|Toby Maguire in Spider-Man. (Handout)
The most common movie question I hear every summer -- when not being grilled about the latest summer blockbuster -- is simple and complicated: "What should I watch tonight?"
Among recent DVD, Blu-ray and digital download releases, I found three answers, depending on your tastes. One is for mainstream fun, another for cult interest and the third arrives with an aura of artistic integrity.
Spider-Man 1, 2 & 3 on Blu-ray: Sam Raimi squirmed free of the web, killing plans for his fourth episode. Marc Webb took over for a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. Now that you have had a chance to see Webb's revised origins tale, with Andrew Garfield as a virile Spider-Man/Peter Parker, it is time to return to Raimi's trilogy for a fresh look.
Each of Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and Spider-Man 3 (2007) has been re-released separately on Blu-ray in new packaging. For the U.S., these releases are tied to Ultraviolet (a service that allows Blu-ray owners to register discs and instantly stream them to portable devices). Canadians, of course, are screwed. Hollywood has not bothered to introduce Ultraviolet here.
So we look at them as stand-alones. Each contains a strong menu of recycled extras, except Spider-Man 3 (which is modestly treated, befitting its inferior status). Picture quality is excellent, with the caveat that Blu-ray highlights how crude the effects were in 2002 for Raimi's first foray. In particular, the web-slinger's daytime rooftop rumbles look awkward compared to what we would see just two years later. Digital effects were (and still are) evolving that quickly.
As storytelling, however, Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 are terrific popcorn movies with heart and soul, worthy complements to the Marvel comics. Spider-Man 3, not so much. "Who am I?" Maguire's Spider-Man/Peter Parker asks. "You sure you want to know? The story of my life is not for the faint of heart." Raimi had the guts and gumption to myth-make. The legacy of two of his three Spider-Man movies is huge.
Exit Humanity: A Zombie Tale on DVD and Blu-ray: After the U.S. Civil War, zombies terrorize Tennessee. We see the saga unfold as an 1871 flashback that arises from a journal kept by a former soldier. Brian Cox narrates. Mark Gibson is our everyman hero. Horror veterans Dee Wallace and Bill Moseley play key roles. Graphic novel-style animation adds an edge.
Weirdest of all is that this is a Canadian-made movie shot by John Geddes on a ridiculously small budget in foul fall weather in the Beaver Valley of Ontario. Yet it looks expensive. The cast is excellent. The mood is ripe with anguish. Zombies intersect with human drama, with few cheap thrills, and this becomes a post-war morality tale. A 20-minute making-of shows the conditions Geddes & Co. endured for their engaging oddity.
Pina on DVD & Blu-ray: Wim Wenders spent two decades discussing a documentary with famed German dancer-choreographer Pina Bausch. After they finally decided to collaborate in 2009, she suddenly died and Wenders abandoned the project. But Bausch's troupe persuaded him to resuscitate it as a Pina Bausch tribute, leading to one of the great dance docs in cinema history.
Wenders filmed in 3D, giving dance a heightened sense of space. Yet it also looks fabulous in 2D. Mongrel Media smartly gives collectors a choice. A gorgeous, three-disc combo pack contains DVD, Blu-ray and home 3D Blu-ray versions of the film. Each Blu-ray also has a 46-minute making-of doc in which Wenders shows us how his team used advanced technology to introduce viewers to the ageless and ephemeral world of creating dance masterpieces such as Cafe Muller and Bausch's other memorable works. Pina is as enlightening as it is dazzling to behold.