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Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

Out on Blu-ray/DVD

Releases for the Week of 10/05/10 - 10/11/10 (Ratings out of Four Stars)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET
(2010)
* *1/2 (B-)
Directed by Samuel Bayer
Starring Jackie Earle Haley, Kyle Gallner, Katie Cassidy, Rooney Mara, Thomas Dekker, Kellan Lutz, Clancy Brown, Connie Britton
New Line//Rated R//Horror//95 minutes
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
In this reboot, when Freddy Krueger murders sleeping teens in their dreams, the killings materialize in the waking world. To stay alive, these latest teens must remain awake, employing creative strategies to do so. The new Elm Street gang consists of: artistic Nancy (Rooney Mara), heavily medicated Quentin (Kyle Gallner), distraught Kris (Katie Cassidy), jealous Jesse (Thomas Dekker), and handsome Dean (Kellan Lutz). The story meanders in Freddy's overdone backstory, even once reaching a point where neither survivors nor their parents are certain Freddy perpetrated the crimes for which he died. When the truth is finally revealed, we've visited the question so many times, the answer is anticlimactic. The 1984 version, written and directed by Wes Craven, is more blood chilling, despite the remake's crisper special effects and Jackie Earle Haley's more nuanced Freddy Krueger. Both films effectively exploit our primal fear of nightmares, but what was once a shocker no longer benefits from the surprise factor. DVD features: Freddy Krueger reborn: how the filmmakers reinvented Freddy Krueger, English, French or Spanish language tracks, widescreen. 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features same plus: Film on both DVD and Blu-ray, Cutting Alternate Opening, Alternate Ending, Digital Copy, Exclusive features available via BD-Live.


THE KARATE KID
(2010)
* * 1/2 (B-)
Directed by Harald Zwart
Starring Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson
Sony//Rated PG//Drama//140 minutes
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Jaden Smith, son of movie stars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett, is an unusually beautiful child who has struggled as an actor. Eleven when "The Karate Kid" was remade, this time Jaden conveys a range of emotions and curbs his tendency to overact. After moving from Detroit to Beijing with his widowed mom (Taraji P. Henson), young Dre (Smith) sets about making powerful enemies by challenging Cheng (Zhenwei Wang), leader of local kung fu bullies. Maintenance man Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), agrees to tutor Dre in kung fu, repairing a car parked in Han's living room while overseeing Dre's practice sessions. Chan winsomely portrays a world-weary spirit unable to break free from his self-imposed prison. The film's emotional high points emanate from Dre's interest in a pretty violinist (Wenwen Han), and from Han's eventual unburdening of his guilt. Smith's kung fu scenes lack both the speed and the confidence necessary to film continuous action shots, suffering the effects of a thousand cuts. In spite of such kung fooey, Chan takes on four adolescent bullies -- without laying a finger on any of them -- in a brilliant sequence that's pure kung wow. DVD features: Chinese lessons, Justin Bieber music video featuring Jaden Smith, The making of the Karate Kid, English or French language tracks, widescreen. 2-Disc Blu-ray features: Chinese lessons, Justin Bieber music video featuring Jaden Smith, Making of featurette, Go on set with Jackie Chan, Train with Jaden Smith, Explore China with an interactive map, English or French language tracks, widescreen.


SPLICE

(2010)
* * *1/2 (A-)
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Starring Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Abigail Chu
Warner//Rated R//Sci-Fi, Horror//104 minutes
Available on: DVD and Blu-Ray
Live-in lovers, Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley), are rock-star bioengineers featured on magazine covers for fusing the DNA from different species to create a new organism. The pair first hybridizes a pair of creatures resembling an elephant's trunk turned giant worm. The hybrids ultimately display more complex adaptations than expected by their makers, who have since moved on to create a human-animal hybrid. Their process reminds us of those unsupervised childhood mixing projects turning random ingredients into weird soups. From the outset, Elsa is committed to tinkering with human DNA, but Clive is reticent. Their hybrid grows a human-like torso and head, with birdlike legs and other cleverly depicted adaptations. Dren, as Elsa names her, grows at an avian pace that soon requires the pair move her (played as an adult by Delphine Chaneac), to an abandoned farmhouse. While Clive and Elsa observe her growth, the film observes their relationship unravel. Increasingly, each is manipulated by Dren's dangerous powers. As Dren, a creature unable to speak, Delphine Chaneac possesses a profound sense of the hybrid's emotions and a graceful command over its movements. The film's final 15 minutes bow to Hollywood expectations, but even this passage, and its predictable epilogue, offer a unique perspective. Special effects are small -- but first-rate. DVD and Blu-Ray features: Vincenzo Natali on the Set of Splice, Zoom in on the Innovative Filmmaker and His Creative Team, English or Spanish language tracks, widescreen.


