November 28, 2012

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Disney has upped their game this year when it comes to putting out catalog favorites on Blu-ray. The positive is that many favorites over the last thirty years have hit Blu-ray over the last couple months, the negative is that most come with no supplements, barely adequate transfers and amount to a modest upgrade over their DVD counterparts. Recently Adventures in Babysitting, Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity, and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion hit Blu-ray, and our reviews are after the jump.

adventures in babysitting blu ray coverTo go alphabetically, Adventures of Babysitting was Chris Columbus’s directorial debut. Columbus had been a hot screenwriter (he wrote Gremlins and The Goonies), and this has a very John Hughes feel without being a John Hughes movie – which isn’t surprising as Columbus and Hughes would work together shortly with the Home Alone films. Columbus took David Simkins’s script – which one assumes the director did his own polish on – and delivered a standard, not terrible teen comedy. The film opens with Elizabeth Shue singing along to an old R&B song, which became a cliché in super-white movies. Shue plays Chris Parker, and her boyfriend (Bradley Whitford) was supposed to go out with her that night, but he says he has to spend time with his family and it’s an emergency, even though it’s their anniversary.

So Chris takes a job babysitting the night her best friend Brenda (Penelope Anne Miller) runs away from home, but while in the train terminal Brenda realizes she’s afraid of poor people (there’s a light racism that runs through this, but we can just call it xenophobia). So Chris gathers up the kids and takes them into the city, but then her car blows a tire, and her and the kids get caught in the middle of a car thieving operation.

One of the more interesting things about Babysitting now is how it’s a time piece. Its racial politics are quaint (on the edge of being offensive): you can see political correctness is starting to creep in, but the film… let’s just say is encased in a suburban ignorance. It’s also a much rougher film for what is ostensibly a kids movie – Shue’s character is mistaken for a Playboy centerfold, the plot hangs on a stolen Playboy, on top of which one of the kids gets stabbed. But in watching the film you can sense that Columbus knows his beats, he knows his structure, and so the boyfriend not being there gets paid off, and all the characters have their little arcs and set ups and payoffs. The film shows a talented machine of a filmmaker, and it’s easy to see why he hit with Home Alone a couple years later.

Surely the people who grew up with the film love it, so the fact that it’s on Blu-ray at all should be a treat. Unfortunately the film is presented in an okay widescreen (1.85:1) transfer with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio track that sounds like stereo and the disc comes with no supplements to speak of. This is a step up from the DVD release, but just barely.

Grosse-Point-Blank-Blu-rayOne of the most interesting things about Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity is how aware John Cusack is of his John Cusack-ness in those films. Blank plays on his relationship to high school movies, from The Breakfast Club and Better Off Dead to Say Anything, while High Fidelity plays on his role as one of the 1980’s pre-eminent romantic figures (partly because of Say Anything)

In Blank he plays Martin Blank, a man who mysteriously disappeared from his hometown, only to become a trained assassin. His secretary (Joan Cusack) advises him that he’s got a reunion coming up, and so – when an assignment dovetails in – he decides to go home again. There he much of his graduating class, sees that his mom’s house has become a convenience store, and goes to see Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), who may be the love of his life. Unfortunately, he can’t leave his day job behind, especially as some recent assignments haven’t gone as smoothly as anyone would like.

Directed by George Armitage, GPB is a black comedy that balances its violence and jokes with great aplomb. Armitage also directed Miami Blues (which is the better film), and does a similarly great feat of keeping things light and funny when dealing with sociopaths. The script is witty, and there’s a number of great set pieces like the fight inside a quickie-mart and the pay-off of that at the reunion, while the cast is filled with ringers like Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven, Alan Arkin and Hank Azaria.

