New in Home Entertainment – March 26, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

March 26, 2012

Rated PG-13 for an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Arguably Steven Spielberg’s best film since Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln tells the story of the last days of Lincoln’s life, and possibly the greatest, as he attempts to get congress to ratify the 14th Amendment, and thus emancipating the slaves.  Masterfully acted by Oscar winning legend Daniel Day Lewis with several other terrific performances including Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field, Lincoln is a showcase worthy of winning the big trophy this year.  I am not alone in my belief that the the only reason it lost the Oscar to Argo was that Ben Affleck did not get nominated for best director and the Academy revolted.  This really is an historical masterpiece that will be enjoyed and studied for decades to come.  A+

A Royal Affair
Rated R for sexual content and some violent images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
Danish with English Subtitles

Yet another historical drama is this Oscar-nominated foreign film about a young queen who has an affair with the insane Danish King Christian VII’s royal physician.  With a wonderful narrative and stunning production values, A Royal Affair proves to be engrossing and fascinating while still attempting to be as historically accurate as possible.  Unlike it’s very similar cousin, Anna Karenina (Alicia Vikander stars in both), this film doesn’t come off as depressing in spite of its dark subject matter.  A

Badlands: The Criterion Collection

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Terrence Malick (Tree of Life) came on the scene in a big way with this crime drama based on the Starkweather-Fugate killing spree of 1958.  Essentially breaking the careers of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, as well as Malick’s own, Badlands is an almost ethereal retelling of a horrible event in the most beautiful of ways.  I would have loved to have seen a commentary show up with the set, but the many special features do give good cause to watch.  Among them is a new documentary with Sheen, Spacek and Art Director Jack Fisk as well as a 1993 episode of the television program American Justice which shows the real events of the killing spree and makes you thankful that this movie wasn’t made to be as violent or disturbing as the real events.  B+

Veep: The Complete First Season
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the vain, shallow and disrespected Vice President in this new HBO hit comedy.  You really hope that this is not an accurate representation of our nation’s leaders, but unfortunately you get the feeling it probably isn’t far from the truth.  That being said, the show is one of the best new comedies I’ve seen since Modern Family.  There are moments when I laughed myself silly and had to rewind to hear the dialog over my own guffaws.  The show’s biggest fault is that there are not enough episodes.  Good thing Season Two starts up in April.  A-

Star Trek Enterprise: Season One
Available on Blu-ray

Taking place over a hundred years before Kirk and Spock joined Starfleet, Star Trek Enterprise, or merely “Enterprise” to most Trekkies, is an excellent representation of the franchise that kept most fans very happy.  Starring Quantum Leap’s Scott Bakula as captain Jonathan Archer, the show worked largely because of the scaled down technology and the fact that they are just getting around to going to where no man has gone before.   Sure this one is probably mostly for the fans, but it is still entertaining for those of us who don’t attend the conventions as well.  B


Starring Paul Rudd, Tina Fey, and Lily Tomlin, and Bat Wolff
Directed by Paul Weitz (About a Boy)
Rated PG-13 for language and some sexual material

    Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey) is up for a major promotion when her life is turned upside down upon discovering that one of the applicants could possibly be her son that she gave up for adoption.  While working closely with one of his teachers (Paul Rudd), her simple life becomes more and more complex as she tries to deal with the many conflicts of interest being thrust upon her. 

    From the trailers and commercials I was convinced that this was going to be nothing more than a romantic comedy for Fey and Rudd.  And I was completely fine with that.  But then it hit me at the beginning of the second act that this was was no romantic comedy, but rather a more substantive  and thought-provoking picture.  Any silliness or potential big laughs are shown in the trailer and while usually I hate that, I have to admit that in this particular case, that is not a bad thing.  I honestly believe that the studio was clueless how to market the project and they chose this path because they thought it was a good match that people would like to see.  Now I’m not saying that there isn’t romance.  In fact, there is a very sweet romantic story in place here.  But that is not the primary thrust of the movie.

    Over the last decade I’ve learned to trust Fey and Rudd in their choice of projects and have rarely been sorry for it.  They are both extremely smart actors and comedians and capable of pulling off performances that actually make them believable as real people with real problems.  Here there is an authenticity that shines through, with a bit of humor sprinkled in throughout.  And to help the movie achieve an even greater level of relevance is Lily Tomlin as Fey’s mother who gives her best performance since 1975’s Nashville.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if her name comes up frequently during awards season. 

    Another party I trust here is director Paul Weitz.  While the American Pie director has brought us some stinkers like Cirque du Freak and Little Fockers, he has also given us some gems like About a Boy and In Good Company.  Here he and writer Karen Croner bring us deep into the inner workings of Ivy League school admission while still representing the difficulty that goes into making decisions and the integrity needed to make them.  I would even say that the way the story is presented, this might be an important film to watch for any high schooler with dreams of getting into a great school. 