THE SECRET OF KELLS
(2009)
* * * (B)
Directed by Tomm Moore
Voices of Brendan Gleeson, Mick Lally, Evan McGuire, Christen Mooney
Flatiron//Unrated//Animated, Family//75 minutes
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
After his parents were killed by Vikings, 12-year-old Brendan (voiced by Evan McGuire), went to live in the isolated monastery of Kells under the guardianship of stern Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson). When Brother Aidan (Mick Lally) arrives with an unfinished illuminated manuscript that offers counsel for dark times, Brendan's desire to help complete the book requires the lad to visit the forbidden forest. Here he meets Aisling (Christen Mooney), a silver-haired wood fairy who becomes his ally, but cautions him against confronting the monstrous pagan god Crom Cruach. However, the battle is joined because the god possesses a crystal needed to complete Brother Aidan's manuscript. Inspired visuals are drawn from the actual eighth-century manuscript of the Book of Kells. Even the film's magical animation does not conceal the fact that this screenplay needed further polishing. Nevertheless, the film deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. DVD and Blu-ray features: Notes from the Master Illuminators: Commentary with the Director, Co-Director and Art Director, Voices of Ireland: Voice Recording Sessions, Director's Presentation of Preproduction Sketches and Inspirational Images, Pencil To Picture. Early Concept Trailer, Aisling at the Oscars, Theatrical Trailer, English language tracks, widescreen.


JONAH HEX
(2010)
* * (C)
Directed by Jimmy Hayward
Starring John Malkovich, Josh Brolin, Michael Fassbender, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, John Gallagher, Jr.
Warner//Rated PG-13//Horror//120 minutes
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Adapted from a 1970s DC Comic, this Western horror casts Jonah Hex (Brolin) as a disfigured anti-hero left for dead. The near death experience leaves Hex with supernatural powers, but emotionally detached from everyone except Lilah (Fox), a gun-wielding prostitute. With many warrants issued against him, Hex accepts a pardon from the US Military in exchange for stopping Quentin Turnbull (Malkovich) -- along with Turnbull's right-hand man Burke (Fassbender) -- from gathering an army to unleash Hell on Earth. After viewing the footage, Warner gathered the cast for reshoots in an effort to establish an ominous, sequel-ready tone. DVD features: Deleted Scenes, English, French or Spanish language tracks, widescreen. 2-Disc Blu-ray features same plus: The Inside Story of Jonah Hex, The Weird Western Tales of Jonah Hex.


HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON
(2010)
* * * (B)
Directed by Dean DeBlois Chris Sanders
Voices of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig
DreamWorks//Rated PG//Family, Animated//98 minutes
Set in a Medieval Viking world on the Norse Isle of Berk, this family tale boasts thrilling flying sequences, but sports extended battles that may frighten the rugrats. The story follows young Hiccup Horrendous Haddock (voice of Baruchel) as he secretly befriends and trains a wounded young dragon, defying his countrymen's belief that dragons are mankind's mortal enemy. Hiccup is joined by Astrid (Ferrera), but is opposed by his royal father (Butler) and the land's warriors. The film balances cute characters with themes of social injustice. DVD features: Filmmakers' Commentary, Interview: Viking Sized Cast, Featurette: Tech of Dragon, Trailers: DWA Sneak Peek, English, French or Spanish language tracks, widescreen. 2-Disc DVD features same plus: The Technical Artistry of Dragon, LEGEND OF THE BONEKNAPPER DRAGON, Deleted Scenes, The Story Behind the Story, Racing for the Gold, How to Draw a Dragon, Your Viking Profile, DWA Video Jukebox, Dragon Activity Center (DVD ROM), Build Your Own Dragons, Viking Zone, Links. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features same plus: bonus features in HD, The Animators' Corner, Trivia Track, BD-Live: go behind the scenes with the directors, film on DVD with all single disc DVD features.


