The DVD life from Cinema Signals

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New and Recently released

Click photo for review; film title for release info)


"Black Mass"
Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger has finally been
found and is doing time, and this Johnny Depp
starrer clears up a lot of mysteries.



"Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation"
Cruise does what Cruise does best.
Either very high or very fast.




"Bridge of Spies"
Exquisite storytelling from Steven Spielberg
and indelible performances from Tom Hanks and
Mark Rylance make for an espionage thriller
about a Russian spy in our midsts. Oscar nominee.


"Inside Llewyn Davis"
One of the best and most overlooked films of
2014 forecasting a rising star in Oscar Isaac
("Star Wars").


(Click any of the following titles for more info & discounted purchases)



"Mockingjay Part I"

Class conflict and an amazing girl.


"A Most Violent Year"

A businessman deals with savage attacks from mobster competitors.



"Gone Girl"

She thinks of herself as quite a catch. She wants
her marriage to reflect that. Then, reality takes hold.



"Predestination"

In this
time-hopping sci-fi it comes down to who you believe.




"The Grand Budapest Hotel"

Wes Anderson's artful genius applied to hilarious
European grandeur and its sorry decline.



"The Theory of Everything"

A catastrophic disease story designed for the
sympathy circuit and an Oscar nomination. But it's
about one of the world's great theoretical scientists.



"Guardians of the Galaxy"

A Marvel comic strip movie with a personality
all its own. Can the future be this quirky?




"Dawn of the Planet of the Apes"

A jungle-full of swinging primates,,,
and their discovery of humans.



"Frank"

An oddball musician in a mask leads a rock-com
band... of a sort.




"Godzilla"

The big guy knows more than you'd think.




"X-Men: Days of Future Past"

It may be on the dark side but this sequel rules.




"Captain America: The Winter Soldier"

Another big action drama around the
threat of surveillance used for evil purposes.



"Transendence"

A computer scientist beats death digitally. Oh, yeah?



"Godzilla"

This big guy understands more than you'd think.




"Joe"

An atmospheric character piece about an ex-con
mentoring a troubled youth.




"The Hobbit:
The Desolation of Smaug"

A perilous journey and a clever dragon
guarding its horde of gold.



"Out of the Furnace"

A mill worker is forced to seek justice for his brother.



"Dallas Buyers Club"
An illicit struggle for anti-AIDS drugs in the 1980s
draws two of the best performances of 2013.



"Blue Jasmine"

A society woman shows up on her working class
sister's doorstep when she loses her ticket to the
rich life. (But she bags an Oscar!)



"American Hustle"

An FBI sting and a romance that might
survive it.




"Gravity"

The concept behind this fantasy is enough
to make NASA cringe, but the techniques
employed in its visual design redefine movie art.




"Captain Phillips"

Being the target (and the captive) of pirates.




"Ender's Game"

Why does the military estalishment choose
a teen to save our planet?




"The Great Gatsby"

A shaky greatness.




"Startrek Into Darkness"

New technologies; new betrayals.



"Man of Steel"

This is NOT your grandfather's
version of Superman.




"2 Guns"

But, are they enough for these guys?



"Oblivion"

In a treacherous future world, a mechanic's
memory has not been wiped clean.



"Jack the Giant Slayer"

A boy who takes on giants and their beanstalk.




"Oz the Great and Powerful"

A fantasy of magic that changes lives.



"Zero Dark Thirty"

The raid on Osama Bin Laden at his Afghan hideout.




"Argo"

A heroic rescue from the clutches of a tyrant.



"Lincoln"

Abraham Lincoln's fight with congress over ending slavery.




"Gangster Squad"

A high-test action pic with some classy guys & gals.



"Django Unchained"

Quentin Tarantin on racism in the old west



"Moonrise Kingdom"

When a 12-year old boy and a 12-year old girl
want to be together... for life.



"Prometheus"

Greek mythology II with Noomi Rapace.



"Journey 2: The Mysterious Island"

Investigating a coded distress signal from
an island where no island should exist.



"Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows"

Another steam-punk adventure with the master sleuth
and his faithful team



"Contraband"

Oddball heist thriller with Mark Wahlberg
and other thugs.


"Friends With Kids"

Or... The Platonics.



"John Carter"

Jumper of worlds.



"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

Rooney Mara as the girl
who gets her payback.



"Real Steel"

Ring glory... to the boxing Bots



"Tomboy"

The world of a 10-year old girl posing
as a boy... until...



"J. Edgar"

FBI man at the top (with his aide at his side)



"Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy"

A world of espionage and betrayal.



"Take Shelter"

You're in apocalypse land.



"Moneyball"

A new approach to winning.



"The Ides of March"

A vote for Clooney and Gosling!)



"The Double"

And the double cross.



"Captain America: The First Avenger"

A real guy can be a superhero, too.



"Green Lantern"

How he picks up the glow (& puts it to use!)



"Larry Crown"

Tom Hank's 2nd directional effort

"Water For Elephants"

The circus, its villains, and a dangerous romance.



"Pirates of the Caribbean - On Stranger Tides"

Your guide to immortality with Cap'n Jack Sparrow



"Fast Five"

More action; less gravity! Green lights all around.



"Thor"

A hunk of a guy.



"Source Code"

Rewriting history... And getting it right
Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan are on fire!



"Paul"

Can you dig a potty-mouthed alien?!



"Arthur"

A strange man in a world of his own making.



"True Grit"

Ornery Rooster Cogburn rides again... with a girl!



"The Company Men"

When the corporate elite face the axe.
Kevin Costner faces Ben Affleck



"Sanctum"

Horror -- in the discomfort of watery caves.



"Red Riding Hood"

Classic fairy tale... with a twist.



"The Resident"

Horror -- in the comfort of her home
Be careful who you sign your rental agreement with.



"The Next Three Days"

The under-rated film of 2010
Elizabeth Banks & Russell Crowe



"Hereafter"

A psychic experience



"Tron Legacy"

A man gets trapped in his own invented world
of Light Cycle wars.



"The Fighter"

Good but flawed true story.



"Secretariat"

A rare horse; a rare horse owner



"Iron Man 2"

Power... at a cost.



"The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"

Exceptional foreign film from the best mystery novel of 2008



"The Sorceror's Apprentice"

A remake with CGI effects that make it worthy.



"You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"

From Woody Allen, but don't blame us for who it
turns out to be.



"Knight and Day"

Cruise and Diaz: capturing the action magic.



"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"

The quest goes on.



"Harry Brown"

You have a problem with old people?



"The Girl Who Played With Fire"

The 2nd in the exciting "Millenium Trilogy" bio



"Robin Hood"

Taking liberties with the original legend.


"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"
A warrior prince: gentle, fierce and acrobatic.



"Temple Grandin"

A distinguished film bio



"Copout"

Two who couldn't shoot straight if their lives depended on it.



"The Last Song"

A painful romance (Miley Cyrus).



"Clash of the Titans"

A smart semi-god in a smart remake



"Alice In Wonderland"

The path to magic



"Avatar"

A new world: Commune or conquer?



