New in Home Entertainment – February 26, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

February 26, 2013

The Master
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I really did all I could do to help myself better appreciate Paul Thomas Anderson’s (Boogie Nights) new film about a disturbed young WWII veteran (Joaquin Phoenix) who befriends the charismatic leader of a cult (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in the late 1940s.  After seeing the film in theaters and not really getting it, I read the book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright in order to gain a better understanding of Scientology and the themes Anderson was going for in the movie.  Then I watched it again.  I really feel there is something here and that I will gain better appreciation over time, just like I did with his last film, There Will Be Blood.  For now I can tell you there are some excellent performances by a truly talented cast and the film itself is stunning to look at.  My biggest problem with this home video release is the lack of a much-needed commentary to add some clarity and perspective.  B+

How to Survive a Plague
Not Rated
Available on DVD

This Oscar-nominated documentary tells the story of the early fight against HIV when the disease was a death sentence rather than a manageable condition.  Following the activist groups ACT UP and TAG, the film shows what it took to get not only research for the disease, but also the perseverance needed to get the drugs released for usage.  This is a powerful piece of filmmaking that will show you a side of American history that many of you, including myself, were unaware was going on during that tumultuous time.  A

Chicken with Plums
Rated PG-13 for some drug content, violent images, sensuality and smoking
French with English Subtitles
Available on DVD

From Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi, the writing/directing team of the Oscar-nominated animated film Persepolis, comes this beautiful yet confusing fable about an Iranian violinist who loses his will to live when his violin is destroyed.  Because the film is told in a non-linear fashion that is hard to follow, you get swept away by the beautiful imagery but get a headache trying to piece it all together.  While I have not tested this theory, I’m making a big assumption that the film is a much better experience once you’ve already seen it once or twice. I just wish they could have found a way to tweak it for better understanding.  Had they done that, this film might have  been a beloved foreign classic rather than a head-scratcher.  C+

Holy Motors
Not Rated
French with English Subtitles
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I had so many colleagues giving praise to this French export that I just had to check it out.  The movie follows a man in the back of a limo as he transforms himself into multiple characters for a series of strange appointments.  It’s an extremely quirky yet fun romp through the streets of Paris.  Personally, I don’t think many will like it but if you enjoy experimental movies that take you to weird and unusual places, you can’t beat this experience.  As for me, it was a trip worth taking.  B

Escape Fire
Rated PG-13 for some thematic material
Available on DVD

Regardless of your political affiliation, I think most Americans can agree on the fact that our health care system is far from healthy.  Escape Fire takes a serious look at how broken it is and what can be done, if anything, to fix it.  Unfortunately there are more problems than solutions, but I feel that this is a movie that a lot of folks who have no interest in watching films like this should see.  While the needed audience might miss it, at least those of us who do check it out get to see a well-made doc about a subject that is close to all of our hearts, literally.  A-

Identity Thief

Identity Thief
Starring Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy
Directed by Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses)
Rated R for sexual content and language

    Ever since Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy has been a hot property for Hollywood.  In her newest tale, she plays an identity thief who takes on the identity of an unsuspecting victim (Jason Bateman) by stealing his credit cards, driver’s license data and in the process ruining his already less than happy existence.  In an attempt to keep from losing his job, Bateman must go to Florida and bring his predator back with him to Colorado in the hopes of clearing his name. 

    You would think that this would be an excellent buddy comedy looking at the talent involved.  McCarthy is a wonderful and believable comedic miscreant and Bateman is one of the best straight men in the business.  The combination of these two should work.  While McCarthy does have some funny moments (most of which can be seen in the trailer), it seems like there was no comedy actually written but rather there was a dependance on McCarthy’s improvisation and personality to bring laughs.  And thus the film isn’t very funny at all.  So if you are in need of stress reducing laughter, you won’t get it here.  If all you need is an occasional chuckle, you’ll probably be satistfied. 

    Part of the reason this occurs is because the film is trying to be too much like Plains, Trains and Automobiles, transferring empathy from the hero to the villain (or at least away from the hero).  That worked for Planes, but here it seems like they are trying too hard, leaving an overall unsatisfactory result. 

