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The Shelf: Best Titles We Discovered on Blu-ray 2013

It’s the final day of the month, and indeed the year, and that means we’ve featured upwards of 12 movies and TV shows on The Shelf. A lot of them, we somehow missed until they were released on Blu-ray. I feel pretty dumb for not having seen them in their original venue, but I’m pretty happy to have found them now. Happy New Year, everybody!

Jack Reacher

This movie came out almost exactly a year ago, but I didn’t see it until its Blu-ray release in May. I’d heard it was fair-to-middling at best, and so I went in with pretty low expectations, yet I was thoroughly enthralled with most of it, from Christopher McQuarrie’s impressive direction to Tom Cruise’s typically intensely-low-key performance as the titular anti-hero. It just kinda worked for me. The opening sniper scene is very tense and shot wonderfully, and the later scene of Reacher piecing together the events of said crime is equally visually engaging.

Parts of the film get a little too jingoistic for my liking, but overall it’s a very good, surprisingly complex movie. There aren’t that many action sequences, but the ones that exist are fantastic. Reacher has a very specific fighting style, and there’s a very awesome car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh. Plus, you have German filmmaker and notorious madman Werner Herzog as the milky-eyed, frost-bitten villain, which is a performance worth the cost of admission alone.

Now You See Me

The Prestige is still the undisputed king of magician movies, and Now You See Me doesn’t even come close to it, but it’s a whole lot more fun than I’d have thought, and it has really good performances from its cast, which includes Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, and Michael Caine. The plot, let’s face it, is utterly preposterous, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun ride or that it isn’t worth a watch.

This is one of the rare times when I watched a movie on Blu-ray, having skipped it in the cinema, and been both impressed with what I’ve seen and happy I didn’t see it in the theater. It’s a weird dichotomy. Louis Leterrier’s direction is very flashy and slick, but from a movie about Vegas stage magicians, that’s exactly what you want. Enjoyable movie, from top to bottom; I grinned even as I scoffed.

The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec

Luc Besson might be the Steven Spielberg of France, at the very least in terms of output. He’s produced over 100 films and television shows and directed nearly 20 features himself. While he’s best known in this country for Leon: The Professional and The Fifth Element or producing the Transporter and Taken franchises, his career has never been pigeonholed in his native land, and has of late been the director of the Arthur series of animated adventures.

In 2010, he made a comedic-adventure film based on a famous French comic book character, which only just got released on Blu-ray this year in the U.S. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec stars Louise Bourgoin as the titular adventure-seeking heroine, who leaves her home in 1910s France to go to Egypt to uncover the mummy of the Pharaoh Rameses’ personal physician so that she can bring it back to a scientist friend of hers, who has developed the ability to bring things to life, so that the mummy can help her heal her invalid sister, who has been catatonic for years. Confused yet? Well, the scientist, in the meantime, brings to life a pterodactyl from inside an egg in the history museum, and it begins terrorizing Paris. And, as if this weren’t enough, the police, hunters, and a rival treasure-seeker want to stop Adele at every turn.

This might not be up there with Besson’s most powerful work, but it is a whole lot of fun, and has some terrific performances.

Monsters University

I didn’t see Monsters University when it was in theaters, but not because I wasn’t interested. Monsters Inc. is actually one of my very favorite Pixar movies, and has been since 2001, when I first went to see it. The characters and world were so rich and fun and well-rounded and the story was, if you’ll excuse the Tumblr speak, totes adorbs. But with the exception of Toy Story, which hit a new pinnacle with its third installment, and Cars, which is popular with kids for some reason, the studio’s never really felt the need to revisit their earlier characters.

But, it’s been nearly 13 years since Monsters Inc., and, as I was reminded of upon seeing the 3D re-release last Christmas, there are a whole lot of kids who never saw Mike Wazowski or James P. Sullivan on anything other than a television screen. Why not go back and see what they’re up to, or in this instance, go back and see where they came from?

A lot of people were really decrying this movie as being another step down for Pixar, but what’s wrong with making a good movie? No, it’s not up there with the studio’s masterworks, but it’s fun, dazzling, and touching, and that’s really all I or anyone could want from a movie about funny monsters at college.

Orphan Black Season 1

I’m going to admit something to you guys: I didn’t watch Orphan Black while it was airing. I know, it’s right after Doctor Who on BBC America; how hard would it have been to just keep watching? I don’t know why I didn’t watch it, but it just never seemed that interesting to me. Well, I’m here to tell you, I’m a big huge dummy head. Orphan Black is one of the freshest and best science fiction series I’ve seen in who knows how long. Every episode has all the intrigue and mystery-building that you could possibly want as you uncover things along with the main character. I binge-watched the Blu-ray in about 5 days.

The show would not work as well as it does if not for two factors: 1) the fantastic writing and 2) the beyond-superb performances by Tatiana Maslany. She is… Words fail me in trying to describe how astonishing her portrayals of all the clones are. Each one is so different and has nuances and quirks of their own to the point where they really do feel like different people and not just the same girl in different costumes. She won a Critic’s Choice Award already and has been nominated for a Golden Globe. She better win, because honestly, she’s the best actress on TV right now.

Defiance Season One

Syfy is known for producing two things: terrible, crappy films and interesting, engaging serial dramas. If we have to suffer through various ‘nadoes or ‘topuses to get shows like Defiance, I think we can live with that. With Battlestar Galactica and Farscape, the network proved it could do futurist space opera that could rival (or best) the late-era Star Trek series. It’s good to see that people from both of those earlier shows are involved in Defiance, which shows us a mix of alien races forced to live on the remnants of Earth instead of in the distant galaxy. The town of Defiance (which used to be St. Louis, MO) is home to several different species, many of whom came to Earth in arks 33 years before the series proper began. Each has their own cultural identity and personality that have to learn to coexist if it’s going to work out.

What I love most about this is that it’s essentially a Western made into a sci-fi show. It’s like Deadwood in the future, with more action and less swearing. The effects are terrific, the performances are great, and if you were a big fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as I was, this feels like a planet-based successor.

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  3. CapnStu says:

    “I’m a big huge dummy head.” Kyle, you are awesome. People keep telling me to watch Orphan Black, I guess I’d better do it at this point.

    I also really enjoyed Reacher, I thought the movie was really well done, I wish it had performed better. As a far of the series I was a bit shocked at the casting but I got over it pretty quick. It’s Hollywood, what are you going to do?