"Repo Men"

One guy who doesn't fool around (Jude Law).



"The Book of Eli"

Surviving in a mean, apocalyptic world



"The Wolfman"

A world of hurt



"Invictus"

A sport, a history lesson, an inspiration



"The Lovely Bones"

Celestial Surreality


"The Edge of Darkness"

A lonely, dangerous place


"Sherlock Holmes"

Downey rules



"Crazy Heart"

Inspiration is where you find it


"The Informant"

Hey, I'm not making this up!


"The Hurt Locker"

A must-see-to-believe film


"The Hangover"
A comedy Mystery comedy - Surprise Hit


"Precious"

Oscars all over the place



"2012"

Watch the world disintegrate, with John Cusack



"This Is It"
Our last memory of Mr. Jackson, the artist.


"District 9"



"Moon"
Underrated Sci-Fi adventure with Sam Rockwell


"Jennifer's Body"

Celebrating Megan Fox's


"The Boys Are Back"

Fathering can be fun, or something.


"Duplicity"

Con artists on their game


"Transformers:"
Revenge of the Fallen

"Land of the Lost" A comedy
Where a good script is hard to find.
"Knowing"
Finally.
"The Greatest Game Ever Played"

"Johnny Got His Gun"


"Valkyrie" Tom Cruise as a Nazi realist

"Quantum of Solace" Daniel Craig: Return to Bond

"Defiance" Daniel Craig in the woods.

"Slumdog Millionaire" Indian love story by a Brit

"The Reader"

"No Country For Old Men"

"Doubt"

"Australia"

"Rachel Getting Married"


Please note that most DVDs today are available on Digital Download and On Demand (in addition to DVD and Blu-ray). Use these links to get to the option you prefer:

December 2014 Releases
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--> Wild:
When someone heard about Cheryl Strayed's memoir describing her journey to find a new life, he or she thought it would make a great pro-feminist film, casting Reese Witherspoon in the central role. With pretty good boxoffice that probably paid for the advertising budget, this is one of the most over-rated, over-produced and over-promoted films of year 2014. Meaning, that if you're not seeing it as a women-can-do-anything, beat-all-odds tract, you're stuck on an interminable journey for 115 minutes, if you stick it out.
August 2013 Releases
(Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
Mud:
This highly original character piece obliges us to consider Matthew McConaughey elevated to a new level of acting skill for his portrayal here. He's been lauded and mentioned more than once for an Oscar nomination this year. We'll see about that. But, what's not been the subject of buzz are the two young boys at the center of the drama, Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, as Ellis and Neckbone, who should not be left out of consideration. They are that good.

The story, set in a community on the Mississipi revolves mostly around the superactive, highly capable youngsters as they discover the strange and intriguing man named Mud hiding out on a disused island, hoping for a chance to reunite with Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), his true love. The young actors are exceptionally natural, the latter in a debut performance, as they come under the spell of the fugitive. Witherspoon, Sam Shepard and Michael Shannon add more marquee firepower to a very strong piece of screenwriting by writer-director Jeff Nichols. One of the best indie films of the year.

October 2012 Releases
(Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
"People Like Us (Three-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD)"
This dramedy has the look and feel of a romantic comedy, but it's far from it. The difference is the key to a story which, beside having a title that doesn't relate so well to the content of the film, has no way to reach a satisfying conclusion. That may be life, which it purports to be based on, but a movie that leaves you hanging on an emotional peg isn't great for my enthusiasm level.

When young fast-talker, supersalesman Sam's (Chris Pine, "Star Trek") estranged father dies, at a time when his financial situation is about to go down the tubes after a deal that goes sour, he has little choice but to go home again... to console his mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer, "Stardust"), to attend the funeral, but really to see if dad left him the money he needs to sort out his financial woes and get his boss's attorneys off his back.

Going through dad's papers and memorabilia turns up nothing, but when he's contacted by his father's estate attorney Ike Rafferty (Philip Baker Hall) he thinks there might be something for him, after all. Instead, Ike hands him an old leather travel case with a hundred grand in roles of crisp new bills. With it is a note to "take care of Josh." Who is Josh?

The answer to that leads to the the discovery that he has a half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks, "The Next Three Days"), whom he never knew about. And, she has a troubled young son named Josh.

Now, Sam is living with Hannah (Olivia Wilde, "Cowboys and Aliens") in New York, and he brings her along to meet mom, who immediately gives her approval. But the brother-sister angle has all kinds of reverb and it's all of a heavy emotional kind. This is where a romance at the center of the story goes into a whole twisted direction that plays with our hopes for how it will all work out.

For one thing, Banks is a stunning beauty. And Pine is a highly attractive male. In another context, we would know what destiny is in store for these two. But what this story takes us through isn't only Sam's equivocation about telling Frankie what's going on and delivering her and Josh's inheritance. He acts as though he's a suitor and, intended or not, is damaging a relationship with heavy biological freight.

What this movie, which touches on issues of trust, character and poor decisions, has going for it is the acting. But I suspect that a certain boundary of integrity was broken with this highly alluring and accomplished duo at the center. I suspect that it would have lived up to the "true story" angle better had it been cast with "plainfolk," which the actual people who lived the drama probably were. You simply can't watch this without wanting the blood relationship thing to go away and have them live happily ever after.

Acting-wise, Pine has an interesting and, yet, effective way to fill reactive moments, especially in closeups, with enough facial expression to give the film editor plenty to work with. He reacts, he affirms, he doubts, he looks away, he smiles, he turns back, he frowns, he smiles. Cut. Print.

On a ten point scale, Banks is a 10.9, which I consider legal. Which doesn't mean she's the prettiest package in the world; it means she's in the rarified atmosphere of her fellow 10.9s. Cinematographer Salvatore Totino takes full advantage of it. And, there's nothing limited about her acting chops, either.

September 2012 Releases
(Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
"Ghosts of the Abyss 3D (Three-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray/DVD)"
This is some package! 3D to use when you upgrade to the newest video technology; in the meanwhile, Blu-ray and DVD -- everything's covered. As usual with a James Cameron project, class all the way and no expense spared.

Cameron is also interesting and unique for his lifelong fascination with the sea -- a filmmaker who draws creative inspiration from cutting-edge technology. Again and again, he's taken us under the waves with state of the art inventions -- both technological and artistic -- that expand the scale of his and our imaginations. "Aliens," "The Abyss," "Terminator," "Titanic," "Avatar!" One of the most enviable records of filmmaking success on the planet.

But this film is part of his small-scale, non-fiction contribution to our knowledge of the ship that has sparked our imaginations since it went down on her maiden voyage in 1912 with 2,224 passengers aboard -- some of them among the wealthiest in the world. It's a documentary exploration of the RMS Titanic as she rests on the bottom of the Atlantic where she was discovered in a 1985 expedition lead by oceanographer Robert Ballard.

Enabled now, in the 12th year of the new millenium, with submersibles that can stay with the ship at 12,415 feet longer than heretofore, and with mini underwater rovers that are small enough to penetrate and send back video from rooms, dining halls, kitchens and cabins like never before under controlled circumstances.

