New in Home Entertainment – October 23, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

October 23, 2012

Rated R for sci-fi violence including intense images and brief language
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

If you have questions about the origin of the Alien universe, Prometheus serves as a kind of prequel to the franchise and will provide some answers.  It will also raise many more questions.  The great thing about this new blu-ray release is that for a film like this that demands multiple viewings, it is now possible to do so without having to spend so much at the theaters.  And unlike many of the top directors that don’t do commentaries, Ridley Scott loves to offer his voice to the background and here gives a nice addition for your second or third viewing.  Now if only the film were a bit scarier…  B+

Magic Mike
Rated R for pervasive sexual content, brief graphic nudity, language and some drug use
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) leaves the indie fare behind and instead tackles the world of male strippers in this pic starring Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey.  So this might be more of a chick flick than a date film, but regardless, it’s decent enough entertainment if you don’t mind the lack of an interesting story.  Supposedly based on Tatum’s previous career as a stripper, the story is bland and a little bleak.  Just when you think you are heading into Boogie Nights territory, the movie takes you down a sort of lame turn.  Perhaps if they had based the crux of the story on Pettyfer’s character rather than Tatum’s the film might have been more intriguing to watch.  C+

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Rated R for language including sexual references, some drug use and brief violence
Availalble on DVD and Blu-ray

Steve Carell and Keira Knightley are two neighbors who build a friendship as the Earth is only a short time away from being destroyed.  With the end of the Mayan calendar coming to a close, there have been many end of the world tales but the comedy approach taken here is original and funny, yet dark and pretty twisted.  I never really felt a lot of chemistry between the two leads, but maybe thats the point.  Great chemistry just might not be an option when you have hours left to live.  Still the film manages to be enjoyable in spite of a dire ending that is inevitable.  B

Secret of the Wings
Rated G
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

While Disney’s Tinker Bell movies haven’t exactly told the greatest stories, the animators sure do show off their talent in grand style.  This new Fairies movie tells the tale of Tinker Bell as she visits the forbidden Winter Woods and discovers why her wings have been mysteriously glowing.  It’s a cute enough movie if you have young kids (especially girls) and is bearable due to the spectacular imagery.  It’s certainly not the best of Disney, but for a straight-to-video release it’s not half bad.  B-

The Invisible War
Not Rated
Available on DVD

This years Sundance winner for documentary is a hard-hitting film about the massive cover-up and mishandling of rape in the military.  Telling the stories of several men and women in the military who were brutally raped or sexually abused by their colleagues, only to be further victimized by the very organization that is supposed to protect them, this is a sobering and saddening expose that is a must-watch for any concerned citizen.  I would especially advise women or parents of women considering the military to check this one out.  The good news is that the film has already had a positive impact in the military.  The bad news is that this story exists at all.  A

New in Home Entertainment – March 6, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

March 6, 2012

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

All year long critics have been proclaiming how gutsy HBO was for putting so much money behind a fantasy drama based on the famous book series by George R.R. Martin.  I’m under the opinion that HBO simply knew what it was doing.  The material is fantastic, the characters are unique and incredibly interesting, and killing off main characters at the drop of a hat just makes the show down-right addictive.  From the opening sequence of episode one where you realize that these aren’t just olden times but a different time and place altogether where something supernatural is afoot; to the closing scene of the season which leaves you completely impatient for season two – I was completely hooked and couldn’t take my eyes off of the TV.  Some might find the tremendous amount of violence and sex to be off-putting, but if you are looking for a cross between Rome and Lord of the Rings, you can’t do better.  Thankfully HBO is releasing this set almost a full month before the April 1st premier of Season Two which should allow fans to start salivating and newcomers to become fans.  A+

Rated PG-13 for some teen drug and alcohol use, sexual content, violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

When the original Footloose hit theaters back in 1984 it was a huge sensation.  The story about a small town that didn’t allow kids to dance and the rebel that couldn’t abide was a feel good classic with a soundtrack that is still famous today.  So you have to think that if they want to remake such an iconic tale that they’d have to bring something special to the table.  In that regard this is a huge disappointment.  This new version is a remake in the sense that they use the same character names and overall plot line, but setting the movie in the present doesn’t bring a single thing except to show how dance and fashion has changed a bit.  It’s not that it’s a bad film, but it just doesn’t improve upon the original and seems completely unnecessary.  And really, in order for this film to truly succeed, it would have needed a soundtrack to rival the first and this music, filled with weak originals and lame covers of the original soundtrack, is completely forgettable.  C+

