Justified: Season Three DVD review

  • Actors: Timothy Olyphant, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Erica Tazel
  • Directors: Adam Arkin, Bill Johnson, Dean Parisot, Don Kurt, Gwyneth Horder-Payton
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French
  • Dubbed: Spanish
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: December 31, 2012
  • Run Time: 541 minutes


  •  

     

                I’m not sure how accurate the police work is in “Justified,” but it is certainly more compelling drama than most cop shows in recent history. In the opening sequence of the “Justified” pilot, Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) approaches a Miami drug cartel hit man that he has threatened to shoot if he doesn’t leave Miami. This promise is followed through, but only after the hit man pulls a weapon, making the shooting justified (get it?). Although the shooting was justified, Raylan is under investigation for his behavior, and he is sent back to his hometown as a punishment. With his personal knowledge of Harlan County, Kentucky, Raylan happens to also be the perfect candidate to take down a local crime family.

     

                Based on the short story “Fire in the Hole” by crime novelist Elmore Leonard, “Justified” works as an adaptation which allows room for growth. I suspect several more seasons will follow. Timothy Olyphant has a strong presence as the lead, and he has plenty of experience carrying a western-type show. This may not be “Deadwood,” but it is an enjoyable crime show nevertheless. The premise has begun to run a little bit thin by the third season, though all of the elements which made the first ones a success still remain. He is still a lawman who often operates outside of conventional law, and surrounded by corruption this becomes a necessary approach.

     

                All season three episodes are included in this 3-disc set. Special features include four cast/crew commentaries on nine episodes, outtakes, deleted scenes, a set tour and several featurettes. There are new bad guys and new storylines, but the drama in season three is no different than we have seen in previous seasons of “Justified.”

    Premium Rush Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon
  • Director: David Koepp
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Chinese, English, French, Korean
  • Dubbed: French
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 21, 2012
  • Run Time: 91 minutes


  •  

     

                If nothing else, Premium Rush is an original concept for a thriller. Being chased by a bad guy through the city is not new, nor is it original that he is a corrupt police officer. What makes Premium Rush stand out is the manner in which out protagonist is chased, which happens to be on a bicycle in the middle of Manhattan traffic. This promises some unique action sequences, which are delivered with a remarkably small amount of CGI utilized. Many of the action tricks are achieved through real stunt riding, which was apparently fun enough for star Joseph Gordon-Levitt to try. During the credits of the film there is behind-the-scenes footage of a crash he endured from a failed attempt at a stunt. 

     

    Though not all aspects of the film live up to the premise of the film, the cast far exceeds it. Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, a name which is both fitting and without any subtlety. It also makes little sense, considering The Roadrunner was always the fast one in the cartoons. Wilee is a bike delivery messenger, and he rides a single-gear bike without any brakes. This makes for tricky maneuvering at all intersections, which he always rides straight through. This job is dangerous and pays minimal, but Wilee is an educated man choosing to ride in the streets for the lifestyle rather than the money or prestige.

     

    When one particular delivery inspires interest from a plainclothes detective insisting one retrieving it before the delivery is made, Wilee finds himself the one being chased. Michael Shannon is effective as the cop with a personal need to get the package that Wilee is carrying, and these two actors are enough to overcome the weaknesses in the script. The Blu-ray captures all of the action chases through Manhattan in high definition glory. The special features include two featurettes; one on the cast and filmmakers, and the other on the action and stunts within the film.

    Les Miserables Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes, Hans Matheson
  • Director: Bille August
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Arabic, Danish, Dutch, English, French, Norwegian, Swedish
  • Region: All Regions
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 11, 2012
  • Run Time: 134 minutes


  •  

     

                Just in time for the release of the new theatrical musical version of Les Misérables, the theatrical version of the adaptation of the book (as opposed to the musical) from 1998 has been released on high definition Blu-ray. Although it does not have the songs that many associate with the story, all of the characters and magic from Victor Hugo’s novel are included, for the most part.

     

                Liam Neeson stars as Jean Valjean, a convict who is transformed by an act of kindness and rises up to be a man of virtue. When a prostitute named Fantine (Uma Thurman) begs Valjean to raise her child, Cosette (Claire Danes), it is an opportunity for the convict to redeem himself. At the same time a determined police officer named Javert (Geoffrey Rush) is determined to put Valjean back behind bars, and all of this takes place during the French Revolution.

     

                The cast is wonderful and director Bille August is able to provide a concise telling of the story in just over two hours. Though the latest version is likely to be more popular, simply because of the musical aspects and a new cast, this is an admirable adaptation of Hugo’s classic tale. The Blu-ray includes a featurette, though the high definition presentation is the true reason for this Blu-ray. Even that is somewhat unspectacular, seemingly rushed just to have this on shelves in time for the new theatrical release. 

