New in Home Entertainment – August 30, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

The Elephant in the Living Room

Rated PG for thematic material including some disturbing situations, mild language and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This very daring and sometimes saddening documentary by filmmaker Michael Webber looks at the American subculture of people who raise dangerous exotic animals as common household pets.  The majority of the film follows an almost invalid man that keeps two lions in a horse trailer until an Ohio police officer helps him build a pen that will more safely and comfortable hold the big cats.  This story line could have been the entire film and it would have been a strong and convincing case against the common practice.  While I was really interested in the other bits and pieces of information thrown out such as the world of exotic pet auctions, reptile expos and escaping pet cougars, many of those subjects were not covered in enough detail and felt more like incomplete thoughts than a strong argument.  What I would really like is to see this doc as a weekly show where the officer takes on all forms of exotic pet abuse.  But regardless, I still found the story to be both incredibly informational, interesting and profoundly moving.  I didn’t cry like when I watched The Cove, but you can’t help but feel for these beautiful animals in the hands of the wrong owners.  A-

Win Win
Rated R for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Paul Giamatti is a nice lawyer who coaches the local high school’s wrestling team.  When he finds himself broke due to a tough economy, he decides to unethically take guardianship of one his clients in order to pay himself a small stipend to help make ends meet.  When the client’s grandson, who happens to be a championship wrestler, shows up on his doorstep to live with his grandfather, the lawyer decides to take him in until things can get settled with the kid’s deadbeat mom.  This is truly an example of a nice and enjoyable film.  The characters are nice but flawed people and the story, while containing conflict, doesn’t revel in it.  It is genuinely funny and doesn’t give off a whiff of indie pretense.  More importantly, it looked like they had a fun time making it, and personally, I had a fun time watching it.  A-

The 5th Quarter
Rated PG for thematic material, some language, medical images and brief smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The 5th Quarter is based on the true story of a car crash that took the life a fifteen-year-old boy and the effect it had on his family and friends.  Unfortunately, it’s a great and inspiring story that is very poorly told.  Recently we’ve seen some really decent Christian or faith-based films such as Soul Surfer and To Save a Life, but for every good film in this genre there are several stinkers and this one smells to high heaven.  You would think that with stars like Aiden Quinn and Andie MacDowell that you would have the makings of a decent picture, but unfortunately, they both acted down to the horrendous script and the rest of the cast didn’t stand a chance.  The one saving grace is that the film is only 90 minutes long which eases the suffering a small bit.  D- 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Starring Guy Pearce, Katie Holmes and Bailee Madison
Directed by Troy Nixey
Rated R for violence and terror
Appropriate for ages 15+

    Little Sally (Madison) has just been ousted by her mother and sent to live with her father (Pearce) and his girlfriend (Holmes) in the old house they are rebuilding in the hopes of landing the cover of Architectural Digest.  When they discover a secret basement in the house, an evil army of faeries is unleashed that only the girl sees until it is too late.  

    Lately, when the name of Guillermo del Toro is thrown around it sends a sense of quality and imaginative horror that brings chills up your spine and a feeling that you are about to have a creepy good time.  This little film, which was supposed to be released in 2010, breaks the cycle of strong films with his name attached.  You can definitely see his influence in the little touches such as creature design, mood, lighting, and production.  Where the movie falls flat is in the script and the direction.  

    The sets and creatures both serve as fairly horrifying villains within the film.  I loved the house and the buildup of tension and thought there was real promise for a good scary movie.  I’ve never been a big fan of graphic violence and the macabre as vehicles for horror, but this film gives just enough without going completely overboard.  I’m not sure why they opted for an R rating, especially considering there is no bad language and much of the violence is off-screen, but I’m glad they felt the integrity of the project was more important than luring teenagers into theater seats.  

    I had some real problems here with the script and some of the characters’ actions.  For example, in the second act, Holmes goes to the library to do some research on the house.  The first librarian she asks just happens to know everything about the old house including what might be upsetting the girl.  Isn’t that convenient?  Then, with these obvious facts in hand, she doesn’t run from the scene with the girl in tow, but rather slowly prepares for their exit from the house.  It’s almost painful to watch.  And unfortunately, this type of flaw happens more than once.  I would have left at the beginning of the second act when the caretaker winds up in the hospital from a vicious creature attack.  In this world, however, that is just a peculiar turn of events that seems to be completely overlooked by the tenants.  