Rated R for sequences of strong bloody violence, and a scene of sexuality
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Ever since my first exposure to greek mythology with the 1981 Clash of the Titans, I have been a big fan of the genre.  After the huge disappointment that was the 2010 Clash remake, I was hoping for a decent myth movie with modern special effects.  Director Tarsem Singh has certainly put together some of the most visually impressive films in recent years such as The Cell and The Fall, but the one thing missing in his movies was a compelling narrative.  While this new film about Theseus (Henry Cavill) and his battle against the evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) doesn’t possess the most amazing of scripts ever written, the spectacular look of the film does a decent enough job to impress the audience and while I feel a little tricked into liking it, I can honestly say I don’t mind.  In my opinion this is a classic guilty pleasure film where you know you shouldn’t like it but yet you just can’t help yourself.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – January 17, 2012

New in Home Entertainment

January 17, 2011

Rated PG-13 for some violence and drug content
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

Some would say that a good Christian film is an oxymoron, and I would say that while there is truth in that statement, that’s not always true.  Over the last few years we’ve seen some pretty decent examples of the genre including the Narnia series and To Save a Life.  Unfortunately, this new pic from the makers of the relatively successful films Fireproof and Facing the Giants is a bit of a dud.  Just like their previous films, the intention here is good.  The overall story about a group of cops who want to be better leaders of their families has the potential for a good family-friendly film.  After all, the filmmakers really want their viewers, especially men, to focus on their home lives and become Christians with integrity – and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.  The problem is that while they mean well, the message is clouded by some pretty poor examples of acting, writing and directing.  Some of the scenes are bearable, but much of the film is cringe-inducing.  If this is a genre you truly love, you might value the message over the media and find a way to enjoy the film, but if you are the average movie-watching public, this movie could be a real turnoff.  The good news is that the production looks and sounds professional.  I just wish that the production company, Affirm Films, would spend some of their profits on making sure their next film doesn’t suffer from these obvious problems.  C

The Guard
Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, drug material and sexual content
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD

In this indie favorite, Brendan Gleeson (Braveheart) is an exceptional but unorthodox cop from Ireland who teams up with an FBI agent (Ocean 11’s Don Cheadle) in order to track down a ruthless drug-smuggling ring.  Trying to stay away from the traditional cop buddy film genre, writer/director John Michael McDonagh gives the film a bleak look while providing a wry sense of humor that borders on the abstract.  The movie turns out to be funny and gloomy at the same time without coming off as a traditional dark comedy.  The characters are very different from the norm which gives the talented cast much to chew on.  If you are expecting Lethal Weapon, you’ll most likely be sorely disappointed, but if you are in the mood for a strange little dramedy with nice twists and unexpected dialog, you might find yourself having a good time.  B+

Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix

In 2010 the Broadway musical Memphis surprised the world by winning the Tony for Best Musical.  This interracial love story set in 1950’s Memphis tells the story of a white DJ who was instrumental in introducing the white world to black music.  The story feels like a hybrid of Ragtime and Hairspray but never quite achieves the power of either.  Most of the music is good although there are a few stinkers in the songbook.  The performances are all excellent except for that of the lead, played by Chad Kimball.  I know he was nominated for a Tony for the role, but I found his performance to be one of the most irritating and overrated performances in recent memory.  Still, I like the fact that more and more musicals are being released in this format and the fact that the show is still alive and well on Broadway and on tour proves that it has legs and is still capable of entertaining large audiences.  B-

New in Home Entertainment – December 27, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

December 27, 2011

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One
Available on DVD

In this ridiculously funny IFC original series, Todd Margaret (David Cross) is  an inept American employee of a company run by an even more incompetent boss (Will Arnett) to become the new UK sales manager for a North Korean-made energy drink called Thunder Muscle.  Addicted to lying and making bad choices, Margaret goes from one horribly uncomfortable situation to the next.  While completely outlandish, the show is absolutely hilarious and a quick cure for those who miss British series such as The Office or Extras.  B+

