It’s a Mad, Mad Mad Max World
The postapocalyptic trilogy about one seriously ticked-off Aussie is now available in a Blu-ray box set that’s pretty badass…except for the lack of fresh extras
Like a diesel-powered armored vehicle barreling out of the Australian outback, the Mad Max Trilogy (1979–85, 4 hrs., 56 mins., R) was a creation of pure forward momentum, its parts scavenged from the chassis of other movies and welded together with great action filmmaking. Now the postapocalyptic series that introduced us to Mel Gibson — back when he still had the Aussie accent — is available in a Blu-ray set (although with no new EXTRAS).
George Miller’s 1979 Mad Max is a blistered Western about a man (Gibson’s Max) out for revenge. It’s as hard and fast as a kidney punch, but Miller’s 1981 follow-up, The Road Warrior, is the real masterpiece. A taut, imaginative sci-fi adventure that finds Max defending an oil refinery from gangs of psychopathic bandits, it is equal parts John Ford and George Lucas. The three films trace the same arc as other out-of-the-blue series like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and Robert Rodriguez’s Mariachi trilogy, in which the sequel acts as a bigger-budget reboot of the original, followed by an overstuffed threequel that tries too hard. The heavily ’80s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome focuses too much on the series’ weirdnesses (like Tina Turner’s bespangled Aunty Entity) and not enough on its fuel-injected action sequences, looking like a big, showy caravan compared with the previous films’ sleek roadsters. Hopefully the upcoming fourth film, with Tom Hardy as Max, will shift back into the right gear. Until then, it’s worth taking the first three out for another drive. A-
Skip Stoker, Watch Shadow of a Doubt
Why bother with an inferior copy when you can enjoy Hitchcock’s 1943 masterpiece?
In Park Chan-wook’s hyperstylized Stoker, which hits Blu-ray on June 18, Mia Wasikowska plays a teenager who suspects she has inherited a certain genetic malevolence when her sociopathic uncle Charlie moves in. But the film’s own inner evil is also a hand-me-down, raided from the thematic attic of one of the best thrillers of all time: Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943, 1 hr., 48 mins., PG).
Hitchcock’s brilliant film (also newly available on Blu-ray) is still just as unnerving and masterful 70 years later. (EXTRAS include a recycled but informative making-of documentary.) Joseph Cotten plays the original Uncle Charlie, a suave, beloved relative living with his sister’s family until his niece (Teresa Wright) uncovers the murderous secret behind his meticulously crafted facade, which propels the movie toward its iconic final sequence aboard a train. Written by Thornton Wilder, Shadow of a Doubt is essentially what would happen if you let loose a monster in Our Town. On the surface, Cotten is the local boy made good, but he’s actually rotten to the core. Hitchcock picks at the placid surface of small-town America like a scab, imbuing each scene with deep-running undercurrents of menace. It’s subversive, nail-biting, eerie, and gorgeously shot — no wonder Hitch often cited it as his finest achievement. And as the imitative but inferior Stoker shows, it’s the kind of film that casts a long shadow. A
Bruce Lee’s Knockout Film
When Enter the Dragon (1973, 1 hr., 38 mins., R) first hit Hong Kong theaters in the summer of ’73, Bruce Lee had already been dead for six days, having passed away suddenly at age 32. Still, Dragon did more to cement his place as martial arts’ greatest ambassador than anything up to that point. Chop-schlocky in all the best ways, the kung fu classic, which is being released as a special 40th-anniversary Blu-ray, plays out very much like an Eastern-inflected James Bond movie. A sequestered island, a slinky score, a villain with a secret scheme and a deadly prosthesis — it’d be good, cheesy fun even without the centerpiece fight sequences.
Lee’s athleticism remains eye-popping and his screen presence magnetic. The dialogue is peppered with bits of his martial-arts philosophy, and the disc’s many EXTRAS — including a host of new and old documentaries — delve deeper into Lee’s life and legacy. (There’s also an iron-on patch of the film’s logo, among various other collectibles.) All of them are reminders of the iconic status of a movie that, 40 years later, still has a helluva kick. A-
IDENTITY THIEF (2013, Not Rated)
Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman
A Colorado family man travels to Florida to find the big-haired, big-personality woman who’s pretending to be him. Hilarity ostensibly ensues. (Also available on iTunes) B-
A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (2013, R)
Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney
John McClane becomes even more of a cartoon cowboy in the fifth franchise entry, set, for some reason, in Russia. (Also available on iTunes) C
OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013, PG)
James Franco, Mila Kuni
Sam Raimi’s journey over the rainbow may be pretty to look at, but the story is neither wicked nor wonderful. (Also available on iTunes) C+
HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013, Not Rated)
Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton
The abandoned kinder of the Grimm story are all grown up and kicking ass in a fractured fairy tale that’s staler than an old candy house. (Also available on iTunes) C-
SNITCH (2013, PG-13)
Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon
A father infiltrates a drug cartel to save his son from jail in a drama that wears a straight face despite being as realistic as pro wrestling. (Also available on iTunes) C-
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER (2013, PG-13)
Nicholas Hoult, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci
Bryan Singer’s big-budget fairy tale doesn’t amount to more than a hill of magic beans. C+6/18
QUARTET (2012, PG-13)
Dustin Hoffman makes his directing debut with this pleasant ditty about a musicians’ retirement home. B 6/18