It’s a genre lover’s feast this week on DVD, but don’t say we didn’t warn you about those pesky rotten Tomatometers. First up? Alex Proyas’s latest science fiction thriller, starring Nicolas Cage in a doomsday scenario (Knowing). Also new is a would-be franchise about super-powered humans on the lam from shady government types (Push, starring Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning). David S. Goyer tries his hand at an original story, resulting in silly, PG-13 horror (The Unborn), while one of our favorite ’90s rappers gives directing a shot (A Day in The Life, filmed entirely in rhyme!). If all else fails, look backward to a handful of older titles getting a shiny new polish (Beau Geste, The Deep on Blu-ray). Dig in!
Unless you’re an avowed Alex Proyas fan, his latest science fiction thriller, Knowing, is likely to underwhelm. (But who knows? Roger Ebert, one of the lone critics to champion Proyas’s Dark City, found Knowing to be “frightening, suspenseful, [and] intelligent.”) Most critics agreed that Knowing — about a professor (Nicolas Cage) who discovers that a series of numerical codes have predicted major disasters for decades, with more to come — is simultaneously absurd and overly serious, although its CG-enhanced set pieces are a wonder to behold. Silly or no, those spectacular subway and plane crash scenes will, morbidly, look great on Blu-ray; glean insights from Proyas himself in a commentary track and behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of the film.
Next: Dakota Fanning, superhero? Push hits DVD
Hearken back to February of this year, and you might remember a little sci-fi actioner called Push, a Hong Kong-set superhero tale of sorts about a ragtag band of super-powered young people (Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, and Camilla Belle) on the run from a shadowy organization called The Division (led by Djimon Hounsou). After a mild box office performance, Push seems unlikely to spawn its intended film sequels (the last in a set of comic book prequels were published upon release), so look on it as a sort of failed experiment in science fiction franchise-making; where did it go wrong? Director Paul McGuigan‘s (Lucky Number Slevin) hyperkinetic direction? The convoluted plot? The audience’s impatience for the over-tread ground of average Joes discovering super powers and fighting off shady government types? Truth be told, McGuigan gives the material a distinct stylistic flair; listen to his musings on production on a commentary track, joined by stars Evans and Fanning.
Next: David S. Goyer’s original horror concept: The Unborn
As David Goyer warns in his latest film, The Unborn, beware the dybbuk! Wait, you ask, what’s a dybbuk? Well, it’s a demon. A Jewish demon that possesses humans. Like, to gain access in to the human world. So, yeah, The Unborn is about a Jewish demon. Goyer, best known for adapting beloved comic book properties into major motion pictures (The Crow: City of Angels, Blade, Batman Begins) hit upon the concept for The Unborn by combining otherwise unrelated historical, scientific, and mystical ideas — the Jewish dybbuk, Nazi experimentation, genetic twin phenomena, and of course, creepy kids and hot girls –resulting in this silly PG-13 genre exercise. Odette Yustman stars as Casey, a coed who fears a demon is trying to possess her; Gary Oldman, Idris Elba, Cam Gigandet and Meagan Good try to help her, with varying degrees of success.
Next: Reno 911! Sixth Season hits DVD!
The inept deputies of the Reno Sheriff’s Department carry on after tragic Season 5 losses from their ranks in Season Six, which picks up with a memorial to fallen Officers Garcia (Carlos Alazraqui), Johnson (Wendi McLendon-Covey), and Kimball (Mary Birdsong). In true Reno 911! fashion, more escapades ensue as the Reno cops, led by Lt. Dangle (Thomas Lennon), welcome new officers and encounter guest stars old and new (Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, the Human Giant comedy troupe). Get all 15 episodes uncensored along with outtakes, deleted scenes, and commentary tracks.
Next: Universal releases four classic films, including Ali Baba and Beau Geste
This week, Universal releases four new reissues from their Universal Backlot Series, which has become a great way to reacquaint yourself with (or, discover for the first time) some classic catalog titles. In 1936’s The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (Tomatometer N/A), an Appalachian family feud gets in the way of romance — and industrialization — as Henry Fonda and Fred MacMurray vie for the same woman. The Western genre takes on a wistful sheen in 1962’s Lonely are the Brave (89%), which stars Kirk Douglas as a cowboy living off the grid, pursued by a sheriff (Walter Matthau) in a film scripted by Dalton Trumbo. Shot in “glorious” Technicolor, the 1944 spectacle film Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (N/A) is a sumptuous, if camp, adventure starring the exotic screen star Maria Montez. Finally, check out Beau Geste (100%), the 1939 classic about a trio of French Legionnaire brothers harboring a secret, starring Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, and Robert Preston.
Next: Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn, and Danny Glover are strangers on a Night Train
Pandora’s Box meets Murder on the Orient Express in Night Train, a direct-to-DVD thriller about greed and murder among strangers who find a mysterious box in the possession of a dead man on an overnight train. Danny Glover stars as the conflicted conductor, who along with Leelee Sobieski and her Joyride co-star Steve Zahn, wrestles with his conscience over the jeweled contents of the wooden puzzle box. (shades of Hellraiser, anyone?) Making-of features accompany the film.
Next: Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep, in High Definition!
A scuba-diving couple (Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset) discovers a sunken ship full of treasure — and valuable drugs — in this 1977 underwater thriller from director Peter Yates (Breaking Away, Bullitt). Based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, The Deep suffered from comparisons to Benchley’s other deep sea tale — a little story called Jaws — but features a watchable cast (including Robert Shaw, Louis Gossett, Jr. , and Eli Wallach) and blazed the trail for an entire genre of underwater, treasure-hunting films. (Into the Blue? Not very original.) A handful of additional scenes and a lengthy making-of feature make this a fair release for retro film aficionados.
Next: Rapper-turned-actor makes his star-studded directorial debut!
You might remember him best from the 1993 hit single “Slam,” courtesy of his rap group Onyx, but hip-hop-artist-turned-actor Sticky Fingaz (AKA Kirk Jones) has been involved in film and television almost as long. This week, Mr. Fingaz makes his directorial debut with A Day in the Life, a crime saga in which every line — yes, even those spoken by the narrator in this ought-to-be-red band trailer — are rhymed. As in, rapped! Given the impressive cast listing, seemingly comprised of everyone Sticky Fingaz knows in showbiz (including Omar Epps, Mekhi Phifer, Bokeem Woodbine, Faizon Love, Michael Rapaport, Kurupt, Treach, and fellow Onyx musician Fredro Starr), we were a little disappointed by the production values and silly, gratuitous violence on view in the aforementioned trailer. Then again, Fingaz gets points for having the guts to add some realism to the classic movie cliché of the runaway stroller (watch at the 2:32 mark)!
Until next week, happy renting!