Apollo 18
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing sequences and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While Apollo 17 was officially the last of the Apollo missions, the U.S. Department of Defense secretly launched one more and the footage from that voyage has been locked away, until now.  While Blair Witch, Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise have made quite a splash with this “found footage” horror genre, Apollo 18 just doesn’t deliver the goods necessary to scare the daylights out of you.  I think that the potential was there and there are some creepy moments with a nice mood throughout, but the fact is that I just wasn’t scared.  I never once got a shiver in my spine.  It doesn’t help that the characters are fairly boring and the acting isn’t the strongest.  But more importantly, while the gimmick is interesting, the filmmakers couldn’t quite pull it off.  C+

A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This first film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s about a young ambulance driver who falls in love with a lovely nurse during WWI is finally getting a beautiful new release by Kino.  While Hemingway was very vocal about how much he didn’t like this adaptation of his book, it walked away with two Oscars (cinematography and sound) and was nominated for two more (picture and art direction).  It was also the film that put Gary Cooper on the map and made him the star he became.  I’ll admit that the movie is a little corny and the chemistry isn’t the best between Cooper and Helen Hayes, but overall it’s a beautiful example of early filmmaking and this new release by Kino is exemplary.  B-

The Borgias: The First Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Trying to capitalize on its hit show The Tudors, Showtime turned to Rome in the late 1400s as the Borgia family, billed here as the original crime family.  Led by their patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia, brilliantly played by Jeremy Irons, the Borgia family manages to place Rodrigo as pope.  As head of the Roman Catholic church he desperately commits every sin possible in order to retain his powerful position.  While much creative license was taken in the storytelling, the writing and acting are solid and the deceit and lechery make it a very interesting show to watch.  With a creator like Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), it’s no wonder these nine episodes are so enjoyable.  B

The Counterfeiters – A Different Kind of Holocaust Story

The Counterfeiters

Starring Karl Markovics, August Diehl, and David Streisow

Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky

Rated R for some strong violence, brief sexuality/nudity, and language

Appropriate for ages 17+

In German with English Subtitles

Available August 5th, 2008 on DVD and Blu-ray Disc

Winner of the 2007 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, The Counterfeiters tells the true story of Salomon Sorowitsch (Markovics), a Jewish counterfeiter from Berlin sent to a concentration camp during World War 2.  Instead of being put into the main camp, though, the Nazis send him to a special area where he will lead a group of Jewish bankers and currency experts to develop a counterfeit British Pound and U.S. Dollar in the hopes flooding the market and destroying the Allied powers economically.  Here, Sorowitsch and his men must walk the thin line between giving the Nazis what they want, so they are not killed, and stalling them long enough to outlast the war.  The Counterfeiters is not the least bit a depressing film, but rather a thrilling tale of the struggle to survive and subvert.  The acting is top notch and the story-telling keeps you on your toes throughout.  The DVD and Blu-ray are loaded with special features and a very interesting commentary from director Stefan Ruzowitzky. 

Shine A Light – The Rolling Stones Still Have It

Shine A Light

Starring The Rolling Stones

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, drug references, and smoking

Appropriate for ages 13+

Available July 29, 2008 on Blu-ray Disc and DVD

I would normally not tout a rock concert DVD, but this is not your normal rock concert DVD.  Legendary director Martin Scorsese took it upon himself to create this documentary/concert of the iconic rock band The Rolling Stones.  Set in the intimate Beacon Theater in New York City in 2006, this amazing concert included tons of Stones classics songs and a few newer tunes.  The guests on stage included Christina Aguilera, Buddy Guy and The White Stripe’s Jack White.  Originally conceived for IMAX theaters, this disc plays fine at home (with a good sound system that is), and even if you are not a Stones fan, this is a movie that anyone would find both entertaining and thrilling.  The disc contains a short documentary and four songs not included in the original film, including their smash hit Paint It Black. 

