New in Home Entertainment – July 5, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

July 5, 2011

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Extended Edition
Rated PG-13
Available on Blu-ray with Digital Copy

Although The Lord of the Rings Trilogy is one of the most popular cinematic events of our lifetime, you would never know it from the previous blu-ray release.  While many of the folks who wanted a blu-ray edition of the film were completely satisfied with the theatrical editions released last year, the score was a mere 1 star.  It’s not that the fans didn’t love the film, but rather that once you’ve seen the extended editions (which were released several years ago on DVD), the original pales in comparison.  These new editions boast a huge amount of new material, and unlike most films where the added material was simply put back in due to cuts made to appease the MPAA, these new films contain about two hours of missing storytelling, new music and great special effects.  And with Blu-ray, the presentation has never looked or sounded better.  In all, the set contains 15 discs, with all of the great special features seen on the DVDs as well as the Costa Botes documentaries that provide a very special behind-the-scenes look at the making of the three films.  So if you are satisfied with the CliffsNotes version of the film that came out last year, you can safely skip this new release; but if you are a big fan, this set will most likely have you salivating.  A+

Sucker Punch: Extended Cut
Rated R for sexual content, some violence and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo

If you were one of the few that went to see Sucker Punch in theaters, you were probably like me and left the movie scratching your head in confusion.  Afterall, this latest Zach Snyder release about a young girl who is is locked away in a mental hospital unjustly, and attempts to fight her way out with her imagination (that supposedly takes place while she is sexy dancing) is about as confounding as you can get.  This new extended edition sheds some additional light to the story, as well as some decent enough effects and fight sequences, but the dazzle just isn’t enough to come away with anything meaningful or entertaining.  C-

People on Sunday: The Criterion Collection
Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

A lot of love was put into restoring this 1930 silent film about ordinary people enjoying their weekend in and around Berlin.  With the original film negative destroyed, a huge international effort was put forth to bring this film back to life; and for being 80 years old – it looks great.  Perhaps the most meaningful attributes are that it was one of the first screenplays written by Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot) and it is a fascinating portrait of the simple life that would be completely changed in just a few years time when Hitler would come on the scene and National Socialism would take over these simpler times, changing the country forever.  B+

Das Boot
Rated R for some violence and brief language
Available on Blu-ray

Towards the top of my list of favorite war films is this 1981 film by Wolfgang Peterson (Air Force 1) that follows the crew of a German submarine crew ordered to patrol the Atlantic during WWII and severely harass allied ships.  The film is a claustrophobic masterpiece that will have you biting your nails for almost three and half hours (unless you wimp out and watch the theatrical cut which will only have you biting for two and a half).  The pic not only explores the war from the German point of view, but also portrays well the tension between the German navy and the Nazi party.  Nominated for six Academy Awards (and not in the Best Foreign Film category), Das Boot also holds the #63 ranking in the Top 250 films of all time on  A+

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard
Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Appropriate for ages 13+

    In this summer’s newest super hero introduction, DC and Warner Brothers show us the world of Green Lantern.  Ryan Reynolds is just your average air force pilot, but when a dying warrior from an alien planet crashes on earth, he is recruited to join an intergalactic peace keeping force.  

    With all of the heroes to choose from that lack a movie, Green Lantern is not the first of them to come to mind for a huge adaptation.  After all, he is a very unconventional superhero.  He works for a police force to keep his quadrant of the universe free from fear.  He is virtually unstoppable from any force on earth.  His whole world is, for lack of a better word, weird.  So it will come as no surprise that from the very beginning, this movie fails to take itself seriously, but yet still chugs along at a decent clip, keeping the audience at the very least curious.

    As far as actors go, Ryan Reynolds is pretty fantastic in the leading role.  He is full of charisma and charm and is simply likable.  Peter Sarsgaard, who really goes out of his way to be the opposite of Reynolds here, presents a villain who you can’t help but feel empathy for.  The supporting cast is not the greatest, but I fear its more for their scripts rather than their talent.  

    Speaking of the script, it’s not a great genesis story, but it’s not horrible either.  There are a tremendous amount of holes throughout the story that I’m sure the plethora of writers were hoping the audience won’t ask about.  Some of that probably stems from the original comic, and some of it is simply sloppy and uncreative.  I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but the entire third act, which involves stopping the super-evil Parallax, makes zero sense.  The reactions of the leaders of the intergalactic squadron to the threat is slightly insane and while that major plot point moves the story ahead the way I’m sure they wanted, it should have been rearranged.  

    That being said, I did like the look of the film quite a bit.  It might be a tad too green, but it certainly comes off as unique and true to the comic in a big way.  The special effects were in top form and one of the few things that made the film watchable.  