But it's no easy thing to identify the parts and perspectives of a decaying underwater wreck, even if it's intact -- take it from this old wreck diver. Hence, Cameron adds the ghosts -- the enacted scenes that he overlays onto the decaying structure and its functional parts that gives us perspectives never afforded before. By this technique he unveils the ship's parts with vivid recognition. An images of kitchen items is amazingly compared to a photo taken before the ship left port; beautifully etched translucent windows that haven't been lit up for all these decades shine with clarity and artfulness; re-creations of the fates of the escapees and non-escapees as the ship listed and slowly sunk complete a story of mortal ironies.

The expedition itself is intercut with the fruits of the crew's labors, with actor Bill Paxton amidst the Russian and American scientists, historians, archaeologists and explorers putting an everyman reactive voice into the mix as interviews provide technical and emotional context. Count this film as the latest memorial to one of the most famous and shocking maritime disasters in modern history. It's as total an immersion into the secrets of the deep as anyone would want to see from the warmth and comfort of their livingroom couch. It's an occasion that inspires reflections on life and death, fate, and the spirit that exists mournfully and sadly in utter silence as the effects of time and salinity slowly and inexorably take their toll.
SPECIAL FEATURES
Disk 1 - Blu-ray 3D

  • 60-minute Theatrical Feature
    Disk 2 - Blu-ray
  • Disney enhanced High-Definition
  • 90-minute Extended Feature
  • 60-minute Original Feature
  • Reflections from the deep
    Disk 3 - DVD
  • 90-minute Extended Feature
  • 60-minute Original Feature
  • August 2012 Releases
    (Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
    "Freelancers" [DVD] [Blu-ray]
    This film shows what you can expect from a leading actor with more charisma than talent for acting. To make the prospects for the package worse, one-time superb actor Robert De Niro, in a supporting role, plays a mob boss yet again. No doubt he's got it down pat, and there's nothing in L. Philippe Casseus' script to turn up the potential for anything original.

    Which goes, as well, for the story and direction by Jessy Terrero ("Gun"). Young street hoodlum Malo (Curtis "50 Cent," "Gun") decides, with his 2-man posse of school chums, to put on the uniform and the illusion of honesty because he wants to follow in the footsteps of his dead father and life role model. With the force primarily a corrupt institution in these parts, ("all the way up to the mayor," he's instructed), the option to stay honest is a non-starter. He becomes mobster Sarcone's (Robert De Niro) latest muscle man whom he will ostensibly protect and pay off just as he did with dad.

    Officer Larue (Forest Whitaker) and others of this precinct makes this mockery of presumed protectors of the common good complete, as he trains Malo in the realities and extent of their corruption. We've seen this movie before. The claim to individuality is the indecision in the mind of our central character about which side of the line he's going to end up in. The dilemma is reflected also in his choice of woman, as he relishes his new income and pulls the trigger anytime the higher ups demand it.

    But there's no uncertainty about where this belongs on the scale of choices at the boxoffice and DVD bins, the most interesting wrinkle being the final appearance of old-time film star Pedro Armendariz ("From Russia with Love," 1963) as Baez, Sarcone's mob boss competition. Although he may be uncredited, it's the best performance of the lot. As for Mr. Cent, he is one of thirty various kinds of producers, which may be the only kind of record the film is likely to enjoy.
    SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Commentary with director Jessy Terrero and Curtis "50 Cent"
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Behind the Scenes interviews
  • Extended interviews with cast and crew
    July 2012 Releases
    (Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)

  • "Breathless" [DVD] [Blu-ray]
    Last year, when writer-producer-editor-director Jesse Baget released his exaggerated for comedy and satire "Cellmates," he had his mojo on. Which included his casting of actors who knew exactly what to do with his very far out characters and dialogue. Alas, that mojo is not carrying over to this, his newest DVD/Blu-ray release, "Breathless."

    "Cellmates" had a style that seemed to be lowbrow humor but that was only on the surface and there was much more to it underneath. The subtext was blaring with satire, messages, and innuendo that was worthy of study at UCLA. Here, unfortunately, in a limning of South Texas white trash, it's nothing more than lowbrow. And, I don't know if I can forgive him for what he does to his cast, which is totally game for the style but aren't on top of it.

    Often, a performance is as much in the editing as in what was photographed on a set. Pauses, indecisions, overreactions, reactions that show the actor as befuddled, etc. can be cut out, leaving the best part of a performance in a flowing, well paced impression of thespian excellence. Here, however, if editor Baget had cut out the poor to bad moments he would have wound up with a 70-minute featurette. He left a lot in that just overtaxed the talent.

    "Friends With Kids" - DVD
    Yet another multi-adult behavioral comedy whose primary purpose seems to be to keep New York actors working. Or, at least, working for the big screen in order to advance beyond their TV careers. And, so we have good talent in a plotline that's so artificial that it competes with plastic flowers.

    Forty-twoish Julie Keller (quaruple-threat Jennifer Westfeldt who also wrote, directed and co-produced this fare) and Jason Fryman (similarly aged Adam Scott, "See Girl Run") are buddies from childhood and live in the same highrise in "the" city. To set us straight about the consistency of their relationship, an important part of their conversation is who they're sleeping with and how their latest was, along with repeated avowals about not being each other's "type."

    Eventually, their married friends, with their kids have given the platonics a desire to conform before they're beyond the age. With hesitant, disjointed dialogue, each protecting their intentions from being misread by the other, they decide to make a baby together. As all good friends might, right?. A lot of thought went into the variegated couples to avoid cookie-cutter sameness. Thus there are Leslie (Maya Rudolph) and Alex (Chris O'Dowd) who live in Brooklyn and are socially ungraceful and spar endlessy with words and their subtexts; and Missy (Kristen Wiig, "Bridesmaids") and Ben (Jon Hamm) who are a pebble away from being on the rocks. Adding to the mix are macho man Kurt (Edward Burns) for Julie to get it on with and Maryjane (Megan Fox) for Jason.

    It's no secret what's going on here, hugely abetted by their sharing of responsibilities with their child. Julie, while in bed post-coitally with Kurt, experiences the revelation that it's not Kurt she's constantly thinking about. Over a dinner table that they dare not call a date, she fesses up her true feelings. Her platonic neighbor doesn't return them, calling for Julie to readjust her life (SPOILER ALERT: and save the eventual moment of mutual need and happiness for the end because that's all the drama you're going to get here.

    MORE SPOILER -- Do not read further if you haven't seen this movie
    ===========================================================

    The scene in which the inevitable confession of love comes, held out so long by an actress whose gift for writing isn't established here, is not only badly written and acted, it reveals the distorted construct from the git go. The dialogue is putrid, the expressions are feeble, and the possibility of the joy Westfeldt was going for is lost like a willow branch in the Los Angeles River.

    No scene shows better the limitations of these TV actors and an actress with writing and directing on her mind. When Jason returns a second time to Julie's apartment he makes his case like a victim of a rubout desperately trying to get the hitman not to kill him. He'll say anything, and nothing he's saying has a shred of honesty. We read him, but Julie doesn't because she never did get that the whole concept was phony. So much for acting, writing, directing and co-producing. The backers should have known better.