Bella – Indie Heaven


Starring Eduardo Verastegui, Tammy Blanchard, and  Manny Perez
Directed by  Alejandro Gomez Monteverde
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and brief disturbing images
Appropriate for ages 13+
Available May 6, 2008 on DVD (review is better late than never)

“If you ever want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans” is the quote that begins this remarkable film about one day that changes the lives of three people forever.  Jose is a young professional soccer player with a bright future until he has an unfortunate accident that ruins his life.  Years later he spends a day consoling a young girl named Nina that has just been fired from his brother’s restaurant, and helps her with a very tough life-changing decision.

This film was powerful enough to win the Toronto Film Festival in 2006, an award that typically goes to an Oscar winner.  Because of the low budget and the lack of promotion, it didn’t have a chance at a major industry award, but settling for the DVD will still give you an unforgettable emotional experience that many will thank my suggestion for later. 

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Painfully Slow but Poignantly Beautiful

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Starring Mathieu Amalric and Max Van Sydow
Directed by Julian Schnabel (Before Night Falls)
Rated PG-13 for nudity, sexual content and some language
Appropriate for ages 17+
Available April 29, 2008 on standard DVD only
French with English subtitles (all special features in English)

In November I sat down to try to watch this film, and I’ll admit that I didn’t make it through thirty minutes before I had to stop.  Diving Bell follows the real life of Jean Dominique Bauby, the director of French Elle.  At a relatively young age, he suffered a massive stroke and lived the rest of his life only able to blink one eye.  With that one eye, he managed to write a book (through a transcriptionist of course) and inspire millions.  The dilemma is that the movie is told from Bauby’s point of view looking out of his one good eye.  It is painfully slow to say the least.  But purposefully though.  The film makers felt that in order to make you connect to Bauby, they needed you to feel his pain.  When you do, the movie becomes a surreal and powerful experience.  You will laugh, cry, and become pretty much emotionally unstable throughout the 112 minutes.  I’ve seen the film twice since and each time was a moving adventure. 

I will warn you – be in the right mood to watch this film, or you will be miserable.  Think of it like you would a museum.  With the right mood it can be an unforgettable event.  With the wrong mood you will have just wasted your time a money. 

Special features here are worth a look.  There are a couple of short and sweet documentaries on the fascinating making of the film, an interview with Charlie Rose, and a great commentary by director/painter Julian Schnabel.  As a side note, while the film is in French, Julian is very American and did his undergrad at the University of Houston. 

Juno – A Teenage Comedy For Adults


Starring Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, and Jennifer Garner
Directed by Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, and language
Appropriate for ages 15+
Available April 15, 2008 on single-disc DVD, two-disc DVD and Blu-ray disc

Juno follows the life of a sixteen-year-old girl, named Juno (Page), that gets pregnant and decides to give up her baby to a couple that can’t have their own children (Bateman and Garner).  While that doesn’t sound like the makings of a comedy, it turns out to a refreshing laugher full of incredibly witty dialogue by first time and Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody.  I will admit, though, that multiple viewings can get annoying, and the special features included are a little too self-absorbed.  There seems to be more patting themselves on the back and less film-crafting.  It’s as if they are obsessed with how well the film has done financially rather than how the film was made.  One very cool feature here though is the inclusion of a copy of the movie that you can legally put on your Ipod or other video device (only available on the two-disc and blu-ray editions).

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Twenty Years Fly By

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen 20th Anniversary Edition

Starring John Neville, Eric Idle, Robin Williams, and Uma Thurman
Directed by Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King)
Rated PG
Appropriate for all ages
Available April 8, 2008 on DVD and Blu-ray disc

Yes, it’s been twenty years since Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam gave us this classic family film about a crazy German Baron and how he uses his imagination to defeat the evil Turks.  The film holds up surprisingly well and doesn’t look overly dated.  I think I had just as much fun watching it now as I did when I was in high school.  The DVD contains many great extras including a terrific commentary by Gilliam and writer/actor Charles McKeown, three exhaustive documentaries on the making of the pic, storyboard sequences performed by the voices of Gilliam and McKeown, and some deleted scenes.  For those with the Blu-ray disc, you can watch the movie with the Marvelous World of Munchausen, where Monte Python-style graphics pop up on the screen to give factoids about the movie while you are watching.