New in Home Entertainment – January 29, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

January 29, 2013

Seven Psychopaths
Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, pervasive language, sexuality/nudity and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From Martin McDonagh, writer/director of the brilliant indie In Bruges, comes this equally dark little comedy about a struggling writer (Colin Farrell) who gets mixed up with his friend’s (Sam Rockwell) dog kidnapping racket.  When they accidentally kidnap the Shih Tzu of the meanest gangster in LA (Woody Harrelson), they find themselves in way over their heads.  The film has everything you expect in that its well-acted, well-written and darkly funny in a twisted and wrong way.  Where it doesn’t work is that the story itself, in regards to its title, isn’t nearly as clever or relevant as it thinks it is.  So while you laugh a lot and are completely engaged (and a little disturbed) you’ll most likely not regard the movie as a substantial piece of cinema, as In Bruges most certainly was.  B+

Hotel Transylvania
Rated PG for some rude humor, action and scary images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg team up again (I know most of you are trying to forget about That’s My Boy) for this animated flick that asks the question “what if the monsters from our nightmares were really more afraid of us and spent their time vacationing in Dracula’s giant hotel castle in Transylvania?”  In this tale, Dracula (Sandler) tries to keep a mortal human backpacker (Samberg) from hitting on his daughter (Selena Gomez) and ruining his resort.  It’s certainly not even close to being one of the best animated films of the year, but it is funny from time to time and sure keeps the kiddos entertained.  I wish my toddler enjoyed Frankenweenie and Paranorman better than this lowbrow humor, but unfortunately he doesn’t.  At least its better than I though it would be and I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised by that.  B-

The Duelists
Rated PG
Available on Blu-ray

In 1977, two years before he released Alien, Director Ridley Scott made his debut with this indie about two French military officers in the time of Napoleon (Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) who spend decades dueling each other over practically nothing.  It’s an interesting premise, and a good look at what a talented filmmaker can do with less than a million dollars.  And while the script isn’t the best, those fans of such films as Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator will love to see where one of their favorite directors got their start.  Watching the old DVD special features on this blu-ray, you can really see a stark difference between the looks of the film before 1080p.  This new hi-def transfer is gorgeous with some real moments of genius for which Scott freely admits serendipity played a role.  B

The Impossible

The Impossible
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage)
Rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity

    Based on a true story, a young family is vacationing in Southeast Asia when a brutal tsunami hits their resort, changing their lives forever.  Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents of three young boys who are washed away during the tragedy and must somehow find each other again even though they are spread out all over the region that is touched with death and destruction.

    The first half of  this film is absolutely riveting.  The special effects are huge and the sets are very impressive.  The filmmakers set out to make you feel like you are in the water’s way and by the time things calm down you are out of breath and exhausted.  I can do nothing but applaud all of their efforts in the first half of the film.

    But then the second half hits.  My intention is to not give things away, but lets just say that the second half is just too convenient and too nice.  The film goes from being a huge blockbuster to a movie-of-the-week in rapid fashion.  The story is the story and if this is how this family turned out then they are to be congratulated for being so blessed.  Unfortunately the script suffers from it.  I think they could have handled this differently and created a much better finale, but that’s not what we get.

    Very deserving of her Oscar nomination for the picture, Naomi Watts is fantastic as the mother who would sacrifice anything to save her son.  It’s a touching performance and one of her best.  Left out of the awards season this year is the equally amazing Ewan McGregor who could bring anyone to tears in his turn as the desperate father and husband.  In fact there are many tear-inducing moments and even though most of them are brought on in a manipulative fashion, they are still earned, giving the movie a gravity that you almost expect but are ill-prepared for.

    So bring some popcorn, soda and a hanky and be prepared for a jolt of a roller coaster up front followed by a slow exit off the ride.  B- 

New in Home Entertainment – January 22, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

January 22, 2013

Searching for Sugar Man
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some some drug references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The wildest tale to be told in theaters this year wasn’t fiction at all but rather this true story about a real rock’n’roll hero who had given up his career in music due to lack of sales, working construction for decades in Detroit while his music was busy changing the people and politics of South Africa.  It sounds like a fairy tale come true for Rodriguez, who never saw a dime for his best-selling albums in South Africa that literally set the tune for the end of apartheid.  This is not only a film that you will love watching, but you will be recommending it to your friends for years to come and more than likely buying some of his amazing music.  A