    There are also some technical problems as well.  The CG looks decent enough but many of the actor interactions with the faeries has an awkward feel as if the actors didn’t quite understand what they were supposed to be afraid of on the days they were shooting the green screen attacks.  Perhaps they changed the design of the faeries after they filmed or maybe the direction wasn’t adequate enough, but something felt off in many of those sequences.  In that regard, the entire film just feels a little off; almost as if the cast and crew weren’t completely on their A-game.  There was a lot of talent to be found on set and off, but things just didn’t click and it shows.  C

New in Home Entertainment – August 23, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

August 23, 2011

The Beaver
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

It’s no wonder this little drama starring Mel Gibson as a depressed husband and father who can only communicate though a beaver puppet didn’t do well at the box office. After all, Mel is one of the most hated men in Hollywood right now (unjustifiably so in my honest opinion), and he plays a crazy man who talks through a beaver.  This concept doesn’t make for an attractive movie. But then ten minutes into it you get hooked and then you can’t take your eyes off of it.  Mel turns in one of his best performances and Jody Foster does great in her double duty role of director and leading actress.  While the film is extremely funny at times, it also serves up a stirring and sensitive tale of a man with an extreme mental illness and his family who is forced to suffer it along with him.  A-

Dexter: The Fifth Season
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray

While I loved the first two seasons of this hit show about a serial killer who only kills the bad guys, I never thought it could keep up its pace.  But then the breathtakingly scary season four hit leaving number five in it’s wake. With Dexter left a widower, single parent and prime suspect, the season takes an usual direction as he decides to combine forces with a new partner, played by Julia Stiles.  Some of the dialog and acting are a bit on the campy side and the scare factor can’t come close to Season Four, but overall the writing is strong and star Michael C. Hall proves again why he is an award-worthy actor.  B+

Troll Hunter
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of creature terror
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Norwegian with English Subtitles

While it sounds like cheesy B-movie, this Norwegian import manages to churn out a creative tale about a group of journalists attempting to capture footage of Norway’s troll problem that has gotten out of hand.  It’s ultra low-budget and won’t impress you with it’s less-than-dazzling special effects, but you will end up entertained and full of useless knowledge about trolls.  If you don’t want to read through the subtitles, never fear, there will be a big-budget Hollywood remake just around the corner.  B-

The Guard

The Guard

Starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle
Directed by John Michael McDonagh
Rated R for some violence, language, drugs and sexual content

    When a drug-smuggling ring begins operating in a small Irish town, an FBI agent (Cheadle) and an unorthodox Irish cop (Gleeson) have to team up in order to bring them down.

    It’s hard to imagine an original cop buddy movie.  Even though there have been some good ones with some darn good scripts, the basic premise is typically the same.  The story usually takes place when a serious cop gets teamed with one that is usually his polar opposite.  Recent examples are Lethal Weapon, Black Rain, Hot Fuzz and The Other Guys.  But just because it’s been done many times before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done again with a new twist.  And thus we get The Guard: a film that doesn’t break new ground, but offers up a nice variation on the theme.  

    While Brendan Gleeson is certainly not a household name, he has played major roles in some very popular films including the Harry Potter movies, Braveheart, Troy, and several others.  Back in 2008 we got to see him brilliantly carry a film in In Bruges with costar Colin Ferrell.  There aren’t a whole lot of leading roles out there for guys that look like a 56-year-old version of me.  So there should be no wonder why I like the guy and want to see him do well.  As for Cheadle, he’s truly the polar opposite of Gleeson and fits the buddy formula well.  Together, they make an odd team, which is what I think the film was going for.  This film was never meant to be a Lethal Weapon.  Rather than relying on big set pieces and action sequences, the movie rests its head on character development.  They want you to know all about Gleeson and what makes him so peculiar.  What you learn about Cheadle is through Gleeson’s eyes.  There isn’t a lot of good chemistry here, but since that is on purpose, the performances work.

