Peter carries around as his personal soundtrack.
Chris Pratt is shaggily charming as the rogue-for-hire with a souped-up space ship and a soft spot for underdog causes, Zoe Saldana is Gamora, the butt-kicking, green-skinned assassin who wants revenge against her adoptive father, wrestling star Dave Bautista is the muscular and very literal-minded Drax the Destroyer (again, on a mission of vengeance), Bradley Cooper voices the gun-toting, wise-cracking Rocket Raccoon, and Vin Diesel is the heart of the team as Groot, a walking tree of few words.
Here’s a deleted scene from the Blu-ray:
The DVD includes a short promo for the upcoming The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The wealth of extras is saved for the two-disc Blu-ray (which features both standard and 3D versions of the film). Director James Gunn really engages with the film for the commentary track. He’s not new to the format—he did commentary for Slither, Super, even his screenwriting debut film Tromeo & Juliet—but you gotta figure he’s been waiting his career for something like this and he’s clearly engaged to share it all. He’s also in the playful 21-minute “Guide to the Galaxy with James Gunn,” which crams a lot of territory into a very short piece. There’s also a short overview on the visual effects, a brief collection of deleted and extended scenes (with optional commentary by Gunn), and an obligatory gag reel.
Also on cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon Instant, and other digital rental services.
Time Bandits (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) is a fractured fairy tale from the cracked imagination of Terry Gilliam, who wrote the warped adventure with fellow Monty Python alum Michael Palin. It’s a strange and weird and wonderful mix of boy’s own adventure, Python-esque humor, and grim irony, all wrapped in tall tales, ancient myths, and historical figures. British schoolboy Kevin (Craig Warnock) is pulled through a series of holes in time and space by a raucous band of renegade dwarfs (among them David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, and Jack Purvis) attempting to plunder their way through history. They’re no criminal masterminds, mind you, and the incredulous Kevin becomes a voice of reason and even something of an anchor when the gang gets tangled up in silly spats and Three Stooges-like shenanigans. And he gets the ride of his life as he meets Napoleon (Ian Holm, who is delighted by “little things hitting each other”), Robin Hood (John Cleese), and Agamemnon (Sean Connery) along the way.
This was Gilliam’s sophomore picture and he makes a significant leap from his debut solo effort Jabberwocky as both a storyteller and a cinematic artist. He lets us see it all through Kevin’s eyes, from a roaring horse that breaks out of his bedroom closet like a dragon from a storybook to the comforting entrance of Sean Connery as the heroic Agamemnon adopting Kevin like he’s an orphaned prince. But the whimsy and idealized heroics are leavened with satirical jabs—Robin Hood’s men are not so merry and their benevolence comes at an unexpected price—and the whole adventure turns out to be monitored by the scheming personification of Evil (David Warner). The colorful set pieces, imaginative design, and physical humor seems aimed at kids, while the dark satire presages Brazil, making it as much an adult film as a children’s fantasy. It’s hard to tell if the grim coda is Gilliam’s idea of a tragedy or a happy ending, but it does tap into a primal urge of adolescent rebellion: a child’s revenge fantasy made real. It’s also hilarious and imaginative and completely unruly, emphasis on that last note. Chaos reigns, evil exists, and the best we can do is keep our eyes open and hold our own.
Criterion released an edition on DVD back in the early days of the format and Image released a disappointing Blu-ray a few years ago. This edition comes from a new 2K digital transfer from the original camera negative supervised by Gilliam and it is a great improvement over all previous American disc releases. It includes the new featurette “Creating the Worlds of Time Bandits” with production designer Milly Burns and costume designer James Acheson discussing the design and creation of the world and illustrated with production sketches and artwork and stills from the finished film.
Carried over from previous Criterion releases is commentary by director Terry Gilliam, co-screenwriter and actor Michael Palin, and actors John Cleese, David Warner, and Craig Warnock, recorded in 1997 and featured on the original laserdisc release. There are also some archival interviews: Terry Gilliam in discussion with film scholar Peter von Bagh as the 1998 Midnight Sun Film Festival and actress Shelley Duvall with Ton Snyder on Tomorrow from 1981. And in place of the booklet is a fold-out insert with an essay by film critic David Sterritt on one side and reproduction of the time-hole map from the film on the other.
Two more Criterion releases this week: Todd Haynes’ Safe (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), making its Criterion debut, and a new edition of Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD).
Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Series (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD) introduces Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor with the extended episode special “Deep Breath,” where the transition from the boyish, rubber-faced incarnation (Matt Smith) to the aged, tetchy character is rough on both the Doctor and his companion Clara (Jenna Coleman). The extra-long story drops us in Victorian London where they face a dinosaur, a rash of spontaneous combustions, and old allies Madame Vestra (Neve McIntosh), the high society lizard-woman agent, and her loyal solider Strax (Dan Starkey).
The 12-episode series charts the evolution of the new dynamic as both come to terms with the sudden age discrepancy—recall the cute flirtations and romantic inklings they shared in the previous season—and Clara gets a boyfriend, Danny (Samuel Anderson), whose fate takes Clara and The Doctor on a unique journey in episode 11. For the rest of it, series showrunner Stephen Moffat tosses them into new end-of-the-universe situations and a new character to the Whoniverse: Missy, whose obsessive interest in The Doctor is made clear in the season finale, which sends the Cybermen to the streets of London.
