The Movies: Reviewing - or even just recapping - the past few Harry Potter movies is kind of a moot point at this point. They’re such a towering phenomenon that everyone already has their opinion of them, one way or another, locked and nothing anyone else is going to say will sway it. But, since we’re all here, I will say this: Order of the Phoenix and Half Blood Prince were the first of the Harry Potter franchise that I didn’t love right out of the gate.
At the time I had attributed my tepid interest in them to new series director David Yates. It was though he was taking the “the books get darker, so the movies get darker” mantra a little too literally, delivering films with increasingly dour cinematography that served to smudge away the magical sheen so gloriously built by the four films before. It wasn’t until the spectacular Deathly Hallows Part I released that I realized the problem wasn’t with Yates, but with all of the concessions made to confine both features to a single film. Give the man some breathing room and he can knock the Harry Potter world out of the park.
The Features: It’s always funny when a studio puts out an Ultimate Edition that isn’t so, well, Ultimate. Fortunately that’s not the case here. As with the UEs for the first four films, there is a massive amount of special content compiled here in both respective sets. It starts with the beefy packaging, which includes a book-like presentation that opens up to reveal the two-disc set, a package for collectible trading cards and an actual book stocked with over 40 pages (48 for Phoenix, 44 for Half-Blood) of behind-the-scenes photographs.
As for what’s on the discs, there’s almost too much to mention in such a small space. Each film contains its respective parts of the ongoing documentary series “Creating the World of Harry Potter.” On Phoenix, this roughly hour long doc focuses on the evolution of the franchise from production to production, covering a lot of familiar ground for Potter fans (casting etc) but also going deeper and addressing some lesser known aspects of the films. For example, I’d always wondered about the director selection process and why some only did one film while others did multiples, and that’s all clearly explained here. On Half-Blood Prince, part six of the documentary focuses purely on the magical effects of the Potter-verse, which is by far the most comprehensive look at the special effects side of things to date.
And while it’s a no-brainer to recommend that any hardcore Potter fan would want to pick up these sets purely for these newly created special features, it is a bit disappointing that not all of the extras are presented in HD. For example, the 46-minute long British TV special building toward Phoenix is worth watching, but it’s also only in SD. It’s a minor complaint, really, considering the majority of all of the content on both of these sets is in HD, but it is a shame to see that an Ultimate Edition on Blu-ray doesn’t contain exclusively HD content.
Buy Them If: You’re a Potter fan who doesn’t own these two films on Blu-ray already. If you do already own the non-UE releases and are dying for more special features, then Warner Bros. has you more than covered with a whopping 4+ hours of extras in each set.
The Movie: I understand liking bad comedies. Laughter is such a subjective force that, even if something doesn’t make me chuckle in the slightest, I can at least appreciate that someone else may find it to be the funniest thing on the planet. Having said that, Hall Pass is a truly insipid piece of garbage that invokes more anger than it does laughs. If this movie had a face, I'd have a criminal record for brutalizing it-- and that's coming from someone who can muster enough comedic generosity to like crappy farces like Deuce Bigelow and Boat Trip.
At first I assumed that my intolerance for this miserable waste of time and talent was due to the fact that I am a happily married man who is sick and tired of seeing marriage made out to be some kind of soul-ruining force that kills your sex drive and turns you into a boring suburban asshole. The entire concept of the “Hall Pass” - a guilt free week off of your marriage so you can cheat on your wife – is more alien to me than any of the nonsense in Skyline. It's the kind of concept that is so fundamentally stupid that you don't watch it, you gawk at it in disbelief that anyone thought it was a good idea. Which is why I was so pleasantly surprised to see plenty of not only unmarried, but single friends stare into this early grave for the once-great Farrelly brothers and reach the same conclusion: it's insulting to your sensibilities no matter what your relationship status.
I might have been able to turn a blind eye to Hall Pass if it was just a “Ha-ha, look at these pathetic white dorks try to pick up girls half their age” script, but by the time it starts getting to its second gag featuring explosive diarrhea, you'll sadly realize that things are much, much more dire than the premise alone indicates.
The Features: The Blu has both the theatrical cut and an “Enlarged Edition” that contains approximately 11 extra minutes of material, but I couldn't tell you what the differences between it and the theatrical cut are because I don’t hate myself enough to watch this movie twice. I’ll just assume that it has a third person shitting themselves in front of someone else. Beyond that you can find a further four minutes of deleted scenes, most of which feature Richard Jenkins' character trying to talk his way out of a DUI, and a gag reel that's somehow just as much of a cold fish as the actual movie is.
Buy It If: You want to piss me off.
The Movie: There’s no reason to dance around the obvious: Red Riding Hood is not a good movie. But, unlike Hall Pass above or Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son below, at least Catherine Hardwicke made a bad movie that has interesting things going for it. It’s as though Hardwicke read every single review of Twilight and either did the opposite or turned everything up to 11 this time around.
“It’s got no teeth to it...fine, I’ll build an entire village out of pointy sticks. The cinematography is pallid and sickly...fine, I’ll make a vibrant fairy tale movie with a lush color pallete. Kristen Stewart has zero charisma...fine, I’ll cast the most charismatic young starlet in Hollywood. The supporting actors all belong in Lifetime movies...fine, I’ll get Michael Hogan and Gary Oldman. The vampires are too tame...fine, I’ll get a werewolf who bites off limbs.”
Of course, all of these improvements aren’t unified well enough to overcome David Johnson’s totally routine script that devolves into a rote love triangle that itself is a poor love letter to Sleepy Hollow (realizing this was written by the same man who penned the eerily ballsy Orphan may be the biggest disappointment Red Riding Hood has to offer). The whole affair is ultimately weak enough to only impress 13-year old girls and no one else.
The Features: For those who do love Red Riding Hood, at least Warner Bros. did fill the disc with a sizeable number of extras. There’s a picture-in-picture commentary track that’s fairly low energy for those who already aren’t fans of the film, but it will no doubt entertain those who do dig the movie. They’ll also get a kick out of the rest of the fan-friendly supplementals, including music videos, a gag reel and three making-of featurettes, one of which focuses solely on the film’s men.
Buy It If: You’ve actually put thought toward whether or not you’re on Team Edward or Team Jacob. For everyone else, this is a passing curiosity on cable at best.
All the Rest
A fun but forgettable flick that’s perhaps the most video game-inspired attempt at a blockbuster Hollywood has yet made (there’s even a water level!).
This is approximately the 9,000th home video release of Boondock Saints. I have no idea what new features they could add at this point.
I wish that Syfy would get back to producing quality, dramatic sci-fi again, but who knows if that will ever happen again. In the meantime, Haven, based on Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid, is better than you’d expect.
Donnie Yen is the most badass martial artist in the business today. If you disagree, it means you haven’t seen the opening seen of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen. It’s like finding religion.
I’ll most likely feature Supernatural on For Your Consideration at some point in the future, but here’s the gist of it: if you’ve never given the show a shot purely because it’s on the CW, I don’t blame you, but it’s a helluva lot better than you’d expect.