New in Home Entertainment – September 24, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

September 24, 2013

Iron Man 3
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence throughout, and brief suggestive content
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Robert Downey Jr is back as Tony Stark in this third and most profitable adventure in the Iron Man franchise (if you don’t count The Avengers).  This time around he is after an evil terrorist named the Mandarin who is set to destroy Stark’s whole world.  Taking over the director’s chair is Lethal Weapon’s Shane Black who does a great job of bringing a sense of humor to the film.  Unfortunately the script by Drew Pearce lacks any concept of authenticity, even in this super hero world.  Aside from the fun twist half way through the picture, the plot points are forced and frankly quite silly.  C+

Room 237
Not Rated
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I’ve always enjoyed Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of Stephen King’s The Shining, but I had no idea how much thought might have went into making it.  This documentary by Rodney Ascher explores many of the possible hidden and subliminal meanings behind the film and although they are sometimes very far-fetched, they are still very believable.  My favorite is a mind-blowing segment on the connection between Kubrick and the Apollo 11 moon landing.  As crazy and even demented as these conspiracies seem, I reached a new level of appreciation and enjoyment for this classic horror film.  A

South Park: The Complete Sixteenth Season

Available on DVD and Blu-ray

I still can’t believe South Park is still this funny and this relevant, considering that most people think of it as a cartoon with potty humor.  So there is a fair amount of potty humor, but Trey Parker and Matt Stone, fresh off their Tony win for The Book of Mormon, are still creating fresh and hilariously timely tales with the gang of kids that doesn’t seem to grow up.  The season hits a high point with the hilarious “Sarcastaball”, which exposes the fear of head injuries in football and scores a low point with “I Should Have Never Gone Ziplining” which is an obvious attempt to make fun of a not-so-fun vacation the writers must have went on.  A-

China Beach: The Complete Series
Available on 21 DVDs

I hate to admit it, but I learned much of what I know about the Korean War watching MASH and the Vietnam war by watching China Beach.  This classic late 80’s/early 90’s drama about the nurses and doctors of the “Five and Dime” 510th Evacuation Hospital and R&R Center is as well-acted and  fantastically produced as it is enlightening.  This new humongous set by Time-Life contains all episodes, 10 hours of extras, a book and even a pair of dog tags.  A-

Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey
Directed by James Wan (The Conjuring)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of terror and violence, and thematic elements

    Beginning directly after the events of the first Insidious movie, The Lambert family is back in the real world, but Josh (Wilson) doesn’t quite seem himself.  As strange events start happening to them again, they get a little help from some ghost hunters and even a visitor from the other side in order to get things completely back to normal again.  

    I remember seeing the original Insidious back in 2011 but honestly, it felt so generic that I couldn’t even recall much of the premise or details.  Unfortunately here they don’t really do a good job of jogging your memory so I would highly advise watching it again before tackling this one.  Then again, I’m not sure it would make much of a difference since this one seems even more generic than the first.  At least the first one provided some decent chills (from what I can remember).  Chapter 2 turns out to be rather lame and too often filled with people making bad decisions in order to further the story.  The acting is okay but nothing that will blow you away.  

    The real problem might be the rating.  It’s hard to do PG-13 horror and here it feels like those handcuffs were a real distraction.  Considering Wan’s last film, The Conjuring, was R and much more effective, I can only assume his imagination was not allowed to run wild enough here.  That being said, I hate torture porn horror like what we’ve seen in his Saw franchise, but I also need my suspenseful scary movies to be scary and this one didn’t do it.  

    One thing I did like was the story structure.  While the villain they presented wasn’t entirely terrifying, there was huge potential.  I would have really preferred to have seen this story presented with a much less restrictive environment.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – September 17, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

September 17, 2013

World War Z
Rated PG-13 for intense frightening zombie sequences, violence and disturbing images
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

I don’t typically read books destined for theaters simply because it is rare for a movie to match up to the written word.  In the case of World War Z I made an exception and honestly, I’m not tremendously offended that the material didn’t match up.  They both tell the story of a world war vs a “zombie-like creature” but the monsters in both are very different as is the way they kill them.  The movie though is effective and there’s no doubt that Brad Pitt is perfect for the role and put his heart and soul into it.  Personally, I didn’t find the movie as scary as I had hoped and there were some really stupid scenes (such as the video of the WHO scientist handling the virus without protective gear), but the story worked for the most part and made for a nice thriller.  B

