New in Home Entertainment – May 29, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

May 29, 2012

Rated R for brutal violence, non-stop language, some strong sexual content and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I love a pleasant surprise and this one hit me fast and hard.  Goon follows the life of a super nice loser (Seann William Scott) who discovers he has a great talent: he just might be the best fist fighter in hockey.  Quickly recruited and moved up the ranks, he not only discovers his calling, but falls in love with a nice Canadian cutie as well.  With the screenwriting team of Jay Baruchel (star of How to Train Your Dragon) and Evan Goldberg (writer of Superbad), I had high hopes, but with such a poor showing at the box office, I was prepared for disappointment.  I love being wrong about movies in this way.  I found myself laughing from start to finish.  The movie might be a little predictable and the plot is definitely forced, but the characters are fun to watch and the indie vibe helps the film work.  If you are easily offended or put out by violence and bad behavior, you may want to stay away.  As for me, the violence made me laugh hysterically and the bad behavior kept me entertained.  A-

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

For years Andrew Lloyd Webber has been writing a sequel to his hit Broadway smash Phantom of the Opera.  Beginning in London a couple of years back, the show was a critical and box office dud.  Reworked and relaunched in Australia, and presented here, the show has turned out to be much more successful.  Set a decade after the events of the first Phantom in Coney Island, Christine, her husband Raoul and their son have another run in with the mysterious Phantom.  The story is not the greatest, but just like any Lloyd Webber musical, the music and the spectacle are well done.  As a big Phantom fan, I rather enjoyed the musical, although I probably won’t be listening to the soundtrack as often as I do the original.  If you too are a Phantom fan, you should check it out.  As an aside, if you want a deeper look at these characters in a beautifully written book, check out Susan Kay’s Phantom.  I’ve read it twice and now I just might crack it open again.  B-

Rated R for some bloody violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Not all of Shakespeare’s works are gold, but in the right hands, most of them can be very impressive.  Case in point is his little-known work Coriolanus.  This story about the Roman General (Ralph Fiennes) who is rejected by his own people and forced to join with his sworn enemy (Gerard Butler) in order to get revenge was first a stage production directed by Fiennes who then decided to bring it to the big screen.  While the writing isn’t the best of the famous bard, what Fiennes has done here is exceptional.  The production is fantastic and the acting by the terrific cast including Fiennes, Butler, Jessica Chastain and Venessa Redgrave is superb.  B-

True Blood: The Complete Fourth Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I never thought I’d ever get into watching soap operas, but HBO’s True Blood has proven me wrong.  What started out as a beautiful macabre love story has turned into a melodramatic monster mess, but I still can’t look away.  After tackling vampires, demons, shapeshifters and werewolves in the first three seasons, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Pacquin) and gang are now up against one heck of an evil witch who wants to see all vampires dead.  As cheesy as this show is, it is still very entertaining and after rewatching this latest season on blu-ray (which is loaded down with tons of features might I add), I am jonesing for season five starting on June 10.  B+

The Dictator

The Dictator
Starring Sasha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris and Ben Kingsley
Directed by Larry Charles (Borat)
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images

    In this mockery of both foreign dictators and The United States, Cohen stars as a tyrannical and oppressive dictator of a Middle East country who escapes an assassination and coup attempt while on a diplomatic visit to New York.  When he happens upon a nuclear physicist from his country who was supposed to have been assassinated under his order, he recruits his former countryman so that he might once again regain power.

    While Cohen’s previous outings Borat and Bruno used a combination of scripted and documentary filmmaking, this film merely has the same feel.  His character is completely over the top, but this time the butt of the joke is both the horrifying mannerisms of some of our world leaders, as well as some nice jabs at America, but not on unsuspecting victims.  But don’t worry, you won’t be offended (too badly) by his humor.  He very lovingly pokes fun at us like a favorite uncle who wants you to pull his finger. 