    So while the studio might be attempting to mislead the general public as to what their film is actually about, the ending result is much better than I thought it was capable of being.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – March 19, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

March 19, 2013

Les Miserables
Rated PG-13 for suggestive and sexual material, violence and thematic elements
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

What a great time for home entertainment!  So many of my favorite 2012 films are hitting shelves this week and next.  But I’ll begin with my favorite film of 2012: Les Mis.  It was so important for the filmmakers to create a legacy with this musical turned movie.  After all, you really only get one chance.  Phantom of the Opera was practically ruined by inability but thankfully, director Tom Hooper and his multi-talented production team not only had the desire to do this project but the vision as well.  The story of Jean Valjean, a post-French Revolution ex-convict who escapes his parole only to positively impact every life he comes into contact with, is masterfully recreated here.  Hugh Jackman, Oscar winner Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and many others turn in immensely powerful performances that will leave you emotionally drained by the end of the show.  The set contains some great special features including a look at the unique way in which the performances were captured.  My favorite feature though is the HD digital copy that comes with the blu-ray.  Most digital copy nowadays is standard def or even worse, the useless ultraviolet.  Universal, as far as I know, is the only studio allowing for you to put a 1080p copy on your system for replay on Apple TV or your mobile devices, making this set a must-own for your collection.  A+

Life of Pi
Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

There was little surprise when director Ang Lee won the Oscar this year for Life of Pi.  If you read the book you were probably shocked that it could be translated to film.  Not only did they accomplish this extraordinary feat, but they did it in grand fashion.  And for those of you who ask the question “how can a movie mainly about a boy in a boat with a tiger be any good?”  My answer is I would have thought the same thing until I watched it.  Now I’m a believer.  The special effects are pretty magnificent here, but they are only there to enhance the storytelling.  This is a wonderfully crafted film full of imagination and wonder.  Personally, I’ve seen it four times now and still can’t get enough of it.  Every time I watch it I fall in love with it a little bit more.  A+

Zero Dark Thirty
Rated R for strong violence including brutal disturbing images, and for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

And yet another great film is the story of the manhunt and assassination of Osama Bin Laden as told by director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (both of The Hurt Locker).  Jessica Chastain, while not taking home the big trophy, easily put on the best female performance of the year as the young CIA agent whose work was responsible for bringing down the mastermind of Nine-Eleven.  Full of suspense and well-paced from start the finish, Zero Dark Thirty is a hugely important piece of filmmaking.  A

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

I was so underwhelmed by the theatrical release of this highly anticipated prequel to The Lord of the Rings, merely because director Peter Jackson insisted on presenting the film in high frame rate 3D, which completely distracted me from the story.  But now on Blu-ray where I have my smoothing effect turned off on my TV, I was finally able to sit back and enjoy the film the way I prefer to see it, and I must admit that it really is a great movie.  I’m still not sure we need three parts to this somewhat short story, but as for this first leg of the journey – it’s a doozy.  B+

This is 40
Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Sold as a sort of sequel to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s latest dramedy spells out suburban life for a couple in their 40s.  Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann stars opposite Paul Rudd as a couple struggling with reaching their middle ages and all of the drama that comes with it.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of laughs to be found here, but it is just as serious as it is funny.  The biggest critique is there is too much going on, causing the film to come in at 134 minutes, way longer than a comedy has the right to be.  Slicing out a few subplots would have helped this project tremendously.  B-

Rust and Bone

Rated R for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
French with English Subtitles

Marion Cotillard (Dark Knight Rises) turns in a Golden Globe nominated performance here as a killer whale trainer who loses her legs in a horrible tragedy, only to then fall in love with a single father/fighter who is unable to meet her emotional needs.  To say this film is depressing is an understatement, but a surprise turn at the end saves it from becoming a dismal fall off the cliff as you might expect it to be.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – March 12, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

March 12, 2013

Rise of the Guardians
Rated PG for thematic elements and some mildly scary action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

While maybe not the best animated film of 2012, Rise of the Guardians was certainly one of the most under-appreciated.  In this universe, Santa, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost fight an evil villain named Pitch in order to save children from being infected with nightmares.  While at times its a bit cheesy, the filmmakers take the project so seriously that you have to show appreciation mostly for its earnestness.   But it is also a beautifully animated film with one of the best scores of the year written by Alexandre Desplat.  Some parents might find it to be a bit too scary for small children but older kids will eat it up and have a blast.  B+

Red Dawn
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense war violence and action, and for language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This remake of the 1984 cult classic pits the US vs North Korea (instead of the Russians) when the North Koreans find a way to invade Spokane, Washington, leaving a small group of teenage rebels, led by Chris Hemsworth (Thor), to protect their town.  The movie starts out interesting but quickly fizzles once it slows down enough for you to actually think it through.  As stupid as this plot is, there is a large minority of Americans who see this scenario as the inevitable future, thus making this movie into more of an NRA training video than a piece of poorly-crafted fiction.  That being said, the movie is only slightly better than the horrible original, and not good enough to be found enjoyable by most.  C-

