New in Home Entertainment – February 28, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

February 28, 2012

Rated PG for mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking
Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD

After sweeping pretty much of all of the technical Oscars this year, I’m sure many of you are wondering what you missed in theaters.  After all, Martin Scorsese’s family masterpiece only brought in a paltry $67 million at the box office which is nowhere near its estimated budget.  Telling the tale of a young boy from the early 1900’s who is forced to live in a Paris train station after the death of his father, Hugo avoids being a depressing film by filling the void with curiosity and imagination.  If you have a 3D television you are in luck as this is a must-own title for that technology, but even without you are in for a terrifically moving picture that you and your family are sure to enjoy.  Also, because there is so much history in the movie that the story couldn’t possibly cover, the documentaries are all a must-see, especially the feature on The Cinemagician, George Melies.  A

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Rated R for disturbing violent and sexual content, nudity and language
Available on Blu-ray and DVD

So the title is enough to get you a little tongue-tied, but the subject of this film will stick with you in ways you maybe wish it didn’t.   Elizabeth Olsen’s film debut tells the tale of a young girl who joins a cult only to escape the nightmare after she runs away and seeks solace at her sister’s home.  Reliving the events of her recent past, Martha has lost touch of reality and has difficulty distinguishing right from wrong in her new world.  This is one majorly disturbing film with some really good performances throughout.  Olsen’s performance is as solid as you would expect from a seasoned actress, even though she’s a Hollywood newbie.  And John Hawkes, straight off his Oscar nomination for last year’s Winter’s Bone, is horrifying as the cult’s patriarch.  B+

I Melt With You
Rated R for pervasive drug use and language, some violence and sexual content
Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Starting out like a modern day Big Chill, I Melt With You places four great actors: Thomas Jane, Jeremy Piven, Rob Lowe and Thomas McKay as friends who have come together for a wild weekend of drugs, sex and hard partying.  But when they all realize that the lives they are living are not what they had hoped for, a pact they made as young men takes them to a dark place.  This films starts out with some real potential, but when the big plot twist is revealed, it becomes a party that is no longer fun to watch.  I like a good turn, but this plot is ridiculous and the actors treat it as such.  Not every film has to be entertaining, but to purposefully try to depress those watching is unreasonable.  C-

A Tribute to John Williams: An 80th Birthday Celebration
Available on CD

Hollywood’s most famous film composer turned 80 on February 8 and with this momentous occasion Sony has released this wonderful tribute album celebrating his career.  It’s hard to imagine films like Star Wars, Jaws, ET, Schindler’s List and Indiana Jones without the beautiful and powerful music that accompanied them.  Arguably the greatest composer of the twentieth century, this album is a fitting example of some of his greatest works including the before-mentioned titles as wells as themes from 1941, Sabrina, War Horse, Memoirs of a Geisha and Tintin as well as the never before released Happy Birthday Variations.  A

Act of Valor

Act of Valor
Rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language

    In an attempt to add a sense of ominous realism to their movie, the director team of Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh chose to use real-life active-duty Navy SEALs as their leads in a fictional story about a group of SEALs who are sent in to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent and then foil the plans of the man who kidnapped her. 

    Before the film begins, McCoy and Waugh explain their use of real people rather than actors in many of the roles.  And from the beginning you get the sense that this a two hour commercial for the military.  And while in many ways the production is far from bulletproof, in regard to its mission – it executes well.

    I think we can dispense with the obvious first: the acting is not great.  I’m not sure if these guys are trying to be thespians, but their efforts don’t show a lot of potential for stage or screen.  But once you really think about it, aren’t you glad these guys aren’t good actors?  After all, this film is very effective at making the entire group of soldiers look amazing at what they really do.  To mildly put it – these guys are bad-to-the-bone real-life heroes who put their lives on the line so that we can even go to the movies.  While we are at work or play, living out our lives relatively oblivious to the dangers of the outside world, these guys are risking their lives to protect our right to do so, and I think you will be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t appreciative.  It’s very easy here to forgive things like acting, plot holes and a bit of propaganda for a project such as this.