    Going into the film I was certain that I’d already had an overdose of Aladeen, Cohen’s character which he had been publicizing for the last several months.  In case you’ve been living in a closet, Cohen has been wearing Aladeen’s costumes for a while now, doing everything in character.  Even in his television interviews he has insisted on doing the interviews as the corrupt leader.  Some of it has been funny, but I was afraid I was over him before the movie screened.  Fortunately for me, he won me over again as an audience member.  I laughed incredibly hard from start to finish.  I almost felt bad because while people were laughing, I actually found almost everything hysterical and thus would catch myself laughing even when not many others were.  I owe that to the fact that I just happened to be on the same level as 95% of the jokes.  It was almost like the filmmakers had me in mind when they made it.  

    I don’t want to act like a snob here, but the movie is much more intellectual than you would think, which could be why I was throwing around so many guffaws.  This might seem like lowest common denominator humor, but I assure you that there are some mighty brains behind this script.  That being said, there is a lot of dirty humor here too that many folks won’t enjoy, so I would head the R rating seriously.  A-


New in Home Entertainment – May 22, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

May 22, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty
Rated G
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Based on Mary Norton’s famous children’s book “The Borrowers,” the award-winning Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli, tells the story of a sick young boy who befriends a four-inch-tall girl who hides behind his walls.  I was a little bit worried about how much I’d enjoy Studio Ghibli’s new toon when I noticed that the Oscar-winning director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) wasn’t directing and the incredible composer he typically works with, Joe Hisaishi, wasn’t providing the music.  After all, there are many, including myself, that consider these two to be the Japanese versions of Spielberg and Williams.  But fears aside, this new pic is another great example of masterful storytelling with fantastic hand-drawn animation you would expect from this group.  My two-year-old son was bored to tears but I can concede the fact that this might be a better picture for little girls and/or lovers of this art form.  A-

Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

With the success of found-footage films such as Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch, it makes sense that studios would attempt more than just horror films.  Chronicle is an extremely clever little film that does just that with the super hero genre.  When 3 friends wander near something that has crashed into Earth from space, they start to develop super powers.  While I loved the actual story and the acting by the talented cast, I was disappointed that they had to use the “found footage” as a gimmick.  I wonder what the film would have looked like if they had just ignored this and simply made a film about 3 friends who developed powers.  If they had done this I think we would be watching a very good film without all the cheese.  B

The Woman in Black

Rated PG-13 for thematic material and violence/disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Susan Hill’s classic ghost novel about a lawyer who discovers the vengeful ghost of an evil woman has haunted readers and audiences for years.  This newest adaptation stars Daniel Radcliffe in his first post-Harry Potter role as the young lawyer.  Relying on thrills and chills rather than graphic violence, the film provides a fairly scary experience that you won’t mind if your teenager watches with their friends on a summer night.  The performances are a little melodramatic and the entire picture is filmed with a sense of dread (which I think gets in the way of it being a classic horror film), but even with its faults, I still got a ton of goosebumps on my neck throughout.  B-


New in Home Entertainment – May 15, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

May 15, 2012

The Grey
Rated R for violence/disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In this modern tale of man vs. wild, a group of oil workers and a skilled huntsman are left to fend for themselves in remote Alaska when their plane crashes.  Dealing with both the bitter cold and the loss of many on board the plane, the group discovers that they might have crashed near a pack of ravenous wolves.  Normally I really like these kinds of films.  Liam Neeson is an extraordinary actor and writer/director Joe Carnahan (Narc) is a master of the gritty action drama.  But for some reason, I just couldn’t connect.  There is a hopeless feel in the air from the first moments of the film that permeate throughout.  It’s almost as if each character can’t wait to die and they are moving on out of sheer stubbornness.  There are some very good scares to found here and the acting is decent enough, but I wasn’t invested in any of their lives.  Honestly, I was completely apathetic to their plight.  The directing was strong enough, but the writing had too much of a dark indie tone that said to it’s audience “I dare you to like me.”  C+