    Which is not to say Westfeldt, Jon Hamm's real-life wife, isn't a beauty. God, girl, just act.

    May 2012 Releases
    (Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
    "The Secret World of Arrietty" - Blu-ray 4-Disc EDITION)
    When Japanese writer-director Hayao Miyazaki won an Oscar in 2001 and a great deal of recognition far and wide for his wonderfully mystical animated feature, "Spirited Away," it's probable that he wanted to repeat the accomplishment for his Studio Ghibli which might be considered the Japanese Pixar. This could be his attempt to do so, having in common with it a young girl in a highly imaginative otherworldly context. But similarities stop at that border line, for this girl is about the size of the mouse in your hand.

    The concept comes from the highly successful TV movie (1973), series (1992-93) and novel, "The Borrowers" (1997) by Mary Norton. Miyazaki wrote the screenplay for this animated feature, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi who was the key animator for "Spirited Away," "Howl's Moving Castle" and "Ponyo," titles that will be familiar to any fan of anime, Japanese animation.

    Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler in the U.S. version, by Saorse Ronan for the UK) is the hyper-adventuresome 14-year-0ld daughter of the Clock family who, being tiny, have to borrow for their own sustenance while living under the motto, "Do not be seen by humans." To do otherwise, to these miniature borrowers who are human-like in every respect but for their size, is to be destroyed, a fate so many of their peers have suffered. As her age and inquisitive nature has become a threat to discovery by the big people, cool dad Pod (Will Arnett) teaches her the route through the walls and floors of the house they are occupying so as to "borrow" their relatively modest needs without being seen or suspected. Mom Homily (Amy Poehler) is the constantly nervous one.

    Through a series of accidents, first with a sighting outside and then with a sugar cube, she comes to the attention of Shawn (David Henrie), a sickly boy who has come to his kindly aunt Sadako's (Gracie Poletti) country home in Koganei prefect, Tokyo, to recuperate. The danger of this discovery carries many dire ramifications for the family while Shawn makes a great effort to gain Arrietty's trust. His aim is to provide protection against ever lurking danger.

    But, there is a villain among the big humans. When Sadako is away on a shopping trip one day, some loose floorboards lead the ugly, always suspicious Hara (Carol Burnett), the housemaid, to discover Homily at work in her tiny, well appointed kitchen. She grabs and imprisons the tiny mother for the credit she expects to receive, glorying in her newfound advantage and calling in a pest removal service to find the rest of the family and a flight to another home becomes essential.

    The heart of the story is the relationship that forms between Shawn and Arriety which, but for the impossibility of size differential, would clearly be a romance ending in marriage. Instead, it becomes a bittersweet tale of friendship that, while poignant and heart rending, makes for a tepid outcome and denies Miyazaki the amazement factor that created the sensation that his first worldwide success did.

    High definition of sound and picture duly serves the artistry of he and his studio's immensely artistic and expressive talents.
    SPECIAL BONUS FEATURES

  • Original Japanese storyboards
  • "Arrietty's Song" Cecile Corbet Music Video
  • Original Japanese Trailers & TV spots
  • "Summertime" Bridgit Mendler Music Video (also on DVD)
  • The making of "Summertime" (also on DVD)
  • April 2012 Releases
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    "War Horse" - Blu-ray 4-Disc EDITION)
    Nominated as one of the Ten Best Movies of 2011, the question is, should it have been on that list? Two reasons to think so: 1. Hollywood loves director Steven Stielberg and considers his imprimatur all one needs for special honors and, 2. it is a film made on a grand scale as though it were racing for a nomination. So, the second question is... is it as good as a nomination in this category would imply?

    I didn't think so but plenty of critics weren't as critical. For me, it's a movie that started out with a style that echoes films of a by-gone era and I don't mean interestingly retro. Here's where Mr. Spielberg went wrong. He gives his epic an air of self-importance and old-timey superficiality with stilted, obvious dialogue and cartboard cutout characters. The drunk husband and father (Peter Mullan), the stalwart wife and mother (Emily Watson), and not an ounce of reality between them. The bathetic way they are portrayed is worlds away from the communicative standards today's audiences expect from a storyteller of Speilberg's rank in the art and craft of moviemaking.

    Fortunately, these roles are not the central part of the saga. The adventure-seeking boy who is (Jeremy irvine), isn't much better at first, but his love of horses and commitment to participate in the war with his horse, allows this character to break out of this morass of tired domestic cliche' by pursuing a dream and a track to follow during World War II -- two items that promise drama.

    The horse's destiny in the war, based on fact is, in fact, the motivational dynamic that keeps the narrative together and it rises above its profound predictability most of the time. It's all shrouded in something Spielberg does very well -- big budget spectacle and splendor. But, because of the style he adopted, it's a struggle for critical folks to remain engaged.

    Surely, the depiction of how horses were used in this war is superbly rendered and cause for strong emotional reactions if you're not too turned off by the pervading narrative weakness. On the other hand, even if it's the whole point of the story, the way the horse is sentimentalized to the point of iconization at the end is self-indulgent, unforgivable pap and, reason enough for the members of the Motion Picture Academy to have denied Mr. Spielberg the award he and his promotional delegates were seeking.

    Another curiosity is the lifting of a scene from another WWII film, made 42 years ago. The sequence of the horse tied up in the barbed wire and rescued by one of our boys is straight out of Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun." In an almost identical troop standoff between American troops and German, the sequence in the earlier film may be described as "the stinking German in the barbed wire." See "Johnny... " to see the correllation.

    The Blu-ray/DVD packaging is as stunning visually and technically proficient as what one might expect of a Spielberg product, especially in the 4-Disc combo pack.
    SPECIAL FEATURES
    Disc 1 - Blu-ray Feature Film + Bonus

  • War Horse - The Journey Home - Commentary by Steven Spielberg, cast & crew
  • An extra's point of view - a background artist speaks
    Disc 2 - Exclusive Bonus on 4-Disc Combo Pack
  • A Filmmaking Journey
  • Editing & Scoring
  • The Sounds of War Horse
  • Through the Producer's Lens
    Disc 3 - DVD Feature Film + Bonus
  • War Horse: the Look
    Disc 4 - Digital Copy of Feature film
  • March 2012 Releases
    (Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
    "The Three Musketeers" - Blu-ray SPECIAL EDITION)
    This film is a visual WOW! from start to finish! But, when you take away the cutting edge of glorious sets, breathtaking CGI effects, and superb cinematography you're left with the talents: the actors you put into that award-level costumery and a director who couldn't detect so many holes in the script that it resembles a kitchen colander. Obviously, director Paul W.S. Anderson and screenwriters Alex Litvak and Andrew Davies mistook outworn silliness for action adventure.

    Blazing their own trail on Alexandre Dumas' 1844 classic, they pull out every cliche' known to movie swordfighting as a basis for their narrative about good versus treachery against the crown. Wearing that crown is weak-legged, King Louis XIII of France (Freddie Fox) who is one brain cell shy of an imbecile.