End of Watch
Rated R for strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Sometimes found-footage films work and are quite a lot of fun to watch.  Sometimes, like in End of Watch, they aren’t.  The set up is Jake Gyllenhaal is a cop making a film with a camera watching his every move.  The bad guy gang members also like to record all of their crimes and misdeeds.  By the end of the film there is enough footage to make a movie.  I’m just not sure why this gimmick was needed here.  Jake and Michael Pena are terrific together and if they had hired decent actors as the gang members and just shot it like a normal film it might have worked.  But all of this video taping gets to be just annoying.  And while I understand sometimes bad language is a spice that films might need for proper seasoning, the language in this film is ridiculous enough to make you choke.  It’s like listening to Andrew Dice Clay on speed.  And frankly the supporting cast is as poorly directed as it is acted.  C

The Imposter
Rated R for language
Available on DVD

Yet another unbelievable documentary is this tale about a missing child from San Antonio who appears years later in Europe ready for a reunion with his lost family.  The only problem is that this newly discovered child is much older than he should be and has different colored hair and eyes.  Clearly not the missing loved one, the film interviews all parties involved to find out how such an event could possibly occur.  This is a fun film simply because you watch it in complete disbelief.  You keep waiting for the catch and there really isn’t one.  The European man pretending to be the teen gives an interesting observation that makes sense, but the filmmakers leave enough doubt in your head to keep you scratching it.  B+

Pina: Criterion Collection
Rated PG for some sensuality/partial nudity and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D

Shortly before Wim Wenders was to begin filming his documentary about German modern dance legend Pina Bausch, she passed away suddenly, leaving him to make this Oscar-nominated tribute to her work.  Shot in 3D, this is a unique magnification of an art form for which most of us will be largely unfamiliar with.  While I’m still not a big fan of the art, there are some impressive visuals in this project and the 3D is spectacular, even at home.  B-

The Paperboy
Rated R for strong sexual content, violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Precious director Lee Daniels chose for his follow-up this over-the-top adaptation of the Peter Dexter novel about a young man (Zac Efron) whose brother (Matthew McConaughey) has come back to his home town to investigate a case involving a death row inmate (John Cusack) with the help of the accused’s fiancé (Nicole Kidman).  While I kind of liked Efron and Kidman, the rest of the project just got to be tedious and a little too ugly for my liking.  I was also unimpressed by the directing and crafting of the film.  Maybe it could have been better had the editing been more conventional, but then again maybe not.  C

New in Home Entertainment – January 15, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

January 15, 2013

Farewell My Queen

Rated R for brief graphic nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
French with English subtitles

Set during the French Revolution only a few days before Marie Antoinette and King Louis lose their heads, a young servant develops a close and dangerous relationship with the queen.  Starring Diane Kruger and Lea Seydoux, both former stars of Inglourious Basterds, this is a beautiful-looking film with an art-house feel due to all of the scenes taken from the point-of-view of the young maiden.  Having recently been to Versailles, I was particularly taken with the opulence and emptiness of the royal wing I experienced from the tour and the opposite feel of the grittiness and chaos of the servants’ area.  Its a fascinating picture with a phenomenal sense of dread of what awaits the unsuspecting royals.  I’m surprised they didn’t try to give this film an awards push being that it has received particularly good reviews, has a couple of known foreign actors and is overall a rather impressive period drama. B+

The Possession
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence and disturbing sequences
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After buying a unique antique box at a garage sale, a young girl becomes possessed by the demon hidden within.  This sort of Jewish Exorcist is led by the very capable Jeffrey Dean Morgan but the supporting cast is quite awful and the story is just lame.  I think the film has some potential, but it is unfortunately never realized.  C-

The Other Dream Team
Available on DVD

Most everyone knows the story of the American Dream Team in basketball, but during the 1992 Olympics the newly free Lithuanians and their basketball team, along with the help of the Grateful Dead, became symbols of Lithuania’s independence movement when they took on the Soviet team for the bronze medal.  This documentary is an inspiring look at the struggle of the Lithuanian people and how a little sport was able to bring them back their dignity and national pride.  Well-filmed in a style that will keep even a non-sports fan glued to the screen, The Other Dream Team tells a moving story without once getting sappy.  A-

To Rome with Love
Rated R for some sexual references
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Woody Allen is definitely hit and miss and the proof is the stark contrast in the quality of his newest Roman love letter to his last masterpiece Midnight in Paris.  To Rome tells a few quirky and somewhat interesting stories but most of them turn out to be rather disappointing by the end.  Honestly, the whole film feels like it might have originally been about Alec Baldwin and Jesse Eisenberg’s tale but then ran out of steam too quickly, necessitating a few other short stories to be added.  The ideas are certainly unique and even intriguing, but the creativity seems to have run out before good resolutions could be formulated.  If you are a big Woody Allen fan, you might find some enjoyment but for most this will definitely be considered a miss for the eclectic filmmaker.  C

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty
Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke and Kyle Chandler
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for brief language

    Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal were already hard at work on a project about a failed hit on Bin Laden directly after they finished teaming up for the Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker.  But in 2010, when it was announced that Seal Team Six killed America’s enemy number one, they changed course and made the film about the successful mission as well as the person most responsible for the kill.  Based on a true story about the intelligence going on behind the scenes for almost a decade before Bin Laden’s death, Zero Dark Thirty follows a young and committed CIA agent (Chastain) who is determined to track down a courier that most think is dead, but who she knows is the key to solving the mystery of the target’s location.  