    Once you get past the little annoyances, there is a decent picture underneath.  The plot surrounding a terrorist attempting to take out American tourist destinations is frightening and very plausible.  Since 9-11 there has been a sense of dread in the air about our security and it’s easy to believe that these ideas, while fictional, probably aren’t far from the truth. 

    In addition – the drama and excitement are heaped on a plenty.  In many of the scenes the production used live-fire rather than the traditional ammunition used in Hollywood productions.  What you get is a more intense ride than what you expect.  The explosions are big and bountiful and the tension is captivating.

    So while it would be hard for you to ignore the negatives, the positives found make it possible to not only forgive them, but to also come away with an experience you will not likely forget and a feeling of thankfulness to those that make a living protecting us.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – February 21, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

February 21, 2012

Puss in Boots

Rated PG for some adventure and mild rude humor
Available on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD

There’s no doubt that compared to 2010, 2011 was a lousy year for animated films.  That being said, there were a few high spots along the way and Puss in Boots falls into this category.  While Puss is a spinoff from Shrek, the only thing Shrekish in this film is the tone, which is meant to be humorous for both adults and children.  In this adventure, Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas) teams up with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis) to go after the evil Jack and Jill.  The film ends up being very cute and at times downright adorable.  The writing is much stronger than the last Shrek outing and you can tell that there were some inspired artists behind the scenes.  It does drag at times while trying to beat a dead cat with puns and cliches but overall it is an entertaining pic that you and/or your kids will enjoy.  B

Tower Heist
Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Tower Heist follows a group of hotel workers who have been cheated out of their investments by a white collar thief.  In order to get revenge, the group plots to not only get their money back, but do what they can to rub it in his face.  The premise is overall pretty clever and couldn’t be timelier.  The cast is a talented bunch including Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Alan Alda and many other solid actors and actresses.  Where the film fails is in the over-the-top script that trades big set-pieces and cheap laughs for common sense.  The characters make dumb choices throughout to the point where it’s not only unbelievable but also tedious.  The third act attempts to fool the audience into severe gullibility as it pours on the most ludicrous of endings.  With all of the buzz for this talented cast, one can only be disappointed at the results.  C-

The Son of No One
Rated R violence, pervasive language and brief disturbing sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

If you’ve never heard of this cop drama starring Channing Tatum, Al Pacino, Ray Liotta, Katie Holmes, Tracy morgan and Juliette Binoche – then you aren’t alone.  Telling the tale of crime and cover-up within the New York Police Department, the film has some decent performances but lacks substance.  And while the ending might catch your attention, you’ll have to wade through a lot of mud to get there.  Overall, it’s a forgettable pic that will have you wishing you spent the last two hours doing something else.  C-

Weeds: Season Seven

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Three years have past since the events of Season Six of Showtime’s hit show about a suburban drug-dealer/mother and now Nancy (Mary-Louise Parker) has just been released from prison and unleashed upon New York City.  Determined to gain back custody of her young son from her vindictive sister, Nancy starts a comeback in the drug trade with her sons to help.  Man I really loved this show in the beginning.  It was smart, funny and socially relevant.  While season six wasn’t great, it at least rewarded viewers who stuck through the mediocre middle episodes with a huge climactic prize.  Unfortunately, the show appears to have overstayed its welcome by a year or two and is no longer the high it used to be.  C+

Unforgiven: 20th Anniversary Edition
Rated R for language and violence and for a scene of sexuality
Available on Blu-ray

There’s something great about a Clint Eastwood western.  Now, twenty years after its original release, my favorite western, and one of my favorite movies, is being re-released by Warner Brothers in a beautiful new 54-page book and blu-ray combo.  This classic film tells the story of two retired outlaws (Eastwood and Morgan Freeman) who decide to take on one last job at the end of their lives.  The acting is magnificent, the writing is perfect and the production, including Clint’s directing, is stunning.  While they should have added a few features to the blu-ray, the book makes for a nice touch if you are a collector.  A+