    Totally devoted to his safety and good health are the original three musketeers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and the monster-sized Porthos (Ray Stevenson) -- to which enters newcomer D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman), as skilled with the sword as any of them.

    He's so good, in fact, that he attracts the attention of the Queen's beautiful blond lady-in-waiting (Juno Temple) with his mastery of swordsmanship agaisnt the forces of Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), the leader of Cardinal Richelieu's (Christoph Waltz) guards who are the local bad cops. The lad's arrogance is only fed by his fighting groups of them off under the attentive gaze of the lady. But this is small stuff against the other evils being perpetrated.

    The totally corrupt Richelieu is the arch villain who is ever at the dumb king's side as his advisor and betrayer-in-chief and demands his hand be kissed by all whose stations are beneath his. The beautiful Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) adds feminine guile as well as pulchritude as a double agent between the crown and his prime enemy, English Duke of Buckingham (sneering Orlando Bloom), who is also guilty of having been the Queen's lover, a terrible problem that preoccupies the king every minute of the day.

    The weapons of choice are the rather ridiculously contrived (but grand) air-ships out of Terry Gilliam's wildest dreamscapes, giving our intrepid foursome something to work with as the crown jewels become the object everyone get very worked up over, producing wild gymnastics and phony fight choreography galore (always entertaining assuming we can ignore the 21st century laser beam security system protecting them -- but that's what Jovovich is here for).

    Someone put a great deal of effort and money into these stock characters and exhausted ideas clothed in a visual accomplishment that compares or exceeds Harry Potter but with a lighter, slicker palette. The blu-ray rendering of the film is laser sharp and the audio provides surround systems with marvelous separation.

    Of the actors, the one to watch is Macfadyen ("Pride and Prejudice"). Imparting an attention-getting laid-back style to his Athos, he actually provides charisma and the feeling of dimension to the prevailing superficiality.

    I kid you not -- this is simply ASTONISHING eye candy from every technical department. What a production! If you have a special interest in the visual part of filmmaking you just have to see it in all the sheer glory of its excess. The film was made in Bavaria, Germany where they found that grand palace. Or, was that just CGI?

    Blu-ray SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Access: Three Musketeers Where you can activate dynamic "scene specific" features.
  • Audio Commentary
  • Deleted Scenes with Commentary
  • "From Time to Time" - DVD)
    Writer-director Julian Fellowes has turned in a good number of screenplays in his time and some of them have been solid successes ("Gosford Park"). When he takes the helm to direct one of his own screenplays, however, he proves that there's little chance of success. Not if you're looking for a story with some dynamics for a 2012 audience. This is a snoozer.

    As the second one of these boredom inducements under his directorial rubric (after "Separate Lies") I'll wager these directorial opportunities come up when he can't sell a script on its merits. At such times he puts on his producer cap and manages to get financing on the basis of his reputation as a writer ("Rumpole of the Bailey" BBC TV series, "The Tourist"). This script bears the stamp of something no one else would touch and, after a few festival dates, the makers were well advised to release the 2009 production as a straight-to-the-bins DVD issue. As if there was a choice.

    As fans of "Rumpole" know, Fellowes' natural inclination is a fussy fastidiousness in character creation and in the makings of a yarn a significant number of people would be glad to pay to see. In Rumpole it works--for a very limited audience of, mostly, brits; in a standalone product like this, he screens out any sense of modern drama. I haven't seen a movie with such an artificial and unengaging style since... well, the fifties. It might find an audience among Brits past 60 but will have little chance on this side of the pond. All of which suggests that he writes well when he's working on other directors' ideas but would do well to steer clear of the director's chair himself.

    "From Time to Time" is a ghost story about a family with a closet-full of them and begins when 13-year-old Tolly (Alex Etel) comes to the run-down countryside mansion where granny Linnet (Maggie Smith) lives. He comes at the urgency of his mother to protect him from the dangers of the city during World War II (circa 1944), convinced that his father, who is missing in action, is still alive and will return. From there it's a bunch of chatter about family history both current and of two centuries ago. The boy can see and interact with the historical characters who once lived and worked in this house, but in the effort to generate excitement, or some genuine liveliness, the dramatic issues and the attempts at irony or humor ignite no spark. I just wanted 2012 back again.

    The period costumes are okay; the stone mansion, which had a fire in times past, is rendered with visual cheats and obscurites to suggest an earlier calamity without doing true harm to the actual place -- as if anyone would be fooled. Brilliant Carice Van Houten ("Black Book," HBO's "Game of Thrones") did her best to breathe some life into the dusty corriders. Special Features consist of Cast & Crew interviews and a trailer.

    February 2012 Releases
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    "J. Edgar" - DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy)
    One more notch in Clint Eastwood's biography belt brings us an off-target version of a figure in America who made history as the feared Director of the FBI. This was the man who created fingerprinting as a means to track down mobsters and murderers, and other innovations in law enforcement. What made him particularly fascinating, however, were the dossiers in his possession that contained the personal and public secrets of people in positions of power and of anyone he considered an enemy. Today, we'd call it Hoover's database, and if you were a politician or a civil rights activist, you wouldn't have wanted to be in it.

    Unfortunately, you may not want to invest your time in this movie, either. Among Eastwood's films, this isn't anywhere near the top and, quite possibly, because he wanted to tell the story with some of the salacious aspects of his subject in a tasteful, non salacious way. These items of interest veer toward Hoover's sexuality, both known and hinted at. Giving meat to the hungry press were signs of no woman in his life, known incidents of his cross-dressing and most defining, the constant man at his side, agent Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer).

    A bio about the director of the FBI under eight presidents and 48 years is long overdue and, at least, Eastwood read that tea leaf right. Even if his storytelling style is moribund and overrestrained, Eastwood, avoiding controversy, treats his espose' of Hoover almost as a homage. It's as laborious as his prior history lesson, "Flags of our Fathers." But the veneration approach isn't what a lot of us come to the theatre for.

    Where some praise is due, however, is not so much in Leonardo Dicaprio's stab at portraying the big man, but for the obvious effort he put into it. He does a credible job of playing his character throughout his long career but he's no Meryl Streep in a full absorption of her character, as she is currently portraying Margaret Thatcher in her stages of life in "Iron Lady." The comparison shows the difference between a good actor, and the best one in the art.

    Unfortunately, so much rode on successful makeup, prostheses and hair that a comfortable rendering was a challenge too far. For myself and some people I've spoken to, the Colson makeup is the worst, almost painful to watch. Eastwood might have taken the David Fincher route and go CGI as he did so seemlessly with "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." But Eastwood is an analog kind of guy and the traditional, non-digital approach is his comfort zone. He's not looking to venture away from it.

    December 2011 Releases
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    "The Help" - Blu-ray + DVD)
    Among other cultural upheavals, the early sixties marks an era of civil unrest and a defining of racism. This comedy-drama, adapted from Kathryn Stockett's novel, is set in Jackson, Mississippi during that time, focusing on two black maids working for privileged white families as they awaken to the inequality they are suffering from employers who regard them as lesser humans and themselves as their masters.

