[Blu-ray Review] Round-Up Of Several New Releases

Toronto-based reviewer Mike Pereira is back with another round-up of Blu-ray reviews that range from the abysmal The Thing to New Line’s flashy Final Destination 5.

The Thing (2011)

Whether you like it or not, Hollywood’s affection for remakes is here to stay…that is of course, you decide to forgo curiosity and avoid every single one of them for this point on. In 2011, we got a remake thinly disguised as a prequel to John Carpenter’s immortal The Thing which also happens to be a remake to a 1951 Universal sci-fi/horror classic. Judging from set visit reports and interviews, this film showed a great deal of potential. In true Hollywood fashion, they fucked it up and littered the film with obvious CGI and completely forgot the age old genre rule: the less we see of the monster, the scarier it’ll be. The creature is fully revealed early on (in broad daylight no less) and the filmmakers couldn’t resist showing off the toys at their disposal by littering The Thing with a plethora of mediocre effects leading to one drawn out, tensionless experience you’ll soon likely forget.

What Universal does get right is one killer A/V presentation. The DTS-HD sound mix is one aggressive, active mofo that’ll surely rival the best disc on your shelf. The special features aren’t too shabby as well. The standouts are a decent Picture-in-Picture track guided by the producers and the audio commentary by Director Matthijs van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman.

2/5 Skulls
Night Train Murders

The Woman BlurayContinuing on the theme of remakes, we hop onboard a depraved 1974 Italian thriller, Night Train Murders. It’s essentially a rip-off of Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left which is not too surprising when you consider the film was also released under such titles; Second House On The Left and New House On The Left. Aside from appreciating the fascinating dissection of social classes, Night Train Murders as a whole is sloppy and unbelievably contrived. The direction the story veers into, not to mention the entire band of characters that populate this film, is laughably preposterous. By taking the tone into the realm of the surreal, I found myself not taking any of the intended disturbing elements very seriously. If anything, it only helps to highlight the effectiveness of Craven’s disturbing shocker.

While Night Train Murders is one of the lesser quality titles from the catalogue, I have to give it up to Blue Underground for treating another exploitation flick with the upmost love and care. Fans of this film will no doubt be thrilled by the clean, top drawer transfer. The most significant inclusion is an insightful interview with Co-Writer/Director Aldo Lado. The vintage grindhouse theatrical trailers and radio spots are a personal favorite.

2/5 Skulls

Drive

Drive contains all of the attributes I look for in a film. It takes a plot we’ve seen a million times over; a loner hero who breaks his code, steps out of his comfort zone to save the woman he loves. What Director Nicolas Winding Refn does so brilliantly is stripping the film to its bare essentials. The story is tight and the dialogue is kept to the bare minimum. Once the main conflict is dropped rather brutally, it sets a chain reaction that affects every one of the beautifully drawn out characters (flawless performed by the entire ensemble). Drive contains a very deliberate mythical, western quality. Refn’s uniform vision is so meticulous, so focused that I can’t help but to compare it to a Stanley Kubrick film. Drive has been accused of being a “style over substance” affair but I would attribute that to audiences being accustomed to consistently overwrought screenplays that plague cinema today. Everything we need to know is poetically conveyed through the lush visuals, hypnotic soundtrack and the characters’ body language. As for the violence; it not so appears but explodes onto the screen. Refn paints some of the most jolting imagery I’ve ever seen. By several miles wide, Drive is the finest motion picture of 2011.

The disc I’m reviewing is the Canadian Alliance Films release. Aside from better cover art, being a Blu-ray/DVD combo package and containing an absolutely FANTASTIC 30-page mini-magazine (which is only available for a limited time only), the special features are identical to the Sony U.S. release. Aside from a terrific interview with the director, most of the features are rather short. Still, they contain more substance than most featurettes. The transfer is exceptional. The DTS-HD audio showcases the Oscar-nominated sound editing to perfection.