Albert Nobbs
Rated R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In her sixth Oscar-nominated role, Glenn Close does her best Clay Aiken impression as she pretends to be a male butler in 19th century Ireland.  This is a film stuffed with great performances.  While Close and Janet McTeer were the only Oscar nominees, there are many other small yet powerful performances here.  Also the dialog is very clever and well-written and the production is first-class.  The problem is that the story is just not that great.  While the secret world of Lesbians in this time period makes for an interesting subject, I think that most folks would side with me that the the movie is just a tad boring.  Unfortunately this film really doesn’t have the potential to be too compelling for most audiences, which leaves it as a small niche film for a very select audience that might treasure it.  B-

Being John Malkovich: The Criterion Collection

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

I can imagine the time when people first got a look at Picasso’s first cubist paintings and what their thoughts might have been.  Some might have been repelled while others were excited and inspired.  The latter is the feeling that came over me when I first saw Being John Malkovich.  The film explores a world where John Cusack discovers a portal in an office building that puts you in the head of the actor John Malkovich for 15 minutes.  It’s so random, yet so perfectly conceived and executed but writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze.  It is both hysterically funny and incredibly deep at the same time.  This new Criterion treatment gives a brand new restored digital transfer and audio commentary by director Michel Gondry (who directed Charlie Kaufman’s Oscar-winning script Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as well as several other new featurettes.  I know the word brilliant gets thrown around way too much in film criticism, but there is really no other word to describe this work.  A+

Astros: 50th Anniversary – The Essential Games of the Houston Astros and Astros Memories
Available on DVD

While the good ol’ Astros have proven to be pretty mediocre so far this season, in their 50 year history, there has been a lot of sports history made.  This very reasonably-priced box sets takes a look at many of the greatest games the Astros played in during this time as well as a ton of bonus features.  At almost 12 hours, this is a well-produced set that could be a nice Father’s Day gift if the father in question has a closet full of starred clothing and hats.  B+

Get the Gringo

Get the Gringo
Starring Mel Gibson and Peter Stormare
Directed by Adrian Grunberg
Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual material
Available exclusively on DirectTV On Demand

    Normally when someone makes a good film, there is always a company that is willing to distribute it.  But apparently, no one wants to work with Mel Gibson right now.  Written by and starring the infamous Oscar-winning Aussie, Get the Gringo tells the story of an American on the run from the law after having stolen millions of dollars, only to find himself hiding out in a Mexican prison, all the while trying to figure out how to get his money back.  While in prison, he befriends a relatively innocent boy whose life is in danger from the criminal that runs the correctional facility. 

    Were it not for a few stupid comments said while drunk, this movie would have easily gotten a huge opening weekend and would have entertained the world.  Frankly, I feel sorry for the man.  We all say things we regret and unfortunately for him, no matter of eating crow will help his situation any time soon.  When distributers would choose to pass up a chance to make good money just so they are not seen promoting someone’s art – well that’s a kiss of death.

    So how’s the film?  It’s an entertaining and extremely interesting picture.  I’m not sure if Mexican prisons are really this way, but if they are, I can understand why they get such a bad rap.  The shanty town portrayed here is as fascinating to watch as Gibson himself.  The story is original enough and in spite of the gratuitous violence, it manages to have a heart as well. 

    I especially liked Mel’s character in this one (and I’m not afraid to admit it).  He’s a villain in a sea of villains.  So being a bad guy with brains and integrity make him a hero worth cheering for.  He almost reminds me of George Clooney in From Dusk to Dawn.  Some of the plot turns are a bit cliched, but he’s so much fun to watch that you hardly care.

    I also really liked the production although it made me want to take a shower after watching.  There was an organic feeling to the film that really puts you right there in the action. 