    But even as these domestic workers become more and more discontent with the lack of respect they must suffer if they're to hold onto scarce employment, they lovingly care for the children of the families who show them no such disrespect. The possibility of the children growing up as clones of their parents isn't a consideration. It's all about loving the innocent. But, it's a dilemma that Aibileen Clark (stalwart Viola Davis), as the icon of the breed, exemplifies and rises to symbolize. She employs wit and and anger toward the South's historical inheritance as she begins to understand and embrace the new climate in the air.

    Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan (lovely Emma Stone), a journalist born of these realities of inequality, finds herself at odds with the society girl luncheon crowd of her contemporaries which is comprised of smug, superior white racists such as Hilly Holbrook (suitably villanous Bryce Dallas Howard) and Celia Foote (hissable Jessica Chastain). Going very much against the grain of prior decades, if not centuries, she represtents the book's author and the enlighted age in taking on a project to record interviews of the "help," and, once trust is established, providing and outlet for long withheld animosities.

    As is usual with good intentions, things take on a force of their own as Phelan's unfamiliar respect for blacks becomes known, igniting threats and heretofore impossible bonding. The times they are a-changin' and there's nothing better than satirical humor to couch it in.

    Blu-ray SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Mary J. Blige's "The Living Proof" Music Video
  • Making of The Help: From Friendship to Film
  • In Their Own Words: A tribute to the Maids of Mississippi
  • More Deleted Scenes (than on the DVD)
    DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Mary J. Blige's "The Living Proof" Music Video
  • "Fright Night" - Blu-ray + DVD)
    A cast limited in number but overflowing in healthy cell count and talent makes for a superior bloodfest here, in this tasty remake of the 1985 classic. The family in trouble are the Brewsters, starting with single mom (Toni Collette) and son Charlie as the one destined for the out-of-school challenges. Somewhat nerdly independent, you wouldn't think of him as the senior in high school to have the singeing hot Amy (Imogen Poots, "Jane Eyre") as his girlfriend -- something that the envious jocks give him grief about. But, then, he and she did grow up together (and he's different than the run of soreheaded bullies at the school).

    Relationships, however, stagger under the load of supernatural incidents that begin with the arrival of a new next door neighbor who happens to be a 400-hundred year old creature in the guise of handsome Jerry (Colin Farrell). Even mom's aroused. Charley, however, being the cynical lad that he is, picks up on the kind of alpha male the next door charmer is because of what he's seen of his thirsts and nocturnal forages. It isn't anything anyone else will believe, and the necessity of keeping it to himself puts a real strain on attitudes from family and friends. The last thing he wants in the world is to lose Amy, and for the best of reasons. Just look at her and you'll lust with him all the way.

    Fortunately, or unfortunately, things will change once the Jerry monster drops the neighborly act and goes after everyone he wants to for his liquid repasts, including the girl. By the time he's got almost everyone under his control Charlie, with the help of clownish pal Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and famous vampiric showman and expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant) he goes forth brandishing axe, cross and stake to take Jerry head on and salvage what's left of the neighborhood.

    Farrell steps into the genre assuming all the duly nasty tropes of the idiom, delivering them with abandon and relish. Poots, owning a place among the sexiest of the current crop of beauties, leaves no doubt that a cornucopia of movie offers are hers for the taking (she's already booked for four projects in 2012 and one to open in 2013--all for very good reason which you'll see the minute you lay eyes on her in this DVD.

    The international flavor of the cast is hardly a necessity, but with a Russian-American (Yelchin), an Irishman (Farrell), a Brit (Poots) and an Australian (Collette) you couldn't ask for a more diverse set of bloodlines. Be that as it may, this is superior to many another splashy vampiric night and proves that there are times you don't want to stick your neck out for your neighbor.

    Blu-ray SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Bloopers
  • Kid Cudi "No One Believes Me" Music Video (Uncensored version)
  • Squid Man - Extended and uncut DVD SPECIAL FEATURES:
  • Peter Vincent: Come Swim in My Mind
  • The Official "How to Make a Funny Vampire Movie" Guide
  • All DVD Bonus Features
  • November 2011 Releases
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    "Conan" - 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray/DVD, Digital Copy)
    Before we go denigrating another sword and sorcery, smash and burn epic that defies gravity and logic, we should consider the intentions of these films, which most of the time are expensive and incredibly exquisite art. Certainly, no expense was spared to create the settings for this redo version of Conan which employs the landscapes of the Czech Republic. Visuals here are nothing less than breathtaking, with action and cinematography to help make it so. From a technical standpoint, this is a fully realized commercial production that is visually smashing in any format but cries for Blu-ray.

    Story logic is another thing, but there are elements here that rise high enough to provide interest and engagement, like exquisite Rachel Nichols ("Startrek" 2009) as Tamara, the last of the bloodline of the Necromancers of Acheron. With martial arts skills that belie her tender beauty and smart demeaner, she becomes a most crucial figure in Conan the Cimmerian barbarian's (super-muscular Jason Momoa, "Game of Thrones" TV) revenge on Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang, "Avatar") for the death of his beloved father, Corin (Ron Perlman, "Tangled"). Khalar, after securing the last piece of the magic mask from Corin, then needs the pure blood that Tamara possesses in order to bring it alive and achieve the ultimate power of a god.

    Tamara, then, is the key to the drama and to unlocking warrior Conan's heart. And, when the fight becomes personal, you can bet he will face every risk and impossible odds. You can also bet he'll prevail. He is, after all, his father's son and a handsome hunk on the right side of justice. Momoa is sufficiently dimensioned to make him compelling in the part. Not quite a Schwarzenegger, but he's capable of developing sympathetic interest.

    Khalar's beautiful daughter Marique (Rose McGowan, "Law & Order" TV) adds her sorcery, deadly nail extensions and blood-sampling talent to make her a co-equal hissable villain. She compounds the difficulties on Conan's quest for revenge and rescue of his lady.

    SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Feature-length Audio Commentary with director Marcus Nispel
  • Feature-length Audio Commentary with actors
  • The Conan Legacy
  • Robert E. Howard: the Man Who Would Be Conan
  • Battle Royal - Engineering the action
  • Staging the fights
  • "Cars 2" - DVD
    Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt), and the rest of the gang from Radiator Springs return in this sequel to Pixar's Cars (2006). But instead of picking up where the original left off, director John Lasseter and his crew take their inspiration from James Bond in a high-test mix of espionage and road racing. While it makes for a lot of four-wheel action, the dark intrigue doesn't seem to belong to the bright coloration of the automotive stock and it creates the question of why they went up this track.

    Between the racing circuit and the criminal actions, it becomes a global tour, with location sites in Tokyo, London, Paris and the Italian Riviera. Quite a journey from Radiator Springs. Car-characters run the gamut from sumo wrestlers, kabuki actors, Queen Elizabeth II and much more. The whole thing is powered by irrepressible creative fuel.

    Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer) are trying to find out who's trying to sabotage the race and for what purpose, while McQueen is trading insults with the speedy and spiffy Francesco Bernoulli (John Turturro) who, between them, dominate the contest. But, as central to the scenario as McQueen is, insecure Mater (Larry The Cable Guy) becomes a very big deal in the adventure as it progresses, with what should be great appeal to the kids in the audience.