    Purple Noon Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet
  • Director: René Clément
  • Format: Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: December 4, 2012
  • Run Time: 118 minutes

  •  

     

                Before Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” French director René Clément made Purple Noon (Plein Soleil). Created just five years after the release of Highsmith’s novel, Purple Noon aligns much closer to the book than the later version starring Matt Damon and Jude Law, while adding a bit more believability and realism to the criminal acts than are found in literary form. The result is a fantastic film, both gorgeous and meticulous in detail, surely one of Clément’s best and the film which made Alain Delon a star.

     

                Delon stars as Tom Ripley, an American who has traveled to Rome in search of a trust fund young man named Philippe (Maurice Ronet) and convince him to return home to his father in San Francisco. Ripley is something of a savant, able to forge signatures and imitate others. He uses this ability to plot out a way to take over Philippe’s life in Italy, though this effort does not come without huge obstacles. The largest is Philippe’s unsuspecting on-again/off-again girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforêt).

     

                What is truly remarkable about Purple Noon is the amount of effort taken to show us how Ripley would be able to accomplish what he does, without forcing the audience to sympathize with him or even understand why he would. There is no need for motive or explanation, as greed is quite clear to see. Delon is marvelous as a carefree Ripley, almost appearing as a child who is proud of his ability to fool others with lies and trickery. He marvels himself smarter than those around him, at one point even openly discussing his murderous intentions to his victim.

     

                The Blu-ray release of this classic French thriller comes with a new digital restoration presentation, including an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The special features include a new interview with Clément scholar Denitza Bantcheva, as well as archival interviews with Highsmith and Delon. The package comes with a booklet insert with an essay by film critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an excerpt from an interview with Clément from the early 80s.

     

               

    The Good Doctor Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Orlando Bloom, Riley Keough, Michael Pena
  • Directors: Lance Daly
  • Format: AC-3, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: December 18, 2012
  • Run Time: 91 minutes


  •  

     

                The Good Doctor is a disturbing little thriller, understated in a way which makes it all the more believable and terrifying. I have never much cared for actor Orlando Bloom, but he gives a subtle and chilling performance as Martin Blake, a young doctor whose insecurities are matched only by his ambitions. This pairing of these two characteristics proves deadly in the hands of this unstable doctor, making for a smart little serial killer film. 

     

                Martin wants to be a doctor for all of the wrong reasons, caring little about human interaction and much more about the prestige that comes with the profession. Expecting everyone to fall at his feet now that he is a doctor, Blake is unsettled to find the nursing staff treating him as an equal and less. He becomes so disturbed that it throws him off of his ability to perform, which threatens his future ambitions. Unable to allow this, Martin finds a way to force an outcome he desires.

     

                When an eighteen-year-old girl named Diane (Riley Keough) with a kidney infection comes into the hospital, it provides Martin with the opportunity he needs. His desire to obtain Diane for himself is matched only by a desire to advance his medical career, and soon Diane’s safety is put at risk so that Martin can keep her in the hospital. Soon he must take further action to cover up what he has done. This is what Tom Ripley would look like as a doctor.

     

                The Blu-ray release includes a making-of featurette, as well as a short promotional video shown on TV and a theatrical trailer.

    The Words Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Dennis Quaid, Bradley Cooper
  • Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: December 24, 2012


  •  

     

                Story within story within story, and all about a fictional story which is actually more non-fiction, The Words is a literary Inception; it takes a simple idea and overcomplicates it somewhat unnecessarily. There are some fantastic moments within the film, as well as acting which keeps the story mesmerizing even when it never quite reaches a point of fulfilling the promise that the build up promises. There is little mystery or suspense in this movie, and if you have seen the trailer you already know the entire movie. Even if we are not told something until the very end, it is hinted at so obviously that only a fool would not know the truth before the third act.

     

                Aside from my annoyance with the fact that this film is being marked as a thriller rather than a drama and the overbearing repetition of story-within-story, I found myself enjoying much of The Words. Bradley Cooper is better than he usually is as Rory Jansen, a writer who finds a story in an old briefcase while on vacation and claims it his own. Even more captivating is Jeremy Iron, who plays the man who actually wrote the story. There is also an unnecessary storyline involving another writer (Dennis Quaid), who is the narrator of Janson’s story, though this framing story is almost not worth mentioning. It makes little sense, especially the addition of a young woman who nearly stalks him to find out more about his work. The role is played by Olivia Wilde, but the character is so unbelievable that it doesn’t matter who plays it.