    In addition, each and every single little plot point feels completely contrived.  I know for a fact that identity theft is a common crime, but I also know that banks and the authorities are very good at fighting it and at the very least don’t completely ignore it.  The very thought that the police would tell Bateman’s character to go apprehend a criminal and bring her back across the country is absolutely insane.  And that’s the most believable part unfortunately. 

    Where the film somewhat surprises is in turning McCarthy’s character into a victim of society and thus creating the empathy I spoke of earlier.  You do feel sorry for her character, but then again you also know she has to pay big time for her crimes.  And maybe she should serve a little extra time for stealing mine.  C-

New in Home Entertainment – February 19, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

February 19, 2013

Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

If you thought the first season of HBO’s hit show was big bad and bold, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  The second season sees the world in complete chaos with a seven-way game of deadly chess that is too close to call on after any turn.  HBO upped the ante with even bigger special effects and a huge battle scene.  Once again, the acting is as strong as the great writing and George R.R. Martin’s epic second book has created a season that has done nothing but make fans happy.  The set of discs itself is huge, especially with blu-ray which includes the series on DVD and digital copy as well as tons of special features sure to satisfy loyalists until March 31st when season three starts up.  A

Rated R for language and some violent images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

A little more than a month ago, Ben Affleck’s exciting thriller about a group of Americans trying to escape from Iran during the hostage crisis was considered by most to be lucky to be nominated for the various best picture awards.  But then it won the Houston Film Critics best picture, followed by the Critics Choice Award and Golden Globe and now it is the front runner for the Oscar, in spite of not getting a best director nod for Affleck.  Is it really that good?  I’m not sure if its worthy of all the attention or if the buzz is just in its favor in an extreme fashion.  Overall, the film is well-acted, well-directed and well-written.  The tension is over-the-top but always fun and you even walk away feeling like you learned something important about our country’s history.  A-

Anna Karenina
Rated R for some sexuality and violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel about a royal affair between an aristocrat and a young handsome count is one of the most depressing stories in literature but here, thanks to the brilliant Joe Wright (Pride and Prejudice) the story gets a fresh look that is still depressing, but beautifully produced.  Starring Keira Knightly, Jude Law and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the film has a strong enough cast but what most folks will take away from this movie is the lavish production.  Earning four Oscar nominations in cinematography, costume, score, and production design, the film is a spectacle of sight and sound.  Set in a theater instead of the real world, though, it is unusual and aesthetically pleasing, but also sometimes distracting.  If it weren’t for the ridiculously difficult-to-watch third act, the movie might have been a much more lucrative offering, but then it wouldn’t be Tolstoy would it?  B

Rated R for disturbing violent images and some terror
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Giving a great bit of creditability to a genre that usually lacks it, Ethan Hawke stars as true crime writer who moves his family into a house where the previous owners were murdered so that he can be closer to the crime he’s writing his next book about.  I have to admit that throughout much of the film I was pretty horrified – almost to the point where I felt I shouldn’t be watching such a movie if I ever wanted to sleep again.  But then by the close of the second act it gets a little silly and by the end I wasn’t even remotely scared.  The villain himself was terrifying but the big twist is kind of laughable.  To be honest, this caused a bit of relief since I didn’t want to have to take sleeping pills to knock me out for the next week.  C

On the Waterfront: The Criterion Collection

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Criterion is known to release many foreign and modern classics, but rarely do we get a true Hollywood classic from them.  In this case we have On the Waterfront, widely thought to be one of the greatest movies of all time.  Marlon Brando’s performance as a prizefighter turned longshoreman earned him a much-deserved Oscar and the film won seven others as well, including director Elia Kazan and Supporting Actress Eva Marie Saint.  This new edition includes a brand-new 4K digital restoration which is absolutely magnificent, as well as more features than I’ve ever seen from a Criterion release.  I particularly loved the visual essay on Leonard Bernstein’s terrific score.  A+

Les Mis Blu-ray Release Announced

Just received a great press release from Universal.  Looks like an awesome blu-ray coming our way on March 22!!!