    Where the film falls behind is its underproduced look and feel.  The print looks as grey as an average Irish day and there isn’t much in the way of music or effects.  The direction proves to be a little slow, relying more on the script and the two leading actors to move everything along.  If it had been more polished, it would been a much more enjoyable film to look at, but I have a feeling that the spirit of the thing might have been left behind in its wake.  

    One thing that surprises me is how it is being classified as a comedy.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some good chuckles, but this is much more of a character study than a laugh riot.  And while it won’t blow your mind, it does serve as a nice diversion.  B

New in Home Entertainment – August 16, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

August 16, 2011

Jane Eyre
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While there have been many adaptations of the classic novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, each has a different look and feel and this new version from director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) is no different.  While the story of poor Jane is still haunting and moving, it has never looked so darkly beautiful.  The acting is absolutely terrific from the entire cast, especially that of Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) and Michael Fassbender (X-Men First Class) as the tortured lovers.  The real star of the film for me is composer Dario Marianelli who creates a score just as lovely and powerful as his Oscar-winning music from Atonement.  The only problem here, and the one that keeps this film from achieving greatness, is the mixing of the elements.  There are some great moments with spectacular cinematography where the score should be singing and instead it feels like they are afraid to let it out and breath.  These types of missteps in editing might sound small, but the film feels a little puny because of it.  B+

The Conspirator
Rated PG-13 for some violent action
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the North did everything in its power to catch those responsible and quickly prosecute them.  When a young lawyer (James McAvoy) is assigned to defend the mother of one of the accused (Robin Wright), he must put on hold his feelings about the case and give her the defense she justly deserves according to the constitution.  If you’ve never heard of this little indie, you might find it strange that a film directed by Robert Redford, starring a talented cast including McAvoy, Wright, Kevin Kline and Tom Wilkinson slipped past the radar.  After watching it you won’t wonder why.  While the subject matter is very interesting, the screenplay, pacing and acting all suffer a hit.  Everything just feels kind of flat.  More interesting than the film, though, is the feature-length documentary “The Conspirator: The Plot to Kill Lincoln” which goes into just the right amount of detail about the story.  C+

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In a future world where vampires are at constant war with man, a priest (Paul Bettany) goes against church orders in order to go after the vampires that kidnapped his niece.  if you are asking yourself “wasn’t Paul Bettany just in this movie?” you’d be close.  Bettany keeps choosing roles like Legion and Priest possibly because this is the best chance he’ll get of being a big action star.  While it’s good to have such a great actor that is capable of elevating bad material, it can also hurt the actor which is starting to become the case.  Here in Priest we get a big mash up of vampire movies and westerns thrown into one cheeseball script.  And even though the effects budget allows for some impressive action sequences, the movie itself falls apart due to its lack of originality and bad writing.  C-

The Battle of Algiers: The Criterion Collection
Available on Blu-ray

After the French were defeated in Vietnam in the 1950s, they turned their eyes towards Algeirs whose citizens were willing to do anything to win their independence.  This legendary film of that clash is now getting the Criterion treatment with this new 2 blu-ray edition including literally tons of extras.  For a foreign film made in 1966, the print has held up well and the film’s style tells a story that is just as relevant today as it was back then.  A

The Big Lebowski
Rated R for pervasive strong language, drug content, sexuality and brief violence
Available on Blu-ray

Many have declared Jeff Bridges comeback came with his Oscar-winning performance in Crazy Heart, but in my mind, he hit with a vengeance in the Coen Brothers’ crazy fantasy The Big Lebowski.  In case you haven’t had the pleasure of this brilliant comedy yet, the story follows a California stoner/bowler who goes by the simple name of The Dude.  When his rug, which really tied the room together, is stolen by a group of thugs that have mistaken him for a millionaire by the same name, The Dude goes on an adventure with his bowler buddies to recover it.  While many of the special features come from previous dvd releases, there are some nice additions including a case that more closely resembles a book than a blu-ray.  My favorite feature is the inclusion of digital copy which hardly ever comes with catalog releases.  A+

New in Home Enterainment August 9, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

