New in Home Entertainment – July 31, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

July 31, 2012

The Weight of the Nation
Available on DVD

With more than two-thirds of our nation falling under the category of overweight or obese, it is vitally important that Americans begin to look at the cause and potential solutions for the epidemic that is thought to lead to more deaths than any other disease.  HBO along with the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes for Health combined forces for this four part documentary focusing on America’s enemy number one.  While not as flashy or artistic as most of HBO’s documentaries, this one is a powerhouse of information that is relevant to almost each and every one of us.  And if it doesn’t get you trying to make a change for yourself, its hard to imagine anyone watching and not getting scared about the future for our children.  This is not an easy series to watch, but programming that is worthwhile seldom is.  Unlike most HBO series’, this one is priced to own at $15 or less at most major retailers.  A

Hatfields & McCoys
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Earlier this year, The History Channel aired this original mini-series about the famous feud between two families whose patriarchs had just returned from fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War.  It’s astonishing how well-made this project is and with actors like Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton, Matt Barr, Tom Berenger and Powers Boothe, its easy to understand how a series like this can impress.  The production, acting, writing and directing deserve high praise.  I don’t know how accurate the screenplay is to actual events, but it sure is riveting storytelling.  B+

Total Recall: Mind-Bending Edition
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray

I’m still scratching my head about the fact that we are already seeing a remake of the 1990 sci-fi action classic Total Recall.  I’ve heard there are some big differences between the two films, but what I’ve seen so far from the trailers is that they just reshot the old script with actors that aren’t nearly as iconic as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone.  Set in the not-too-distant future, an every-day Joe (Schwarzenegger) dreams of going to Mars and thus visits a memory implant clinic that possesses the ability to make him think he’s actually been there.  But when things go terribly wrong, our hero ends up in the middle of a war between the people of Mars and the evil corporation trying to control the planet.  This original version still holds up nicely, mostly due to its ground-breaking special effects.  Sure the fashions and hairstyles are a bit late-80s, but the film is so fun that those faults seem enduring.  There are few new features on this disc, but the HD restoration itself is worth the price and should make many fans very happy.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – July 24, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

July 24, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Rated PG for mild thematic elements and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Japanese with English subtitles

In Tokyo there is an 85-year-old sushi chef named Jiro Ono who owns a 10 seat restaurant in a subway station.  Thought by many to be one of the greatest sushi restaurants in the world, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded the prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating.  This tasty documentary not only shows why Jiro’s sushi is so highly regarded, but also gives a great life lesson as well.  The theme put forth is that of finding something you love and do it for the rest of your life.  Jiro is a prime example of a man whose work is his passion and he has spent his entire life trying to improve his art.  He could have easily established a set menu and made the same sushi every day, but instead he chooses to grow as a chef while he creates and expands.  Even if you aren’t that big of a fan of sushi, and I’ll admit that I’m just a casual roll eater, you’ll find this film to be delicious diversion and a very entertaining yet moving story.  A

Get the Gringo
Rated R for strong bloody violence, pervasive language, some drug use and sexual situations
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Even though this Mel Gibson film was highly praised by critics and audiences alike, it never saw the light of day in theaters and instead was subjected to a Direct TV On Demand release followed by this Blu-ray/DVD a few months later.  That is the reality for Gibson for the time being.  But please don’t let that stop you from picking up this little gem of a film about a man who steals millions before being arrested across the border.  Determined to escape from prison and get his money back, Gibson is in rare form as the anti-hero.  This is a really fun picture that will surprise the many folks that will now get the chance to check it out.  A-

Rated PG for thematic elements, brief nudity, language and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Hebrew with English subtitles

If you simply read the synopsis for this Israeli film about two competing father and son Talmud scholars, you wouldn’t think it could possess the elements for a good comedy or get an Oscar nomination, but yet it is a very funny and moving picture with a strong enough narrative to earn an Academy nomination for foreign language film.  This well-executed pic works on many levels providing just the right amount of drama and laughter as well as an intellectual feel with clever writing and directing.  It is enjoyable from start to finish and will serve as a wonderful surprise for the unsuspecting viewer.  A

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One

Available on Blu-ray

When most old television shows are re-released on blu-ray, there is seldom a big difference from the original DVD release and the product typically serves as merely a chance for the studio to make a few more bucks.  This new release of Picard and crew though has a wonderful new look as well new HD special features.  I was extremely thankful they chose to present the show in its original 4:3 aspect ratio rather than attempt to fill the screen on the average flat panel set most folks will be watching on.  This was a set done with integrity and respect for the fan, and the fans will certainly be thankful.  The show is still just a less-cheesy version of the original sci-fi classic, but the stories are well-crafted, creative and a fun way to fill up a weekend full of hours.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – July 17, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

