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This Box is a Mixed Bag: Four Uneven New Releases

Now that Halloween is over, we’re getting dangerously close to the holiday season, so be on the lookout for expensive box sets of DVDs you already own and the bigger movies from this summer, including, yes, THAT one. The Dark Knight is out on DVD and Blu-Ray in just over a month, in time for Christmas and to remind Academy voters that if they don’t give Heath Ledger a Best Actor statue, they are literally spitting on the grave of the dead.

This week we get more blockbusters from this summer, some Halloween Horror-Hangovers, the tentative relaunch of a much-loved but deceased show, and a re-release of an imperfect reconstruction of that weird film you had to watch in CINE 104 by the Citizen Kane guy.

Click the jump to read about the new releases.

New Releases From the Box:

Get Smart
This summer’s Get Smart movie was maligned by most critics who tended to view the film through an “it’s not like the old show” lens. Some of us, though, begged to differ. Sure, Get Smart isn’t a whole lot like the old Don Adams show, and it’s certainly not the most consistent comedy of the summer, but it was a surprising and enjoyable action-comedy that delivered more than I expected. The film’s main flaw is that it tries a throws a bit of everything-deft parody, slapstick, political commentary — to see what sticks. Surely, some of it does not stick, but Get Smart deserves more love than it gets from the mainstream critics.

I chose Shiver from this week’s new releases hoping that it would satisfy my Halloween-time craving for the kind of imaginative, gory, atmospheric horror films I love so much, but came away disappointed. With assurances from the DVD case that Shiver would be much like fellow Spanish horror films The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, I expected to see something that, if a tad over-stylized, would at least be fun to look at. But visually and storywise, Shiver is a dull horror-mystery retread. From its bland and blatant exoticization of Africa — you know, where evil dark things come from — to its predictable “the villagers knew it all along” turn, this film is not the one to satisfy your post-Halloween hangover. Check out a Dario Argento film instead.

Futurama: Bender’s Game
Futurama: Bender’s Game is the third of four Futurama films Fox is hoping will relaunch the cancelled show, which gained a huge following on DVD and in reruns. As with all of Futurama, Bender’s Game proves that it is this Matt Groening property, not The Simpsons, which can stay fresh, hyperactive, and funny without repeating itself incessantly or veering off into the realm of the nonsensical. The first 45 minutes of the 90-minute feature are full of the rapid-fire, silly/clever jokes for which Futurama and the best seasons of The Simpsons are notable. Bender’s Game slows down in its second half, but along with the other two new films, it is part of a welcome return to new Futurama episodes. Even if the second half was weak, at least I hadn’t seen it thirty times like every other Futurama episode.

Touch of Evil: 50th Anniversary Edition
Exciting for film buffs is the recent re-release of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil on DVD, in a luscious, golden 50th anniversary box set. Welles’s brilliantly trashy noir is one of the more celebrated of Welles’s films but, as with so many of his, we’ll never truly know the director’s original vision. The once-butchered film was reconstructed ten years ago for its original DVD release based on a 50-page memo Welles sent Universal to plead for his film, but the “reconstruction” can never be complete; much of the excised footage was simply discarded and lost. The memo also argues for an already-compromised version of the film, removed from whatever Welles had in his head during shooting and the initial post-production. Further complicating the reconstruction of Touch of Evil is Universal’s decision in 1998 to change the film to a 1.85:1 aspect ratio (widescreen), although Welles composed and filmed it with the intent of a 1.33:1 ratio (fullscreen). This issue has not been corrected for the new DVD and neither, obviously, have those issues which cannot be fixed. (It is not uncommon for long-lost footage to be found in a vault somewhere, but given last year’s fire in Universal’s film vault, the parts of Touch of Evil we’re missing likely never will be.) Still, the 50th Anniversary Edition has a pretty box and a replica of Welles’s memo, so it’s worth the money for those of us obsessed with an aesthetically pleasing DVD shelf.

Next Week on From the Box:

Our hero uses the evidence of Hellboy II to argue that Guillermo Del Toro may be slightly overrated and considers subjecting himself to the inevitable horror of Star Wars: The Clone Wars . Will he survive the onslaught of fantasy-horror fans around the world? Will his viewings result in an “open letter” to George Lucas about a “raped” childhood? Will the Criterion Collection release of Chungking Express arrive on time to save him from the pseudo-art of Hollywood “auteurs”? Find out next week on From the Box!

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