March 22, 2013

“The Best Film of the Year!” – Kyle Smith, New York Post

Own on Blu-Ray(tm) Combo Pack Including DVD, Digital Copy & UltraViolet(tm)

Universal City, California – The sweeping and spectacular musical extravaganza Les Misérables has been seen by more than 60 million people in 42 countries around the globe.  Now the motion picture adaptation that grossed more than $340 million worldwide arrives on Blu-ray(tm) Combo Pack, DVD and On Demand on March 22, 2013, from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.  Critically acclaimed and star-studded, Les Misérables is a stunningly realized interpretation of Victor Hugo’s epic tale of broken dreams, passion, sacrifice and redemption – a timeless testament to the endurance of the human spirit.  This Golden Globe®-winning cinematic event can now be experienced over and over again on Blu-ray(tm) Combo Pack and DVD with more than an hour of bonus features including cast interviews.  Additionally, the Blu-ray(tm) Combo Pack is loaded with an extra 45 minutes of exclusive content taking viewers behind the scenes of the groundbreaking production for an unmatched entertainment experience.
Directed by Academy Award® winner Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), Les Misérables features an all-star cast including Golden Globe® winner Hugh Jackman (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Prestige), Oscar® winner Russell Crowe (Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind), Golden Globe® winner Anne Hathaway (The Dark Knight Rises,
The Devil Wears Prada), Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!, Dear John), Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn,
The Other Boleyn Girl), Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter series, Sweeney Todd), Golden Globe® winner
Sacha Baron Cohen (Hugo, Borat) and newcomer Samantha Barks.
Compelling and poignant, Les Misérables has earned kudos from critics around the world, including Vogue’s
Adam Green, who describes it as “a spectacular achievement” and’s Pete Hammond, who calls it “remarkably entertaining and powerful” and praises its “stunning imagery and performance.”  Les Misérables dominated the 2013 awards season, garnering eight Academy Award® nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, and sweeping the Golden Globes with awards for Jackman, and Hathaway, as well as the prize for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
The Blu-ray(tm) Combo Pack allows consumers to view Les Misérables anytime, anywhere on the platform of their choice.  It includes a Blu-ray(tm) disc, a DVD, a Digital Copy and UltraViolet(tm) for the ultimate, complete viewing experience.

·         Blu-ray(tm) disc unleashes the power of your HDTV and is the best way to watch movies at home, featuring perfect hi-def picture and hi-def sound.

·         DVD offers the flexibility and convenience of playing movies in more places, both at home and away.

·         Digital Copy provides consumers with a choice of formats from a variety of partners, including options to watch on iPhone®, Android(tm), computers and more.

·         UltraViolet(tm) is a revolutionary new way for consumers to collect their movies and TV shows in the cloud. UltraViolet(tm) lets consumers instantly stream and download to tablets, smartphones, computers and TVs. Now available in both the United States and Canada.
Bonus Features Exclusive to the Blu-rayTM

·         Les Misérables Singing Live:  The star-studded cast and production team discuss how the daunting challenge of singing live rather than lip-syncing to pre-recorded tracks ultimately gave them the creative freedom to deliver nuanced, emotionally powerful performances.

·         Battle at the Barricade:  Director Tom Hooper wanted the dramatic building of the barricade to be as visceral and intense as possible, so he had his actors build it in real time, literally hurling furniture out of windows to construct an actual barricade. This featurette takes an in-depth look at the creation and filming of all the action on this remarkable set.

·         The West End Connection:  Meet the “godfather” of the original stage production of Les Misérables, renowned West End producer Cameron Mackintosh, who was deeply involved in the filming, as well as former Les Misérables, theatrical stars who were thrilled to appear in supporting roles in the current film.

·         Les Misérables on Location:  Filming rather than staging Les Misérables presents the opportunity to shoot in real world locations: a massive dry dock on the coast of England, a beautiful underground chapel in the heart of London and the ancient city of Winchester.  Members of the cast and crew talk about what it was like to find and work in these incredible locations.

Bonus Features on Both the Blu-rayTM and DVD

·         The Stars of Les Misérables:  Director Tom Hooper talks about casting the iconic characters, and the actors discuss why it was important to them to be a part of this groundbreaking version of
Les Misérables.