     

                Aside from a decent bit of dialogue and one interesting idea about literature which is pounded in time-and-time again, there is much to be desired within The Words. It builds suspenseful while never paying off with anything more than that one concept. The DVD includes an extended version of the film, adding a few minutes that don’t change much one way or another. There is also a behind-the-scenes look at one of the scenes and a look at the discovery of the material for the film.

    V/H/S Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Wingard
  • Directors: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg
  • Format: AC-3, Color, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Magnolia
  • Release Date: December 4, 2012
  • Run Time: 116 minutes


  •  

     

                The found-footage sub-genre of horror has been done to the point that it has little of the effect which once propelled these films. We no longer look at these movies the way we did The Blair Witch Project, but the medium proves to have a few tricks remaining with this anthology horror film from some newcomer horror directors. Although I have never been much of a fan of anthology horror films, V/H/S has a few moments which shouldn’t be missed by any horror aficionados. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of moments in-between which are easily missed and even more easy to forget.

     

                A great deal of the film seems to be footage taken from the camera of men who use it in the most disgusting ways imaginable. Our wraparound storyline involves a group of pigs who videotape assaults on women in public, forcing them to flash the camera unwillingly. When they are offered a large sum of money to rob a house and find a videotape, they tape this hunt. They are slowly picked off, and in the meantime we are given the opportunity to watch several found footage tapes while they search for the one they were sent in to get. The storyline of the one VHS tape they are meant to retrieve is never really developed entirely, but it provides the necessary frame for all of the other short horror stories.

     

                Right away we jump into more vulgar men behaving badly on camera, this time determined to film a sexual act with an unwitting female brought home from the bar. When a strange and creepy woman comes back to their room with them, they end up with more than they bargained for. Another hotel room story involves a slow burning suspense story about a couple on a vacation when a nightly visitor starts intruding on their privacy. There are stories which range from serial killer horror all the way up into the most extreme paranormal horror tales. The most frightening sequence of the film is an escape from a haunted house, also the one film to show men on a more admirable note. The effects in the sequence are over-the-top, albeit fantastically achieved.

     

                At nearly two hours, this is a bit long for a horror film, and there are certainly sequences which seem to drag the film down. At the same time, I can’t help but recommend it for the moments that work really well. The Blu-ray only further enhances the stronger special effects in the film, with a ton of additional features to add to the experience. There is an alternate ending for one of the sequences, as well as additional footage for another. The film comes with an optional audio commentary with cast and crew members, as well as a number of making-of features and webcam interviews.

    The Qatsi Trilogy Blu-ray review


  • Director: Godfrey Reggio
  • Format: Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: December 11, 2012
  • Run Time: 274 minutes


  •  

     

                Godfrey Reggie’s Qatsi trilogy began with Koyaanisqatsi (1983), an unconventional film which utilized the visual aspects of cinema with a score by Philip Glass. The result was the creation of a new type of film, commonly referred to as Soundscapes. The trilogy was completed with Powaqqatsi in 1988 and Naqoyqatsi in 2002, though there have been many other films which have followed in the same footsteps of Reggie, Glass and cinematographer Ron Fricke. This trilogy is the epitome of soundscapes, and each of movies has a precise theme which is only clear upon the revelation the title’s meaning.

     

                Using spectacular photography and time-lapse effects, Koyaanisqatsi catalogues the marked changes in the environments of the Northern Hemisphere. From the shifts in nature to the increasing reliance on technology by humans, the photography and music allow an understanding of the themes without the need for dialogue. From a rocket lifting off to a simple aerial shot, there is a magnificence in the Qatsi trilogy that is more impressive than any of the Imax or 3D spectacles of today. The film is featured in a newly restored digital transfer, approved by Reggio with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The special features include an interview program with Reggio and Glass discussing the film, as well as new interviews with Fricke and Reggio. There is also an early demo version of Koyaanisqatsi.

     

                Powaqqatsi shifts to third-world countries when he chose to focus on the Southern Hemisphere for the follow-up to Koyaanisqatsi. The visual style is shifted somewhat also, with far more segments in slow-motion, forgoing the time-lapse photography which was essential to the first film. This film shows the ways of the Southern Hemisphere, before showing the manner in which these traditions are destroyed or altered for the sake of industry. Glass returned to score the film, though his sound also changed to adjust to this particular theme. The Blu-ray release includes a newly restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by Reggio, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The special features include an interview program with Reggio and Glass discussing the film, as well as new interviews with Reggio and an extra short film, Anima Mundi (1989). This is a film of over 70 animal species in 28 minutes, created by Reggio.