    So while I can’t give the movie my whole-hearted endorsement like I do X-Men First Class, I can say that it is a decent enough improvement upon Thor and not a horrible way to spend two hours escaping the summer heat.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – June 21, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

June 21, 2011

The Adjustment Bureau
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexuality and a violent image
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Matt Damon is a New York politician who, upon losing the Senate election, discovers that there are men behind the scenes making sure everything goes “to plan.”  When these men attempt to keep him from the woman he is in love with (Emily Blunt), he fights back against the plan, even though it could cost him everything.  You need look no further than the source material, “The Adjustment Team” by sci-fi idol Phillip K. Dick (Minority Report, Blade Runner), to understand that this is going to be a trippy story.  While it’s not as crazy as some of his other work, the religious twist will keep the tale somewhat familiar to most audiences.  It’s no theological breakthrough, but it is a lot of fun to watch and the chemistry between Damon and Blunt is remarkable.  A-

The Eagle
Rated PG-13 for battle sequences and some disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Channing Tatum is the son of an infamous Roman soldier who gained his notoriety for taking his army into Northern England, never to be heard from again.  With the help of his slave, played by Jamie Bell, Tatum travels to the North to discover what happened so many years ago and to reclaim the  lost eagle, the golden emblem of the Roman Army.  Tatum and Bell give a fine enough show, but between the bad acting from the likes of Donald Sutherland and the larger part of the cast, as well as the overall lack of excitement bring this film down.  It doesn’t help that the PG-13 rating severely hurts the film.  This new version comes with an unrated cut, but it still lacks the integrity of its peers Gladiator and HBO’s Rome.  C

Super 8

Super 8

Starring Joel Courtney, Kyle Chandler, and Elle Fanning
Directed by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and drug use
Appropriate for ages 15+

    In the summer of 1979, a young group of friends witnesses a train derailing, which leads to the start of strange happenings in their small Ohio town.

    This is a tough review to write simply because much of the discussion of the film can revolve around potential plot spoilers.  With that in mind, I’ll try to give a more broad account.  Just like he did with Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams went out of his way to not let audiences see what his film was really about.  In this day and age when the trailer usually shows the entire film, I can really appreciate his wanting to keep it secret for us.  

    In this case, the lack of knowledge of upcoming scenes leads to a suspenseful reveal that doesn’t really take place until the third act.  This is both good and bad.  It’s good in the sense that you are really on the edge of your seat and getting to know your characters.  The bad is that  by the time you know what’s actually going on, the build up has to be worth the wait.  For me, the reveal was a bit of let down, especially because it happened so late and came off as unoriginal.  

    For the first hour of the film though, I was truly engrossed.  The film brings  a huge amount of nostalgia with it, reminding you of your days spent with E.T., Close Encounters, and even the Goonies.  And because it reminded me so much of those films, I expected a strong emotional pay off at the end, which just wasn’t provided.  It’s almost like Spielberg began the film and Abrams finished it in the most emotionally unattached way possible.  

    I was also disappointed in the language of the film.  Even though this is a horror film, it is still marketed as a kid-friendly horror film.  Most movies I grew up with had a bit of bad language, but at the moment Abrams threw an F-bomb into the mix, the film became an adult picture, rather than what could have been a great fantasy pic for kids.  While my son is much too young for a film like this, I would be upset if I was watching it with a young teenager.  The language is just plain inappropriate for the target audience.

    Language aside, though, the film definitely starts out of the gate strong, but lacks the kind of finish that most audiences will desire.  It’s not that the story is bad, it’s just that sticking to the formula would have helped the movie tremendously.  B

New in Home Entertainment – June 14, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

June 14, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles
Rated PG-13 for sustained and intense sequences of war violence and destruction, and for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Easily the best alien invasion film of the year, and yes there have been a few, Battle: Los Angeles follows a group of soldiers sent in to do battle with an encroaching alien invasion that is taking over the world.  Led by Aaron Eckhart, the group must not only survive, but curtail the invasion as well.  There’s not a lot of comedy relief here in this brash and intense movie that is more like a war film than a sci-fi pic.  This is a serious nail-biter wrapped up in some amazing special effects.  As for the bad reviews this film got, I don’t understand them.  I think there was definitely a piling-on by critics from the beginning.  While its not an Academy-worthy movie, it certainly is entertaining and a strong representative of the genre.  B+