·         Creating the Perfect Paris:  Production designer Eve Stewart created a massive Paris set featuring real cobblestones and running water. Take an intricate look into the detailed recreation of these Paris streets that no longer exist in today’s world.

·         The Original Masterwork: Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables:  This mini-documentary takes a look at the historical backdrop and universal themes of Hugo’s classic, and how the filmmakers mined the novel to enrich the look and feel of the film.

·   Feature Commentary with Director Tom Hooper

New in Home Entertainment – February 12, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

February 12, 2013

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, drug and alcohol use, sexual content including references, and a fight – all involving teens
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Stephen Chbosky writes and directs this adaptation of his 1999 novel about a young teen starting his high school years.  While most high school movies pander to their audiences and thus turn out to be lousy movies, this story is extremely fresh and refreshingly challenging. Logan Lerman is excellent as the troubled teen while Ezra Miller and Emma Watson are perfection as his best friends.  What makes the film truly special, though, is the disturbing twist at the end that throws you for a huge loop.  I was engaged throughout the movie but was blown away by the third act.  High school films aren’t often done right, but when they are they are a highly rewarding experience.  A

Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, disturbing content, and some strong language – all involving kids
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Bullying in schools has always been an issue, but until recently it has been the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.  In this new documentary bullying is exposed and discussed in detail.  The filmmakers were able to observe some horrific moments that many kids across the country are forced to deal with and come away with some shocking situations that will have you in tears.  Originally rated R for language used, the film has been edited to get a PG-13 in order to obtain the much needed wider audience.  The movie does a good job of pushing emotional buttons and is ultimately a must watch for parents and students both.  A-

Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences throughout, some sexuality, language and smoking
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In Bond’s latest adventure, Daniel Craig in his third outing as Bond finds himself paring up against an evil ex-agent (Javier Bardem) who is determined to seek his revenge against M (Judi Dench).  Directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty) and photographed by the legendary Roger Deakins (The Shawshank Redemption) , the film, for the most part is expertly crafted with some very good performances.  In fact, it really feels like the best Bond yet until the very faulty third act which is full of errors and story problems.  My biggest issue is that from the moment you meet Bardem’s evil villain, he is dead set on a very intimate deadly encounter with M, but his penultimate attack comes from two waves of henchmen before he jumps in at the end.  I’m not trying to spoil anything, but if the story was consistent, we shouldn’t have even seen the henchman.  It’s stereotypical and a rather lazy way to end what should have been an awesome movie.  B-

The Sessions
Rated R for strong sexuality including graphic nudity and frank dialogue
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This very funny and very touching adult dramedy stars John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone) as a paralyzed man who wants to experience intimacy with a woman.  When he hires a sex therapist (Helen Hunt) to help him lose his virginity, both parties experience a lasting change.  While Hunt received an Oscar nom for her excellent performance, Hawkes was unfortunately ignored.  His performance here is exceptional and he pulls you through a wide range of emotions, making you extremely sympathetic and empathetic for his character.  The most amazing part is that he is acting.  I’ve talked to so many people that just assumed he was actually paraplegic, not recognizing the famous character at all.  A-

Weeds: Season Eight
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After Mary Louise Parker and family left the west coast, this Showtime centerpiece about a house mom selling pot went down hill fast.  This final season, while meandering and pointless for much of it, provides a very fun last episode that advances years in the future, providing many laughs and a nice conclusion to a series that stayed around well past its welcome.  C+

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer and John Malkovich
Directed by Jonathan Levine (50/50)
Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and some language

    Based on the book by Isaac Marion, Warm Bodies tells the story of a young male zombie (Hoult) who falls in love with a young human (Palmer) after eating the brains of her boyfriend and thus stealing his memories of her.  When he saves her life from a massive zombie attack, the two begin to warm up to each other, literally, as it appears that something is bringing him slowly back to life.  Unfortunately, its a relationship doomed to fail since her father (Malkovich) is the human military leader, determined to immediately kill any zombie he comes across.

