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The Thing (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

With lowered expectations, I took this one in again on home video. I didn't like watching it in theaters, but I didn't tax my brain to remember exactly why.

Now I think this is actually a decent attempt to capture the vibe of John Carpenter's classic 1982 remake of The Thing From Another World. It gets a little too carried away in the end, but it was a good try.

I love the idea of showing us what happened right before that dog showed up in Carpenter's film. It takes a lot of guts to go back into that universe and try to make a morphing-alien movie that measures up.

As atmospherics go, this one is spot-on: It feels and looks much like Carpenter's film. Fans of the original will have fun spotting all sorts of film "connectors," like the suicide victim and that ax in the wall.

Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr. obviously noticed the amazing practical effects in Carpenter's film. It looks like Heijningen went with something in the neighborhood of half-practical, half-computer for the effects here, and the results aren't always up to snuff. The final monster is so lame that it almost undoes all that was moderately good in the movie before it.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is OK as the scientist who must pick up a flamethrower, and Joel Edgerton does well with what is essentially the Kurt Russell role. I wish the filmmakers had calmed down a bit, because they were on their way to a decent prequel with this effort.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are some extended and deleted scenes, some of which are pretty significant in the scheme of things. There are a couple of making-of featurettes that show how the effects were done, and there's a decent director's commentary. To top it off, you get a picture-in-picture trivia feature.

Godzilla (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

I hadn't watched the original Godzilla in a long time—and the last time I saw it, I watched the revamped American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, with that terrible inserted footage starring Raymond Burr. (Burr would show up in a similar way 30 years later for Godzilla 1985: The Legend Is Reborn.)

The original black-and-white film, made less than a decade after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, is a shockingly dark nuclear-war allegory that is much deeper than your average man-in-a-suit monster movie. Director Ishirô Honda was obviously making bold statements here, what with Godzilla's very existence brought about by nuclear testing.

Is it an amazing special-effects spectacle? Not really. But the monster is startlingly nasty in this incarnation, before he started dancing and goofing around in the color Godzilla flicks that would come in later years. This time out, he's a mixture of man-in-a-suit effects and animatronics, with the man-in-a-suit footage far more effective.

The destruction of Tokyo is an effectively scary sequence, complete with large crowds of people dying in Godzilla's nuclear breath. Honda showed some major balls with this movie, and it's one of the more interesting anti-nuclear-war films ever made.

I didn't hate the 1998 American remake starring Matthew Broderick as much as many people did. (I thought it was goofy fun.) Hollywood is currently toying with the idea of another go at the Big Green One, but plans have not been solidified.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get the Japanese and Americanized versions of the film, with both containing commentaries by film historian David Kalat. Recent interviews with members of the cast and crew are fun to watch, and there's a short about a boating tragedy that inspired the movie. You also get a booklet containing essays on the movie. Criterion rules!

The Ides of March (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This George Clooney-directed political thriller starring Ryan Gosling feels routine at times, but it's a winner overall, thanks to the work of Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Clooney himself as a maverick presidential candidate.

Gosling plays a campaign worker who thinks his candidate is undoubtedly the one to beat, and that candidate certainly looks unstoppable. Of course, things happen that throw all seemingly sure things into doubt, and Gosling's character has to do a lot of soul-searching.

While watching this again, I felt like I had seen it a few times before. Thanks to Clooney's sharp direction, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. He keeps things moving along smoothly, albeit predictably. I especially liked Hoffman as a seasoned campaign worker who has difficulty with disloyal people.

This film is not a mind-bender by any means, but it has some captivating performances. Clooney is a good director, and he made a good movie. Perhaps he'll make a great one next time.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Clooney delivers a very enjoyable commentary, and you get featurettes on the cast, and a making-of documentary.

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