Kill the Irishman
Rated R for strong violence, language, and some sexual content/nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on a true story, Ray Stevenson is Danny Greene, an infamous Irish thug that stood up to the the Cleveland mob in the 1970s, which led to the collapse of mafia syndicates across the country.  While its not a bad addition to the mafia genre, its not the greatest rep either.  The acting by Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio and Christopher Walken is pretty good, but much of the supporting cast come off as merely cliched Italian mobsters with no depth.  Also, the film’s pacing suffers from the director’s inability to move the non-violent scenes along with a rapid enough clip.  That being said, I rather liked the story and found myself researching it afterward.  Check out the documentary Danny Greene: The Rise and Fall of the Irishman for a more in-depth look at the titular character.  B-

Legend of the First: The Return of Chen Zhen
Rated R for strong violence, martial arts action and some language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

There have been many films based on the legendary fictional character of Chen Zhen, including my favorite martial arts film Fist of Legend with Jet Li and Fist of Fury with Bruce Lee, but never before has he been portrayed as a chinese pseudo-superhero, attempting to take down the Japanese as they prepare to invade before WWII.  Just as you would expect from martial artist Donnie Yen, the fighting sequences are spectacular.  Andrew Lau, the director whose film Infernal Affairs was remade into the multi-Oscar winning The Departed, has a way with filming action that is unique and exhilarating.  The problem lies in the scenes without action.  These scenes plod along in such a manner that the film just stalls.  There is some huge potential here for not only a hit, but a franchise.  Unfortunately, its hard to get past the ridiculously boring plot points.  B-

Hall Pass
Rated R for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From the Farrelly Brothers (There’s Something About Mary) comes this adult comedy about two friends (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) who are given a one week “hall pass” from marriage in order to get over their respective mid-life crises.  This may not be the best Farrelly comedy, but it’s actually a darn funny movie with some good shock value.  Many of the jokes are tired and cliched, but many of them will make you laugh out loud as well.  The movie is predictable, but the jokes and sight gags move it along to the point where its much more than just bearable.  B-

The Boondock Saints: Truth and Justice Edition
Rated R for strong violence, language and sexual content 

Available on Blu-ray

I’m not a big fan of this cult classic about a couple of Irish vigilantes who make a pact to take on Boston’s criminal element, but I seem to be in the minority of those who don’t love it.  In fact, according to IMDB, many in the twenty-something demo consider this film to be one of the greatest movies of all time.  While I do appreciate the unique style of the film, I just couldn’t find myself getting into it.  The film might be over ten years old, but it still has a huge fan base and this new set contains loads of features just for them, as well as both the R-rated and unrated versions of the film.  C

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life

Starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain
Directed by Terrence Malick (The New World)
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Appropriate for all ages

    So what is this film about?  That is a solid question.  Many will go into the movie thinking it is about a Texas family with three boys growing up in the 1950’s.  It is that, sort of.  There is the part of the film that follows this family parented by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, both turning in Oscar-worthy performances.  This particular narrative is told from the point of view of the oldest son, played by Hunter McCracken as a child and Sean Penn later in life, who as an adult is now working in downtown Houston and imagining his childhood in Waco.  But that’s not all of what the film is about.

    Opening with the bible verses of Job 38: 4 and 7, the film quickly sets its central theme of the exploration of God’s complex relationship with man.  The characters are constantly asking questions of God, just as Job did in the Old Testament.  Beginning with the death of their second son, they are constantly asking God why.  And as the first questions come out, Director Terrence Malick takes the audience on a journey of his vision of God.  It’s not the old bearded man in the sky, but rather images ranging from the Universe and its immensity to the tiniest animal cell.  You’ve probably heard there are dinosaurs by now, but in case you hadn’t, his vision includes all sorts of animal life from past to present, all within the context of God creating and molding the Universe and Earth.  The segment is a grand piece of cinema that will no doubt go down as one of the most beautiful visual movements in film history.

    And then there is the conflict mentioned about living your life either in nature or grace.  This theme resonates throughout the movie, driving the characters in their actions.

    So what is the film about?  It’s almost impossible to pitch the story, but if you can tie these elements together without a working narrative, you have the crux of it.  

    What the film is about hardly matters, though, since it’s the power of the film that most will find the most meaningful.  This film pulled me in and connected with me as no other film has ever done before.  I was completely mesmerized for the entire 138 minutes and many hours afterword as well.  Since the scenes are largely incomplete and appear as more of a vision, I found myself meditating on my own life and events that were similar to those of this family.  I think it will be easy for many to conjure up these images while watching the seemingly unrelated events unfold and then personally assign the narrative from your own childhood.  