Behind the Candelabra
Rated TV-MA
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Director Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace biopic starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon wasn’t originally destined for HBO but was found to be “too gay” for any of the distributors to take a risk with and thus ended up heading straight to television.  Of course now it’s been nominated for 15 Emmys, but what do the distributors know?  Sure it’s pretty eccentric but it’s also immensely interesting and the performances are off the charts.  Douglas is perfect as the fabulous piano virtuoso and Damon is scary good as his boyfriend.  And talk about a great script with tremendous production values.  If you don’t mind the subject, you’ll probably enjoy this little indie quite a lot.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – September 10, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

September 10, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

J.J. Abrams’ second outing in the Star Trek universe did reasonably well at the box office but failed to woo the hard core fans, and in turn probably has many folks worried about what he will do to the Star Wars universe in 2015.  So what went wrong here?  Personally, I think the story is fine but there was too much stupid suspense built up around the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch.  For months it was rumored that he would play Khan, but those rumors were squelched by the studio and by the time the revelation is made you simply don’t care.  Had they just called him Khan from the beginning, there would have been a completely different buzz on the film and probably more enjoyment.  After all, the film is as much action as it is trippy sci-fi and there are some really fun moments and big set pieces.  The story is a bit predictable and formulaic, but still effective enough.  Unlike some of the earlier Trek films, these new additions are much more accessible for the non-Trekkies out there and while this one couldn’t match the first, or even its own hype, it is still enjoyable.  B-

Frankenstein’s Army
Rated R for bloody violence and grisly images, and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

At the tail end of WWII a group of Russian soldiers with a nice video camera discover a secret Nazi laboratory where an evil scientist has built a huge army of pseudo-mechanical humans that act as all sorts of nasty weapons.  The movie has the look and feel of a modern version of Castle Wolfenstein but grows old quickly, largely due to trying too hard to be a ghastly B-movie.  Disturbing, gross, and disgusting aren’t nearly good enough adjectives to describe what is seen here.  I’m sure there is an audience for this kind of film, but for me the carnage was too distracting although the imagination was intriguing.  C-

La Cage aux Folles: Criterion Edition
Available on DVD and Blu-ray
French with English Subtitles

When this comedy was released in 1978 I’m sure it was very controversial, but the story of a gay couple who must put on a show for their son’s new future in-laws is still unforgettable and seems rather tame by today’s standards.  Nominated for three Academy Awards (Directing, Writing and of course Costume Design), and then spawning a huge Broadway show and an even bigger remake in 1996 with The Birdcage, it’s easy to see why a film like this is considered such a classic.  Overall it’s a tremendously entertaining foreign film.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – September 3, 2013

New in Home Entertainment

September 3, 2013

From Up On Poppy Hill

Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some incidental smoking images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

From master animator Hayao Miyazaki and his talented son Goro Miyazaki comes this gorgeous new animated film from Studio Ghibli and the first release in years not associated with Disney.  Set in 1963 in Japan, Poppy Hill tells the story of a young girl who falls in love with a boy in her school only to discover a secret that could keep them apart.  While animated, this is not a kid’s film, but it is a lovely piece of storytelling with some rather stunning hand-drawn animation.  The only thing missing here is a score by Joe Hisaishi which could have really added to the already terrific film.  A-

Available on DVD

Even a wine nerd like me can’t come close to the skill set shown by these young candidates trying to pass their Master Sommelier Exam to become one of a select group of less than 200 individuals considered to be the top wine experts in the world.  At first the level of pretension shown in this documentary is a turnoff, but by the end you find yourself cheering them on as they are put through a rigorous gauntlet of seemingly insurmountable wine challenges to pass their exam at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dallas.  While I have no desire to ever be this good at wine, I can certainly now appreciate the hard work that goes into attaining this level of expertise.  I do pity them though as they have to spit so much of the heavenly nectar out and I must admit that I feel a bit superior since I don’t.  B+

Stories We Tell

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving sexuality, brief strong language and smoking
Available on DVD

Oscar-nominated writer/director/actress Sarah Polley (Away From Her) gets extremely personal here in this documentary as she sets out to tell the story of her deceased mother and in turn discovers a hidden truth about her own existence that she could have never dreamed of unearthing.  I had a feeling that the film would be hard to follow considering the slightly confusing first act, but by the meat of the story, Polley’s genius is very apparent and I was completely blown away at the story (or stories) that essentially made up her life.  This is an incredibly fascinating documentary that will have you on the edge of your seat and laughing in disbelief.  And for someone to tell a story so personal about themselves at first feels foolish but proves to be incredibly brave.  A