     

                The final film in the trilogy takes on the digital revolution. Naqoyqatsi utilizes both slow motion and time-lapse, not to mention found footage and computer generated imagery. The film series comes full circle with the theme of a world shifting from a reliance on the natural to the artificial. The use of virtual reality within the creation of the film brings this message full circle in an embracement. This time around Glass is joined by cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The Blu-ray release includes a newly restored high-definition digital transfer, approved by Reggio, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The special features include a making-of documentary as well as a video afterward by Reggio on the making of the trilogy. There is also a panel discussion on the film with Reggio and crew, as well as interviews with Glass and Yo-Yo Ma. 



    The Forgiveness of Blood Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Refet Abazi, Tristan Halilaj, Sindi Lacej, Ilire Vinca Celaj
  • Director: Joshua Marston
  • Format: Dolby, DTS Surround Sound
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: October 16, 2012
  • Run Time: 109 minutes


  •  

     

                The Forgiveness of Blood is American filmmaker Joshua Marston’s follow-up film to the 2004 Oscar-nominated Maria Full of Grace. Although his debut was about a Columbian woman working as a drug mule and this film is about an Albanian blood feud, both films are coming-of-age tales. They tell the unique stories to specific regions, and are done with an accuracy which brings the audience into a different environment before watching as out protagonist finds a way of escaping for the sake of their own future. In Maria Full of Grace it was done through criminal activity, whereas the law has little significance within The Forgiveness of Blood. The customs within this film are much older and pay little heed to what the laws expect of them.

     

                Set in northern Albania, the film starts with a sense of tradition and routine, though changing times have made for some difficult growing pains. The dispute the entire film comes from is a simple one; there is a piece of land which was once owned by the family of a bread delivery man, and when it is redistributed he is forced to change the path he has taken in his cart every day for work. This dispute leads to blows, which we don’t actually witness. It isn’t important who is exactly to blame or what happened. All that truly matters is the aftermath of the altercation, with a father forced to go into hiding and a family left to deal with the aftermath.

     

                The blood feud says that if any male member of the family is seen in public, they can be killed as revenge. This is a real threat which forces our teenage protagonist into house arrest. Until the conflict is resolved, he is forced to remain at home and indoors. Meanwhile his sister must continue the bread delivery for her family to survive, as the only capable member allowed in public. The adults are secondary characters within this fictional film based on highly researched material, with the teenagers and their reaction to events out of their control taking the main focus in the story.

     

                The Blu-ray includes a new high-definition digital transfer, approved by the director of photography, Rob Hardy, with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The special features include an optional audio commentary with director and co-writer Joshua Marston, audition and rehearsal footage, and a series of interviews. The booklet insert has an essay by film writer Oscar Moralde.

    Following Blu-ray review







  • Actors: Alex Haw, Lucy Russell
  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: December 11, 2012
  • Run Time: 70 minutes
  •  

     

                Christopher Nolan may most recently be known for his contribution to the Superhero trend in films, more specifically for his direction in the revival of Batman and as a producer in the newest Superman film, but none of this would have been possible without Following. Few filmmakers have such a clear tendency towards a certain type of films, and Nolan showed an interest in non-linear and twist-filled stories from his debut, Following, made on a shockingly simplified budget. Before the revenge-mystery Memento, Nolan made this simple film noir on 16 mm.

     

                Despite being told out of sequence, Following is reminiscent of many classic Alfred Hitchcock films in the sense that it involves an ordinary man being pulled into a world he is unfamiliar with. When an unemployed aspiring writer (Jeremy Theobald) needs inspiration, he gets in the habit of walking around his London neighborhood. He follows strangers in search of inspiration for his writing, which comes in an unexpected manner. When the young man follows a man named Cobb (Alex Haw), who is a thief in the process of a home break-in when the writer first encounters him.

     

                These two develop a relationship, which eventually leads the young writer into a criminal world he is unprepared to handle. The only other characters in the film is a policeman and the film’s femme fatale, known in the credits only as Blonde (Lucy Russell). In many ways, even the non-linear way in which the story is told can be traced back to days of classic film noir, and is a tradition that Nolan would carry on in a more complex manner in his next film, Memento.

     

                The Blu-ray release of Following comes with a newly restored digital transfer of the film, supervised by Nolan, along with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack and a new 5.1 surround mix rerecording by mixer Gary Rizzo. The film comes with an option audio commentary by Nolan, as well as some new interviews and a three-minute short film by the director. The film is also available in a chronological edit on the Blu-ray, and an insert with an essay by film critic Scott Foundas.

               

                 



  • Wu Dang Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Siu-Wong Fan, Wenzhuo Zhao
  • Format: Subtitled
  • Language: Cantonese
  • Subtitles: Cantonese, English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Well Go USA
  • Release Date: December 4, 2012
  • Run Time: 94 minutes


  •             Wu Dang is a rather typical martial arts film in many respects, with the right amount of action mixed with sentimentality. The execution of this average martial arts film is what makes it stand apart somewhat, and this is mostly due to action director Corey Yuen, best known for his work choreographing the action in The Transporter. There is a familiar brutality in the hand-to-hand combat of the opening scenes of Wu Dang, which eventually gives way to a more traditional style of Wu Dang Kung Fu.

