DVD Releases for January 27, 2009

DVD Releases for January 27, 2009

Rated R for pervasive language, violence, drug use and brief sexuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It seems like Guy Ritchie has been away for a long time (thanks a lot Madonna for releasing him), and he is finally back and just as edgy as ever.  RocknRolla is yet another twisty, funny British underground thriller with an amazing cast including Gerard Butler and Tom Wilkinson.  The biggest advantage to this version over the theatrical is that you can switch on the subtitles – a huge help in understanding what is actually going on.  Guy Ritchie films have done nothing to convince me that they speak the same language across the pond.  A-

Rated PG for thematic material and some peril
Available on DVD

This little Christian film cost about a half million to make and pulled in 33.5 million at the box office.  That makes it one of the most successful films of the year by anyone’s estimate.  Although this pic about a fireman (Kirk Cameron) and his wife whose marriage has hit the rocks is poorly written and sloppily directed, the message is strong and the audience is apparently pleased.  Not for everyone, but many believe in it’s power.  C

Mary Poppins: 45th Anniversary Special Edition
Rated G
Available on DVD

The magical nanny is back for another special edition.  The movie could look better with a more rigorous restoration, but it’s still a good representation of the ground breaking Disney flick.  The best reason to buy this new edition is that the second disc focuses on the new Broadway production and features a look at the very impressive new version of the chimney sweep song Step in Time.  B+

Pride and Glory
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language and brief drug content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Edward Norton and Colin Ferrel prove that they can sometimes make questionable career choices in this mediocre cop thriller about cops gone bad and family that protects them.  Everything about this film, including the acting, writing, directing, pacing and even the special features on the dvd, are just plain blah.  D+

The Rocker
Rated PG-13 for drug and sexual references, nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The Office’s Rainn Wilson is an ex-heavy metal drummer that is dumped by his band for being a bit too intense.  When images of him drumming naked cause him and his new band to become Youtube sensations, he gets his chance at revenge against his old bandmates.  Wilson definitely proves that he has potential to be a good Will Ferrell-like leading man, but he needs better material to work with.  He is hysterically funny, but the story is lame and so is the acting by the most of the rest of the cast.  C+



Starring Frank Langella, Michael Sheen, and Oliver Platt
Directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind)
Rated R for some language
Appropriate for ages 15+

After President Richard Nixon (Langella) left office in the 70s, the press went crazy trying to arrange interviews that he wouldn’t give.  When British talk-show host David Frost (Sheen) made an offer, the ex-president decided to take the easy money, since Frost was clearly beneath him and wouldn’t have the skills to expose his crimes.  This film, based on the broadway play follows the events surrounding this historical interview and the chess game played by these two monumental figures. 

I would reckon a guess that this might have been the most challenging film to make in recent memory.  It’s not challenging in regard to special effects, controversy, etc…, but rather due to the question of “how can you possibly make a two hour movie about an interview interesting?”  The answer is a terrific screenplay by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and Ron Howard running the show.  This outstanding production team made a potentially horifyingly boring story into a fast paced thriller-of-a-drama that proves to be more exciting than Howard’s previous critical flop The Davinci Code

It also helps to have the two actors from the Broadway show (Langella and Sheen) who came to the set with a pre-loaded chemistry that shines on film.  Along with a solid supporting cast including Oliver Platt, Sam Rockwell, and Keving Bacon, great acting is everywhere you look on screen. 

While the subject matter is interesting, it is probably not enough to bring the film a huge audience.  However, the audience attending will be very pleased they came.  A

DVD Releases for January 20, 2009

DVD Releases for January 20, 2009

The Express
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, violence and language involving racism, and for brief sensuality
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on the true story about Ernie Davis, the first black college football player to win the Heisman Trophy, The Express follows Ernie’s life from his childhood to its sad conclusion.  While there are some good moments as well as an inspirational story, the writing and directing are pretty weak.  Off the field, we learn about Ernie and his struggle.  On the field, we get stereotyped fans, poorly directed by someone who needs to read a book about shooting sports films.  C-