The original DVD release was not even 16×9, so the HD upgrade is an improvement, and the film is presented widescreen (1.78:1) though the transfer itself isn’t that great, and looks like an older HD master. There’s edge enhancement issues, and it’s not that well looked after, but the DTS-HD 5.1 Master audio soundtrack is solid. And the only supplement here is the film’s theatrical trailer. It feels dashed off.

high fidelity blu ray coverMore interesting in its way as a piece of Cusack-ology (though not necessarily the better movie) is High Fidelity. Here Cusack plays Rob Gordon, a Chicago record shop owner whose current girlfriend Laura (Iben Hjejle) has just broken up with him. He then goes through the top five loves of his life, and goes through the things that might have caused her to break up with him. All of which alienate their mutual friend Liz (Joan Cusack).

Rob is charming, but also kind of a shit. He then decides to go through that lovelife and talk to all the women he’s been in love with, which include Penny (Joelle Carter) – who he tried to have sex, but her protestations sent him away – the sad Sarah (Lily Taylor) – where their relationship was based on mutual loneliness – and Charlie (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the impossibly attractive girl who he dated for a while. At work he hangs with his employees Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), and talk about music and often piss off their customers by looking down on their musical tastes. Laura has moved in with Ian (Tim Robbins), their old neighbor who they used to hear having sex, while Rob ends up having a fling with the musician Marie De Salle (Lisa Bonet). But Rob still kind of likes Laura.

High Fidelity is about becoming an adult, and making decisions based on practical realities over high-minded dreams. It’s about making small steps forward in pursuing your goals, and figuring out how to accept things, figuring out that you can’t keep dreaming and hope everything works out. Adapted from the novel by Nick Hornby, director Steven Frears does what he can to make the novel cinematic, though the movie often stops cold so Cusack can deliver a monologue. The voice of the character is so essential to the story, that I don’t know how they could avoid it – it’s a talky movie. It’s also very much a period piece, and not just because of the record store, you really feel the Clintonian sense of prosperity and the lack of internet. Ultimately the story works, but partly because it undercuts the central thesis of most of these movies. Do Laura and Rob love each other? Yes, but not in the way these films generally lay it out.

The Blu-ray is in widescreen (1.85:1), and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The Blu-ray is a modest improvement over the DVD, but this wasn’t given the bells and whistles treatment, the master was probably done for cable a couple years ago, and so the disc doesn’t pop. The extras are all ported over from the DVD, but at least this disc has some. There’s “Conversations with Writer/Producer John Cusack” (11 min.) and “Conversations with Director Stephen Frears” (15 min.), which walk through the making of the film, and how Jack Black exploded out of this movie. There’s also nine deleted scenes (14 min.) and the film’s theatrical trailer.

romy and micheles high school reunion blu ray coverWhen I first saw Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, I thought it was a bubbleheaded bore, but fifteen years later the film has grown on me. Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michelle (Lisa Kudrow) have been friends since high school, where they were inseparable, but never part of the popular girl clique. In fact they were often made fun of behind their back. In school nerd Sandy Frink (Alan Cummings) had a huge crush on Michelle, while smoker Heather Mooney (Janeane Garofalo) had a huge crush on Sandy, while Romy had a thing for the quarterback who never gave her the time of day.

Ten years later, both Romy and Michelle live in Los Angeles, and haven’t made much with their lives, but when they get word about the reunion, they want to go back and prove that they’ve become successful. But as they head back, the internal tensions in their relationship bubble to the surface as there’s issues of respect that haven’t been dealt with, while their plan to say that they invented post-it notes comes apart at the seams.

The hard part of a film like this is that on the outset the main characters are presented as slightly dim. So you have to warm up to the characters just at the point that they must be humiliated for being frauds, and then root for them to show up the characters who have treated them poorly. But director David Mirkin pulls it off, and Sorvino and Kudrow have a good loopy chemistry together. Because the material is thin, there’s an elaborate fantasy sequence to pad out the running time, but that sequence is also quite enjoyable, and there’s a number of great left field choices with the film. It’s a formula picture all the way, but an engaging one because of the performers.

The Blu-ray is presented widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. It’s probably the best looking of the four, with a solid audio and visual presentation. There’s a production featurette (4 min.) and the film’s trailer.

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