                Part Indiana Jones and part Crouching Tiger, our hero is an American searching for lost treasures with his daughter during the early days of Republican China. His daughter is a prodigy in kung fu, and it is under the guise of a tournament in a sacred temple that these treasures are stolen. More important than their physical value is a supernatural ability which is said to come from their possession.

                Although I prefer the earlier action which resembles more of a realistic and creative style of fighting to the supernatural martial arts that take over by the end of the film, but Wu Dang is entertaining through and through. Although there is a bit too much forced melodramatic sentimentality, I was never bored or eager for the film to end. This is the sign of good filmmaking; when an average story somehow makes an above average film.

                The Blu-ray release includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer.  

               

    Silent Night DVD review

  • Actors: Malcolm McDowell, Jaime King, Donal Logue, Ellen Wong, Brendan Fehr
  • Director: Steven C. Miller
  • Format: Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • DVD Release Date: December 4, 2012
  • Run Time: 94 minutes


  •             There have been a number of killer Santa Claus films recently, but none are more significant in the history of horror cinema as the original 1984 slasher film, Silent Night, Deadly Night. This controversial cult classic was banned across America, perhaps due to the fact that the killer dressed as Santa Claus before gruesomely destroying his victims. With several new killer Claus films recently released, a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night is hardly likely to make the same waves it did in the early 80s.

                In a small Midwestern town which was once a vibrant community, a plant being shut down results in a rise in crime. There is a seedier element to the town, which explains why a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus decides to make an appearance, punishing those he deems naughty. From porn filmmakers in motels to a spoiled child whining about gifts, the killer Claus wreaks havoc on the community while the sheriff (Malcolm McDowell) and his deputy (Jaime King) attempt to hunt him down.

                The killer is mysterious, created from a story of an incident which happened long ago. Where this deviant Claus hides out the rest of the year is a mystery, but he is busy taking down the bad people of a small town during the holidays. These deaths are often gruesome, but not nearly creative enough to standout the way the original did. There are some good moments of suspense, but unfortunately there are just as many moments spoiled by terrible supporting actors.

                The DVD release includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as some deleted scenes.

    Hope Springs DVD review

  • Actors: Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Carell
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: French
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: December 4, 2012
  • Run Time: 100 minutes

  •             Films like Hope Springs are among the rarest to come out of Hollywood. There is an unspoken rule, referred to as “the rule of 40.” It essentially only applies to female actors, and it says that their career ends at 40, and if anything you are resigned to playing the mother in supporting roles. If anyone were to break this rule continuously, it would be Meryl Streep, and nobody is better suited for this rare adult romantic comedy. Not only does it feature older actors in love and romantic (even sexual) situations, but they are a couple who have been married for decades.

                Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones) have a seemingly ordinary and happy life for people of their age, though their relationship has become more routine than romance. In an effort to inspire a change in their rut, Kay spends her own saved money on a retreat to a couples therapist (played by Steve Carell). Although Arnold is reluctant, he goes along with the trip. Stubborn attitudes and a reluctance to let go prevents the couple from immediate success, but each of their sessions is a joy to behold. This is a film in which good acting is paired with a spectacularly thoughtful and eloquent screenplay by Vanessa Taylor.

                The DVD includes a number of great special features, with a gag reel to add even more humor to the package. There is also an informative commentary track by director David Frankel and a featurette about the stars playing the onscreen couple. There are alternate takes in replacement of deleted scenes.

    Men in Black 3 DVD review

  • Actors: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones
  • Format: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, French
  • Dubbed: French
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: November 30, 2012
  • Run Time: 106 minutes

  •             With gags and effects that are more 3D oriented for the extra theatrical dollars and a little more bromance than before, the Men in Black return for a third outing after many years off. Time travel gives the film a new setting, some new characters and a few new actors to play the younger counterpart of old characters. Most impressive is Josh Brolin as the younger version of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Jones takes a smaller role in this third film, though this only allows for Will Smith to shine more. Few actors have been as consistent with a blockbuster as Smith, and playing Agent J in Men in Black 3 seems second-nature for him.

                This time around the entire world is at stake when a time-traveling alien is able to alter the future by assassinating Agent K before he has the chance to protect the planet with a special device. When Agent J wakes up to a different existence, he must time travel in order to save his partner and set things right before the planet is destroyed. The destructive alien set to kill Agent K is a fierce new villain (played by Jemaine Clement) with pet monsters that emerge from his wrists.