Barack Obama: The Man and His Journey
Available on DVD

With the inauguration looming, I wanted to check out one of the documentaries about our future leader.  Unfortunately, this one is just a bunch of volunteers and folks that knew Obama telling the camera how awesome and incredible he is.  The film lacks credibility and the journey mentioned in the title is not shown to a great extent.  This is the kind of film that George W. could put together after he leaves office, hoping that maybe people would be convinced if his volunteers said he was great awesome over and over again.  Just like Dubya couldn’t do, Barack is going to have to prove that he representents the hope of America.   Then, and only then, can we decide if the journey was worth lacing up the shoes for.  All this documentary does is make you wish you could trade it out for his 30 minute television commercial he ran before the election.  D+

Jurrassic Fight Club: The Complete Season One
Unrated but viewer discretion advised due to graphic violence
Available on DVD

Last year the History Channel jumped into the dinosaur game with this high-octane documentary that attempts to both educate and enterain by teaching the audience about dinosaurs, and then watching how they fight.  The CGI work here is fantastic, especiallly in light of how low budget this sort of program is and how expensive it looks.  While the look of the show could be called Dinosaurs for ADD suferers due to its incrdibly fast pace and quick visuals, I think that most kids and adults will love this scientific thriller.  B+

The Wrestler

The Wrestler

Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood
Directed by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream)
Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use
Appropriate for ages 18+

    Mickey Rourke is Randy “the Ram” Robinson, a popular professional wrestler from the 80s that is still trying eek out a living in the ring, despite the fact that his life, his career, and his body have fallen apart.

    There is a day for most kids where Saturday morning cartoons and Sesame Street have grown old and you are looking for something to fill the gap.  For me that gap was filled with professional wrestling.  Even though we only had 7 channels on TV, wrestling was on enough for me to get my fix.  Between Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Junk Yard Dog, Randy Savage, and others, I couldn’t wait to see the soap opera of athletes.  Now, many years later, wrestling has changed completely, and those previously mentioned stars (with the exception of the smart businessman Hogan), are gone from the public eye.  I’d like to think that they didn’t follow the path of our fictional hero “The Ram,” but upon discussing these wrestlers with Director Darren Aronofsky recently over pizza before an advance screening of the wrestler, my fears were confirmed.  One by one we discussed all of the names we remembered, and his research showed very similar stories, in tone, for them all.  It’s a tough sport, which requires heavy damage upon the body, both in physicality and the drugs they all have to take to keep the muscles looking abnormally large. 

    So watching this film with all of my childhood memories and current concerns thrown in the blender, I couldn’t help but get pulled into what could have been the life of my one-time heroes.  The bittersweet drama of a story here is as close to perfect as you can get.  Whether you are watching him try to get something started with a local stripper (Tomei) or trying to mend a relationship with his neglected daughter (Wood), you can’t help but get a sense of authenticity from this tale.

As for the acting – it really is as good as they are saying.  Rourke has been doing nothing but horrible films and throwaway roles for years (with the exception of Sin City) and this movie proves that the talent is still there.  In my conversation with Darren, he scared me quite a bit when he told me that the studio didn’t want Rourke, but rather Nicholas Cage for the film.  He was so confident of Rourke that he decided to skip the studio system and make the film independently, ensuring that the cast would stay the same as he originally conceived.  Maybe it was dedication to the director that Mickey felt, or maybe it’s because he saw too much of himself in the character, but whatever it is, Rourke’s performance here is the best performance of 2008 and should give him a strong chance of taking home an Oscar. 

    Just to be fair, I want to warn everyone that this is a tough, challenging film to take in and if you feel uncomfortable with watching a man become very self-destructive in all facets of life, then you might want to stay clear of the ring. 

DVD Releases for January 13, 2009

DVD Releases for January 13, 2009

Swing Vote
Rated PG-13 for language

Kevin Costner is just your average lovable loser until he finds himself to be the tie breaking vote in the presidential election.  It’s a cute idea, but not very well executed.  It’s sweet enough though, if that’s what you are in the mood for.  C+

Brideshead Revisited
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content

If a stuffy British film about a bisexual man that tries to sleep his way into a family so that he can have their house is up your alley – then you must rent this.  I found it boring, pretentious, and annoying.  D

