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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

Out on Blu-ray/DVD

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Captain America: The First Avenger

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Joe Johnston

Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, Hayley Atwell, Tommy Lee Jones, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, Ken Choi, Samuel L. Jackson

Paramount//Rated PG-13//Fantasy//121 minutes

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

This glossy production details Captain America's origins, casting Chris Evans as skinny weakling Steve Rogers (played by Evans using trick photography), who is transformed into a supersoldier via the injection of a top secret formula. Director Joe Johnston constructs snappy scenes that set up Rogers as an iconic WWII symbol, but we learn little of the character's inner life, and must settle for his zeal to do good as his defining attribute. Roger's leaves a cushy job, as the poster boy for raising war-bonds, because best friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) has been captured along with 400 American troops. To save them, Captain America faces down Red Skull, a character receiving his own origin story, and played by Hugo Weaving. Red Skull benefits from Weaving's deep voice doing a "Cherman" accent, but the mutant's makeup effects are grossly inferior, as is the lethal blue laser he uses to decimate his enemies during lackluster confrontations. Stanley Tucci appears as the supersoldier-creating scientist filled with the regrets and optimism that go to heart of this story. A feisty Hayley Atwell plays Captain America's U.S. Army advisor and love interest, until an "iffy" plot device transports the supersoldier to the present, where he will make a 2012 appearance alongside other "Avenger" superheroes next May. The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a Blu-ray 3D set that also includes standard Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the feature. Extras vary.

Water for Elephants

(2011)

* * 1/2 (B-)

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Paul Schneider, Jim Norton, Hal Holbrook, Mark Povinelli, Richard Brake

Fox//Rated PG-13//Drama//122 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Production designer Jack Fisk and costume designer by Jacqueline West make important contributions to this handsome period piece adapted from Sara Gruen's best-selling novel. Though the film is set at a depression-era circus, much of the dialog is oddly retrofit to reflect present day sensibilities. The tale opens with the life of Jacob (Robert Pattinson) a veterinary student who responds to personal tragedy by hopping aboard the first train that happens along. It belongs to the Benzini Brothers traveling circus, an operation in need of a trained vet. Jacob is befriended by crew supervisor Camel (a nuanced, underused Jim Norton), but ignores Camel's warning to stay away from the owner's wife and the star performer, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Marlena and Jacob bond over the fate of her ailing stallion Silver Star, and again over Rosie, a glorious pink-and-gray-mottled Indian elephant played by a 42-year-old pachyderm named Tai. If Pattinson and Witherspoon are short on romantic chemistry, combustion Marlena's mercurial husband August, the circus owner played by Christoph Waltz. Rather than the action, the film relies on its forbidden romance, and August's menacing outbursts, to draw us in. Scenes of animal abuse are genuinely disturbing, as is August's method of retiring crew members. Witherspoon invests Marlena with a strong will, but little is asked of pretty-boy Pattinson, who delivers a squares jaw set at the appropriate angle. Despite its flaws, the film's well-composed visuals are something to behold. DVD and Blu-ray extras include short features on Pattinson and Witherspoon and an audio commentary by Lawrence and LaGravanese.

Winnie the Pooh

(2011)

* * * (B)

Directed by Stephan J. Anderson, Don Hall

Voices of Jim Cummings, Craig Ferguson, John Cleese, Tom Kenny, Bud Luckey, Jack Boulter, Travis Oates, Kristen Anderson-Lopez

Disney//Rated G//Animated//69 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Pooh fans will be heartened by this return to the honey-loving bear's origins, evidenced by retro animation and the reappearance of Christopher Robin, once banished from the Hundred Acre Wood by Disney Studios, because Robin was thought to be superfluous. Several A.A. Milne short stories are adapted into this one-hour film that models its visuals on the original E.H. Shepard illustrations. The Hundred Acre Wood and its loveable denizens are rendered in warm pastels highlighting Disney's hand-drawn animated process. Owl (voiced by Ferguson) misinterprets a note from Christopher Robin, and convinces Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Roo, Eeyore and Pooh that a fearsome creature known as Backson has kidnapped their young friend. Gathering their courage for a rescue mission, the friends learn that imagined monsters are often the sca-sca-scariest kind. DVD and Blu-ray Special features include two cartoon shorts and a collection of deleted scenes.