12 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus commentary on four episodes, brief behind-the-scenes featurettes on each episode, and other featurettes and supplements, most (perhaps all) of them produced by the BBC to promote the show in Britain.
Coming in a separate feature are the box set releases of The Jeffersons: The Complete Series – The Deee-luxe Edition (Shout Factory, DVD), Mister Ed: The Complete Series (Shout Factory, DVD), and Secret Agent (aka Danger Man): The Complete Series (Timeless, DVD).
Also new and notable:
Calvary (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD), written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, earned rave reviews for its star Brendan Gleason, who plays a priest who is given one week to live by a damaged parishioner. Chris O’Dowd, Kelly Reilly, Aidan Gillen, Isaach De Bankolé, M. Emmet Walsh, Marie-Josée Croze, and Domhnall Gleeson co-star in this drama tinged with dark comedy.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD) sends the sole survivor of the Nazi zombie massacre from the first film back for revenge with a new Zombie Squad armed for undead Fascist fury. Director Tommy Wirkola is back to direct the comic horror.
The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (Strand, Blu-ray, DVD) is the second feature-length giallo tribute from filmmaking team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. This psychodrama also has one of the most gorgeous disc covers of the year.
Marius / Fanny (Kino Lorber, DVD) is a double feature of Daniel Auteuil’s adaptations of the first two plays in Marcel Pagnol’s “Marseilles” trilogy. The third and final film is currently in production.
Jingle Bell Rocks! (Music Box, DVD, VOD) introduces us to the eccentric Christmas music collections from the likes of John Waters and others.
The six Twilight Time titles announced for this week—Inherit the Wind (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), Mike Nichols’ The Fortune (Twilight Time, Blu-ray). Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth (Twilight Time, Blu-ray), and the Barbra Streisand films Funny Lady (Twilight Time, Blu-ray) and Yentl (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)—will be slightly delayed due to delays at the manufacturing plant, according to the company. The titles, limited to 3000 copies apiece, are still available to order exclusively from Screen Archives and TCM.
Digital / VOD / Streaming exclusives:
The Color of Time, starring James Franco as Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author C.K. Williams and co-starring Mila Kunis and Jessica Chastain, is available on Cable VOD and iTunes before it opens in theaters. The impressionistic film, written and directed by a collective of 12 NYU film students and produced by Franco, was shown at film festivals in 2012 under the title Tar.
The Martin Scorsese-produced Hong Kong gangster movie Revenge of the Green Dragons (Cable VOD), starring Justin Chon, Harry Shum Jr., and Ray Liotta, hits cable On Demand a month before disc.
And on Friday, December 12, you can rent the thriller The Captive with Ryan Reynolds and Scott Speedman same days it opens theaters.
The film dominating the 2014 critics’ group awards and top ten lists is coming out on Digital HD this week. Boyhood (Paramount, Digital HD) arrives a month before disc and VOD if you prefer to download your films and collect them digitally.
Also new for digital purchase in advance of disc: the James Brown biopic Get On Up (Universal, Digital HD) and the documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (Cinedigm, Digital HD), a profile of Japan’s Studio Ghibli..
Classics and Cult:
The Missouri Breaks (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Buffalo Bill and the Indians (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Running Scared (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Batman: 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition (Warner, Blu-ray)
The Green Mile 15th Anniversary Edition (Warner, Blu-ray)
Natural Born Killers 20th Anniversary Edition (Warner, Blu-ray)
Forrest Gump 20th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, Blu-ray)
Gremlins: 30th Anniversary Two-Disc Special Edition (Warner, Blu-ray)
Ben-Hur: Two-Disc Blu-ray with Bonus Special Features Disc (Warner, Blu-ray)
Fox Searchlight Pictures 20th Anniversary Collection (Fox, Blu-ray)
Slaughter Hotel (Raro, Blu-ray, DVD)
Avenging Force (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD)
Stripped to Kill (Scorpion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sweet and Perverse Milly (One 7, DVD)
TV on disc:
Extant: The First Season (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Kroll Show: Seasons One and Two (Paramount, DVD)
Family Guy: Season Twelve (Fox, DVD)
Under the Dome: Season Two (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Mork and Mindy: The Complete Series (Paramount, Blu-ray, DVD)
Hart to Hart: The Complete Third Season (Shout Factory, DVD)
Power Rangers Super Megaforce Volume 1: Earth Fights Back (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD)
Top Gear USA: The Complete Season 4 (BBC, DVD)
In Search of Aliens: Season One (Lionsgate, DVD)
Exodus: The Real Story (Lionsgate, DVD)
Dolphin Tale 2 (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
I Origins (Fox, DVD)
Frank (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD)
When the Game Stands Tall (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
The Little Bedroom (La Petite Chambre) (Cinema Libre, DVD Vimeo Digital)
Cruel Tango (One 7, DVD)
Day of the Mummy (Image, DVD)
186 Dollars to Freedom (Blairwood, DVD)
Finding Joy (Inception, DVD)
You Can’t Kill Stephen King (CAV, DVD)