New in Home Entertainment – February 25, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

February 25, 2014

Rated PG-13 for intense perilous sequences, some disturbing images and brief strong language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Just in time for the Oscars is what I will now predict to be the biggest Oscar-winning film for 2013.  While it might not win the big prize (my ballot will be predicting 12 Years a Slave for that trophy), it is safe to say that it will win for director and many of the other technical awards.  For roughly an hour and a half you are alongside Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as they try to stay alive in space after their shuttle is destroyed by an exploded Russian satellite.  Thrilling doesn’t begin to describe it.  I was literally on the edge of my seat for the entire picture, chewing my nails to the nub.  The biggest critique you will probably hear about this film is that it plays better on a big screen, especially a big screen  with 3D.  While this might be true, its still great on a small screen, and there is a 3D version for those of you with the right sets.  Unlike most movies released today, I will say this is definitely one to splurge for the 3D copy if you have the right theater setup.  A+

Thor: The Dark World
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some suggestive content
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Being that the first outing for the Norse god was quite bad, my hopes weren’t too high for this sequel, but thankfully the film turned out to be a vast improvement.  Game of Thrones director Alan Taylor took over the reigns from Kenneth Branagh and the result is a good enough super hero movie that will keep fans happy until the upcoming Captain America sequel.  Just don’t ask me to describe the plot.  It is absolutely nuts and secondary to the action, special effects and interesting character interactions.  It would have been nice to have a serviceable story, but at least most will be kept distracted enough to be entertained.  B-

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

I hardly ever love Alexander Payne movies much the first time I see them, but knowing this I always sit through them a couple of more viewings to see if they will grow on me and they always have.  After watching this black and white comedy about a delusional older man (Bruce Dern) who is accompanied by his son (Will Forte) on a road trip to Nebraska when he thinks he has won a million dollars from a Publishers Clearinghouse-like operation I felt thoroughly entertained but not overly impressed.  Then I watched it again, and again.  Just like with Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants, I found myself really taken by the film.  It is a wonderful comedy with amazing performances and a heart-warming story of familial love.  I don’t really understand why it needed to be in black and white, but its not distracting in the least.  A-

Narco Cultura
Rated R for grisly graphic images of disturbing violent content, drug material , language and brief nudity
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Very similar to the violent rap that penetrated the mainstream culture in the 90s, there is a subculture of Mexican music that has found a new popularity amongst Mexicans and Latinos both south and north of the border.  Glamorizing the lives of violent cartel members, the music sounds like positive tunes to those who don’t speak Spanish, but those who do understand are told stories of drugs, bazookas and beheadings to a friendly  rhythm.  This documentary chronicles this music and its relationship to the horrible violence seen in Mexico and has you scratching your head at why it has had such little effect on American violence.  It follows both a singer in the musical movement who worships the cartel leaders as well as a member of the CSI unit in Juarez who struggles to rid his country of the senseless violence.  In 2012, Juarez saw over 2000 homicides while across the border in El Paso the number was 14.  While these rates seem to be going down, the music heralds the very criminals at the source of the epidemic and has found its way into pop culture.  While there were many scary movies in 2013, this was by far the most horrifying to me.  A

New in Home Entertainment – February 18, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

February 18, 2014

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

There are many television dramas that I am really enjoying right now, including The Walking Dead and House of Cards, but I can’t think of a show I’ve ever loved or anticipated as much as Game of Thrones.  If you thought the first season was edgy for killing off main characters, then snap in your seatbelt because season three is an even bumpier ride.  Most studios would never have attempted an episode like the ninth one here: The Rains of Castamere (better known as Red Wedding), and although it shocked me to my core, I love that they were able to get away with such a groundbreaking hour.  I also loved watching the development of Queen Daenerys Targaryen as she grows in power along with her young dragons.  Her character has seen the most dramatic arc and now her very presence gives me goosebumps.  Of important note, HBO proved their commitment this season by issuing a grander budget in order to play out some of best battle sequences in television history.  For the big fans of the show, there are so many extras that I couldn’t even begin to make a dent.  If I keep hacking away at them I might be done by the time of the season four premier on April 6.  A+

