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After a lull in April releases, this week is full of some brand new Blu-ray and DVD fodder, and even one big 3D Blu-ray release. From big budget films like Gangster Squad to the 3D release of arguably the biggest dinosaur film of all time, Jurassic Park, to a few indie releases, if you’re looking for something to purchase, you should be able to find something new this week. Read on to learn about some of this April 23rd’s best releases, and maybe even a few that may have slipped under your radar.
Jurassic Park 3D
If you haven’t caught Spielberg’s dinosaur epic in 3D at the theater in the past month, or haven’t taken your kids to see a regular, non-3D screening for the first time in theaters, I’m not sure what you’ve been doing with your free time. Movies that are able to achieve unbelievable visions are few and far between, and Jurassic Park stands out as the best of the best. Luckily, you’ll be able to rectify your mistake beginning today, if you want to. Spielberg’s Jurassic Park 3D is hitting 3D Blu-ray for the first time today in an expansive set that offers fans plenty of different ways to watch.
Jurassic Park has a great overarching story and brilliant special effects. It’s Spielberg at his very best, and with a very deft script writer. Despite all of the big things going right for Jurassic Park, a lot of the details are spot on, as well, from Grant’s small awkward clumsiness as a hero to John Hammond’s perpetual refusal to understand how his dream has fallen into chaos. This movie even has a cameo from a youthful BD Wong—what more could it possibly need?
I could sit at this computer and dissect all of the great moments of suspense the dinosaurs bring to the table or even the infuriating moments the two kids add to Jurassic Park, but at this point we all know the story of a dinosaur-based theme park which goes very, very wrong after an employee shuts the perimeter fences off. Everyone is either on board and loves the film, or knows it isn’t their cup of tea at this juncture, and I’m assuming if you are reading, you are already excited about the release. So, instead, let’s take a look at what makes Universal Studios Home Entertainment's Jurassic Park 3D Blu-ray set great or not.
You can order Jurassic Park 3D for a reasonable sale price over at Amazon.
Best Special Feature: Some of the bonus features with this extensive set are repeats, including “The Making of Jurassic Park" and other original featurettes from the set. However, there is plenty on the disc that is worthy of a perusal, including behind-the-scenes segments that specifically look at the animation and green screens used to enhance the storytelling.
Each of the new “Return to Jurassic Park” segments is definitely worth watching, even though the segments are retrospective. I especially like “The Next Step in Evolution” segment which gets really specific with the computer work used in the film and even explains how surprised the team was at the time to be able to accomplish such a feat. Steven Spielberg also pops up to explain how messed up it was to be shooting Schindler’s List on some days and to be coming in to work on Jurassic Park on other days. Additionally, composer John Williams discusses the epic score, and more. It’s really great that everyone involved is still willing to come back and talk retrospectively about something they created all the way back in the early nineties.
Other Special Features:
“Return to Jurassic Park: Dawn of a New Era”
“Return to Jurassic Park: Making Prehistory”
“Return to Jurassic Park: The Next Step in Evolution”
“The Making of Jurassic Park
Original Featurette on the Making of the Film
“Steven Spielberg Directs Jurassic Park”
“Hurricane in Kauai” featurette
Early Pre-Production Meetings
“Phil Tippett Animatics: Raptors in the Kitchen”
“Animatics: T-Rex Attack”
“ILM and Jurassic Park: Before and After Visual Effects”
Gangster Squad Blu-ray
Gangster Squad laces a period setting with up-to-the-minute jokes and camera tricks. The film offers a lot in the way of authenticity to the period, including costumes, music, and turns of phrase, but loses authenticity in the way the film is shot. It’s fast-paced and wild and a little like a superhero film, only our heroes are anti-heroes, cops that have forsaken the badge to take down an incomprehensibly evil mob boss—Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).
The film follows this crew of anti-heroes, led by Sgt. O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and populated by other rogue police officers played by big name actors, including Ryan Gosling, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’s Anthony Mackie. The movie delves into plenty of violence, including the shoot ‘em up variety, as well as plenty of cruel moments orchestrated by the big, bad Cohen himself.