Rated R for alcohol abuse, language, some sexual content and brief drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Smashed tells the story of an alcoholic couple torn apart when the wife (Scott Pilgrim vs the World’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead) makes the decision to quit drinking and the husband (Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul) doesn’t want to take the journey with her.  The film itself is well-enough acted and has a very personal feel to it, but neither of the characters earn empathy until Paul’s heartbreaking performance in the last minutes of the film.  Personally, I found Flight to be a much more touching and interesting tale of drug and alcohol abuse but I have no doubt that both films will have a large audience to connect with.  C+

Jay and Silent Bob Get Irish!
Available on DVD

The famous indie filmmaker writer/director Kevin Smith and his best friend Jason Mewes recently went on a world tour performing by simply sitting on stage and talking off-the-cuff with their audience.  This new DVD release shows off their Dublin sets as well as a bonus disc with their stop in Vegas.  While completely vulgar and certainly not for everyone, the concerts are funny and surprisingly entertaining and even more surprisingly, each show is different, showcasing that these two have a crazy talent for making people laugh.  B-

Jack the Giant Slayer

Jack the Giant Slayer
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci
Directed by Bryan Singer (X-Men)
Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language

    Loosely based on the classic fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Slayer follows the journey of a young man named Jack, obviously, played here by Nicholas Hoult, fresh off his last modest success Warm Bodies.  Upon selling his horse for a handful of magic beans, Jack proceeds to accidentally lose one, causing a giant beanstalk to grow into the clouds.  Unfortunately it takes his house with it while a young incognito princess is paying a visit and trapped inside.  Upon learning of her disappearance, the king sends Jack, the queen’s sinister fiancé (Stanley Tucci) and his royal guard, led by Ewan McGregor to rescue her.  Upon arriving at the top of the beanstalk, they discover an evil race of giants determined to travel back to Earth in order to destroy humankind.

    I expected much from this film.  I expected it to be lame.  I expected it to be dumb.  I expected to be bored.  I was wrong on all counts.  Recently we’ve seen a rash of movies based on fairy tales including Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters and the two Snow White films from 2012.  With the exception of Snow White and the Huntsman, all of these movies have been fairly terrible.  So then along comes Jack and you can probably see why I didn’t think much of it.  But I can always admit when I’m wrong, especially with movies. 

    What really impressed me the most here is the combination of storytelling with phenomenal special effects.  I’m not sure if the 3D was necessary, but the effects are remarkable, making the story come to life like only a big-budget Hollywood film can.

    If the film doesn’t do well, the only thing I can think of that could be blamed is the lack of starpower.  None of the actors is really capable of opening a big film, and as much as I really like Hoult, he is an indie actor with only an indie following at this point in his career.  I’m sure the producers are depending on director Bryan Singer to put butts in seats and I’m not sure if that will happen.  But regardless of celebrity status, the performances are all good for the project and more importantly the film is plain old fun.  It’s not perfect, but it is highly enjoyable.  And if you are anything like me, that will come as a huge and pleasantly welcome surprise.  B+

New in Home Entertainment – March 5, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

March 5, 2013

Wreck-It Ralph

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

If you are like me and have actually seen all of the Oscar-nominated animated films this year, you are probably also deeply disappointed that Brave won out.  It was suggested to me that most of the voters probably didn’t actually see them all and simply guessed that Pixar should win.  That is the only thing that makes sense.  Oh well.  Being released this week having only won every other award given this year is Wreck-It Ralph, a novel and extremely fun Disney film about a video game villain who deeply wants to be loved and respected rather than despised and feared.  The movie is very well-written and even better acted.  John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and many other talented actors lend their unique voices to make this a very entertaining film for both kids and adults.  And not only do you get the best animated film of 2013 but the set also comes with the Oscar-winning short Paperman which is a thoroughly enjoyable mini romance.  A-

The Intouchables
Rated R for language and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
French with English Subtitles

I was as surprised as anyone to see that this French crowd pleaser about a young hoodlum from the projects in Paris who becomes the caretaker for a wealthy quadriplegic is actually ranked #62 in the IMDB Top 250 films of all time.  But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  The film is so darn likable that it becomes incredibly easy to forgive and even ignore its mistakes.  The performances by Francois Cluzet (Tell No One) and Omar Sy (Micmacs) are an experience to behold and the chemistry between the two makes the film that much more endearing.  It’s hard to imagine someone sitting through this movie without a constant smile on their face and holding back a little tear in their eye.  B+

Schindler’s List: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition

Rated R for language, some sexuality and actuality violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I honestly haven’t seen this legendary film since it was in theaters back in 1993.  Now, 20 years later, it is just as powerful, just as beautiful and just as difficult to watch.  But man is this a fantastic story, perfectly directed by Spielberg with a production to match.  The story of Oskar Schindler, a manipulative German businessman who begins the tale by taking advantage of Jews during WWII and ends up risking all to save them is so memorable that I feel like it was completely familiar and part of me, even though I hadn’t seen the movie in two decades.  This new version has been restored in high definition and looks and sounds amazing on a big screen television with blu-ray.  The only disappointing aspect is that the new special features are all on the DVD portion of the film, but then again, most people would hardly care about that. Being that this is Spielberg’s most important film, I do wish he’d have put up a commentary, but I guess he didn’t feel compelled.  A+