    This is a film that is largely familiar to most of the world.  It starts with two planes crashing into the twin towers and ends with Americans raiding a compound in Pakistan.  But the details are what make this film so interesting and even if this is a completely fictional account, it seems true and our need to fill in the gaps will cause what I think will be a massive audience to see this much anticipated film.  

    Thankfully the movie is very good.  Technically it is well-crafted, intense and extremely well-paced for a two-and-a-half hour long picture.  It helps to have a talented team lead by Bigelow and Boal.  When you get a chemistry like this between a writer and a director, you many times end up with a trophy or two.  Everyone involved in the production brought their A-game.  But then it also helps to have an extremely talented cast.  The character of Maya, masterfully played here by Chastain, is one of the strongest heroines I have seen in recent years and a real role model for young girls, or at least the ones allowed to see R-rated films.  I was also deeply impressed with the performance of Jason Clarke as her counterpart in the CIA.  He may not be getting the nominations we’re seeing right now from Chastain, but his work in this film gives the movie authenticity and power from the very beginning.  
    Perhaps the most important facet of the film is the raid on Bin Laden’s compound which takes place in the third act.  Painstakingly researched, the production succeeds here in giving an accurate representation of the events of that night in a way that will be hard to shake from your mind.  It’s hard to replace the deaths of over 3,000 with just one, but the closure and relief you get from watching this scene is palpable.  A

New in Home Entertainment – January 8, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

January 8, 2013


Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

This year saw several horror-based animated films including Hotel Transylvania and ParaNorman but the one that was most impressive was the Tim Burton directed stop-motion animated movie based on one of Burton’s early short films.  This great coming of age story about a young boy who reanimates his dog after a tragic accident is a charming and fun-filled adventure that is easily enjoyable for anyone.  It took in a relatively small box office, probably due to being in good old scary black and white but the film is surprising on many levels.  What is most noticeable is the creativity that went into the project.  What is most shocking is the lack of Johnny Depp who didn’t voice a single character.  But never fear, Burton friends Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, among many others, turn in great voice performances.  A-

Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This futuristic actioner follows Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young assassin hired to kill folks who are sent back in time to be disposed of.  When he faces his older self, played by Bruce Willis, he botches the hit and must find a way to track him down and kill him before his criminal boss does the same to him.  This low-budget sci-fi flick proves that it doesn’t take big money to bring a big idea to screen.  The script by writer/director Rian Johnson is sure to get much awards play and overall the film is a trippy blast to watch.  A-

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

If you are in need of a new movie to show off your new home theater, look no further than this stunning documentary by filmmaker and cinematographer Ron Fricke.  Filmed over five years and in twenty-five countries on five continents, Samsara is a meditation on our beautiful planet where you can just sit in amazement as you marvel at the images on screen.  While much of it is stunning, some of it is truly weird and disturbing and without dialog or any kind of easily apparent overarching theme, many will not be impressed.  But if you are willing to invest your brain for a hundred minutes you will be glad you did.  B+

Rated R for strong bloody violence, language , drug use and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D

For Dredd, good reviews were bad news.  Dredd, released by Lionsgate, did a dreadful job of promoting its theatrical release, possibly thinking that good word of mouth would bring in the bucks.  After all, the movie pulled a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes and that is saying a lot for a film like this.  Needless to say, it was a huge bust at the box office, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.  If you have a 3D system, the effects are pretty cool, but in a bloody disgusting way.  The movie is horrendously violent, but Karl Urban makes an awesome Judge Dredd (much better than Stallone’s) and the film is pretty darn fun in spite of its many flaws.  B

Smash: Season One
Available on DVD

With the success of Glee, and considering that much of Glee’s audience is adult, it makes sense that someone would make a show about life on Broadway.  Following the lives of creatives and performers putting on a Marilyn Monroe-themed musical, Smash is another guilty pleasure program that is easy enough on the eyes and ears, but could stand to be a little less cheesy.  B-