Back when he was busy being a figment of Russell Crowe’s imagination in “A Beautiful Mind,” no one likely would have much expected Paul Bettany to be an ass-kicking action hero. Of course, folks would have said the same thing about Liam Neeson too, and look how that turned out. While wrestlers-turned-actors like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and other muscle-bound he-men in the vein of Jason Momoa still fit the mold for a certain breed of action flick, there are other movies that don’t require the correlative “Men’s Fitness” magazine cover, per se, and in the slick streamlined “Priest” — a sort of vampiric re-telling of the classic Western “The Searchers” — Bettany has one such film.
Re-teaming with his “Legion” director Scott Stewart, Bettany stars as the simply named title character, a weary clergyman-warrior who lives in a post-apocalyptic world that seemingly no longer requires his special brand of vigilant oversight over a nasty vampire threat. Most humans live in a walled city ruled in totalitarian fashion by the church and Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer). When Priest discovers that his niece Lucy (Lily Collins) has been kidnapped, however, he breaks out of the city and heads to the hinterlands in an effort to rescue her, teaming up with her boyfriend Hicks (Cam Gigandet), who is also a sheriff from the outlying town of Jericho. Old pal Priestess (Maggie Q) joins forces with them, and Priest soon learns that reconstituted vampires are planning to attack the city, led by a former friend turned half-breed rival now known as Black Hat (Karl Urban).
“Priest” is achingly familiar — its characterizations thin and its dialogue more functional than revelatory. But it has the benefit of knowing its own DNA and relative mission, and is executed well enough to merit a tip of the cap if not necessarily rabid, mouth-foaming fanboy embrace. Stewart wisely dials back on the CGI he over-utilized in “Legion,” and Bettany lends the proceedings a grounding touch of gravity. If Maggie Q’s righteous takedown of a bicycle gang, in the penultimate action sequence, makes its finale feel a bit ho-hum, no worries… “Priest” at least decently sets itself up for a continuing “Underworld”-type franchise. On DVD, the film is presented in a solid 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, and its special features include a feature-length audio commentary track with Stewart and cast, featurette looks at the movie’s weapons and production design, and deleted and extended scenes.
As Blu-ray becomes more and more accepted, a steady stream of modern catalogue titles are finding their way to the marketplace. One definitely worth checking out is “Tigerland,” Joel Schumacher’s penance for “Batman and Robin,” and Colin Farrell’s greeting card to Hollywood. The Great Irish Stubbled One (sorry, Bono) stars as headstrong army recruit Roland Bozz, whose platoon is preparing to ship out to Vietnam in the fall of 1971. Spending time at a hellish training ground before they leave the country, Bozz’s loyalty and unlikely leadership eventually bring his peers together. In addition to an obvious thing for bared male torsos, Schumacher has always also had a keen eye for young talent, and this film, penned by Ross Klavan and Michael McGruther, features plenty of it, from Farrell and Clifton Collins, Jr. to Shea Whigham, Cole Hauser and Matthew Davis. A keenly observed anti-authoritarian ensemble drama, “Tigerland” is an involving and gritty film.
Or it was the latter, actually. Housed in a standard-issue Blu-ray case, “Tigerland” comes to the format on a 50GB dual layer disc in 1.85:1 widescreen, with a nice 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track but a too washed-out, scrubbed and muted transfer that robs the movie of cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s intended 16mm grain. Still, the bonus features are a nice collection of tidbits, with TV spots, the theatrical trailer, a feature-length audio commentary track from Schumacher and five featurettes that cumulatively run just under an hour, including a casting session with the then unknown Farrell.
Decidedly on the other end of the qualitative spectrum, meanwhile, is “A Guy Thing,” which is one of those early-aught curios in which Selma Blair is cast as a ball-buster, and someone thought it would be a great idea to pair Jason Lee and Julia Stiles in zany fashion as mixed-up would-be lovers (he’s engaged! and his new crush turns out to be his cousin!). Director Chris Koch’s movie is a toothless and forced farce (Lee and Stiles have zero chemistry) rescued in brief snippets by Blair, Julie Hagerty and human Red Bull impersonator Lochlyn Munro, but this Blu-ray release is actually fairly decked out, with an audio commentary track featuring Koch, the three leads and costar Thomas Lennon; deleted scenes and alternate endings; a gag reel with an introduction by Koch; the movie’s trailer; and three fairly substantive and rangy featurettes. Stacked up against relative bare bones Blu-ray releases like the recent digi-book offering of The Usual Suspects, it’s enough to make one recall Arsenio Hall, and go, “Hmmmmm…” (Ask your older brother, he’ll get it.)
