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Harold and Maude (Blu-ray); Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Blu-ray); Meatballs (Blu-ray)

Harold and Maude (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Another week, another terrific Criterion release.

Director Hal Ashby had some stones back in the day. His 1971 romantic comedy starring Bud Cort and a much-older Ruth Gordon repulsed many upon its release, but it is now deservedly seen as the classic it is.

It's amazing to see what Ashby got away with in a PG movie. Cort plays Harold, a strange young man who has a rich mom. He's prone to attending funerals and staging fake suicides in his home. He's staged so many that his mom (the ridiculously funny Vivian Pickles) is completely unfazed by most of the attempts, including a fake gunshot to the head. His bloody fake death in a bathtub does shake her up a bit, though.

Harold meets Maude (Gordon) at a funeral, and they strike up a friendship as she steals cars and trees. Their relationship is actually quite touching and extremely funny.

Ashby's sick sense of humor permeates the entire production. I also love the improvised moments that Cort throws in, including one of cinema's great instances of breaking the fourth wall. Even better are Harold's staged violent acts to scare away the women his mom is trying to get him to date. I'm especially fond of the moment when he sets himself on fire.

This film does great things with hearses and Jaguars; it even combines the two at one point. I love that Harold has the ability to transform Jaguars into hearse hybrids with the help of a simple blowtorch.

Ashby may have fizzled out a bit toward the end of his career, but he sure did make some classics. Being There, Shampoo, The Last Detail and this gem are all American movie masterpieces. This one will forever have a presence in the Great Oddball Movies Hall of Fame.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a commentary by an Ashby historian and one of the film's producers that is a little dry, but still a worthy listen. You also get some archived snippets of Ashby talking about his filmmaking experiences, one of those great Criterion booklets, and—most impressive of all—a new interview with Yusuf Islam/Cat Stevens about his musical contributions.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Like Iron Man 2, this is a sequel that is somewhat inferior to the original, yet worth watching due to Robert Downey Jr.'s enjoyable screen presence.

Director Guy Ritchie tried to up the ante on the action, but he loses a bit in the actual story. Noomi Rapace plays a gypsy woman with a strange sibling; the role marked a nice move into American movies for the star of Prometheus. Unfortunately, Jared Harris fails to engage as the villainous professor James Moriarty (a role Brad Pitt was once rumored to get). The dull villain really hurts the flick.

As Downey proved in The Avengers, he can get a lot of mileage out of his characters past the first sequel. There's apparently a third installment of Holmes in the works for 2014. Hopefully the creative team will come up with something a little more exciting and mysterious.

Besides some good laughs and the presence of Rapace, the only thing I really took away from this one is the cool visual of exploding trees.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get Maximum Movie Mode—picture-in-picture details about the movie as it plays—with Robert Downey Jr. as your tour guide. That's pretty damn awesome. It's basically a Downey stand-up act, and I'll take it.

Meatballs (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Every five years or so, this film gets another release, and I always watch it again to see if I'm just a mean-spirited jerk who can't have any fun.

Maybe I am, but either way, I still can't stand this movie. However, it does look good on Blu-ray. Bill Murray's red Adidas running suit has never appeared so vivid.

While Rick Dees theme song SUCKS!, the film is worth watching if you want to witness the star power of a young, silly Murray. He brings an energy to the film that makes it sometimes tolerable. Without him, this could've been one of the worst movies ever made.

The last time I reviewed this, I gave it a D+. I will go ahead and upgrade it to a C-. It plays a little better simply because it looks great, and I do have a slight appreciation for it, because without it, Wet Hot American Summer would not exist.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The only major feature is a holdover from a prior edition, a laid-back commentary by director Ivan Reitman. You find out some interesting stuff. For example, most of the mentoring footage of Murray and young co-star Chris Makepeace was shot after principal photography, because the first cut was even worse than what eventually made it to theaters.

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