July 17, 2012

Friends with Kids
Rated R for sexual content and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The very beautiful and talented Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) writes, directs and stars in this terrific little ensemble piece about about two BFFs (Jennifer and Adam Scott) who don’t want to end up bitter and unhappy couples/parents like their miserable married friends so they decide to have a baby together as just friends, in the hope of saving themselves from the complications they’ve seen from other couples.  Rounding out the wonderful ensemble are Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd (yes that’s half the cast from Bridesmaids), Megan Fox and Edward Burns.  It’s not really a romance or a comedy, but it works on many levels to tell a moving and witty story about relationships once children enter the picture.  While not a big earner at the box office, this film deserves a larger audience and will certainly make for a good rental you can watch together when the kids are asleep.  A-

Rated R for strong language, sexuality, some drug use and disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Filmed in 2005, long before she starred in HBO’s True Blood, Oscar-winning actress Anna Paquin is Lisa, a self-serving teenager who is partly the cause of and witness to the accidental death of a woman who is hit by a bus.  Co-starring Matt Damon, Matthew Broderick, Mark Ruffalo and many other recognizable faces, the film went through a horrendously long editing process before it was released in 2011 with an edit from Martin Scorsese.  Seven years later, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan’s never-before-seen vision for the film is being released on DVD and Blu-ray.  At three hours of length the film is definitely a chore to watch at times, but you can tell there is some real talent involved at all levels, and the pretentiousness of the project is intriguing.  The writing is solid, the acting is excellent but I feel like the film is trying to say something and I just don’t know what that is yet.  This might just be one I pull out from time to time to try to figure out.  B

Casa de mi Padre
Rated R for bloody violence, language, some sexual content and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

If you’ve never been exposed to bad Mexican cinema, then you will probably feel slightly left out of the joke in this new Will Ferrel comedy, filmed almost entirely in Spanish, about the simple son of rancher who seeks revenge for his father’s murder.  Ferrell goes completely over-the-top in this spoof of movies that not many folks will understand, but don’t worry, even if you aren’t familiar with the genre, you will still find the movie to be pretty darn funny and at the very least entertaining.  B-

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Rated PG-13 for some violence and sexual content, and brief language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Director Lasse Hollstrom (Chocolat) tells this cute little tale about a wealthy Arabian Sheik who loves fly-fishing so much that he hires Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor to find a way to have Salmon run in the desert.  This imaginative story based on the book by Paul Torday is a sweet little comedy that will bring a smile to anyone watching.  Some of the story, like the disappearance of Blunt’s fiancé, seems fancifully brushed over, but understandable in the spirit of keeping it light-hearted.  B

The Inbetweeners: The Complete Series
Available on DVD

This British television import at first look feels like a retread of Freaks and Geeks or American Pie but eventually evolves into a very funny and extremely raunchy coming of age tale about four uncool high schoolers with raging hormones getting into all sorts of trouble.  Many of the jokes and antics might be lost due to cultural differences, but it will most likely make many British television lovers very happy.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – July 10, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

July 10, 2012

American Reunion

Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, language, brief drug use and teen drinking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Twelve years after the highly successful American Pie was unleashed upon audiences, the entire gang is back for their delayed high school reunion.  Twelve years ago they were a close group of friends who vowed to lose their virginities by prom night.  Now they are all semi-responsible adults with jobs, wives, kids, etc…  Just like in the first three films, its fun to see their antics and bad behavior, especially now that its so completely irresponsible.  As he did in the first three films, Stiffler (Seann William Scott) steals the scenes and serves as a linchpin for the film.  After all, without Stiffler, the film would be almost joke-less since his antics are what brings about the majority of the trouble.  With this in mind, I can recommend the movie due to the amount of times you will laugh.  The only downfall is how annoying some of the characters still are after all of these years.  While Scott, Jason Biggs, and Alyson Hannigan have all turned out to be decent actors with good comedic timing, Chris Klein and Mena Suvari would have done us a favor by staying home from the reunion.  B-

Rated PG-13 for some strong language and disturbing images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

For me, Formula One is as unfamiliar a sport as cricket or curling, but five minutes into this film about the life and death of one of its greatest racers and I was enthralled.  Brazilian racer Ayrton Senna took the sport by storm in the 80s when he won three world championships.  Constantly competing against his nemesis, French driver Alain Prost, Ayrton proved his talents on the racetrack and served as a sports hero throughout the world who donated millions from his winnings back to his home country.  The documentary lacks narration and instead relies on live footage and interviews to tell its story and it does so very effectively.  What you end up with is an eye-opening real-life drama that is as compelling as any film I have seen this last year.  A

The Flowers of War
Rated R for strong violence including a sexual assault, disturbing images, and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
In Mandarin and English with English Subtitles

In 1937, during the Rape of Nanking, a Westerner (Christian Bale) finds safety in a church filled with orphan girls and courtesans who have also taken refuge there.  Pretending to be a priest, the man attempts to do his best to protect the girls from the brutal Japanese soldiers who have sinister  plans for them.  Legendary Chinese director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers, 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony) attempts to tell this heart-breaking story with as much grace and beauty as he has with his other projects, but unfortunately, the ugliness of the situation ends up overshadowing what art he could project.  For Chinese audiences, I’m sure the film resonates with the same kind of power that we experience with holocaust films, and its hard not to form empathy for the characters as they do their best to survive.  Perhaps if so many of the characters weren’t so fatally flawed, the film might have been more convincing.  As it is, the quest of redemption by too many souls gets in the way.  Still, the performances are good, especially considering the language barrier on set which is made evident in the special features section.  Also, the film will compel many to research this horrible period of atrocities for which many Westerners will have very little knowledge.  B