New in Home Entertainment – February 14, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

February 14, 2012

Take Shelter
Rated R for some language
Available on DVD

Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire) and Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life) have to be two of the hardest-working actors in Hollywood right now, but you don’t have to look further than Take Shelter to see that they aren’t trading quantity for quality.  Take Shelter tells the story of a man who has been driven crazy by his apocalyptic visions and his wife who supports him throughout his assumed illness.  This is definitely a film that you have to be patient with but is very rewarding if you stick with it.  Shannon’s performance should have made him an Oscar contender this year and were it not for Chastain’s Oscar nomination for The Help, she might have landed one for this as well (she was also great in Tree of Life and The Debt).  And while the movie looks like a little indie from the outside, it turns out to be one big powerhouse of a film.  A

Three Outlaw Samurai: The Criterion Collection

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This 1964 classic Samurai tale by famed Japanese filmmaker Hideo Gosha tells the story of three Samurai warriors who find themselves in the middle of a fight between a dictatorial magistrate and a group of peasants who have kidnapped his daughter in the hopes of coercing him to lower their taxes.  The stunning black and white print has been given the Criterion treatment with a new high-definition restoration.  Also, the blu-ray has been given a new uncompressed monaural track.  If you are a fan of early Japanese cinema, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.  B+

To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray Collector’s Series
One of America’s most beloved films, To Kill a Mockingbird turns 50 this year and is getting a spectacular new hi-def facelift as part of Universal’s 100th Anniversary Collector’s Series.  By today’s standards, this film is challenging, telling the story of a lawyer in the Depression-era South who defends a black man from an undeserved rape charge.  While I wasn’t yet around in 1962 when this film came out, I can only imagine the jolt it sent through theaters.  Not only is the story a real doozy, but with this new digital restoration, it looks absolutely pristine.  If you are a fan of the film, you might want to check out the Collector’s Series Edition which comes with a book and a beautiful collector’s case.  Also be sure to watch the special feature: 100 Years of Universal: Restoring the Classics which gives an in depth look at the efforts they are taking to restore and preserve their classic films.  A+ 



Starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, and Michael B. Jordan
Directed by Josh Trank
Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking

    While it seems like the found footage category was coming to a creative end, it appears that there are new applications such as this crafty new superhero movie.  In Chronicle, an unpopular and troubled teenager named Andrew (DeHaan) decides to start video taping his life.  When he and two friends (Russell and Jordan) wander into a cave, they discover something not of this world and the next day the three of them are in possession of some nifty little super powers such as telekinesis and the ability to fly.  Unable to handle his out of control emotions, Andrew begins using his powers for evil forcing his friends to try to stop him. 

    Much of this film works really well.  The best example of where the film goes right is in the story.  The writing is very strong, placing an organic feel to the lives of the teenagers and tells a very believable “what if” tale.  So many films about teens today paint an inaccurate picture of them.  They all might show the culture of being a teen, but very few deal with the drama in a realistic manner.  This film seems to do a wonderful job of getting it right. 

    Giving a nice lift to the script is this talented cast of relative unknowns.  They portray their characters in a believable way that brings a sense of empathy upon them.  You really want them to use their powers for good and make good decisions, but you also know that they are teenagers with an exceptional gift which ultimately means that bad behavior and mayhem might be forthcoming.

    Where this film fails is in the found footage concept.  Personally I found it completely unnecessary.  It’s a gimmick that loses its appeal rather quickly.  Not only that, but by the end they are splicing together found footage from so many sources that the whole premise lacks common sense.  Maybe it helped keep the costs down, but it also manages to get in the way of something that could have been spectacular.

