BLOGS

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hey guys, wait for me! We forgot to sing "On the Road Again!"

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson's return to Middle-Earth proved a hit with moviegoers (the first entry in the his new Tolkien-inspired trilogy cleared the $300 million mark domestically), but the overall reaction to the film was far more muted than the raves that greeted The Lord of the Rings series. To a certain extent, Jackson set himself up for that kind of jaded response, super-sizing a relatively slender adventure story into a three-part film franchise and turning the film into a referendum on the pros and cons of the high frame rate format (the movie was shot and, in some versions, projected at 48 frames per second versus the usual 24). And it's true that Journey lacks the immediate intensity of LoTR's first installment, Fellowship of the Ring, spending a fair chunk of time (some would say too much) in Bilbo's (a perfectly-cast Martin Freeman) hobbit hole as he argues with Gandalf (a returning Ian McKellen) and feeds the singing dwarves he'll be accompanying on a grand adventure to rescue their mountain home from a fire-breathing dragon. Still, call me a Jackson apologist if you must, but I had a blast with The Hobbit (yes, even the singing dwarves), which has a confident sweep and scope to its spectacle that many post-LoTR fantasy films lack. On a technical level, the film is impeccable, expertly mixing actual locations and practical effects with digitally-generated creations (it's particularly great seeing Andy Serkis's Gollum again) and the storytelling -- while clunky at times -- mostly keeps the characters moving along at a good clip. Where once I was somewhat dreading having to spend the next two Decembers visiting Middle-Earth, now I can't wait to go there... and back again.
Extras: Look for a more extras-packed special edition (with an extended cut of the movie) to follow later this year, but this initial release does include 10 behind-the-scenes videos with plenty of on-set footage.
Click here to read our original review

Les Misérables
Zero Dark Thirty
Two more of 2012's Best Picture nominees arrive on DVD today and they couldn't be more different. Les Misérables, of course, is the long-in-the-works film version of the Broadway musical, which helped launch the era of the blockbuster musical when it tread the boards in the '80s. For many drama club nerds (myself included), your first viewing of Les Miz was a defining musical theater experience powered by terrific stagecraft and bombastic, instantly earworm-y songs. I'll own up to the fact that my affection for the admittedly flawed movie stems a lot from that sense of nostalgia; certainly, Tom Hooper's inconsistent direction does the material little favor and the proceedings are further hindered by some severe instances of miscasting (looking at you, Russell Crowe). But, like the song says, at the end of the day the power of the show's music and its (admittedly adolescent) emotional through line comes through loud and clear in numbers like "I Dreamed a Dream" (the song that won Anne Hathaway her Oscar), "Red and Black" and "One Day More." I may feel slightly guilty for enjoying Les Miz: The Movie, but screw it -- it gets the theater geek in me singing. On the other hand, I don't feel the slightest bit of guilt for loving Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal's follow-up to The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty. This terrific, multi-faceted procedural compresses the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden into a gripping two-and-a-half hour feature, using Jessica Chastain's driven CIA spook Maya as its guiding force. Refusing to reduce complex subject like torture to simple black-and-white propositions (which is probably why it got unfairly and inaccurately tagged with the "pro-torture" label when it was released last winter) ZD30 actively seeks to inspire debate about what our country sacrificed in its pursuit of bin Laden. Leaving that aside, it's also just a thrilling piece of filmmaking with a propulsive script by Boal and a ferocious star turn by Chastain. 2012's actual Best Picture winner Argo is a satisfying crowd-pleaser, but ZD30 stands as the richest, most rewarding movie among the nine nominees.
Extras: Les Miz comes with a commentary track from Hooper, along with seven behind-the-scenes featurettes. Zero Dark Thirty is sadly commentary-free, but it does include four very good mini-docs.
Click here to read our original review of Les Misérables
Click here to read our original review of Zero Dark Thirty

This is 40
Billed as a "sort-of sequel" to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's latest directorial effort This is 40 actually feels more like Funny People, Part 2 in the way it follows that movie's more free-form plotting and turns the director's actual life into art. Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann, and their two children star as fictional versions of themselves while Paul Rudd plays the family patriarch Judd Pete. As the movie begins, he and Debbie (Mann) are on the verge of their 40th birthday, a milestone that sets off all sorts of fears, misunderstandings and flat-out fights between the couple. Structured more as a loosely connected series of scenes from a marriage (to reference the title of the Ingmar Bergman classic that's an obvious influence on Apatow's film) than a tightly-written narrative, This is 40 has intermittent moments of comic brilliance and emotional insight, but the overall movie is plodding and far too insular, straining to treat Apatow's very specific experience with married life as universal. Next time, Apatow might want to look beyond his own front door for material.
Extras: Apatow's films always come packed with bonus features and This is 40 keeps that tradition alive. In addition to a commentary track, the disc comes with a hefty collection of deleted and extended scenes, alternate takes and lines (to make room for all the improvisation the cast gets up to), the director's Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, more musical sequences and a making-of documentary.
Click here to read our original review