    So if you have Direct TV, it’s well-worth the $10.99 asking price for a download.  And if you can’t get it now, don’t worry – it will be available soon on DVD and Blu-ray.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – May 8, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

May 8, 2012

Underworld: Awakening
Rated R for strong violence and gore, and for some language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Desperate to keep this franchise alive, Michael Sheen’s Lucian is out and Kate Beckinsale’s Selene is back in as she leads a battle against humans who have finally discovered the existence of Vampire and Lycan clans.  The film itself is pretty week in the writing department, but Kate does her best to make the movie as entertaining as possible in spite of its limitations.  Her beautiful yet deadly Selene prances around in tight leather to the extent where you almost feel the film could be rescued if that’s all they showed.  The special effects are also a vast improvement over the three previous films, and were it not for the fact that the tale has worn itself thin, you would think the movie has some real potential for entertainment.  C+

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, comic violence and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

With the help of Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, John C. Reilly, Will Forte and many others, comic actors Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim star in this sketch comedy-like movie about two idiot filmmakers that lose everything and are forced to run a mall that has been rundown.  One of the stores in the mall sells “used toilet paper.”  When asked if that was a big market for this mall, the shopkeeper responds “it’s more of a gourmet operation.”  Well that precisely describes the movie.  It’s definitely not a film for everyone and I would suspect it would be a huge turn-off for most audiences.  As for me, I sat through 90 minutes without laughing.  I found it to be peculiar and unique, but the comedy it has been billed as was nowhere to be found.  I expected Mr. Show and instead got a strange and quirky amateur film.  The cameos are everywhere you look, but the performances are completely uninspired.  Since this is a Funny or Die film, I’d have to pick “die” but I can appreciate that some will click the other button.  C-

The Big C: The Complete Second Season

Available on DVD

In the first season of Showtime’s hit show, Laura Linney discovered she had cancer.  Now in the second season, she has finally shared her diagnosis with her family and is learning to live with the disease.  It’s tough to laugh at such a subject, but the writing and acting here are so strong that it’s hard not to.  And having the ability to know when to make you laugh and when to cry, the show really excels at toying with your emotions as it puts you right there in her world.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – May 1, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

May 1, 2012

New Year’s Eve
Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Ever since Love Actually, Hollywood has been attempting to capitalize on the formula of taking a holiday, throwing as many A-listers as will fit in a blender, and making a themed movie smoothie of it.  In this case, director Garry Marshall (Valentine’s Day, The Princess Diaries) takes Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Sarah Jessica Parker and many others and gives them little stories revolving around New Year’s Eve.  The result is another ridiculously stupid movie that damages the integrity of everyone involved.  Contrived and cliched at every turn, the movie tries to take advantage of couples looking for a “date” movie and girls nights out.  I actually loved Love Actually, but these copy cat Hollywood crap fests are good for nothing but mockery and disdain.  F

Joyful Noise
Rated PG-13 for some language including a sexual reference
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Convinced that the competitive church choir competition genre was under-represented, the filmmakers here put together tale of a face-off between Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah as they both try to fight it out over the subject of how best to win a national competition.  While its completely predictable, much of its target audience won’t be as critical as the critics due to the fact that its a positive, uplifting family-safe film with decent music.  If you have a discerning palate, however, you will most likely find the movie to be a musical comedy that panders to its set audience.  Then again, I don’t think there was any ambition of winning awards or making a statement here.  This is simple entertainment for viewers that want a simple film.  C

The Organizer: Criterion Collection

Italian with English Subtitles

Getting the Criterion treatment here is a relatively little-known 1963 Italian film about a group of textile workers in Turin, Italy at the turn of the century that join forces under the leadership of a traveling professor in order to fight for better working conditions.  Since the film can be said to have modern-day comparisons to our current economy, it is a truly relevant picture almost 50 years after its release.  More importantly though is that it is a very entertaining movie that infuses fantastic moments of comedy relief within its tension-filled dramatic walls.  The performances seem authentic and the great cinematography, along with its new digital restoration, give the film a look of historical significance.  Above all is the extremely well-written Oscar-nominated screenplay by the same writers that gave us The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Il Postino.  A-