Newhart: The Complete Second Season
Available on DVD

There aren’t a lot of titles being released on DVD this week, which might just give you the time to check out this little gem getting its DVD debut.  Possibly the funniest man to ever grace the boob tube, Bob Newhart’s popular sitcom about a New Yorker who runs a small B&B in Vermont is both sweet and satirical.  While its a little dated, the show really does prove to be a classic and there’s a lot to enjoy in this second season set.  B+

The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men
Starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett and John Goodman
Directed by George Clooney
Rated PG-13 for some images of war violence and historical smoking

    Based on a true story, The Monuments Men tells the tale of a group of art historians who join forces with the U.S. military during WWII to rescue stolen pieces of art that Hitler had hidden throughout Germany.  

    When I first found out that this film was pushed back into February and would not be eligible for awards season, I was puzzled.  After all, Clooney is a very good writer and director and the cast is one of the best ensembles a person could imagine.  I immediately guessed that the film just wasn’t great.  Unfortunately I was correct.

    The story itself is fantastic.  The men represented here are real life heroes and responsible for much of our lifetime of enjoyment we have had walking through museums both in America and abroad.  What they did was vitally important and their contribution is worthy of more appreciation than we could ever show them.

    If only their story were told better.  I would place another guess that Clooney wanted to be as precise as possible with the actual events, and that meant not making up drama for drama’s sake.  Sadly, this made the film fairly boring.  None of the characters were deeply flawed, as would be expected in a compelling drama, and there was very little action aside from a couple of deaths from minor characters.  Clooney tried to fix this with intelligent and pithy dialogue, but couldn’t quite manage to pull it off.  The pacing is off, as is the film’s momentum.  Also, I never felt any sort of empathy or connection with the men, aside from my desire to see them succeed in their mission.  
    I do think the script could have been better but aside from fictionalizing it more to add pizzaz and punch, I’m not sure I can provide the magic formula – but something is very apparently missing from the project.  C+

New in Home Entertainment – February 11, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

February 11, 2014

All is Lost
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Not many actors can carry a film by themselves.  This year even Sandra Bullock got a hand from George Clooney.  In All is Lost, Robert Redford is the sole actor playing a man lost at sea when his yacht is destroyed.  A challenging film from start to finish, All is Lost is a great example of the struggle to survive against insurmountable odds, but as a narrative it lacks.  If I’m going to watch a movie about being lost at sea I would much prefer to take in Life of Pi or Kon Tiki.  Redford is amazing, and probably should have received an Oscar nom, but I have no interest in watching the film again and cannot give it a strong recommendation.  B-

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and innuendo
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Napoleon Dynamite director Jerusha Hess loves silly, simple and clean comedies and this year’s Austenland gives us another very similar outing.  Here extreme Jane Austen fan Keri Russell travels to a resort in England named, sensibly, Austenland where she hopes to bring her favorite novels to life.  The plot is preposterous and the writing isn’t too great, but the film goes all in and the end effect is at least charming.  I especially loved American Pie’s Jennifer Coolidge as the brainless yet boisterous millionaire hoping for her own special memories.  B-

Spinning Plates
Available on DVD

This foodie documentary follows three restaurants in different stages of success and struggle, all trying to do what they love to do most – feed people good food.  I was attracted to the film when I heard that Chicago’s Alinea, possibly the best restaurant in America, was going to be a chief area of focus.  But then I was equally pulled in with the stories of the family diner in Iowa and the failing Mexican restaurant in Arizona.  This terrific little film is a must watch if you’re like me and love learning about food as much or more than you like eating it.  A-

Mother of George
Rated R for sexuality, some language and a disturbing image
Available on DVD

Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead’s Michonne) proves she has some major acting chops in this fascinating story about an African woman living in New York City who is put under immense cultural pressure when she is unable to give her new husband a child.  Winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Cinematography Award, the film is simply gorgeous to look at although some of the musical choices were awkward in spite of their significance.  It’s a tough drama but certainly worth the watch.  B+

The Jungle Book: Diamond Edition
Rated G
Available on Blu-ray

Certainly one of my all-time favorite Disney films is finally getting the Blu-ray treatment as well as a nice amount of new bonus features.  Following the adventures of Mowgli, a young Indian boy raised and protected by animals, The Jungle Book has some of the best animation and music amongst all of their classic films.  New in this edition is a sing-along Bear-E-Oke as well as a view of an ending that almost came to be.  A

New in Home Entertainment – February 4, 2014

New in Home Entertainment

February 4, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club
Rated R for pervasive language, some strong sexual content, nudity and drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Texan Matthew McConaughey has completely reinvented himself over the last two years, going from bad rom coms to amazing dramatic performances and Dallas Buyers Club seems to be his crowning achievement thus far.  Playing wannabe rodeo star and hustler Ron Woodroof, he is given an HIV diagnosis and told he only has a very short time to live.  But when he discovers there are drugs available that might help him extend that time frame, he steals, smuggles and connives his way to living longer and making a lot of money by offering up his findings to a select group of Texans who are in the same predicament.  This true story is absolutely captivating and a testament to the desperate man’s intelligence and resourcefulness.  While McConaughey is worthy of every bit of praise he is receiving, I’m not that sold on Jared Leto’s performance as his transvestite partner.  He’s good but not Oscar shoo-in good.  A-

About Time
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This terrific little British romantic comedy by Love Actually writer/director  Richard Curtis did very well overseas but performed miserably here in the states.  Telling the story of a young man (Domhnall Gleeson) who discovers from his father (Bill Nighy) that he has the genetically gifted ability to travel back in time to fix things he wants to fix, the movie is a marvel of creativity and romance.  Using his newly found powers he finds a way to get Rachel McAdams to fall in love with him and make his life nearly perfect until he meets challenges that his ability can’t rearrange.  While it sounds very sci-fi, it is not, but rather it is a sweet and lovely little film with a lot of laughs and even more heart.  I wish more romantic comedies were like this.  If they were, they wouldn’t have such a bad rep.  A-

Blood Brother
Available on DVD

Blood Brother is a documentary that follows the life of Rocky Braat, a young American who has dedicated his life to working in a small community of children with HIV in India.  While very challenging at times, the film is not as depressing as you might think and by the end gives you a wonderful and heart-felt smile on your face with a happy tear in your eye.  I found myself thanking God there are people like Rocky in the world who sacrifice themselves on a daily basis for those who have nothing and no one to call their own.  A

Cutie and the Boxer
Rated R for nude art images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This Oscar-nominated documentary follows the lives of a Japanese artist couple who have struggled with their very niche art in New York City through four chaotic decades.  The characters are interesting, as are their creations, but I doubt the film will hold the interest of a broad audience as the narrative isn’t as compelling as some of the other documentaries this year.   B-

Jules and Jim: The Criterion Collection
Available on DVD/Blu-ray combo

If you’ve ever been to film school or read extensively on the subject of French cinema, you will have no doubt studied this 1962 Francois Truffaut classic about two close friends who both fall for the same woman and spend decades in a love triangle.  While the film has been very influential for many filmmakers, I much prefer the films that have been inspired by this film (such as Amelie and Vanilla Sky) than the film itself.  While this new collection has a wonderful new 2k restoration and thus looks fantastic, I really could care less for the story or the characters.  My indifference to them and their actions make this a hard film for me enjoy on any level greater than intellectually.  So if you are learning about cinematic history, or have a passion for French New Wave, then you probably don’t need me to recommend this film.  For everyone else, I wouldn’t bother.  C-