    Very loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (his name is R, hers in Julie), the story might not be the first zombie comedy, but it is extremely cute in a somewhat disturbing manner.  Where it differs from traditional zombie films is that zombies aren’t the scariest kids on the block but rather the skeletons named “bonies” are the completely heartless and ruthless killers that are to be most feared.  That is also where it separates from the typical zombie genre.  In most zombie films there is a biological cause of the disease afflicting the dead.  Here they touch on that, but when the bonies pop out, that completely kills the scientific basis for the creatures, even though that scientific explanation might be overall weak.  In this regard the story is more supernatural than you would expect from a genre that is typically meant to be a potential possibility in our worst nightmares. 

    What is most enjoyable about the movie is the narration and humor of the main character who describes the goings on almost like a director doing a commentary on a DVD.  It is very funny at times and between Hoult and his best friend zombie played by Rob Corddry, there is much to keep a smile on your face. 

    Where it fails is in its predictability.  If you’ve seen the trailer then there are really no surprises here.  If you were to hear the basic premise, the movie in your head would be much like what you end up seeing.  So aside from the clever dialogue, you get a very standard script with little in the way of originality or nuance. 

    If you are looking for a good date movie for this upcoming Valentine’s Day, Warm Bodies should make you happy.  It’s better than most of the rom coms Hollywood likes to regurgitate this time of year and most couples should leave the theater feeling fully entertained and glad to still be alive.  B

New in Home Entertainment – February 5, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

February 5, 2013

Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and and intense action sequence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Denzel Washington puts on an Oscar-nominated performance in this film about a pilot addicted to alcohol and drugs who is investigated after making a dangerous maneuver that ended up saving the lives of most of the people on his plane.  While he is most definitely a hero for his actions, he has demons that so deeply effect him that its hard not to have mixed emotions on how you feel about his character.  Personally I found myself really disgusted by him but really wanting him to wake up and do right and live up to his potential.  To follow his character’s arch is extremely painful but highly rewarding.  So while this is not an easy film to watch, it certainly is a powerful piece of cinema worth checking out.  A

Paul Williams Still Alive
Rated PG-13 for drug references and brief strong language
Available on DVD

Fascinated with the life of Paul Williams, the multiple Oscar and Grammy award winning songwriter and 70’s icon, filmmaker Stephen Kessler set out to discover more about his life and death.  But then he discovered that he was actually still alive.  Following him around for a lengthy period of time, Kessler attempts to dive deep into what made Williams famous to begin with and what his life is like now.  While I had seen his face and heard his music, I had no idea who Paul Williams actually was before watching this documentary and I became very quickly fascinated.  His career took a nose-dive after years of alcohol and drug abuse but due to being sober for almost 20 years, his life has turned around and he is a much better human being, helping others who have been in similar situations.  It feels more like a television special than a theatrically released motion picture, but I do think it will be an enjoyable and nostalgic ride for many of his fans.  B-

Peter Pan: Diamond Edition
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The 1953 Disney classic is finally getting the hi def treatment in this new blu-ray release.  Following the adventures of Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, Wendy and her brothers as they face the sinister Captain Hook, the movie obviously looks better than ever in this new crisp and clean edition.  Somewhat disappointing is the new documentary about what it was like to grow up with the Nine Old Men (the nicknames given to the infamous Disney artists).  There are some nice new features such as the artwork that frames the movie on your widescreen television.  B+

Side by Side
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

For those cinephiles out there that really want to know what the directors and cinematographers think about digital vs traditional film, this documentary is for you.  Keanu Reeves takes us on a journey interviewing filmmakers like James Cameron (Avatar), David Fincher (Social Network), George Lucas (Star Wars) and many other top names to get their takes on new vs old when it comes to capturing images for our movies.  For the right crowd, this is a fascinating and entertaining documentary.  For the other 90% of people out there – it will be nothing more than a boring and nerdy film class.  B+

Celeste and Jesse Forever
Rated R for language, sexual content and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Rashida Jones writes and stars in this rom com about a couple who think they’ll be much happier around each other once they are divorced.  To them and all of their friends, they make much better friends than spouses.  But after they split, things start getting weird in their relationship.  There are many funny moments in this comedy, but unfortunately, the film isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.  The actors do their best and there is some talent, but the script isn’t as strong as it needs to be for a film like this to work.  C+