Bachelorette
If you're looking for the antidote to the usual smiley-faced wedding-themed romantic comedy, Bachelorette comes pretty close, bringing a mile-wide cynical streak to a genre that too often descends into gooey sentimentality. The titular bachelorettes -- snippy taskmaster Regan (Kirsten Dunst), sarcastic riot grrl Gena (Lizzy Caplan), and party-hearty wild child Katie (Isla Fisher) -- are definitely the opposite of loveable. On the night before their pal (Rebel Wilson) is set to enter into wedded bliss, these three get caught up in a series of darkly comic misadventures that stem from their own bad behavior. Although writer/director Leslye Headland can't avoid diluting the movie's spice with sugar in the final act, the stars are quite good throughout, with Dunst and Fisher in particular reminding us what skilled comediennes they can be when given the opportunity. (Caplan is fine too, of course, but her character is more familiar -- a feeling reinforced by the fact that her love interest in the movie is played by her old Party Down boyfriend, Adam Scott.) If Bridesmaids wasn't caustic enough for you, give Bachelorette a whirl.
Extras: A commentary track with writer/director Headland, a making-of featurette and a blooper reel.
Click here to read our original review

Rust and Bone
French filmmaker Jacque Audiard's follow-up to his terrific prison film A Prophet is an old-school romantic melodrama, complete with absurdly beautiful stars (Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard), wild, improbable twists of fate (Cotillard is a whale trainer who has her legs bitten off by an orca, while Schoenaerts is the nightclub bouncer that becomes her protector and lover) and heightened emotional stakes. All the strum und drang might be too much for viewers who prefer more grounded romances, but Rust and Bone is addictive viewing if you approach it in the right mindset. The committed performances by the two stars transcend the preposterousness of the plot and behind the camera, Audiard plays the direction as straight as can be. Taken as a whole, the movie is an example of how, in the right hands, the ridiculous can become sublime.
Extras: A commentary track anchored by Audiard, deleted scenes with bonus commentary, two featurettes and red carpet footage from the movie's Toronto Film Festival premiere.

Badlands
Terrence Malick's first feature finally gets the deluxe Criterion treatment it deserves, joining Days of Heaven and The Thin Red Line. (Here's hoping that The New World -- my favorite of Malick's films -- is up next.) In many ways the director's most conventional film, Badlands marries Malick's well-documented fascination with the natural world to a more tightly structured outlaws-in-love-and-on-the-lam narrative, with Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek playing the doomed Bonnie and Clyde-like couple. Personally, I adore late-period Malick, but Badlands more than deserves its reputation as a '70s classic and will almost certainly look incredible in this director-approved high-def remaster.
Extras: A new retrospective documentary with fresh interviews from Sheen and Spacek, an episode of the TV show American Justice exploring the true crime story that served as Malick's inspiration and additional interviews with the film's associate editor and executive producer.

Also on DVD:
Rock music legend Levon Helm may be gone, but his legacy is preserved in Love for Levon, a 2-disc recording of last year's all-star tribute concert that featured such names as Roger Waters, Jakob Dylan, Garth Hudson and Mavis Staples performing Helm's material from his days in The Band as well as his solo career. Anna Paquin's True Blood star power wasn't strong enough to secure her rom-com Straight A's a theatrical release. The movie -- which also stars Ryan Phillippe as a guy haunted by his dead mother's ghost and returns to his hometown where he promptly falls for his brother's bride (Paquin) -- instead went the direct-to-DVD route and, based on that synopsis, it's not hard to understand why. The British horror film Storage 24 crosses Super 8 with an episode of Storage Wars. Sean Penn gets in touch with his female side in This Must Be the Place, a gender-bending, rock music-tinged drama. Not content with giving Badlands the deluxe Blu-ray treatment, Criterion also slaps the Powell and Pressburger masterpiece The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp on a high-def disc this week. And while I hesitate to call it a masterpiece, Bob Clark's 1982 teen sex comedy Porky's, newly on Blu-ray today, is a classic of sorts. Now current generations of horny teenagers have a cinematic guide for how to (and how not to) spy on the girls' locker room.

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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