Gangster Squad even offers a love story between the most basic damsel-in-distress of all time, Grace, (Emma Stone) and Gosling’s character, Sgt. Jerry Wooters. In order to make the movie even longer than normal, Grace gets into a relationship with Cohen while simultaneously seeing Wooters, which causes problems all around. There’s no real intrigue to the love story, which is a shame, because we could have had a real tough cookie in Grace's character. Instead, the one redeeming female character is O’Mara’s wife (Mireille Enos) and she’s relegated to a few scenes in the kitchen or on the couch.
Fans looking for an authentic gangster era film or even an authentic interpretation of gangster behavior (or police behavior, for that matter) won’t find it in Gangster Squad. Like Mackie’s other big film, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, history has been distorted in favor of creating a stylistic vision of an era. That isn’t to say that Ruben Fleischer’s film isn’t entertaining, it is, but it does require its audience to buy in and go along for the ride, not matter how ridiculous the actual plot may get.
You can order Gangster Squad over at Amazon.
Best Special Feature: Unlike the movie, the bonus features on the disc are full of historically relevant information about mobsters coming in from the outside, the real-life Gangster Squad, and the shenanigans Cohen used to get into. I really like “The Set-Up (Focus Points),” a segment that looked into this historically information. Members of the actual Gangster Squad, as well as the children of Gangster Squad members, trade stories about tommy guns and the good guys and bad guys shooting insults at one another in the streets.
Clearly, real-life offered less shoot ‘em up scenes than this movie, but I still wish this film had offered more of the historical stuff.
Other Special Features:
Commentary with Director Ruben Fleischer
“The Gangland Files”
“Tough Guys with Style”
Promised Land Blu-ray
There’s a lot of cinematographic potential in the sweeping landscapes of farm country. There are a lot of stories that can be told about farm country too, about people and towns, about relationships and hardships. I just wish Promised Land’s writers would have chosen a different path.
Promised Land begins with a compelling work relationship between Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand) who are both extremely efficient at their jobs. They’re in sales—selling the idea of fracking to those barely eking it out in dying communities. The grace with which they sell makes it harder to dislike our heroes whenever the movie turns on them. However, when Dustin Noble (John Krasinski) shows up, the town begins to turn on the idea of bringing in industry via fracking.
Promised Land, unfortunately, has an agenda. There’s no problem with being anti-fracking, of course, but when something is so partisan it ceases to be a complicated issue, a movie should know it has problems. For the sake of time and fiction, we can’t get into all of the nitty gritty details, but Promised Land doesn’t even try to truly explain the issue it's advocating for, and its lack of complication makes its characters become completely black and white.
Then there’s the twist, an ending so gnarled and ugly it seems nonsensical. With a script written by Krasinski and Damon and directed by Gus Van Sant, Promised Land clearly brings a lot of talent to the table, but it never comes together into a film that is either satisfying or wholly enjoyable.
You can order Promised Land over at Amazon.
Best Special Feature: “The Making of Promised Land” is the best special feature with the set, likely because there are very few bonus features with the film. The segment offers interviews with the cast and some of the crew. Van Sant pops up a lot and the directing, writing, characters, and plot are discussed in detail. Everyone talks about Damon a lot, and if I didn’t know Van Sant was actually the director on the film, you would think that Damon was actually the one behind the camera (in an odd twist, Damon was initially signed on to direct).
Other Special Features:
Other April 23 Releases
April has been fairly slow on releases, that is, until this week.
If you’ve already looked into gansters and dinosaurs, don’t forget the other new releases, including Lionsgate Home Entertainment’s release of the Academy Award nominated, The Impossible, about a family torn apart during the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. If you’re looking for something a little less serious, the horror comedy A Haunted House might be more up your alley. The film spoofs found footage flicks and was made relatively cheaply, pulling in over $40 million on a $2.5 million budget. That’s not too shabby, and with a sequel coming this winter, A Haunted House may be one worth checking out.
Unless otherwise noted, all of the below titles are available on both Blu-ray and DVD.
A Haunted House
Mr. Selfridge U.K. Edition
The Central Park Five
Maverick: The Complete Second Season DVD
Any Day Now
The Great Gatsby Blu-ray
Assassins Run DVD