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I Want My DVD: Tuesday, March 12, 2013

by Ethan Alter March 12, 2013 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Now presenting Ang Lee's Boat Trip.

Life of Pi
Perhaps in hindsight, it's not such a surprise that Ang Lee beat out Steven Spielberg for the Best Director statue at last month's Oscars. Certainly, in terms of degree of difficulty, Life of Pi trumps Lincoln, as Lee had to juggle a number of back-breaking, potentially movie-killing technical demands -- shooting on the water with 3D cameras and extensive amounts of CGI (including a digitally-generated tiger) -- in bringing Yann Martel's best-selling, Oprah-endorsed parable to the big screen. And there's a lot about Life of Pi to admire, even if you don't buy into the version of spirituality its selling, from the sure, confident way that Lee stages some of the bigger set-pieces (most notably the sinking of the ship that strands the title character at sea) to first-time actor Suraj Sharma's poised performance to the final act, which upends everything we thought we knew about what we've been watching in a really fascinating way. Overall, though, the movie lacks the rich narrative and complex characterizations that have defined Lee's best films, from Eat Drink Man Woman to Brokeback Mountain to Lust, Caution. It's ultimately the too-simple story of a boy and his boat that spends too much of its running time adrift at sea with not much moving it forward.
Extras: In addition to 2D and 3D versions of the movie, the 3-disc Blu-ray set comes with a trio of behind-the-scenes documentaries, galleries of storyboards and production art, deleted scenes and test reels depicting the special effects progression in key sequences.
Click here to read our original review

Rise of the Guardians
Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away
One of the biggest creative and commercial misses in DreamWorks Animation's history, Rise of the Guardians is a strained, unconvincing attempt to turn William Joyce's Guardians of Childhood book series into an Avengers-like animated blockbuster with folks like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy subbing in for Marvel's superhero team. The nominal plot has Guardian-in-training Jack Frost teaming up with the original crew to take down Pitch Black, whose plan is to douse the world in darkness, freaking the hell out of children and robbing the Guardians of their faith-induced power. Leaving aside the movie's deeply flawed premise -- which posits that the fate of the entire world hinges on a belief in mythological figures that only a fraction of the global population (most of whom, it must be emphasized, reside in the Western hemisphere) actually believe in -- Guardians is a flop because it substitutes overly frenetic action sequences and strained moments of humor for good storytelling and convincing world-building. I never thought DreamWorks would produce a worse movie than Shark Tale and/or Shrek the Third, but they came pretty close here. Another end-of-2012 release that didn't scare up much business was Cirque du Soleil's venture into large-scale IMAX filmmaking, Worlds Away, which came and went from theaters in December. Unlike Guardians, however, this movie actually deserved to find a wider audience. Essentially a compilation of set-pieces from several different Cirque shows assembled around a loose narrative involving a girl venturing through various worlds to find a hot Aerialist she's fallen for, Worlds Away does a fine job translating the troupe's expert stagecraft to the big screen. (Honestly, the scale of the spectacle on display here is frequently more impressive than the digital trickery in Life of Pi.) Granted, the ideal way to experience Worlds Away would be in an IMAX theater (why this isn't already on rotation at museums and science centers is beyond me), but the stunts, costumes and general Cirque aesthetic come through on the small-screen as well. And it's certainly cheaper than a ticket to an actual Cirque performance.
Extras: Rise of the Guardians includes a commentary track with the filmmakes, behind-the-scenes featurettes and family-friendly games. Worlds Away comes with two-making of mini-docs.
Click here to read our original review of Rise of the Guardians

The First Time
Smashed
Two Sundance darlings from last year's edition of the annual Park City film festival turn up on DVD following blind-and-you-missed-them theatrical runs. The First Time is the sophomore film from Jonathan Kasdan, son of Lawrence and brother of Jake, following up his excruciating 2007 debut In the Land of Women. The First Time mines similar territory as that earlier film -- awkward, absurdly talkative dude sparks an attraction with a pretty, equally talkative chick -- but it's an infinitely better movie, even if it's clearly using Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise series as a model. Teen Wolf star Dylan O'Brien plays high school senior Dave, who begins the film head over heels for hottie Jane (Victoria Justice), but ends up transferring his affections to funky-cool Aubrey (Britt Robertson) instead. While O'Brien and Robertson are no Hawke and Delpy, they do generate a nice, easy chemistry together and Kasdan's observations about love, relationships and "first times" are well-dramatized, if not exactly groundbreaking. Also familiar, but quite good on its own terms, is Smashed, which casts ingénue Mary Elizabeth Winstead against type as an alcoholic whose life is finally bottoming out after letting the good times roll on for too long. Making the decision to go booze-free proves free than actually doing it, however, especially since her husband (Aaron Paul) is still on the sauce. At a slender 80-minutes, Smashed is more of a sketch than a full-fledged portrait of a character compromised by alcoholism (Robert Zemeckis's Flight gives the topic weightier treatment, albeit in a far more contrived scenario), but the performances are strong and the director James Ponsoldt mostly avoids movie-of-the-week style sentiment or When a Man Loves a Woman-style glossiness.
Extras: The First Time is bonus features-less, while Smashed comes with a commentary track with Winstead and Ponsoldt, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and footage from the movie's Toronto Film Festival premiere.
Click here to read our original review of Smashed

Willow
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
A pair of nostalgic '80s favorites make their high-def debuts today, although only one of them has recently seen its reputation improve to the point where it can be called a "favorite." I'm speaking about Ron Howard's 1988 fantasy, Willow, which enjoyed mixed reviews and mediocre box office when it initially arrived in theaters in the post-Ladyhawke, pre-Lord of the Rings swords-and-sorcery movie landscape. But 15 years and countless airings on cable have improved Willow's reputation, allowing viewers to better appreciate Warwick Davis's appealing performance as the titular dwarf and Val Kilmer's turn as the Han Solo-esque swordsman who accompanies him on a mission to protect a baby that's of vital import to the evil queen that rules their magical world. Peter Jackson would eventually come along and show what epic fantasy filmmaking really looks like, but Howard at least kept the genre warm until he arrived on the scene. On the other hand, Robert Zemeckis's Who Framed Roger Rabbit was an instant hit from the jump and it remains a much-loved landmark 25 years on, if for no other reason than the way it unites Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny (as well as the rest of the respective Disney and Looney Tunes crews) in the same movie -- a feat that has yet to be repeated. But the original characters are even more memorable, from the titular stuttering rabbit to his bodacious wife Jessica to Christopher Lloyd's freaky Judge Doom character. And towering above it all is Bob Hoskins, whose performance as P.I. Eddie Valiant is just a remarkable piece of film acting; even when you can see the seams separating the human and cartoon actors, the sheer force of Hoskins's commitment to his role keeps you rooted in the movie's reality. Thanks to him, Roger Rabbit will continue to look ahead of its time in another 25 years.
Extras: Willow features a new batch of deleted scenes with introductions from Howard, Davis's personal video diary and two featurettes. Who Framed Roger Rabbit comes with digitally restored versions of all three Roger Rabbit cartoon shorts, a commentary track, featurettes and a deleted scene.

Also on DVD:
Dave Grohl tells the story of a legendary recording studio in the rock-doc Sound City. Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren suffer mightily for their art in the terrible biopic Hitchcock, a flat-footed, false-note filled recounting of the making of Psycho. Finally, a trio of lesser Disney titles get new Blu-ray releases, starting with the awful Brother Bear, the slightly better Mulan and the flat-out strange The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

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