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Monday, Jan. 17, 2011

Out on Blu-ray/DVD

For the week of 01/11 - 01/17/11 (Ratings Out of Four Stars.)

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PIRANHA

(2010)

* * * (B)

Directed by Alexandre Aja

Starring Jessica Szohr, Steven R. McQueen, Elisabeth Shue, Jerry O'Connell, Ving Rhames, Richard Dreyfuss, Kelly Brook, Christopher Lloyd

Dimension//Rated R//Horror//88 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Piranha finds scantily clad spring-break revelers turned into fish food. Lost in throbbing music and an alcoholic daze, the merrymakers are unaware of attacks taking place around the lake. While working, local sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue) assigns her eldest, teen Jake (Steven McQueen, grandson of the late great), to care for younger siblings Zane and Laura (Sage Ryan and Brooklynn Proulx). But Jake abandons his duties to hop aboard the "Wild Wild Girls" yacht with the filmmaker (Jerry O'Connell) and a local cutie (Jessica Szohr). Like the cave divers before them, the Wild Girls crew and stars fall victim to prehistoric piranha released from an undersea cave by an earthquake. Ensuing bloody attacks don't benefit from murky 3D, added post-production, but the story wrings thrills from stranding Jake's younger sibs on an offshore island. Soon enough, the fish make their way to the partiers where the attacks are both humorous and horrific. What Piranha lacks in scares, it makes up for in fun, as director Alexandre Aja ups the ante on Roger Corman's 1978 original—provided you skip the sketchy 3D. DVD features: filmmakers commentary, 5 Behind-the-scenes featurettes, English language tracks, Spanish Subtitles, widescreen. Blu-ray features same plus: Deleted Scenes w/optional commentary, 10 Behind-the-scenes featurettes, Deleted Storyboard Sequences. 3D Blu-ray features same plus: film in both 3D and 2D versions.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

(2010)

* * * * (A)

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Armie Hammer, Max Minghella, Josh Pence, Rooney Mara, Brenda Song, Rashida Jones

Sony//Rated PG-13//Drama//120 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Those following the evolution of Facebook, may recall creator Mark Zuckerberg claiming, "People don't want privacy," a statement refuted by public outcry. When we meet Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in 2003, he's a nerdy Harvard freshman. Angry after being dumped by his girlfriend (Rooney Mara), Mark creates a website to rate the hotness of Harvard's coeds. The site gets heavy traffic that crashes Harvard's network and leaves Zuckerberg certain he's stumbled onto something. The concept gels when Zuckerberg is approached by twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) to write code for their site, Harvard Connection. Zuckerberg reshapes and refines their idea to create Facebook. We see these events as they unfold and through depositions taken several years later. Director David Fincher captures the essence of each player's agenda, clearly sympathizing with Zuckerberg's long-suffering friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Justin Timberlake does a captivating turn as Napster founder, Sean Parker. Winner of many critical awards, The Social Network hums and spins a tale unlike any other. 2-Disc DVD or Blu-ray features: commentary with David Fincher or commentary with Aaron Sorkin & cast, Making-of feature-length documentary in four parts: David Fincher and Jeff Cronenweth on the visuals, Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter and Ren Klyce on Post, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and David Fincher on the Score, Ruby Skye VIP room: multi-angle scene breakdown, In the Hall of the Mountain King: Reznor's first draft, Swarmatron, English or French language tracks, Spanish subtitles, widescreen.

DOWNTON ABBEY

(2010)

* * * * (A)

Created by Julian Fellowes

Starring Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Penelope Wilton, Dan Stevens, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Laura Carmichael, Jessica Brown Findlay, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Thomas Howes, Rob James-Collier, Rose Leslie

PBS Video//Not Rated//Drama//360 minutes

Available on: DVD

PBS kicks off the 40th season of Masterpiece Theater with "Downton Abbey," a 7-part epic set in 1912. Joy, sorrow and greed bubble throughout this melodrama that echoes "Upstairs, Downstairs," in its dual-perspectives on the lives of servants and those they are paid to serve. Scene-stealer Maggie Smith plays Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. Hugh Bonneville is the Dowager's son, Robert Crawley, present Earl of Grantham. Having married Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), a monied American, 20 years prior, Crawley is now stuck with a bothersome entail written into his father's will. The entail requires that Downton Abbey, along with the title of Earl and all of the estate's monies, be passed in a dsingle bundle to a male heir. The conditions are problematic since the couple has no sons and three unmarried teen daughters. While Crawley rummages through a roster of male relatives for a suitable, and preferably, marriageable male heir, Violet and Cora attempt to rework these provisions in favor of Crawley's eldest, and willful daughter, Mary (Michelle Dockery). Meanwhile, the servants are abuzz with competing agendas. A few are determined to better their lots whatever the cost, while a few exalt traditional beliefs. The collision of changing values informs the script written by Julian Fellowes, known for excellent period pieces such as Vanity Fair and Gosford Park. DVD features: Making-of featurette, A House in History, English language tracks, widescreen.

