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The Shelf: GAME OF THRONES, DARKMAN, FANTASTIC MR. FOX

Ahoy hoy, all ye Blu-ray lovers! This week, we’ve got some great picks to place upon your home media shelving unit, perhaps purchased in a flat-pack and assembled over the course of six hours, or perhaps a handmade one picked up at a yard sale. I mean, you know what kind of shelf you have more than I do.

Game of Thrones Season 3

As we get ready for the fourth season of everyone’s favorite fantasy-and-politics show, which Patton Oswalt once said should be called Boobs with a Chance of Dragons, HBO is at last releasing Season 3 on Blu-ray and DVD. True to form, this set has been worth the wait. In a time in which special features tend to get passed over in favor of vanilla slim sets, Home Box Office and GoT know that they need to give fans what they want to justify getting people to buy the most pirated show on television.

This season deepened the troubles of the Stark family, who are winning each of their battles but somehow losing the way, and doubles down on the triumphs of the Lannister family and figurehead King Joffrey Baratheon, who is as we all know the most vile character in a program full of people who deserve horrible bad things. An already wildly expansive show, with dozens of main characters, Season 3 spread things out even further and made the individual stakes as high as they could be.

While Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) remains the heart and soul of Westeros, and his newly-slashed face and contempt from his father, sister, and nephew make him even more sympathetic, his brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who has always been a smirking a-hole, gets to show how damaged he really is when he’s faced with an injury. Never did I think that he’d be a character I’d have any kind of compassion for, and yet, damn you television, I do. Daenerys Targaryn (Emilia Clarke), who is SO FAR AWAY FROM EVERYTHING, continues to free imprisoned peoples and collect an army of worshipers, but that can’t last forever, even for the Mother of Dragons. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) attempts to go under cover with the Wildling clan while getting closer to Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and habitually knowing nothing. And, of course, there’s the Red Wedding. Holy shit, the Red Wedding.

The uber-packed set includes 12 commentaries on the 10 episodes, in-episode guides to the characters and realms, animated histories and lore of Westeros, an extensive picture-in-picture tutorial about episode 9, “The Rains of Castamere,” and a couple of other short but enlightening featurettes. And as of this writing, the Blu-ray set is only $29.99 on Amazon, which for all you’re getting and how amazing the special features are, it’s like you’re getting away with something. So, pay your debts, and get ready for Season 4 in April.

Darkman Collectors Edition

There really is no way to quantify just how important Tim Burton’s Batman was after its release in 1989. It proved that superhero movies could a) work and b) be for grown ups. That didn’t last forever, but in the early ’90s, lots of different filmmakers attempted to do similar things. In 1990, Sam Raimi, who was just coming off of the cult classic Evil Dead II, gave us his even more grown up and yet somehow far comic-bookier take on the superhero film with Darkman. He’d wanted to adapt the radio and pulp character The Shadow but couldn’t acquire the rights, so instead he and several writers did a pastiche of horror and comic elements from The Shadow and Phantom of the Opera to the Dark Knight himself. There’s also some Cagney movies in there, too. It’s a movie that, despite its Los Angeles setting, has a very 1940s feel.

The film follows a few threads, but centrally we follow a scientist named Peyton Westlake (What about Liam Neesons in some Darkman, though?!) who is working on a new skin grafting technique to give people brand new faces. Unfortunately, he can’t seem to make them maintain their structural integrity for more than 99 minutes. This comes in very handy for him when his lab is demolished due to his girlfriend (Frances McDormand) being involved in zoning and a bad land developer hiring gangster Durant (Larry Drake) and his cohorts to enforce his plan for a new world. A bit convoluted, but anyway, Peyton is badly burned after his lab explodes and his disfigurement drives him a bit insane. He decides to get revenge on those who wronged him using his 99 minute masks and an ability to inflict huge amounts of pain and laugh maniacally.

In many ways, Darkman was Raimi’s trial run for the Spider-Man movies as well as Army of Darkness, which was to follow. It’s very dark, very violent, but also very funny and not a little creepy as well. The makeup design for Neeson’s character is a triumph of the subtly grotesque, and he’s still able to explore deeper character moments and emotions. Drake as Durant tends to steal the show a lot of the time with his supremely evil and weirdly prissy crime lord, and he’s way more engaging than the film’s actual villain. For being a pretty inexpensive movie, the action is very huge, and this is helped immensely by the score by Danny Elfman, in one of his best and most underrated outings. Not the world’s best movie, nor even the best Sam Raimi movie, but it’s nevertheless a lot of fun, and should be more remembered than it is.

The Collectors Edition Blu-ray features a commentary by Director of Photography Bill Pope, new interviews with Neeson, McDormand, Drake, Production Designer Randy Ser and Art Director Philip Dagort, and Special Effects Makeup Artist Tony Gardner.

Fantastic Mr. Fox Criterion Edition

Wes Anderson’s 2009 stop-motion brilliance Fantastic Mr. Fox has been out on Blu-ray for a few years already, but it gets a big fat Criterion release today, as many of his previous films have done. This is a film that’s worth a second, third, or even fourth look, because it really is a gorgeous feat of filmmaking, at once completely the same as and completely different from the kind of things the director has made in the past, proving that, regardless of the medium or the method, an auteur is an auteur.

The movie follows the eponymous food thief, played by George Clooney, and his attempts to balance his family with his need to get one over on the three farmers, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. When the farmers decide to make life miserable for every one of the poor animals, Mr. Fox and his friends have to put things right. It features a number of memorable characters voiced by a host of Anderson’s stock players, including Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Wallace Wolodarsky, Owen Wilson, Michael Gambon, and Willem Dafoe. I dare you to watch it without whistling and clicking your tongue. It’s impossible.

The Criterion Blu-ray/DVD set features a feature commentary, storyboard animatics for every scene, behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, audio of author Roald Dahl reading the book, an hour-long documentary about him called Fantastic Mr. Dahl, and other animated pieces specially made for the home release. It’s an excellent set and worthy of the double dip.

ALSO AVAILABLE

Foreign Correspondent – Alfred Hitchcock’s wartime thriller gets its own Criterion release with a host of extras and an new chance to celebrate one of the Master of Suspense’s more technically challenging films.

Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours – A double-feature of hospital-set horror movies, one featuring William Shatner, if you can believe it.

Dragon Ball Z Season 2 – Blu-ray release! KAMEHAMEHAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Beware the Batman: Shadows of Gotham, Season 1 Part 1 – The CG adventures of Gotham’s defender gets a Blu-ray release compiling the first chunk of episodes.

Nurse Jackie Season 5 – Evidently, this show is still on and popular enough to get a fifth season. I had no idea.

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