DVD Releases for February 24, 2009

DVD Releases for February 24, 2009

Breaking Bad: The Complete First Season
Unrated but filled with adult content
Available on DVD

Emmy-award winning actor Bryan Cranston stars in this dark comedy from AMC about a chemistry teacher who finds out that he is going to die of cancer and thus goes into making crystal meth to pay for his chemo and help his family once he dies.  At first glance, it appears to be a Weeds clone, but it goes much farther in creating the dark underworld of drugs and the people that sell and take them.  Just like the drug the show portrays, this is an incredibly addictive series that will have you craving season two when it starts up March 8.  A

The French Connection
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray

This 1971 best picture winning film stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider as two narcotics agents looking to stop a drug smugglers in NYC.  Having influenced many of todays cop films, The French Connection remains a relevant and compelling story and with this new blu-ray transfer, it looks more like a period piece rather than a 38-year-old movie.  And Fox did not skimp on the special features here.  The two discs are loaded with tons of extras that will keep you busy for hours.  A


Coraline 3D

Starring the voices of Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, and Ian McShane
Directed by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, some language and suggestive humor
Appropriate for ages 10+

Young Coraline has just moved to a new town and due to her parents busy work schedules, her only fun is to explore the old home and nearby surroundings.  One night she finds a crawl space in her home that leads her to an alternate universe where everything is opposite: her mom and dad don’t work, but rather dote on her, and instead of a drab home with weird neighbors, she discovers a magical world unlike anything she has ever seen.  Unfortunately, this world comes with a cost, and if she wants to stay there, she must completely give up her old reality for something she doesn’t quite trust. 

Using the same animation style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline takes this animation art style to a new level.  The film is breathtakingly beautiful and is made even more incredible by the 3D technology employed.  The images would have popped off the screen without the glasses, but with the glasses, the audience is in for a big treat. 

As for the story, its success lies more in its weirdness than its compelling narrative.  From start to finish, this is one strange little film that keeps you on your toes.  While I wasn’t moved by the tale, I did get excited by its creativity.  Overall, this weirdness makes the film a very interesting and enjoyable movie experience. 

I will say that it might be too scary for some small children and many parents will be uncomfortable with the overall theme.  A-   

DVD Releases for February 17, 2009

DVD Releases for February 17, 2009

Body of Lies
Rated R for strong violence including torture, and for language throughout
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe team up in this Ridley Scott film about the CIA fighting terrorism in the Middle East.  The acting, directing, and production are remarkable, but due to a less than compelling story, the film was a box office dud.  I do think that this film deserves a look and might find a better home on DVD and cable. As usual with Ridley Scott films, there are tons of extras to be found giving the buyer more than their money’s worth.  B+

Rated R for some violent and disturbing content, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Oscar nominated Angelina Jolie is a mother in 1920’s Los Angeles whose only son is kidnapped, and then replaced by a different child by the L.A.P.D.  Clint Eastwood directs this chilling drama that took me by surprise.  The acting, writing, directing and overall production make Changeling one of this year’s must-see films.  I will even go as far as to say it is Clint’s best film since The Unforgiven A

Capote/In Cold Blood Double Feature
Both Rated R for violent images and strong language
Available on Blu-ray

This week Sony is releasing a few pics from their Oscar collection on Blu-ray including Gandhi, Kramer vs. Kramer, and Capote/In Cold Blood, but I consider the latter to be the best of the bunch.  In Cold Blood tells the story of two thugs that murder an innocent family in Kansas in the 60s, while Capote follows author Truman Capote as he writes the book In Cold Blood, based on the murders.  Aside from the out-of-place score by Quincy Jones, In Cold Blood is a terrific crime thriller that looks so crisp on Blu-ray that you think you are watching a black-and-white film that was made yesterday.  The two films together make for a whammy of a double feature.  In Cold Blood A-; Capote A

I Served the King of England
Rated R for sexual content and nudity
Available on DVD

The Czech entry for Best Foreign Language Film follows an ambitious waiter that longs to be a millionaire and will do anything to achieve that goal.  I’m a little mixed on this film.  The first half plays like a Woody Allen sex comedy, but then come the Nazis to lessen the funny.  At the very least, this is an entertaining, weird little film that keeps you engaged throughout.  B-

Touch the Top of the World
Unrated – made for television
Available on DVD

The tale of Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind man to have climbed to the top of Mount Everest, is one of the most compelling stories of our decade.  Therefore it’s too bad that the movie based on his life is this cheesy mess filled with bad acting, writing, and directing.  D

Rated R for bloody violent and disturbing content, terror and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This documentary-style horror film tells the story of a group of people quarantined into an apartment building by the CDC when a virus erupts that turns humans into rabid, deadly creatures. Compared to most of the horror films of late, this one is actually pretty effective and not overly implausible.  There were many moments when I was actually scared.  So enter at your own risk.  B-

And the Winner is…

And the Winner is…

by Danny Minton

On February 22, most of relevant Hollywood will be walking down the red carpet and a lucky few will be honored by their peers by receiving the coveted Academy Award, or Oscar.  So if you are like me, and this night is as important to you as the Super Bowl, then you have probably been paying attention to who is supposed to win, who is supposed to lose, and which races are the closest.  So far this season, Slumdog Millionaire has been sweeping the awards shows.  But at this year’s Oscars, Benjamin Button has the most nominations.  Even for folks like me that follow this closely, winning an Oscar pool can be a very challenging task.  But if you would like to have my odds of winning (trust me – they aren’t that great) while attending your big Oscar party, here is what you will need to mark down.