24: Season Eight

(2010)

* * * (Grade B)

Created by Robert Cochran

Starring Kiefer Sutherland, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Katee Sackhoff, Cherry Jones, Freddie Prinze Jr., Annie Wersching, Mykelti Williamson, Jurgen Prochnow, Akbar Kurtha

Fox//Rated TV-14//Thriller//1065 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

My screener for this set, released in December, arrived late, thus the late review. Eight seasons in, nail-biter "24" struggles to keep its plots fresh and its twists surprising, but the story manages to wring suspense from many a close call. Fans of the series will note that CTU (initials for the Counter-Terrorism Unit) still hasn't learned to prevent traitors from infiltrating its thin ranks. The specter of a Mid-East peace treaty brings out the worst in some, culminating in the threat of a dirty bomb. To locate the conspirators, the US President (Cherry Jones) is forced to make tough decisions and events turn personal for Jack Bauer. Led by Kiefer Sutherland, appearing as indestructible Bauer, the cast does great work. Mary Lynn Rajskub returns as Chloe, a perpetually worried CTU intelligence analyst and Jack's closest ally, Elisha Cuthbert makes a brief appearance as Jack's daughter, and Katee Sackhoff signs on as Dana Walsh, a CTU systems analyst engaged to a supersoldier, played by Freddie Prinze Jr. Set in and around the UN and Manhattan, CTU is reinvigorated by an all-new design in this, its final season. 6-Disc DVD or 4-Disc Blu-ray features: Extended Episodes, deleted scenes, the Ultimate CTU, Virtually NY, Scenemakers on 21 episodes, English language tracks, Spanish Subtitles, widescreen.

ALPHA AND OMEGA

(2010)

* * (C)

Directed by Anthony Bell, Ben Gluck

Voices of Hayden Panettiere, Christina Ricci, Justin Long, Dennis Hopper, Danny Glover, Larry Miller, Eric Price, Vicki Lewis, Chris Carmack, Kevin Sussman, Brian Donovan

Lionsgate//Rated PG//Animated//78 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Kate (Panettiere) is the daughter of an alpha wolf (Glover) promised to the son of a rival pack leader (Hopper) in order to unite their families. The plan goes awry when park rangers capture Kate along with subservient, omega wolf Humphrey (Long), relocating the pair to the Idaho wilderness. Humphrey, long smitten with Kate, is disappointed when Kate decides they must return home so she can fulfill her matrimonial obligations. The pair begins the long trek as a parallel story follows Kate's little sister's (Ricci) efforts to win the love of a fitness-obsessed wolf. The production, fleshed out in 3D, incorporates a variety of wisecracking forest creatures. DVD or Blu-ray features: Log Sliding: Interactive Game, Wolves in the Wild: Featurette, The Alpha of Animation, Voicing the Wolves, From Alpha to Omega, Personality Test: Are You an Alpha or an Omega? Animal Fun Facts Trivia, Deleted Scene, Trailer Gallery, English, French or Spanish language tracks, widescreen.

DANCES WITH WOLVES

(1990)

* * *1/2 (A-)

Directed By Kevin Costner

Starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene,

Rodney A. Grant, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Tantoo Cardinal

MGM//Rated PG-13//Drama//185 minutes

20th Anniversary Edition, Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Kevin Costner may not be a great actor, but his knack for choosing great roles, and his intelligence, makes up for any deficit. In Dances With Wolves, Costner gives notice as a director. He also stars as Lt. Dunbar, a disillusioned soldier sent to an isolated outpost in the Dakotas. Against all odds, he befriends the local Indians and becomes a member of their tribe. The Indians allow this because they want to learn the white man's ways. Over time, Dunbar earns the Indian name, Dances With Wolves, and he courts Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman adopted by Indians as a child. He makes his bones by joining the tribe in a war against their rivals. The story is a 3-hour epic that takes its time getting to know realistically portrayed Indians. It's a beautiful film, filled with arresting vistas and wonderful moments that won seven Academy Awards including, Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. DVD features: English or French language tracks, Spanish Subtitles, widescreen. 2-Disc Blu-ray features same plus: director commentary by Kevin Costner and producer Jim Wilson, or commentary by director of photography Dean Semler and Editor Neil Travis, Extended cut of film includes over 50 minutes of extra footage, A Day in the Life on the Frontier featurette, The Creation of an Epic Retrospective Documentary, Original Making-of Featurette, Interactive Special Features: Military Rank and Social Hierarchy Guide, Real History or Movie Make Believe, Original Music Video, Dances Photo Montage with Introduction by Ben Glass, Poster Gallery, TV Spots.