August 9, 2011

Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, sexual content and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
If you missed this Super hero movie starring the Office’s Rainn Wilson and Juno’s Ellen Page, you weren’t the only one.  When his wife leaves him for a local drug dealer, Wilson attempts to win her back by committing vigilante justice.  Wanting to get in on the action is Page who is a little overeager to commit violence for the greater good.  For the first half of the film I was wondering why this movie didn’t get picked up by a major distributor.  After all, the very talented cast includes Wilson and Page as well as Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon.  I thought that studios could have passed due to the fact that it is too much like Kick Ass, but the two films turn out to be very different.  Once I got half-way in, I realized what kept this pic in indie status as the comedy turns incredibly weird and extremely shocking.  That being said, I liked the film due to it sticking to its guns and staying original.  The pacing is good and the script is engaging and surprising.  As eclectic actors, Wilson and Page are truly a dynamic duo and I couldn’t wait to see and hear what would happen next.  B+

Soul Surfer
Rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In 2003, a promising young surfer named Bethany Hamilton tragically lost her arm during a shark attack.   Rising above her natural fear of the ocean, she opted to get back on her board to continue her surfing career in spite of her new handicap.  While many faith-based films aren’t of the best quality, Soul Surfer proves that with a great cast (AnnaSophia Rob, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt) and a decent screenplay (written by countless screenwriters) you can release an inspiring Christian film that might have the chance to be appreciated by the non-Christian film-going community.  The film has a nice pace to it and while it manipulates the tar out of you, making it very tough to keep your eyes dry, it still comes off as one of the highlights in family-friendly films thus far in 2011.  A-

East Bound and Down: The Complete Second Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
The first season of this hit HBO comedy starring Danny McBride as the world’s worst professional athlete role model was so originally funny that it’s hard to believe that HBO could come up with a second season to match.  Heading in a different direction, season two follows fallen baseball star Kenny Powers as he struggles to make a name for himself playing Mexican baseball, all in the hope of being noticed again and making it back to an American pro career.  While not as stellar as the first season, number two ends up being just as original, although a little stranger than I expected.   The humor is much darker here as is the discomfort you feel every time Kenny takes the mound.  B

Your Highness
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity, violence and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Danny McBride has had a nice lineup of performances over the last few years, but lately he has shown himself to be a one-trick pony portraying himself as a foul-mouthed loser with an over-reaching level of confidence.  In Your Highness, he is a medieval jerk who must accompany his brother (James Franco) and a lone warrior (Natalie Portman) on a quest to find and kill an evil wizard.  Beyond the obvious observation that this movie is way below the perceived talent level of Franco and Portman, it is surprising that they both act down to the material.  There is some funny stuff here, but most of the jokes seem like they were written by a couple of stoners who pounded out a script while taking a break from playing World of Warcraft on Salvia (It was actually written by McBride but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was merely channeling said stoners).  Creating a raunchy comedy about medieval times isn’t a bad idea and the plot isn’t horrendous, but I can’t imagine anyone but teenage boys getting anything from this poorly acted mess of a movie.  Frankly, it’s time McBride stepped it up and tried something different for a change.  Adam Sandler and Jim Carey have both proven they can handle more challenging roles and I am certain that McBride has it in him as well.  Then when he goes back to the old character, we will at least know he has it in him.  D

Rated R for language including sexual references, and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Paul follows two comic book nerds from England (Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) who go on a quest to visit famous UFO sites in America.  When they find themselves picking up a pot-smoking extraterrestrial hitchhiker (voiced by Seth Rogen), they help their new friend by running from the government in the hopes they can get Paul to his escape ship.  If Cheech and Chong attempted to make a version of Super 8, it would look much like Paul.  Unlike the other stoner comedy released this week, Your Highness, this one combines two genres (three if you count stoner films as a genre) in a very effective fashion.  Not all of the jokes hit, but the movie is fun to watch and full of surprises.  I especially liked Jason Bateman as the foul-mouthed g-man hot on the alien’s trail.  I do wish the filmmakers hadn’t felt the need to add a love interest as the very funny Kristen Wiig’s character falls flat.  B-