    I knew from the first act that this would be an important film.  I am certain that in 20, 30, 50 years and more this film will be looked at as a crowning achievement of cinema.  I also knew that it would be polarizing.  Many folks are not going to like it or get it.  The trailer didn’t help with this at all.  If you are going into it thinking you will be seeing the next Brad Pitt/Sean Penn drama, you could be sorely disappointed.  Pitt and Penn are merely colors painted on Terrence Malick’s grand canvas.  I’m not saying you have to be a Malick fan or even know his work, but this is so far from a typical Hollywood film that it will turn many audiences off.  If you actually ask “honey, should we go see Pirates, Hangover or Tree of Life?,” by all means – go see one of the other two.  Your frame of mind is everything when it comes to your potential enjoyment and connection with this movie.  

    While it’s been attempted countless times, no one has ever created a more beautiful piece of motion picture art than Malick has here, and not everyone wants to go to the movies to see art.  As for me, I’m looking forward to enjoying this film for years to come.  I can’t wait to get the blu-ray and devour the special features.  I can’t wait to read the books that will most likely be written about it.  I can’t wait to share it with my family and friends in the hope that they will find in it what I did.  A+

New in Home Entertainment – June 7, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

June 7, 2011

True Grit
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of western violence including disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

If you are a big fan of the original John Wayne classic about a young girl and a washed-up U.S. Marshall seeking revenge for the death of her pa, then there is a chance that you might not like this newer version.  Personally, I found it to be a huge improvement over the original, mostly due to a far superior vision from the Coen Brothers and much stronger performances by the immensely talented cast.  Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon, while not as iconic as John Wayne and Glen Campbell, are simply amazing in their performances, and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld proves to be  truly worthy of her Oscar nomination.  And with the beautiful score by Carter Burwell and the inspired cinematography of Roger Deakins, this movie works at every level imaginable.  I do wish the Coen Brothers would include a commentary in one of their movies, but there are enough special features thrown in here to make most folks happy.  I highly recommend checking out “The Cinematography of True Grit” for a more in depth look at the legendary artist behind the unique look of the film.  A+

Rated R for language, violence and disturbing images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Executive Producer James Cameron is the man responsible for this film about a group of cavers that encounter a life and death struggle when the cave system they are exploring experiences a tropical storm.  While there are some decent actors here, there are no true stars in this film that feels like an indie with a decent effects budget.  It’s not the acting that hurts the film though, but rather the pacing.  You would think that a film with such constant action would be exciting, but instead its rather boring.  Also, much of the drama that ensues feels too forced, almost like they knew they needed something besides man vs. nature.  And while the sights are beautiful, I would suggest checking out the documentary Planet Earth which gives a more thrilling vantage of the scenery.  C

Just Go With It
Rated PG-13 for frequent crude and sexual content, partial nudity, brief drug references and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After having his heart broken on his wedding day, Adam Sandler changes his medical specialty to plastic surgery and uses his wedding ring to score chicks. When he finds himself meeting the girl of his dreams, he convinces his assistant (Jennifer Aniston) to pose as his ex-wife in order to create an elaborate scheme to win her heart.  The first few minutes of the film show real promise in a sort of Adam Sandler movie kind of way.  There are some decent laughs and an interesting setup.  But when Aniston and Sandler began plotting and the film goes downhill quick.  The rest of the movie relies on cheap and stupid laughs, taking away any credibility the film might have once had.  The jokes smell of desperation brought on by the complete lack of creativity or nuance.  Don’t get me wrong – I like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy and many of his other films.  I think there is a place and time for those types of movies.  That is why I am disappointed by this one because there is just no excuse for an insanely dumb project such as this.  D+

Burn Notice: Season Four
Available on DVD

While most of the time I consider USA’s shows a little O.L., I have to admit that between Burn Notice and White Collar, USA has a pretty good thing going.  This cult classic show about an burned spy and his crazy sidekicks is still fun, witty and entertaining after four seasons.  You gotta check out the special feature “Sam Axe’s Guide to Ladies and Libations” with the infamous Bruce Campbell.  Also of note is the “Burn Notice Roasts White Collar – White Collar Roasts Burn Notice” feature.  B

The Company Men
Rated R for language and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

According to the makers of The Company Men, if you lose your job in this day and age you have a few options: take a lower paying job with fewer benefits, start your own company, or off yourself.  This new film about the recession is well enough acted by Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Kevin Costner and Tommy Lee Jones, but its tone is severely dark and frankly not a whole lot of fun to watch.  The tag line of “ In America, we give our lives to our jobs.  It’s time to take them back” doesn’t quite spell out what the movie is about.  If you are currently out of work or not in the position you were a few years ago, don’t look to this film for inspiration, for it has none to give.  If you want to see a vision of one of the biggest challenges America has ever faced, then you might have a good reason to see it.  B-