New Blu-rays for December 18 2012: Last Chances, Southern Gothics, and Bad Sci-Fi

Total Recall

As a fan of the 1990 version of the science fiction action thriller Total Recall, loosely based on the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," I approached the new version by director Len Wiseman with high hopes (much as I did in reviewing The Amazing Spider-Man), which was a lot of fun. This film, however, was a pain in the ass, with all the fun systematically stripped out, worsened in every way possible. Loosing all the midlife-crisis subtext, we're left with just a factory worker, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), who, after visiting a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories, begins to suspect that he is a spy and then apparently enters one big, bad video game filled with game-quality dialogue.

Although images are sharp and detailed and at times there's volume to figures and faces, much is often lost in the truly unattractive and blurring grey-greens and blue tints that fail to achieve the sought-for Matrix's digital otherworldly look and instead turn all colors into wishy-washy blah. The film also attempts to visually evoke Blade Runner with non-stop rain in the early scenes but it only adds to the deadly dullness.

These down-pours are also deafeningly represented in the surround channels - even when indoors - the over-filled soundtrack sonically flooding and muddying scenes with meaningless effects and oppressive electronica all around, noise there for the sake of filling channels. And non-stop, rapid-fire streams of gunshots while the camera flies all around in action scenes does little to involve, immerse, or quicken the pulse

The wasted cast includes Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Ethan Hawke, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine, and Bryan Cranston. The 2-Blu-ray and 1-DVD set contains both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film.

Go back to the original and get your ass to Mars.

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Extras: theatrical and extended cuts of the film, commentary by director Len Wiseman, "Total Recall With Insight," "Science Fiction vs. Science Fact," "Designing The Fall," "Colin Farrell," "The Tripping Den," "Quaid's Bedroom," "Kate Beckinsale," "Lobby Escape," "Jessica Biel," "Quaid vs. Cohaagen," "Pre-Visualization Sequences," "Apartment Waterfront Chase," "The Fall Fight," ""Flight and Tripping Den," "Elevator Chase," "Sequences Car Chase" featurettes; DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Sony.

Hans Christian Andersen

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen ! This grand 1952 musical was written by Moss Hart and is crammed with Frank Loesser songs including "Inchworm," "Ugly Duckling," "The King's New Clothes," "I'm Hans Christian Andersen," "Wonderful Copenhagen," "No Two People," and "Thumbelina" (nominated for Best Original Song, one of six Oscar nominations for the film), each, as performed by Danny Kaye, now a standard. Kaye plays Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875) - a young Danish cobbler with a talent for telling tall tales for the amusement of children - who went on to become a famous poet, playright, and story-teller whose work has been translated into more than 125 languages.

As the introduction says it's "not the story of his life, but a fairytale about this great spinner of fairy tails" and this fairytale is filled with Andersen's most famous stories - including  The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, andThe Little Mermaid - as imagined through songs and ballet in glorious Technicolor.

Hans Christian Andersen was adapted from a story by Myles Connolly and directed by Charles Vidor (Gilda, Cover Girl, A Farewell to Arms). 

Video: 1.37:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Extra: None. Studio: Warner. 

Trouble with the Curve

Director Robert Lorenz's Trouble with the Curve (aka Back in the Game)tells of aging, ailing, and once legendary Atlanta Braves baseball scout Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), who - his judgment during his twilight years in doubt by the front office - is given one last chance to prove his worth through a scouting trip to North Carolina to check out a hot young batting prospect. His boss and friend Pete (John Goodman) asks Lobel's daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) - an ambitious associate at a high-powered Atlanta law firm, working towards becoming partner - to go along and help him by making up for his failing vision, even though it will be at a cost to her own career, and force her into having to overcome his overriding pride.

In the process, they meet up with another team's scout, Johnny (Justin Timberlake) - a friendly rival who once was a pitcher Lobel had scouted - who develops an interest in Mickey.

This is the first time Clint Eastwood has acted in a film he didn't direct sinceIn the Line of Fire in 1993. 

Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Trouble with the Curve: Rising through the Ranks" and "Trouble with the Curve: For the Love of the Game;" DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading . Studio: Warner. 

Killer Joe

This NC-17-rated Southern Gothic crime thriller-comedy - from 76-year-old director William Friedkin (The French Connection) and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwrite Tracy Letts (August: Osage County) who adapted her play into the screenplay - has, despite lousy box-office returns, oft been cited as one of the best films of 2012, with some great performances from its stars. 

Charming southern gentleman "Killer Joe" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), a Dallas police detective who moonlights as a contract assassin, is hired by a young a Texan drug dealer and gambling addict Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) at the advice of his dumbass dad, Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), to kill his mother for the life insurance to cover a debt that could otherwise lead to his death. Unfortunately, he hasn't the money to pay off Cooper for his services and so he has to give his sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as a retainer. And then it turns out the insurance is actually going to the corpse's boyfriend Rex (Sean O'Hara) and Ansel's new wife Sharia (Gina Gershon), so. . . 

The Blu-ray disc features the unrated director's cut of Killer Joe.

Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: director's commentary by William Friedkin, "Southern Fried Hospitality: From Stage to Screen" featurette, SXSW Q&A with cast, SXSW intro by Friedkin. Studio: Lionsgate.

Red Hook Summer

Chronicler of beloved Brooklyn, New York, writer-director Spike Lee - She's Gotta Have It,Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, Clockers, He Got Game - is back in the hood with a tale of teenagehood. Moody thirteen-year old Flik Royale (Jules Brown), has to leave his middle-class Atlanta home to spend the summer with his preacher grandfather, Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters), in a housing project in Red Hook and must deal not only with with the suddden culture shock of inner-city life but also with his grandfather's attempts to convert Flik to his own religious beliefs. Through the antagonistic relationship, though, and that with a pretty girl he meets - Chazz Morningstar (Toni Lysaith) - who shows him the sunnier sides of Brooklyn, Flik's world begins to expand beyond anything he had previously experienced. Twenty-three years older, Lee returns to the role of Mookie whom he had played back in the day in his greatest work, Do the Right Thing.

Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: director's commentary, behind-the- scenes featurette, music video. Studio: Image Entertainment.