5/5 Skulls

Paranormal Activity 3

I decided to skip Paranormal Activity 3 theatrically because of the polarizing opinions I was receiving from friends. I still feel the original is one of the scariest movie-going experiences of all time. While the second film didn’t mess with the winning formula, it didn’t give the fans much in the way of new elements to distinguish it from its predecessor. Much to my surprise, directing team Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman of Catfish fame effectively take the franchise to exciting new territories but at the same time retain what I dug from the previous two. PA3 is the most tightly paced and entertaining entry to date. The scare-factor hits the audience more often without sacrificing the atmosphere. The viewer never trusts the filmmakers since the supernatural element isn’t just regulated to the night any longer. You never quite know when you’re going to be leaping out of your seat next.

The clarity of the DTS-HD definitely makes for a much more chilling experience. My only gripe is with the actual sound design itself. While no doubt effective in adding impact to the atmosphere and scares, I found the use of surround effects took away from the illusion that we’re watching home movies. They stood out as obvious post-audio work. This Blu-ray disc is accompanied by both the Theatrical and Director’s Cut. The DC contains two new scenes and one extension amounting to 10 minutes of new footage. We get two creepy new moments and one humorous bit that is an earlier and more fitting intro to the Randy Rosen character. Most importantly, these 10 minutes of additional footage doesn’t drag out Paranormal Activity 3 but on a whole, enhances the experience by a bit. An amusing cheap-looking commercial for Dennis’s business is the only other worthwhile feature included.

4/5 Skulls

The Woman

Co-Writer/Director Lucky McKee finally fulfills the promise of his debut May with the controversial Sundance hit The Woman. I can’t think of any other filmmaker who could have pulled off the film’s brilliant blend of extreme dark humor and melodrama. The Woman managed to coax me into laughing-out-loud as I was being horrified to the core by what I was witnessing onscreen. Watching the dissection of the family unit in such an unflinching manner is taxing to say the least. There is no way of walking away from such a grotesque assault without having a strong opinion either direction. Despite what the harshest reviews might lead you to believe, The Woman is not a mere exploitation film. On one level, it’s an unflinching satire dealing with the evil lurking within deceptively sound suburban life. It’s refreshing to see that genre fare is still able to provoke the intellect once in a blue moon.

The transfer is pretty impressive. The DTS-HD Master Audio contains some wonderfully subtle ambiance throughout. Also, my subwoofer got some surprisingly punchy action at times. The most interesting supplement is The Making of The Woman, an above average featurette. An excerpt from the infamous rant from a Sundance patron is included on the doc. Thankfully the extremely odd but amusing animated short Mi Burro which accompanied the theatrical release ofThe Woman has been retained for this disc.

4/5 Skulls

Contagion

Like he did so effectively in Traffic, Director Steven Soderbergh delivers an objective and fascinating look at a global pandemic. We get to view the many perspectives affected by the crisis. Contagion’s focus on believability only helps to heighten the horror.

The featurettes are none too special but Warner delivers another rock solid transfer.

3.5/5 Skulls

Final Destination 5 3D

This fifth entry successfully removes the bad taste the campy fourth installment left in my mouth. Final Destination 5 stays true to the tried, tested and true formula of the first three as well as also injecting some fresh life into the franchise. The gym sequence was hands down, the most exceptionally well-directed sequence in horror last year. While FD5 never tops that scene’s mind-blowing punchline, the climax cleverly brings the series full circle. If this is the last one, you couldn’t ask for a better send-off.

For some reason, this 3D edition is widely available in Canada but strictly a Best Buy exclusive in the U.S. If you didn’t get the opportunity to experience FD5 in 3D (which was wisely shot in native 3D) theatrically, don’t fret; the Blu-ray transfer is one faithful blast. This is the absolute best use of the format in a horror film. It contains strong depth throughout with a nice amount of pop when necessary. The 2D version is also included and it’s just as good. The DTS-HD mix is equally killer. It only helps to further involve the viewer further into the ride. Aside from a cool split-screen comparison of a couple of the major set-pieces, the special features are pure weak sauce. This Blu-ray 3D edition is the absolute only option.

3.5/5 Skulls

 
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