                This film franchise has always been about the humor and the absurdity of the aliens within the film. The third outing is no exception, with plenty new alien species and a slew of fast-talking wisecracks from Smith. Director Barry Sonnenfeld is known for making films that are harmlessly entertaining. This is one of those films; the cinematic equivalent to a fast-food meal. It has little substance and can hardly be recalled after completed, but there is no denying the enjoyment of its consumption.

                The DVD includes a making-of feature called “Partners in Time,” as well as a gag reel and a music video. Thankfully Will Smith has thrown in the towel for creating the theme song as well, and this time it is Pitbull who provides the additional pop culture. More significant is the reprisal of Danny Elfman for the score.
               

    Trilogy of Life Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Pier Paolo Pasolini
  • Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
  • Format: NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Italian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: R and NC-17
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: November 13, 2012
  • Run Time: 352 minutes



  •             Pier Paolo Pasolini’s trilogy of films known as the Trilogy of Life were cutting edge at their time of release, mostly for the use of extreme nudity that had not been shown in mainstream narrative cinema previously. Even before the trilogy was completed there were a number of copycat films, and the titillating use of nudity in classic literature adaptations became known as “Decamerotic” films. It is important to note the difference between these copycat films and Pasolini’s trilogy, however, which glorifies the innocence of sexuality rather than the exploitation of it.

                Each of the three films are based on three medieval texts from different countries, with the first groundbreaking film based on Giovanni Boccacio’s The Decameron. All also have a freewheeling way of storytelling, jumping from story to story within a loose framing device. The text includes stories which are told in when a group of men flee plague-ridden Florence and must tell ten tales a day for ten days. Pasolini removes the framing device and focuses on only the more sexual of the stories within the story. There is a man pretending to be mute in order to get work in a convent, as well as the story of a wife tricking her husband so she can cheat on him right in front of his face. These are the more explicit of the many stories within The Decameron, but not nearly as graphic as the series would advance after the success of this first film.

                The Canterbury Tales was released in 1972, one year after the successful first film in the trilogy. This time we are in England within the world of Geoffrey Chaucer’s text, which includes a great deal morbidity and death than The Decameron. The stories still jump around, with the framing device of Pasolini playing Chaucer and telling us the various tales, often sexual in nature. Pushing the boundaries of nudity and sexual nature in a mainstream artistic manner, The Canterbury Tales is a significant piece of film history, though it is often considered the weakest of the trilogy. There are many moments of humorous titillation, not to mention a marvelously absurd fantasy sequence which is bold even by today’s standards.

                The final film in Pasolini’s trilogy has the clearest storyline, though there are still many stories within stories and a loose structure to hold it all together. This time we are in the Orient with an adaptation of The Thousand and One Nights, released as Arabian Nights. The film begins with a love story between a slave and a young poor man, and once he loses her the story veers away. We return to these two characters intermittingly and the film eventually closes with their reunion. In-between there are the usual stories within stories, including some longer and some shorter ones. Once again there is an increase in the explicitness of the sexuality, though it is more the progression of filmmaking which makes this such a strong film. Pasolini seems to have learned from the previous films, making the best last. Each of the films are also notable for the spectacular soundtrack done by Ennio Morricone.

                The three-disc Blu-ray release comes with a number of remarkable special features on the discs, not to mention a 64-page booklet with essays, photos and an excerpt from a press conference with Pasolini. All three films have also been digitally restored in high definition. The special features on the discs include new interviews, visual essays by film scholars Patrick Rumble and Tony Rayns and several documentaries about various aspects of the bold productions.

    Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, George Carlin, Terry Camilleri, Dan Shor
  • Director: Stephen Herek
  • Format: AC-3, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS 5.1), Spanish (Mono)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English, French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
  • Release Date: November 13, 2012
  • Run Time: 90 minutes


  •             My childhood was filled with many repeat viewings of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, as well as the outrageous sequel. It is an irreverent time travel comedy which uses historical figures for amusement in a way that is far more enjoyable than anything within Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Just in time for the theatrical event in which Steven Spielberg brings us a historically accurate presentation of the former president, enjoy a humorous Abraham Lincoln in this 1980s comedy classic starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter and George Carlin.

                Bill (Winter) and Ted (Reeves) are burnout high school students with more aspirations in their rock band than anything taught to them in history class. When their grades and futures depend on one school project, the guys take drastic measures to learn about history firsthand. A guardian angel from the future named Rufus (Carlin) arrives in a time machine telephone booth, and explains that they must travel through history in order to learn about history’s most iconic figures.

                From Napolean to Lincoln, the adventures are across time and space, and there is even time remaining for the guys to pick up a couple of French maidens to bring home with them. The entire 1988 comic adventure is presented in high definition for the first time in this Blu-ray release. The special features include a number of fairly irreverent additions, including an air guitar tutorial with Bjorn Turoque & The Rockness Monster.  