RAGING BULL Blu-ray

(1980)

* * *1/2 (A-)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas Colasanto, Frank Adonis, resa Saldana

MGM//Rated R//Drama - Black & White//129 minutes

30th Anniversary Edition, Available on: Blu-ray

Robert De Niro gained 50 pounds and spent hours in the ring in order to recreate the boxing moves of real-life fighter Jake La Motta. The boxer's rise and fall was filmed on location in New York City and makes for an intense, drama with gut wrenching fight action. Joe Pesci delivers a fascinating take on Joe's brother while Cathy Moriarty brings a sharp edge to the beautiful blonde Jake marries. De Niro took home the Best Actor Oscar in this one listed in the AFI's top 100 movies. 2-Disc Blu-ray features: 3 commentaries, 4 new featurettes: Marty & Bobby - Reflections on a Classic, Remembering Jake, Marty on Film, Cathy Moriarty on the Tonight Show (March 27, 1981), Fight Night - a 4 part feature-length documentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, De Niro vs. La Motta - shot-by-shot comparison in the ring, La Motta Defends Title - vintage newsreel footage, English, French or Spanish language tracks, Spanish Subtitles, widescreen.

Also Out This Week

BITTER FEAST

(2010)

Directed by Joe Maggio

Starring James Le Gros, Joshua Leonard, Amy Seimetz, Larry Fessenden, Megan Hilty, John Speredakos, Owen Campbell, Tobias Campbell, Mario Batali

Available on: DVD

MPI//Not Rated//Comedy, Thriller//113 minutes

After influential food blogger J.T. Franks (Leonard), gives chef Peter Grey's (Le Gros) dishes a less than complimentary review, the chef concocts a deadly revenge scheme. He kidnaps Franks, chains him to the floor of a remote cabin and forces the critic to prepare deceptively simple dishes—torturing him when the results are less than perfect. As each man battles to hang onto his outsized ego, the film happily makes horrific commentary on the plethora of cooking shows and celebrity chefs infiltrating cable television. DVD features: commentary with writer-director Joe Maggio, producers Larry Fessenden, Peter Phok, Brent Kunkle, and sound designer Graham Reznick, Making of featurette, Joe Maggio Interviews Mario Batali, Deleted Scene & Alternate Ending, Teaser, Trailer, Feast Portraits, English language tracks, widescreen.

THE HESSEN CONSPIRACY aka The Hessen Affair

(2009)

Directed by Paul Breuls

Starring Billy Zane, Lyne Renee

Anchor Bay//Not Rated//Drama//111 minutes

Available on: DVD

World War II has ended in 1945 when American Army officer Jack (Zane) discovers a cache of priceless jewels hidden in a German castle. In order to secure the fortune, Jack, along with his lover Lt. Kathleen Nash (Renee), smuggle the jewels to the US where they can fence them. For their plan to come to fruition, they must sidestep an Army investigation and a vengeful gangster. Death and danger lurk around every corner, but can Jack and Kathleen trust one another? Zane is back in fighting condition for this noirish period drama -- based on actual events -- that strives to resurrect snappy 1940s dialog. DVD features: English language tracks, widescreen.

ER: Season 14

(2007 - 2008)

Created by Michael Crichton

Starring John Stamos, Mekhi Phifer, Goran Visnjic, Maura Tierney, Parminder Nagra, Linda Cardellini, Scott Grimes

Warner//Not Rated//Drama//914 minutes

The doctors and medical personnel at Chicago's County General Hospital return to television's longest-running medical drama series. Though the show was nearing an end, it continued to draw more than eight million viewers during its penultimate season. These 19-episodes contain "ER's" 300th show and feature guest appearances from Hal Holbrook and Steve Buscemi. 5-Disc DVD features: Unaired scenes, Paley Festival panel featurette, English language tracks, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese and Portuguese subtitles, widescreen.

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