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High-definition home video, television and even theatrical presentation has become virtually ubiquitous, but it’s amazing how much of what audiences watch still looks poorer than it should. Although widescreen TVs now dominate the technological landscape, viewers are oddly still willing to watch programs stretched out to fit the space, or worse, movies that are crammed to squeeze in it. And the majority of downloads and broadcasts are only standard-definition, precisely because a lot of consumers can’t tell the difference, or don’t want to wait hours for clear, continuous streaming. But home video has become a destination, and source of inspiration, for audiences curious about those technological advances, which is why we’re collecting a small cross-section of the week’s Blu-ray releases and offering an overview of their content and presentation.
Check out the week’s new releases:
21 Jump Street (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Rundown: Phil Lord and Chris Miller hit one out of the park with their live-action directorial debut, a hilarious tribute-cum-send-up of ‘80s and ‘90s action tropes, a deconstruction of remake clichés and the greatest evidence to date (not counting the trailer for Magic Mike) that Channing Tatum is destined to be a movie star.
How It Looks: Glorious. Miller and Lord’s cinematography is beautifully preserved on the small screen, giving the images strong contrast, vivid color and remarkable clarity.
Best Extra: While there are several that prove as consistently entertaining as the movie itself, including the gag reel and the inside look at Johnny Depp’s cameo, Rob Riggle basically makes all of them totally watchable thanks to his deadpan delivery of what would otherwise be EPK talking points.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: Buy
The Artist (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
The Rundown: 2011’s Best Picture Academy Award winner comes home, giving audiences another chance to be confused by a movie that doesn’t seem to have any dialogue and demands that they read title cards in order to follow the story.
How It Looks: Preserving the original 4:3 aspect ration of the film’s theatrical release (which seems destined to further confuse owners of widescreen televisions), the picture quality is beautiful, maintaining the dreamlike authenticity of old-school black and white cinematography.
Best Extra: “Hollywood as a Character: The Locations of The Artist,” which betrays our tolerance for filmmakers calling locations in their films “another character,” but the comparison footage of real LA locations to the way they were shot for the film is a really interesting look at how the production transformed modern-day structures into authentic period locations.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: Rent, unless you really loved it, in which case Buy
A Bag of Hammers (MPI Media)
The Rundown: After attracting attention on the festival circuit, this comedy comes to home video as smart – if slight – alternative programming to the Apatow/ Sandler epics dominating theaters.
How It Looks: The transfer is slightly dark, making colors look richer and more saturated, but overall it plays like you’re watching a 3D movie – that percentage of difference with versus without glasses makes the act of viewing distracting from the film itself.
Best Extra: A behind the scenes featurette walks viewers through the process of conceptualizing the film, assembling the cast, and putting everything together.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: Rent
Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Paramount Home Entertainment)
The Rundown: The Duplass brothers’ latest directorial effort offers a shaggy, sometimes cringe-inducing portrait of two brothers coming to terms with themselves and their place in the universe.
How It Looks: The transfer does a solid job of preserving – with simple, straightforward clarity and brightness – the improvisational, handheld style of the Duplass brothers.
Best Extra: Nothing. Meaning, there are no extras.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: Rent
Project X (Warner Home Video)
The Rundown: The year’s most irresponsible movie turns up on home video with even more depravity as the new Blu-ray features both theatrical and extended editions of the anarchic found-footage teen party movie.
How It Looks: Remarkably good despite what seems to be a variety of different formats, necessitating aspect ratio changes but otherwise protecting the Terry Richardson-artsploitation style of the cinematography.
Best Extra: The “Project Xpensive” tally of the costs of the party is surprisingly amusing, but the “Declassified” featurette offers some interesting behind-the-scenes material showing how the movie actually got made.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: If you’re under 18, Buy; if you’re over, Avoid
Newsies (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment)
The Rundown: The onetime black sheep musical in Disney’s catalogue has evolved into a cult favorite and finally a hit Broadway musical, making its HD release not just inevitable but essential.
How It Looks: For viewers accustomed to seeing it on VHS or mostly untouched DVD, this new disc is a revelation, offering newfound clarity and sound quality the film hasn’t enjoyed in decades.
Best Extra: Most of the bonus content is ported over from previous releases, but “The Strike! The True Story” offers a remarkable amount of real historical context, which doesn’t necessarily explain the singing and dancing, but it offers a real scoop about the newspaper business that’s worth exploring.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: If you’re a fan at all, Buy
Wrath of the Titans (Warner Home Video)
The Rundown: After Sam Worthington pooh-poohed the original in order to promote its sequel, he and director Jonathan Liebesman offer a briskly engaging but still lackluster action opus.
How It Looks: In 2 or 3D, the movie is crisp and clear and vibrant on screen, although the 3D version does occasionally have that planar look that doesn’t quite qualify as rounded depth.
Best Extra: The “Maximum Movie Mode” offers viewers two paths – “of Gods” and “of Men,” both of which offer some interesting behind the scenes materials about the conceptualization and making of the movie.
Buy, Rent or Avoid: Rent
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