               

    Pixar Short Film Collection Volume 2 Blu-ray review

  • Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (DTS-HD High Res Audio), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: French, Spanish, English
  • Dubbed: French, Spanish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: G (General Audience)
  • Studio: Disney-Pixar
  • Release Date: November 13, 2012
  • Run Time: 75 minutes


  • Walt Disney Pictures proudly stamps its name on Pixar products as often as possible, and for justifiable reasons. If it weren’t for the creative computer animation team in Northern California, Disney would certainly have lost the title it has held in the animation world for so very long. Pixar seemed from the beginning to understand what everyone had forgotten in animation.

    Perhaps it was the forced restrictions of three-dimensional computer animation that really did it, but Pixar learned to simplify. The short films begin with very simple ideas, and even as the animation had progressed to allow far more freedom, they stuck with the same theme for each of the shorts. They each oozing with human life and expression, regardless of whether the film is focuses on a lamp, bird, or a human. That being said, I found Brave to be rather unfulfilling. The best work I have seem from Pixar in the past few years has been in the short films which are included in this set.

    Watching these films together is fascinating, both in the way that the animation progresses over time and with experience, but also because of the amazing versatility and creativity in the chosen subjects. Some of the films in this collection are just piggybacking on the success of previously established characters. There are several Toy Story cartoons, a couple Cars shorts, a few more for Up and other feature films also have extra short films as well. These are fine, and probably more what the children are likely to enjoy. What made the set for me, however, are the original shorts which try something new. There seems to a theme in these newer shorts, many of which show nature in a mystical or fantastical way. A moon’s shifting light is a family business, a cloud can have an attitude and in my favorite cartoon Day meets Night.

    Though there are more shorts in the first volume that I am likely to watch again, the second volume does far better with the special features. Along with commentary tracks from the filmmakers, there are also seven additional short films from three Pixar filmmakers which were made while they were still students.

    Rec 3: Genesis DVD review

  • Actors: Diego Martin
  • Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: Spanish
  • Subtitles: English
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: R (Restricted)
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • Release Date: November 6, 2012
  • Run Time: 80 minutes


  •             This Spanish horror franchise began with a frightening and creative first film, one which inspired a Hollywood remake, Quarantine. Both films utilized the ever-popular found-footage style of horror which began with The Blair Witch Project over a decade ago, but purists would argue for the quality of the original franchise. The franchise has shifted focus in this third outing, pulling away from found footage to a more polished approach, which actually looks more like a Hollywood film. The main difference is in the brutality of the horror violence, which increases three times as much in this third film in the franchise.

                Rec 3: Genesis may veer away from the found-footage that has previously defined the franchise, but it keeps the even more important element of quarantine. The monster in these films is a contagion, and one which turns people into demonic zombie-like creatures with the ability to spread the disease by bite. The film begins as found-footage through the use of wedding videos. Clara and Koldo are about to share their special day with family and friends when an outbreak of a virus causes mass panic at their reception. Soon the entire party is quarantined and those remaining must struggle to survive.

                There are two opposing elements which set Rec 3 aside, though somehow they manage to compliment each other. One is the romantic subplot between Clara and Koldo, who spend much of the film trying to find each other amidst the carnage, and the other is the graphic nature in which that carnage is displayed on camera. There is more romance in this film, but it is also more graphically violent and disgustingly gory than the other films in the franchise. These opposing elements work together, but this has been utilized before in similar films, whether The Signal or 28 Days Later.  

                The DVD release includes a select number of deleted scenes, as well as some outtakes.

    Vamps Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Richard Lewis, Kristen Johnston, Justin Kirk
  • Director: Amy Heckerling
  • Format: Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Dubbed: English
  • Aspect Ratio: Unknown
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: ANCHOR BAY
  • Release Date: November 13, 2012
  • Run Time: 93 minutes


  •             Vampire films have moved beyond any level of seriousness and what we have remaining is Clueless with fangs, however dull they may be. Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone reunite with this girl-power vampire comedy, attempting the same levity of their previous success without the strength of a structure taken from literary legend Jane Austen. There are moments of successful humor in the storyline that attempts to blend “Sex in the City” with Twilight, but more often than not it feels like a film best suited for thirteen-year-old girls.

                The mythology of vampires is about the same as you would expect from traditional horror movies. There is no diamond glistening skin, but a more traditional combustible reaction to the sun. But the gruesome aspects of Vamps are played down in favor of more romantic aspects of story. Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) each have different problems, though each romantic relationship is complicated by their condition. Goody runs into a lover (Richard Lewis) she had years earlier and must explain the fact that she has not aged in over a decade. Stacy falls for the son of Van Helsing, a legendary family of vampire hunters.