Little Britain USA
Unrated but inappropriate for kids

This naughty little British import from HBO and BBC is sketch comedy at its best.  It’s like Kids in the Hall for a new generation.  The only problem I have with it is that there are only six episodes.  That makes for a very short but enjoyable marathon.  A

Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Paramount Centennial Collections
Both Unrated
Both of these Audrey Hepburn classics are out with the full red carpet treatment.  The question is, should you replace your existing copies?  If you are fans – then yes.  The restorations here are remarkable with super bright colors and updated sound.  Funny Face is still a little obnoxious for my taste, but still great to look at.  Breakfast is as funny and sexy as ever.  Both two-disc collections come packed full of new extras.  Funny Face  B-  Breakfast at Tiffany’s A-



Starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, and Jamie Bell
Directed by Edward Zwick (Blood Diamond)
Rated R for violence and language
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Based on a true story, Defiance follows the lives of three brothers that escape Nazi-occupied Poland only to find themselves fighting Nazis alongside the Russians and building a village in the Belarusian forest where they are able to protect other escaped Jews.

    I will start by admitting that this is a very interesting story.  As a true tale of heroism, I find the actual events to be rather inspirational.  That being said, the main fault of this film lies within the script.  Throughout the film, much of the dialogue rings false and the many of the characters seem like stereotypes rather than real life-folks put into a horrible situation.  Perhaps this is true due to a desire by the filmmakers to be too true to the story, or maybe it’s because the words and characters look great on paper, but lose their authenticity on screen.  Whatever it may be, these two faults get in the way of a really great story.

    What the film does have going for it are two great leading men in Craig and Schreiber, a fantastic production team, and one of the most beautiful musical scores of the year by composer James Newton Howard and virtuosos violinist Joshua Bell.  I think that had I watched this film as a foreign language movie without subtitles, my opinion of it might be very high.  As it is, I think that some audiences will connect, but many will walk away disapointed.    C+

DVD Releases for January 6, 2009

DVD Releases for January 6, 2009

Pineapple Express
Rated R for pervasive drug content, language, nudity and sexual material
Seth Rogen is just your average guy who likes to smoke pot until his dealer, Golden Globe nominated James Franco, gives him a special strain called Pineapple Express that gets him in more trouble than he ever thought possible.  With a murderous kingpin hot on their trails, the two of them must avoid being killed long enough to turn the tides.  And yet another classic Apatow family film comes to DVD.  This is not just the funniest pot movie to hit theaters since Half Baked, but it is also an excellent buddy movie as well.  While a little on the violent side, the comedy wins out here in the end.  A-

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.0
On January 16th, the final episodes of this cult classic Sci Fi Channel drama will hit the air.  So just in time for you to catch up are the 10 episodes leading up to this much-anticipated series finale.  Also included in this set is the unrated extended version of Battlestar Galactic: Razor which was never aired on TV.  While the over 10 hours of special features get a little redundant, the series is frakin great, which makes this set collection-worthy.  A

Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, and Kathy Bates
Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty)
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Appropriate for ages 17+

A young couple in the mid-1950s move to the suburbs and struggle with their loss of identity and adventure.  Considering their family building to be more of a trap then maturity, they attempt to recover what it is that they thought had brought them together in the first place.

For those expecting Kate and Leo’s return to be a romantic drama, forget about it.  I don’t want to give anything important away, but this is not a feel-good movie.  This is a film about a couple that married too soon and probably shouldn’t have gotten together in the first place.  In that regard, it’s a story that much of America will find very familiar.  So while Titanic 2 it isn’t, this is still a very good film that should find a very loyal audience.

What makes it a good film is more than just the story.  The acting by everyone is award-worthy and there is an exceptional chemistry, as you might expect, from Kate and Leo in both the way they love and hate each other. 

The production is also worth mentioning.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins (who also shot this year’s Doubt and The Reader) presents the tale with a crisp, stunning look that adds another dimension to the film.  And with the haunting score by Thomas Newman and the theatrical directing of Sam Mendes, this is a movie that I would not be surprised to see getting a nod for best picture at the Oscars this year. 

But while I can easily praise the film for its quality, I can’t say that I liked the film that much.  I don’t need a happy film to love it, but one this dark and dismal makes it hard for me to tell folks to rush out and see it.  A-