    Visually, it's up to par with the original and comes in a 5-disc version that includes 3-D. Leave it to the folks at Disney and Pixar for great expertise in animating the car figures with so much expressiveness, but the transmigration to humanity is a leap not everyone above the age of, say, ten, will make despite the considerable genius behind it.
    SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Cars Toon, "Air Mater"
  • "Hawaiian Vacation" Theatrical Short
  • Director's commentary
  • "The River Why" - DVD
    One third Oregon travelogue, one third fishing lesson and one third a young man's search for meaning -- it's difficult to recall any film that offers less drama in such a meandering package, or one in which the director gives himself permission to drown us in an excessive display of self-indulgence.

    Based on the best-selling novel by David James Duncan, it stars the attractive Zach Gilford ("Friday Night Lights" TV series) as Gus, a young man who has become as expert a fly fisherman as his famous and published father; his demanding academician father (William Hurt, "Damages"), who named his boy "Augustus" and still insists on calling him that as he suffocates the lad with his strict demands; the alluring Amber Heard ("Zombieland") as Eddy, a sprightly lass whose stunning sexuality and different approach to landing a fish teaches Gus that all is not trout; and Gus's warm and more understanding mother (Kathleen Quinlan, "Made of Honor").

    When Gus has taken all he can bear in his parents' home, he gathers up his belongings (and one assumes some pocket money) and takes off for the River Why in Oregon. A quarter of the film is devoted to the beauty of the watery landscape in which Gus proves his acumen with a fly rod. His expertise in making flies for himself and local fishermen provides a small income and some satisfaction. But he becomes as bored as we do with his hermetic world and his long moments staring at the magnificent wilderness. We get it. He's an outdoorsman.

    Blond, alluring Eddy comes along in the nick of time to set him on a better course. He is smitten with the playful and standoffish girl but has no clue how to ever see her again after that day on the river. The impression she has made lingers, and he's filled with the longing and concern that is finally the right ones if we're ever going to be able to connect with this character.

    Locals Titus (Dallas Roberts, "Shrink") and Dutch Hines (William Devane, "24" TV series) are there as friends to give him some advice and guidance.

    Stuntman Jason Borger ("A River Runs Through It") was the technical adviser and fly casting expert on hand to give father and son credibility with the exacting techniques of the sport. This content, while interesting, is hardly enough to compensate for misguided storytelling and general lack of discipline. The lassitude may be a reflection of what fishing is like out on these beautiful waters but, unfortunately, it also explains why a film completed in 2010 is finally released on DVD in late 2011... and why festival awards are not to be trusted. Beautiful photography isn't enough.
    SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Interviews with cast and crew.
  • September 2011 Releases
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    "The Tempest" - Blu-ray
    This classic supernatural tragicomedy from the pen of William Shakespeare has been presented in many a way since its creation in the early 17th century, and no one seems to be bothered by the liberties taken. So along comes film-stage-musical director/writer/producer Julie Taymor, she of Broadway and the movie, "Across the Universe," to turn Prospero, the central character as seen by the great Bard, to Prospera, the better to give Helen Mirren the magic stick.

    This bewitching lady wields it to create much turbulence over her enemies and family matters, launching a ship-scuttling tempest from the island she dominates. The storm catches the approaching ship unawares and causes King Alonso (David Strathairn), the fair Prince Ferdinand (Reeve Carney) and a small retinue to wash up dry and spiffy in spotless uniforms. (Look, this is beyond magical realism--it's supernatural mysticism) Prospera's most excellent spook (or, say, spirit) Ariel (Ben Whishaw) sees to it as she commands, promising it (him?) freedom from her control in a few days.

    The visiting party breaks up and it's not long before the Prince spots the gorgeous Miranda (Felicity Jones), Prospera's daughter, and the thrust of the comedic part of the story becomes clear. As for the tragic, we've got a boatload of evil plotters and fools, Prospera's troublesome island savage Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), trinket-loving Trinculo (Russell Brand), Stephano (Alfred Molina) and others to stir the craven lust for power.

    Who Taymor was thinking of attracting to pay for her $20 mil production is anybody's guess but, boy, does all that money show up in the quality and magnificence of the production, led by Director of Photography Stuart Dryburgh, Production Designer Mark Friedberg, Costume Designer Sandy Powell and a team of CGI geniuses who, if the playwright were around to see how his imagery was realized in a 2010 digital world, would probably adjust his notion of the gods and the universe. Taymor's visual creativity with Ariel deserves special applause, if not award recognition.

    In the meanwhile we celebrate this DVD/Blu-ray release which makes it fun to sit through Taymor's fanciful liberties and watch Mirren emote, Jones looking wenchy, and the rest plotting their schemes throughout a tiring walkabout.

    SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Los Angeles Rehearsal (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • Raising the Tempest - Julie Taymor doc on the making of the movie
  • Julie Taymor Audio Commentary
  • Annotated Shakespeare
  • "O Mistress Mine" Music Video
  • Russell Brand Rehearsal Riff
  • "A Cinderella Story: Once Upon A Song" - DVD & Digital Download
    Those who are familiar with the talents of female artists on the rise will be no stangers to Lucy Hale of the TV show, "Pretty Little Liars." For the rest of us, this Warner Bros. fantasy romance is a showcase and introduction to some mighty impressive song-making. This girl can sing! If only the vehicle in which she appears was up to the quality of her voice.

    It's a musical take on the classic story of a poor waif who suffers abuses by a wicked stepmother and comes out the winner. Here, the witchy lady, Gail Van Ravensway (Missi Pyle), spends most of her waking hours trying to figure out how to demean, embarrass, cheat and obtain the inheritance of her stepdaughter Katie Gibbs (Lucy Hale) whom she treats like a slave. If not for Hale's ability to handle it while also capturing our respect and awe of her talent, this whole movie would crash and burn in a pyre of sloppy overstatement. Realism isn't the point here but the fantasy is obvious and inept.

    Van Ravensway, the dean at the Performing Arts school all the Ravensways attend, doesn't allow her stepdaughter to even live with her, her biological daughter (Megan Park) and overprecocious brat son Victor (Matthew Lintz) in their mansion. The slave lives alone, in the slave quarters out back.

    Meanwhile, blond young stud Luke (Freddie Stroma, Cormac in "Harry Potter") (who also sings a pretty lick), transfers to the school and becomes the object of the sisters' desire. He's put in charge of the talent contest, an event that arouses Van Ravensway's interest in promoting her talentless daughter and when she learns that the stepdaughter can sing, demands she provides the live track (from behind the curtains) for her little girl's lip synching.

    When the film finally gets around to the showcase performances, it finally pays off with the promised talent. Even the stepsister delivers some nifty choreography to Katie's upbeat lyrics. All we need now is Charming Prince Luke discovering just who is worthy of his attentions. Then we'll see who wins him... and the recording contract.