PBS Explorer Collection: OCEAN ADVENTURES WITH JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU

(2010)
* *1/2 (B-)
Starring Jean-Michel Cousteau
PBS Video//Not Rated//Documentary//660 minutes
Available on: DVD
Jean-Michel's father, Jacques Cousteau, once brought cutting-edge photography to the ocean and its inhabitants. Son Jean-Michel continues the legacy of Cousteau's eco lessons, and prepare Jacques adult grandchildren to carry on the family tradition. He emphasizes content over production values, a wise choice given the competition from studios such as Disney. This set contains five episodes, including "Sharks At Risk and Gray Whale Obstacle Course," "Sea Ghosts & Call of the Killer Whale," "Voyage to Kure Parts 1 and 2," "America's Underwater Treasures Parts 1 and 2," but the standout episode is the non-oceanic "Return to the Amazon," that finds Jean-Michel on an expedition to collect information about the present condition of the rain forest. 5-Disc DVD features: English language tracks, widescreen.


2012: SUPERNOVA

(2009)
* (Grade D)
Directed by Anthony Fankhauser
Starring Heather McComb, Brian Krause, Najarra Townsend
Echo Bridge//Not Rated//Sci-Fi
Available on: Blu-ray
Producer Anthony Fankhauser, is tapped to direct this Asylum Studio knock-off of the blockbuster release "2012." Audiences aren't given information linking the supernova to the Mayan apocalypse predicted in the year 2012, but the film's cheap F/X and hastily thrown together screenplay compel us to laugh. Krause appears as Kelvin, a NASA astronaut attempting to save his wife and daughter (McComb and Townsend) -- and thereby Earth -- from the radiation produced by a supernova, using nuclear warheads. Blu-ray features not available at this writing.


OXFORD MURDERS

(2008)
* * (C)
Directed by Alex De La Iglesia
Starring Elijah Wood, John Hurt, Leonor Watling, Julie Cox, Jim Carter, Anna Massey, Alex Cox, Dominique Pinon, Burn Gorman
Magnolia//Rated R//Thriller//109 Minutes
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Wood plays American grad student Martin, studying at Oxford under renowned professor Arthur Seldom (Hurt). The pair's philosophically opposed constructs become a focal point after Martin's ailing landlady, Mrs. Eagleton (Massey), is murdered. Martin insists the murder will be solved by applying mathematically-based logic while Seldom insists this approach is faulty. Nevertheless, student and professor team up with a local inspector (Carter) to investigate what soon becomes a series of killings. A subplot depicts Martin's flirtations with both his landlady's daughter (Cox), and her nurse (Watling), but the romantic dalliances are unnecessary distractions from an already slow-moving plot. Oxford is lensed to idyllic effect, but this whodunit has one foot in the camp of "whocares"? DVD and Blu-ray features: featurettes: Making of, The Mathematical Criminals of Oxford, Interviews, Murders at Abbey Road, Waiting for Alex, Professor Kalman, Set Design, Kalman's Makeup, HDNet: A Look at The Oxford Murders, Behind the Scenes, English or Spanish language tracks, widescreen.


THE DARJEELING LIMITED

(2007)
* *
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston
Criterion Collection//Rated R//Comedy//91 minutes
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Three brothers (played by Wilson, Brody and Schwartzman) tour India by train to rekindle their familial bonds. Without Wilson's amusing interpretation of his character's obsession and Brody's unforgettable expressions, the wispy "Darjeeling" would float away unnoticed. Written by director Anderson with actor Jason Schwartzman, the film is at once overly embroidered and impressed by its attempts at achieving whimsy. India is reduced to a colorful art fair, its inhabitants frequently becoming cartoonish. Anderson's flair for pacing makes his comic sentimentality just tolerable, but viewers may recoil from trite epiphanies popping out of every scene. 2-Disc DVD or 1-Disc Blu-ray features: New high-definition digital transfer with DTS-HD Master Audio (Blu-ray edition), Anderson's short film Hotel Chevalier with commentary, commentary featuring Anderson and cowriters, Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, Behind-the-scenes documentary by Barry Braverman, Anderson and filmmaker James Ivory discussing the film's music, Anderson's American Express commercial, On-set footage shot by Coppola and actor Waris Ahluwalia, Audition footage, deleted and alternate scenes, and stills galleries, Original theatrical trailer, Booklet featuring an essay by critic Richard Brody and original illustrations by Eric Anderson.


HIGH TENSION

(2005)
* * (C)
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Starring Cecile De France, Maiwenn Le Besco, Philippe Nahon
Lionsgate//Not Rated//Thriller//111 minutes
Available on: Blu-ray
Released overseas in 2003, this French thriller is dubbed in English for its American release. A serial killer murders Alex's (Le Besco) family and kidnaps her. Can lesbian Marie (De France) put aside her crush on Alex to effect the poor girl's rescue? It may not matter since the film's resolution is riddled with plot holes. Blu-ray features: Original French language director's cut, U.S. Dubbed version, Commentary with Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, Selected scenes commentary with Alexandre Aja and Cecile De France, Making of featurette, Building tension, Giannetto De Rossi: the truth, the madness and the magic, English language tracks, Spanish subtitles, widescreen.