    Even with its faults, Chronicle is an entertaining thriller that should find a nice audience from a wide range of ages.  I also think it opens the doors for a variety of different genres to jump into the found footage game.  Horror seemed to be the obvious place, but if they can throw superhero into the mix, why not romantic comedies, crime dramas and science fiction?  B+

New in Home Entertainment – February 7, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

February 7, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements
Available on Blu-ray and DVD

When tackling the fourth book in the Twilight series by
Stephanie Meyer, the decision was made to split it into two movies.  In this fourth of four very bad but successful films, Edward and Bella get married and on their honeymoon discover she is pregnant.  Here’s the problem: what exists in a two hour form here could have and should have been the first act of one movie, not the first half of two.  This is the slowest and one of the most painful movies I have ever sat through.  So long, so boring and so badly done.  The writing is awful, the acting is hideous and the self importance is incredibly annoying.  Personally, I find it disturbing that a film like this is the event film for today’s teens.  We had Star Wars, Raiders and ET.  There are few who could blame us for falling in love with movies during that time.  Other generations have had similar experiences in their days.  When a film like this has people sleeping in tents outside the theater and generates $700 million world-wide, it makes me feel like the Native American shedding a tear in the old Keep America Beautiful commercial.  F

Lady and the Tramp
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray and DVD

It may not be the best example of Disney’s classic animated pictures, but it certainly is one of the cutest.  Following the tale of a pretty young female cocker spaniel who falls in love with a homeless mutt, Lady and the Tramp is an entertaining film filled with loads of nostalgia and possibly one of the most iconic scenes in animation history (as many times as I tried that spaghetti thing on a date, it never worked out in my favor).  This new hi-def edition looks amazing and gives the film a shiny new feel.  Also, for those interested, there is some great new content not found on the 2006 DVD release.  B+

Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

For those who have not gone to any of the live events done at theaters nation wide, this title may change your mind.  Released in limited showings a few months back at your neighborhood cineplex, now this breathtaking performance of the once-in-a-lifetime event is hitting home. What it’s not is a filmed version of the infamous musical.  What it is is the ultimate performance of the music with a cast and orchestra of over 200 at London’s Royal Albert Hall for the 25th anniversary of the legendary show.  The cast here is an absolute dream and the encore is the icing on the cake as Andrew Lloyd Webber is joined by famous past phantoms on stage revisiting the show’s highlights.  I’ll admit that Sarah Brightman’s encore is worth missing, but everything else on this disc is spectacular.  A

A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas

Rated R for strong curde and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence
Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD

Time has changed Harold and Kumar in this third and very tired sequel to the hit stoner franchise.  Harold and Kumar are no longer close buddies since Harold entered the business and family world, but fate brings them together on a winter’s night to find a Christmas tree to replace the one burned down by a magical joint.  If you have a 3D television you have a chance of enjoying this new installment.  There are some funny moments that don’t involve the use of 3D gimmickry, but most of the jokes require the new technology and suffer without it.  But unfortunately, not even Neil Patrick Harris himself could save this film from being snuffed out by lame drug jokes that were probably hilarious as they were being written while stoned.  C

In Time
Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In the future humans are genetically altered to not age past 25 years, but they are also destined to die once their time runs out.  Time is a commodity and the rich can live forever while the poor are constantly counting the minutes.  As you would expect there are a lot of bad cliches throughout this sci-flick starring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, but one has to appreciate the originality.  Writer and director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) invents an interesting premise here but the comparison to today’s class structure gets bogged down in its own preachiness.  B-

Project Nim

Rated PG-13 for some strong language, drug content, thematic elements and disturbing images
Available on DVD

Oscar winning documentarian James Marsh (Man on Wire) tells another riveting tale here about an experiment gone wrong when a baby chimp is allowed to live like a human child before being sentenced to live his life as captive animal.  If it weren’t for the fact that it is a real story, you would think you were watching the first half of Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  In fact, the two films watched back-to-back makes for an excellent double feature.  Not only is this a great story, but it is told in a riveting fashion and frankly, it should have been nominated for an Academy Award this year for best documentary.  A-