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire.  While Button just barely edged out Slumdog on my top 10 movies of the year, I think that Slumdog has the edge here.  In 10 or 20 years I think that Benjamin Button will be the movie most remembered, but it’s about this year, not 2029.  Don’t rule out Milk either which could prove to have a very successful night Sunday. 

Best Director: Danny Boyle – Slumdog Millionaire.  Let’s forget about the fact that Boyle is one of the most important directors of our time and he has never been honored by his peers.  Slumdog couldn’t have been what it is without Boyle behind the scenes.  While I love Button’s David Fincher, I honestly can’t say the same about his film. 

Best Actor: Sean Penn – Milk.  While I personally loved Mickey Rourke, and will be crossing my fingers for him, I think that Penn has too much steam going and that Hollywood will also choose to honor Milk with the Best Actor trophy rather than Best Picture.

Best Actress: Kate Winslet – The Reader.  Who doesn’t love a Nazi camp guard turned pedophile?  There is no doubt that Winslet is deserving of an Oscar (sorry for the pun).  I’m not sure it’s for this, but there is still no doubt.  But needless to say, she is the favorite to win and if enough voters saw The Reader, she probably will.  I really hope that Anne Hathaway pulls a big upset here for Rachel Getting Married as I think that she is the most deserving this year.

Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight.  One of the most popular questions I have gotten this past year is “do you really think Heath was that good?”  The answer is an absolute yes.  I thought he was wonderful as the maniacal Joker and would have deserved the trophy whether alive or dead. 

Best Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz – Vicky Christina Barcelona.  This was by far the weakest category of the year and really only two of the performances turned my eye: Cruz and Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler.  But Cruz was truly fantastic in this strange romantic comedy and deserves to take home the trophy. 

As for the rest of the categories, here are the selections I plan on making:

Original Screenplay: Milk
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Original Song: “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire
Costume Design: The Duchess
Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Sound Editing: WALL-E
Sound Mixing: WALL-E
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Documentary Short: The Witness – From the Balcony of Room 306
Animated Feature: WALL-E
Animated Short: Presto
Live-Action Short: Auf der Strecke

DVD Releases for February 10, 2009

DVD Releases for February 10, 2009

Frozen River
Rated R for some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Oscar nominee Melissa Leo stars in this drama about a desperate woman that turns to smuggling aliens in order to provide for her family.  The script by Oscar nominated first time writer/director Courtney Hunt is a solid piece of suspenseful writing with loads of interesting characters and thought-provoking situations. A-

Rated R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity
Available on DVD

Blindness tells the story of a futuristic world where everyone except Julianne Moore becomes blind.  The film shows real potential in the beginning, but the overly-long asylum scene is tedious and much of the picture becomes somewhat unbelievable.  After City of God and The Constant Gardener, I was really hoping that director Fernando Meirelles was going to knock another one out of the park, and I was sorely disappointed with this strike out.  C

Miracle at St. Anna
Rated R for strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The biggest problem with this latest Spike Lee film is that their is too much Spike Lee in it.  Following a group of black soldiers during World War 2 in Italy, the film has a few interesting moments but ruins them with too many embarrassingly and laughable scenes.  And after 160 minutes, Lee didn’t once try to explain the miracle in the title.  D

My Name Is Bruce
Rated R for language and some violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Iconic actor Bruce Campbell makes fun of himself with this tongue-in-cheek tale about a small town that recruits Bruce to take on a giant ghost-monster that is killing off its citizens.  If you are a fan of Bruce Campbell, you might find this a somewhat enjoyable film.  If you don’t recognize the name then trust me – do not attempt this movie – you’ll hate it.  This is bad filmmaking that tries to be bad, and revels in it.  C

Raging Bull
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray

Finally on Blu-ray is Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece about boxer Jake La Motta, brilliantly played by Robert De Niro who went on to win the Oscar for his performance.  Not only does the movie look better than I’ve ever seen it before, but the amount and quality of the special features make this a great addition to any Blu-ray collection.  To get a sense of the painstaking accuracy, check out the shot-by-shot feature of De Niro vs. La Motta in the ring.  A+

He’s Just Not That Into You

He’s Just Not That Into You

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, and Ben Affleck
Directed by Ken Kwapis (License to Wed)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language

He’s Just Not That Into You tells several interconnecting stories of young men and women trying to figure out the opposite sex in the crazy world of dating and marriage.  The main story of the film follows Gigi (Goodwin) as she tries to decipher the signals of all of her wrong-turn dates.  Out of desperation, she turns to Alex (Long) who helps her to read the obvious clues of her suiters. 

