It’s a packed week of new releases, with a pair of Studio Ghibli titles hitting Blu-ray in North America (along with “True Blood’s” weakest season to date), while Magnet pumps out a big, bloody, brash horror anthology and delivers some kickass Thai martial arts action.
Release Of the Week
Although both titles were released to DVD by North American publisher Disney, now’s your chance to pick up the HD upgrades for both films if that’s the way you swing. And why wouldn’t you: “Howl’s” is one of the studio’s better recent Western adaptations (“Tales From Earthsea” and “Arrietty” were too cold and felt like products from another studio), and its magical milieu allowed the Ghibli animator’s imaginations to run wild, giving us the titular morphing, mobile abode.
Then there’s “My Neighbor Totoro,” which served, for some fans, as their introduction to the storied animation studio’s work. You don’t find a lot of heartfelt dramas aimed at the junior set, but here it is, as two little girls waiting for their mother to recuperate in the hospital befriend the grinning, mildly terrifying beast.
The “Totoro” disc is the one with the features to watch:
- Original Japanese Storyboards
- Creating My Neighbor Totoro
- Creating the Characters
- The Totoro Experience
- Producer’s Perspective
- Scoring Miyazaki
- The Locations of Totoro
- Behind the Microphone
- Original Japanese Trailers
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Last summer’s batch of “True Blood” episodes found the series introducing some of the deeper elements of its mythology only hinted at in the past (the Authority) while hoping desperately that we would care about the mysterious vampire who killed Sookie’s parents. After introducing (and dragging out) the blood goddess/Lilith concept, the season effectively cratered out, with nowhere to go but in continuous, ridiculous circles.
What this meant for the characters of the show (which, against all reason, I still compulsively watch), is that they were locked in a weird kind of stasis, while Bill made a seemingly arbitrary leap from conflicted vampire to bloodthirsty zealot (because naked blood lady, I guess?). Curiously, this last bit provides one of the more exciting teases heading into this summer’s season six: whatever Bill has become will be a problem for Sookie, Eric, the population of Bon Temps (and pretty much anything that bleeds) as the series adopts the tagline “No One Lives Forever.”
Here’s what’s on the Blu-ray:
- Inside the Episodes: Get the back-stories on each episode with revealing interviews from the show writers.
- Audio Commentaries: 5 Commentaries with the Cast and Crew including Alan Ball, Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Denis O’Hare, Carrie Preston, and many more!
- Previews & Recaps
- Enhanced Viewing: Character Bios, Vampire Histories, Hints, FYI’s, Flashbacks, and Flash Forwards.
- Authority Confessionals: Learn more about the mysterious institution known as The Authority, from Nora, Kibwe, Rosalyn, Salome, Steve, and Russell.
- True Blood Episode Six: Autopsy: Join the cast and crew as they dissect the major events of episode six and provide an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at how True Blood is made.
- True Blood Lines: Uncover secrets from relationships past and present in this engaging, fully interactive “”re-Vamped”” guide and archive.
Jason Statham takes on the part of Richard Stark’s titular cold-as-ice thief in this adaptation of “Flashfire,” one of the most recent books in the long-running series. A lot of you Stark fans out there less familiar with the newer output involving the crook carved out of granite will find a chattier version than in previous incarnations, and when you think about it, the modern Parker is probably a good fit for Jason Statham, who can play the cold/funny killer in his sleep now.
“The Shield” star Michael Chiklis is along for the ride as well as Jennifer Lopez in a plot that draws in some of the double-crossed-by-his-colleagues elements of “The Hunter” while giving Statham a chance to wear costumes and kick people in the neck.
- “LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite”: I haven’t seen this DTV adaptation of TT Games’ clever action title, but if you need an animated DCU fix, you could probably do worse. The LEGO games’ humor is–as is appropriate for the genre–juvenile, but most of the jokes typically land. The fun of the game, though, is the pleasure of seeing all of the heroes and villains of the DCU in playable LEGO form. Will that carry the same appeal in animation?
- “The ABCs of Death”: The global anthology featuring horror stories from A to Z. Recently, Magnet announced that it was getting a sequel with what’s shaping up to be an even more exciting lineup than the first film.
- “This Girl Is Badass”: Inasmuch as the title of this Thai martial arts movie is referring to lead actress JeeJa Yanin, it’s accurate. The limber and tough Yanin elevated the thoroughly goofy “Chocolate” to some next-level stuff, portraying an autistic girl who learns Muay Thai-style brawling via too much TV. “The Bodyguard”/”The Bodyguard 2” director Petchtai Wongkamlao is responsible for the script for “Badass,” which revolves around Yanin’s smuggler character running afoul of ticked off gangsters.
- “Subspecies Collection Vol. I”: Horror fans of a certain age grew up on low-budget horror studio Full Moon’s output during the ’90s thanks to some attractive VHS covers and later repeat viewings on premium cable (Cinemax represent). Earlier this year, the newly-resurrected label rereleased its most popular (or at least best-known) series of films on Blu, in a “Puppet Master” collection; the “Subspecies” films might be a little less well-known, but the first and maybe second are worth checking out, with their blend of gothic vampire horror and stop-motion critters. However, why the series warrants multiple sets (they only get worse), I’ll never know.
- “Beautiful Creatures”: I think this is some kind of young witches in love thing, I don’t know. Seemed like lowest common denominator YA nonsense that was summarily dumped in theaters before dying a quick, sad death. So now’s your chance to catch up to it in your home!
You Can Stream It – Available Now on Netflix
- “Jack the Giant Killer”
- “The Great Magician”
- “At the Gate of the Ghost”