The Amazing Spider-Man

The Amazing Spider-Man
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Sally Field, Martin Sheen and Rhys Ifans
Directed by Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence

    Much like Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, this new reboot attempts to tell the genesis of everyone’s favorite webbed crime fighter with a different vision.  Just like the other version, Peter Parker is a bullied young high schooler who lives with his aunt and uncle.  When he is bitten by a radioactive spider, he gains new abilities that allow him to become a vigilante hero. 

    If you are like me, when you found out that Spider-Man was getting remade just a decade after it became a hit, you probably had to scratch your head a bit.  After all, while the third film wasn’t too terribly great, the franchise was still fairly fresh and it hadn’t fizzled like the Batman franchise had before Christopher Nolan took over.  All I knew was that I really liked director Marc Webb’s (500) Days of Summer and I thought the world of Andrew Garfield, who had wowed me in The Social Network, Never Let Me Go and the Red Riding Trilogy.  But was starting up a new vision of my favorite childhood hero necessary? 

    In order for the film to work it needed to be different enough from Raimi’s vision and it had to hold some surprises.  In this new reincarnation, Peter Parker is much more of a rebel and more street savvy than Toby McGuire.  This gives Spider-Man a new angle and a fresh perspective.  This new creation isn’t anywhere near the leap that Nolan took in Batman, but the new vision does work effectively and should keep fans happy enough. 

    One thing I really liked about the script is that it explores Peter’s relationship with his father rather than just his aunt and uncle.  The pain and anguish he suffers over the loss of his father is truly felt and the dialog is well-written in this regard.  You get the sense that you are watching a troubled teen with a secret that really suffers internally. 

    Of course it helps to have a great young actor such as Andrew Garfield.  You may not know his name now, but he is a future star.  He’s been nominated for a Golden Globe (and should have had an Oscar nom as well) for his role in The Social Network and at the age of 28 he has already turned in loads of great performances.  His performance here is one of the big highlights of the movie.  He embodies Peter Parker perfectly and carries the movie to a level it couldn’t have achieved without him. 

    What are the detractors here?  As soon as I start talking about all of the technical problems and the “that couldn’t have happened because” I would be able to see your eyes roll through the newspaper.  So I’ll just say that there were many liberties taken and a whole lot of “who cares – if we don’t understand it they certainly won’t” talk done on the script.  And then all you have to say is “ Danny – it’s a movie about a man-spider” and I would be forced to hang my head in shame because you’d be right.  So let’s just say there are a few unbelievables I found to be distracting, but I’m sure they really wouldn’t matter to 99% of you and you might even think less of me for mentioning them. 

    So in answer to my question earlier about the film being necessary – I would just have to say – why not?  As long as the film is well-written, well-acted and well-executed, then bring it on.  After all, I’ve read hundreds of his stories in comics growing up.  If the films are at least this good – I’ll watch hundreds also.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – July 3, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

July 3, 2012

Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy
Rated PG (Should be a solid R)
Available on Blu-ray

This 1968 sci-fi sex comedy starring Jane Fonda was a complete and utter failure upon opening.  Having reached cult-classic status, now forty-four years later, Barbarella is getting its much anticipated Blu-ray release.  The film is still the same cheesy goofball sci-fi flick where the very beautiful (and seemingly most of the time naked) Jane Fonda wanders from one sex scene to the next all in the name of galactic peace.  The new HD transfer gives the film a wonderful look and should make fans of the strange movie very happy.  What won’t make them happy, however, is the lack of any special features.  When you have a film like this, you really expect some kind of extras, but all that lies here is the theatrical trailer.  B-

Born on the Fourth of July
Rated R
Available on Blu-ray

With Universal Studios turning 100, they have been going nuts with transferring their catalog to blu-ray and the latest is the very timely Born on the Fourth of July.  Based on a true story, Tom Cruise delivers this Oscar-nominated performance as Ron Kovic, a teen eager to fight in Vietnam until he became paralyzed from the waste down during the war.  Oliver Stone directs this very challenging piece of U.S. history in a way that will both disturb you and leave you empathetic.  A-

Jesus Henry Christ
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, language and smoking
Available on DVD

According to this story with a title that will offend many audiences, a very bright 10-year-old boy who discovers that he was conceived in a petri dish goes on a journey to find his mother’s sperm donor.  Trying overly hard to be as quirky as a Wes Anderson film, writer director Dennis Lee creates here a very annoying group of characters in a scenario that is hard to be anything but apathetic about.  I like over-the-top but there comes a time when it simply becomes too much.  C-