                There is an impressive cast here, including Sigourney Weaver as something of a villainous character and Malcolm McDowell in an underused capacity. Unfortunately, none of the star power is enough to provide focus for this vampire rom-com. The Blu-ray doesn’t do a great deal to enhance the film, which looks to have been quickly shot on a budget. There are also no special features to speak of.

    Les Visiteurs du Soir Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Arletty, Marie Dea, Fernand Ledoux, Alain Cuny, Pierre Labry
  • Director: Marcel Carne
  • Format: Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: September 18, 2012
  • Run Time: 121 minutes


  •             Before Marcel Carné went on to make Children of Paradise, a masterpiece in French cinema and an epic tale of the nuances in early 1800 romance and theater, he made a fantasy film which is every bit as impressive. Though the scale in Les Visiteurs du Soir is much smaller, the impact is just as impressive. Even more remarkable is the fact that this film was completed at all considering the limitations of the times

                Made in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, there are often interpretations of this film which compare the tyranny of the devil within the storyline to that of Adolph Hitler and his troops. Even without this symbolism there is a wonderful fantasy film in Les Visiteurs du Soir, and the difficulties in making a film during a time of harsh occupation is impressive enough. The technical aspects are a bit more minimalist than Carné’s Children of Paradise, but this is mostly due to the harsh conditions put to the filmmakers. Even with sets that look a bit simpler, this medieval fantasy has enough heart and soul to outlast any spectacle onscreen in times of peace.

                The film begins with the arrival of two strangers dressed as minstrels (Arletty and Alain Cuny) at a castle during court festivities. They pose as siblings and musicians, though their true relationship seems romantic and even more disturbing is their mystical origins. They are emissaries of the devil, dispatched to spread heartbreak in the kingdom by seducing and splitting a royal couple. The mission is only endangered when love begins to encroach on their mentality, giving them the strength of free will from the devil’s will.

                The Blu-ray release of this classic includes a new digital restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack and improved English subtitles. Also included is a 2009 documentary about the making of the film, a trailer and a booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson.

    Children of Paradise Blu-ray review

  • Actors: Arletty, Jean-Louis Barrault, Pierre Brasseur, Pierre Renoir, Marcel Herrand
  • Director: Marcel Carne
  • Format: Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: French
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: September 18, 2012
  • Run Time: 190 minutes


  •             Children of Paradise is widely considered one of the greatest French films ever made, a masterpiece of technical achievement blended with an emotional connection to unforgettable characters. At 190 minutes, Children of Paradise can afford to allow depth and layers in the construction of the characters, which adds weight to the love triangle at the center of the tale. It is an homage to an antiquated form of entertainment, a lovingly portrait that is paired with a breathtaking beauty who must choose between the old way of entertaining and the new one.

                Although Marcel Carné’s masterpiece has a love triangle which compliments the already existent themes of the changing entertainment world of nineteenth-century Paris, there are many other threads to the tapestry of this world. Our main female protagonist, Garance (Arletty), is admired by all. Throughout the film she has as many as four different men pursuing her, using whatever means they have to obtain her beauty, though there is only one man that truly has her heart.

                The men within the film all seem to be symbols for the changing times, and it is no coincidence that though Garance’s heart belongs to a man representing an antiquated form of entertainment. Baptiste Deburau (Jean-Louis Barrault) is a mime who makes a sudden rise to fame in the 1820s Paris theater scene. Children of Paradise deals with ever aspect of theatrical entertainment in Paris, from high to low. At the same time that Baptiste is making his rise with the emotions of mime, an actor named Frédérick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur) makes his own way up to the top. Though each are in a different medium of theater and not exactly in competition, they are constantly in competition for the heart of Garance. Their love triangle is a civil one, unlike many of the other suitors that come into Garance’s life.

                The quality of the story and its underlying symbolism is astounding, which increases infinitely when the details behind the construction of the film are learned. Made in Nazi-occupied France during the end of World War II, there were many pitfalls and difficulties. Carné previously had success working under these conditions when he created Les Visiteurs du Soir.

    The Blu-ray release of Children of Paradise includes a fantastic second disc filled with special features about the film’s production and every aspect of admiration since then. There is a video introduction by Terry Gilliam, a 2009 documentary about the making of the film, a new visual essay and a 1967 documentary about the film. This is all on top of the fact that this is the 2011 restoration, which is the best possible presentation of this masterpiece, and in high definition. The first disc, with the film, also comes with optional audio commentaries by film scholars Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron. The package also comes with a 40-page booklet with an essay by film scholar Dudley Andrew and an excerpt from an interview with Carné.