In case you haven’t figured it out – this is a chick flick.  But it’s one that is bearable for most men.  The stories all seem familiar in one way or another and for every two estrogen-filled minutes, there seem to be 1 testosterone-filled scene to match.  That’s a good ratio for this genre if you ask me.

The writing here attempts to hit a Richard Curtis (Love Actually) plain, but falls just short.  Still with a cast like this, who are obviously having fun filming, the movie seems to work just fine.  It grows a little tired towards the end, but not annoyingly so. 

The biggest fault of the movie is how equally neurotic all of the women are.  For the most part, they all seem confused and sometimes needlessly dumb.  At least the men come off as distinctly different in their goals and personalities. 

So guys – with Valentine’s Day coming up, I can think of a lot worse ways to spend two hours at the movies.  Not only will your girls love that you took them to see it, but you might just enjoy it as well.  B

DVD Releases for February 3, 2009

DVD Releases for February 3, 2009

Zack and Miri Make a Porno
Rated R for strong crude sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity and pervasive language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Writer/director Kevin Smith’s latest opus stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as roommates that decide to produce a porno in order to pay their rent.  While completely silly and over-the-top (just like the rest of Smith’s work), it still remains crudely funny and provides for the best sight gag of 2009.  Just don’t watch it over dinner or you may lose yours.  Fair warning.  B-

Rent: The Final Performance Filmed Live on Broadway
Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Thirteen years ago I spent the night outside during an ice storm just so that I could score front row center tickets for the Broadway phenomenon called Rent.  While my extremities were upset with me, it turned out to be one of my most cherished memories.  I went back another 6 times over the next decade to see the show again.  So I am sad to say that the show can’t go on forever, and in 2008 the final performance was given.  Luckily for us it was recorded and now on DVD and Blu-ray with tons of special features about the ground-breaking show.  This release and the not the Rent movie is the definitive version of the show and the best way to relive history.  A

Oliver and Company
Rated G
Available on DVD

In 1989, one year before they changed their tune with The Little Mermaid, Disney Animation released this pop musical based on Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.  The biggest problem with this film is that it is clearly dated.  To make matters worse, the music is reprehensible and the animation is truly ugly.  The only saving grace on this DVD is the Oscar winning Pluto short “Lend a Paw” located in the special features section.  D+

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including teen drinking, sexuality, and crude behavior
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Michael Cera and Kat Dennings roam the streets of New York City trying to catch their favorite band playing, while their friends keep getting into and causing trouble.  This might make it into cult classic status some day, but I just didn’t get it.  There is not a plot to be found and much of the film seems loosely put together.  I found the actor’s commentary on the disc to be much more entertaining than the film itself.  C

Friday the 13th Uncut
Rated R
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Just in time for Friday, February 13th, and in preparation for the new Michael Bay Friday the 13th movie, comes the original 1980 classic slasher pic about camp counselors getting offed by a serial killer.  Blu-ray gives it a fresh look that has been missed until now, but the glorious cheesiness is still there in full force.  Also being released are the next two in the series including Friday the 13th 3D with glasses included.  C-



Starring Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace
Directed by Pierre Moral
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, disturbing thematic material, sexual content, some drug references, and language
Appropriate for ages 16+

Liam Neeson is a retired ex-CIA operative that wants to get closer to his daughter (Grace).  When she is kidnapped in Paris by human traffickers, he puts his skills to full use in order to get her back before she disappears forever.

Historically, good films choose not to place their openings during Super Bowl weekend in order to not be humbly defeated by the number one watched TV event of the year.  So when a film written and produced by Luc Besson (Leon the Professional) is introduced with a spectacular trailer, I really thought that this trend would be broken.  Then I saw the movie.  Taken is not a bad film, but it is far from good.

What works in the film is the second act, where Neeson goes after the kidnappers by himself.  Neeson seems a bit miscast (I think Denzel Washington would have been a much better choice), but he is a capable actor and pulls the role off fine.  The revenge aspect of the film, which takes up most of the picture, is creative and well executed (no pun intended).  I do think an R rating would have been more appropriate and believable, but if you can watch a film where people don’t bleed when they get shot or stabbed, then you won’t have a problem here. 

Where the film fails is in the subplots of the first and third acts.  Since you can’t have a film that is all about the rescue, Besson added bits about Neeson and his ex-wife, ex-colleagues, and his desire to be a better father, when being a better father was the only element that should have been pursued.  With too much exposition, poor acting, and even worse directing, I think that the average person would get more enjoyment watching the trailer and then walking in 20 minutes late to the theater.  This way there is nothing to spoil the roller coaster rideC