    Despite the awkwardly overdone premise and total lack of subtlety, cinematographer John Peters keeps the film looking smart and extremely professional. Just don't get this DVD for writers Erik Patterson and Jessica Scott's crude and sappy adaptation or Damon Santostefano's direction. (Chances are the target audience for this wouldn't anyway). The control and lyrical shadings that you'll hear coming out of Hale's extraordinary throat in the musical numbers is all the justification you need. This girl is going places and you'll be glad you saw her at this stage in a career that is bound to have skyrockets with boosters. She could have won any "Idol" season she wanted to.

    SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Spotlighting Lucy Hale
  • Meet Prince Charming: Heartthrob Freddie Stroma
  • A Cinderella Story: Make 'Em Move
  • Flippin' On Set
  • Hot new Music Video for "Bless Myself"
  • August 2011 Releases
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    "Mars Needs Moms" - 2 Disk Combo Pack
    A film with a childish title like this one can only live up to itself, and it does. As an adult, I feel guilty about reviewing it because from my perspective it's utter nonsense. But, I do recognize that the sub-teenage crowd is likely to swallow it up whole.

    The nonsense begins in the premise. Mars is populated by bunches of strange beings who are under the control of a tyranical "Supervisor" (voiced by Mindy Sterling whose throat should be raw by now). She has a probe on earth that looks for mothers who have the ability to be stern with their kids. When she finds such a mother, she sends a kidnap ship to bring the mother to Mars to sap their energy juices, or whatever.

    Throwing all logic to the winds, little son Milo (Seth Green), realizing that his mother is getting taken, races to the spaceship and hops aboard, giving him an excellent adventure that includes making pals with Gribble (Dan Fogler), a tech-savvy nerd from Earth who has adapted to the Martian ways. He turns out to be a vital part of the attempt to rescue Milo's mom before it's too late, and the clock is ticking.

    The animation technique is motion capture and this results in an extraordinary achievement in character expressiveness and realistic movement. It's just amazing! How the live actors do it on the set is shown during the end credits and it's one of the many bonuses. The Martian landscape and underground vistas give the CGI artists a chance to create visual magic.

    BONUS FEATURES
    Blu-ray 3D:
    Everything on the Blu-ray and DVD Plus...

  • Mom Napping

    Blu-ray 2D:

  • Extended Opening
  • Lif On Mars: The Full Motion-Capture Experience
  • Deleted Scenes with Simon Wells Introductions
  • "Flower Power" Easter Egg
    DVD:
  • "Fun With Seth" on set antics of Seth Green and Dan Fogler
  • Martian 101 - How the producer and cast came up with their own unique Martian language.

  • November 2010 Releases
    (Click the link for more info and to quickly and conveniently get the edition of your choice!)
    "The Chronicles of Narnia"
    Four out of British theologian C.S. Lewis' seven-volume, Bible-based children's fantasy series is included in the latest reissue of the BBC's adaptation, initially as a TV series and then edited as a nine-hour DVD release. The project has the great misfortune of being compared to the feature series of 2005 ( "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe") and 2008 ( "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian"), based on the same source material which stars weighty baritone Liam Neeson ("Clash of the Titans") voicing Aslan, the great lion. Where the movie version depicts the long-maned animal with utterly realistic detail, the BBC attempts to achieve some sort of ridiculous suggestion of it with a stuffed animal that talks!

    But that's only a small part of the differences between the productions. Held up against the feature films, the minimal acting talent here is worsened by the lackluster sensibility in casting, artless direction and grade level writing. Where the BBC creators thought a girl with protruding teeth, limited acting skill and no particular personality to engage us was adequate to play little miss Lucy Pevensie, Georgie Henley of the theatrical version, in a debut performance, steals the show and demonstrates just how much of an art casting is.

    In this fantasy about good versus evil during the Second World War, four siblings are sent by their London based parents, Mr. and Mrs. Pevensie, to a well-off relative with plenty of room in his country mansion. The object is to protect them against the Nazi bombs. Exploring the warren of rooms on several levels, the children find one that is empty except for a grand old wardrobe. Lucy, for some reason, senses it as a source of adventure and enters it. She soon discovers that, where a backing should be there's a portal to Narnia, a different world--one which is coated in snow and where there are fauns and other talking creatures, a White Witch who rules malevolently and controls the climate, and a subjugated people led by the great lion who needs the help of the children who have been destined to free the good people of the land.

    While the poor production quality of this series makes it inferior fare for a discerning adult audience, children and the more forgiving/less demanding might well consider it adventurous fun. It also provides an early look at the content of "Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader" which is soon to be released in theatres. The fourth book included here is "The Silver Chair."
    DVD EXTRAS:

  • "Past Watchful Dragons" - J.R.R. Tolkien' biographer Humphrey Carpenter discusses how C.S. Lewis came to write The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of the Narnia books.
  • 2003 cast reunion interview
  • Interviews with cast members from the original broadcast of each story.
  • Featurettes on the costumes, sets and special effects
  • Outtakes
  • "Lennon Naked"
    There is something disembodied about Director Edmund Coulthard and writer Robert Jones attempt to exploit the name, fame and commercial fruit of the iconic bad-boy musical genius, John Lennon. Purported to be a biography, it's largely fictionalized and sensationalized while studiously avoiding getting into Lennon's creative work. Hence, disembodied.

    Actor Christopher Eccleston does Lennon the only way he could: with utter confidence that he's pulling it off. While this may be the source of a certain amount of carping, one has to at least admit that there are imitators who are a lot worse. My problem with watching him do it isn't so much that it is an imitation but that however capable it may be, it doesn't add much, if anything at all, to the body of knowledge we already have. If you're one of the legions of Beattles fans, or if you want revelations of unknown facts about the master of songmaking ingenuity, look elsewhere.

    Beginning with a few scenes of Lennon's dealmaking with his legendary manager Brian Epstein at his side, the supposed biopic takes us on a reunion with his biological father who left him at age six with a life-long and justified grudge; his fascination with Yoko Ono from when he first clapped eyes on her; his divorce from first wife Cynthia; turbulent episodes with a government that didn't care much for his loosely carousing ways while the headlines are full of them, his peace activism and The Beattle's success; his move to New York; the decision to leave The Beattles and the filmmakers' rendering of a Lennon with general negativity, sour disposition and a tendency toward self-destruction as a means to self-awareness.

    To suggest that the interpretation of Lennon does have a basis in reality, clips of black and white footage from the period (circa 1964-71) are intercut as transitions between fictionally contrived episodes. They remind us of how much more valuable an actual documentary composed of such footage would be. But, then, there is such a stream of Lennon-related films, one can have their pick. Collectors might well want to have this variant on their shelves.

    "Lennon Naked" was released as a telly special on the BBC, curiously as part of their series about Fathers. Brits who watched it in real time might have wondered why Lennon's treatment of his son Sean (as dispassionately depicted) would be considered an apt example of the theme, though that context wouldn't come with a DVD viewing. Beattles fans who are sensitive about their superb songwriting craftsman and music hero may be inclined to reach for the remote as this fictionalized addition to the literature spools out.

    Copyright 2015 Jules Brenner