Horror flick “Medium Raw” (with the additional appendage “Night of the Wolf”) premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, but couldn’t make a go of it in theaters, which is a bit of a shame, since though it’s a bit overlong it’s still a moody and serviceably disturbing genre entry on par with a clutch of more high-profile theatrical releases. Writer-director Andrew Cymek’s story centers around “The Wolf,” a serial killer responsible for the murder of 15 young girls. Caught, declared mentally insane and sent to a sanitarium run by — wouldn’t you know it, “X-Files fans” — Cancer Man (William B. Davis), the Wolf is sprung, along with other inmates, when a power outage unlocks the cell doors. The cops that put him away (John Rhys-Davies and Cymek) try to stay alive, along with the trapped hospital staff. It’s not a reinvention of the wheel, but there’s some demented fun had with fairy tale imagery and what not, some dark humor, and inventive kills to boot.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, “Medium Raw” comes to DVD presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (which means they’re approximations, not a literal verbatim translation of all of the movie’s dialogue). Bonus features are anchored by an audio commentary track from multi-hyphenate Cymek, plus a collection of deleted and extended scenes, and an alternate ending that restores the conclusion seen by festival audiences. The movie’s trailer is also included, along with trailers for a handful of other Anchor Bay releases.
If a bit more gunplay is up your alley and your DVDs of “Training Day” and “Kill Bill” are for some reason on the fritz, “Double Crossed” is a decently sleazy action-drama trek through the Los Angeles underworld, starring Miguel Nunez as Nate “Hitman” Collins, a for-hire killer who subcontracts a rub-out on mob boss Carlos Enriquez (Emilio Roso) to his three female assistants (Noelle Perris, Avnit Gordon and Tamara Mitchell). Why subcontract such a job? Hmmm… is someone not on the up and up in this criminal underworld? As the title suggests, stories get swapped, sympathies shift and gun clips unloaded — not necessarily in that order. “Double Crossed” comes to DVD on a single-layer region-free disc in 1.78:1 widescreen, with an English language Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio mix. Apart from chapter stops, there are no supplemental features, alas.
One of the more dispiriting animated feature films in recent memory, “Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil” finds heroine Red (Hayden Panettiere) having to cut short her training when she receives an urgent call from Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers), the head of a MIB-style agency for fairy tale characters. Wicked witch Verushka (Joan Cusack), an old foil of Red’s beloved Granny (Glenn Close), has abducted two innocent children, Hansel and Gretel (Bill Hader and Amy Poehler), and is demanding a special recipe that will give her crazy powers. Antics ensue, as do headaches and boredom. The movie’s action favors movement for movement’s sake, and its lampooning is clamorous but never particularly clever. “Hoodwinked Too!” wears out its welcome early (very early) and then just sticks around yelling and making noise at its audience, throwing in a collection of veritable non sequitur one-liners from other movies its core audience is far too young to know.
Arriving on Blu-ray in 1080p in a standard case, “Hoodwinked Too!” looks nice, at least (if one ignores the unappealing animation, and focuses instead on the color steadiness), and is presented in 1.78: widescreen, with a DTS-HD 5.1 master audio track and a bonus Blu-ray copy of the film. The supplemental features, though, are fairly then, and certainly not worthy of any repeat viewings; there’s just a trio of music videos, a small collection of storyboards, a production slideshow, and a short featurette on the voice cast, which is enough to maybe buy you only a combined five or six extra minutes of silence (assuming your daughter or that kid you’re babysitting for knows how to operate the remote control by themselves).
Finally, if cult European erotic thrillers are your thing, there’s Impulse Pictures’ loving release of Gustav Wiklund’s rare, previously unreleased “Wide Open,” from 1975, starring Swedish beauty and erstwhile “Schoolgirl Report” star Christina Lindberg. Well… co-starring really. But she’s the film’s name draw, so she gets plastered all over its reversible-art cover, in alluring fashion. The real stars are Solveig Andersson and Kent-Arne Dahlgren, who play roommates Marianne and Paul, a part-time couple whose relationship gets a charge when Marianne’s free-spirited sister Beryl (Gunilla Larsson). Convoluted shenanigans involving strippers, a heroin smuggler known as Mr. X, a stolen mink coat and a stag party ensue. The acting isn’t incredibly consistent or engaging, and the story is too clever and self-satisfied by half. But on the plus side, the ladies are at least nice to look at.
Released unrated and housed on a single-layer disc in a regular plastic Amaray case, “Wide Open” is presented in 1.66:1 widescreen, with an English-dubbed Dolby digital 2.0 mono audio track. It comes with a decent complement of bonus material, considering its age: a spate of theatrical trailers, a Lindberg motion photo gallery and video interviews with both director Wiklund and Lindberg.
Written by: Brent Simon