WONDERLAND
(2003)
* * (C)
Directed by James Cox
Starring Val Kilmer, Lisa Kudrow, Kate Bosworth, Dylan McDermott
Lionsgate//Rated R//Drama//104 minutes
Available on: Blu-ray
From the vantage of LAPD interrogations, Wonderland flashes back to the 1981 quadruple homicide in which porn star John Holmes (Val Kilmer) was implicated. The film hopes to add emotional depth through Holmes's relationship to his wife and to his girlfriend, but the payoff is squandered in a chaotic whirlwind. Blu-ray features: Deleted scenes, Crime scene footage, Commentary with James Cox and Captain Mauzner, Hollywood at Large court TV, English language tracks, Spanish subtitles, widescreen.


SECRETARY
(2002)
* * * (B)
Directed by Steven Shainberg
Starring James Spader, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Lily Knight, Amy Locane, Michael Mantell Jeremy Davies, Lesley Ann Warren
Lionsgate//Rated R//Comedy//111 minutes
Available on: Blu-ray
Lee (Gyllenhaal) is a mentally unbalanced office worker made sexually self-aware when her otherwise restrained boss (James Spader) begins spanking as punishment for her secretarial errors. Gyllenhaal enchants as the naive young woman grooving on the corporal punishment as an avenue to explore her dark fantasies. Though sadomasochism seems an unlikely springboard for romance, it works in this sharp satire. DVD features: commentary with director and writer Erin Cressida Wilson, behind the scenes featurette, photo gallery, DD English language track, Spanish subtitles, widescreen.


BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

(1999)
* * (B-)
Directed by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez II
Starring Heather Donahue, Michael Williams, Joshua Leonard
Lionsgate//Rated R//Thriller//82 minutes
Available on: Blu-ray
Three filmmakers (Donahue, Williams and Leonard) follow the legend of the Blair Witch into a Maryland forest and disappear. Soon, the trio realizes they can't trust each other, but their use of jittery handheld cameras to make this film, means viewers can't be trusted not to succumb to motion sickness. Blu-ray features: Discovered Footage (Theories of the Blair Witch), Director and Producer Commentary, Never-Before-Seen Alternate Endings, Curse of the Blair Witch, The Blair Witch Legacy, Theatrical Teasers and Trailer, English language tracks, Spanish subtitles, widescreen.


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
(1991)
* * *1/2 (A-)
Directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
Voices of Angela Lansbury, David Ogden Stiers, Jerry Orbach, Robby Benson, Paige O'Hara
Disney//Rated G//Animated, Musical//92 minutes
Diamond Edition, Available on: Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
Disney puts an animated, musical twist on the classic French fairy tale. Young Belle agrees to become a hideous Beast's captive in exchange for her father's freedom. She has no idea the Beast is actually a handsome prince cursed with extreme ugliness curable only if he wins the love of a woman. Both the Beast and Belle learn the true meaning of beauty in Disney's 30th full-length animated feature. Nominated for six Academy Awards. 3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack features: feature on both DVD and Blu-ray, Disney sing along mode (DVD and Blu-ray), commentary (DVD and Blu-ray), Composing a Classic, Broadway Beginnings, All-new music video, Never-before-seen alternate opening, Never-before-seen deleted scene, Beyond Beauty - the untold stories, Enchanted Musical Challenge game, Game: Bon jour, Who Is This?, Classic DVD bonus features, English, French or Spanish language tracks, widescreen.


ALSO OUT THIS WEEK


INSPECTOR LEWIS: Series 3

(2009-2010)
Created by Colin Dexter
Starring Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox
PBS Video//Not Rated//Drama//450 minutes
Available on: DVD
British Inspector Lewis is a spin-off from the "Inspector Morse" series. Levelheaded Lewis (Whately) is dull compared to hard-living Morse, but detective James Hathaway (Fox), Lewis's incongruous sidekick, steals the show. As usual, series three finds the pair investigating murders occurring in and around Oxford. The set makes five episodes by placing season three's final episode with those from season four. Distinguished by good character acting, the series frequently places its investigators in unlikely situations that reveal tantalizing bits of Hathaway's backstory. 3-Disc DVD features: English language tracks, widescreen.