Cars 2

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by John Lasseter, Brad Lewis

Voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, Owen Wilson, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro, Joe Mantegna, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Vanessa Redgrave, Cheech Marin

Disney//Rated PG//Family, Animation//106 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, Blu-ray 3D and digital download

Hailed for its topnotch 3D, this sequel zips its talking, anthropomorphized cars from Tokyo to Paris to the Italian Riviera and London. Lightning McQueen (Wilson), enters the multi-national Race of Champions, bringing along his pit boss, aging pick up truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), whose naivete lands him at the center of a conspiracy to discredit a new alternative fuel. The consistently witty action stays into high gear, though it can be convoluted and frenetic. Some of the film's best moments arise from car chases engaged by German, Brit (Caine) and American (Mortimer) spies. Written to feature its most popular character, Mater he figures front and center by throwing one monkey-wrench after another into the comic proceedings. Too bad not all of these hit their marks. DVD and Blu-ray features include: exclusive short featuring Mater, short "Hawaiian Vacation" and a director commentary.


Crazy, Stupid, Love

(2011)

* * * (B)

Directed by Glenn Ficarra John Requa

Starring Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, Emma Stone, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon

Warner//Rated PG-13//Comedy//117 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Cal Weaver (Carell) is shocked when Emily (Moore), his wife of many years, abruptly demands a divorce. Unprepared for the singles scene, Cal seems incapable of meeting women, until handsome Lothario, Jacob (Gosling), offers to act as Cal's dating mentor. Meanwhile, the film follows Emily's home-wrecking romance with her coworker (Bacon), and the attempts of Cal's 13-year-old son (Bobo) to catch the eye of his little sister's 17-year-old babysitter (Tipton). Cleverly written by Dan Fogelman, the screenplay turns rote situations upside down, producing a cross-generational romantic comedy that boasts both laughs and smarts. DVD and Blu-ray features include deleted scenes.

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Collector's Series

(2002)

* * (C)

Directed by George Clooney

Starring Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Julia Roberts

Lionsgate//Rated R//Drama//115 minutes

Available on: Blu-ray

Released on blu-ray for the first time, this film marks George Clooney's directorial debut. Interesting at times, the film, adapted from Chuck Barris's 1984 autobiography, never persuasively establishes a point of view about the entrepreneur's claim that he doubled as a CIA assassin. Skipping around between the past, present and future, the film trips through Barris's warped mind, devoid of an anchor. Beneath "Confession's" noisy surface, Barris' disdain for the public contrasts with his desire for fame. Drew Barrymore plays his neglected girlfriend, but in his CIA daydreams Barris falls for a comely double agent played by an ill-fitting Julia Roberts. As Barris' alleged CIA contact, Clooney wears his trenchcoat and hat like nobody's business, but his efforts to manipulate young Barris are even more transparent than Barris himself. Sam Rockwell is a good choice for the Barris role, capturing the "Gong Show" host's manic mood swings, but the subject grows tiresome with a full hour of runtime remaining. Blu-ray features include deleted scenes, "The Real Chuck Barris" documentary and Sam Rockwell's original screen test.

Cop Land, Collector's Series

(1997)

*1/2 (C-)

Directed by James Mangold

Starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Kitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro

Lionsgate//Rated R//Thriller//105 minutes

Available on: Blu-ray

The police of New York City's 37th precinct reside in an exclusive cop community, where they live by their own laws and code. Harvey Kitel appears as the community leader taking mob money to finance his version of cop Shangri-la. Ray Liotta portrays a burnout seeking to escape Cop Land by pulling off an insurance scam. Robert De Niro is cast as the Internal Affairs detective investigating Cop Land's secrets. Sylvester Stallone plays Cop Land's pouty sheriff, Freddy Heflin, a role so awful, it should have been scripted as comic relief. Based upon its first 20 minutes, the film's writer-director James Mangold, appears to have a solid plan. Therefore, it's especially frustrating when his characters fail to evolve. Blu-ray features include commentary with Mangold, Producer Cathy Konrad and actors Sylvester Stallone and Robert Patrick, Making-of featurette, and deleted scenes.



Toy Story, 3D

(1995)

* * *1/2 (A-)

Directed by John Lasseter

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Rated G//Animated//81 minutes

Available on: 4-Disc Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack

This imaginative film earned a 1995 Academy Special Achievement award. Andy's toys dread birthdays and Christmas, fearing they'll be replaced by newer models. Woody the Cowboy (Tom Hanks), Andy's favorite, soothes them, insisting the boy will not forsake them. Woody's opinion changes when Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear action figure (Tim Allen) on the lad's six birthday— suddenly leaving him second best. Determined to regain the top spot, Woody schemes get rid of Buzz, but the ill-conceived plan places both Woody and Buzz in the sadistic hands of toy-destroying neighbor kid, Sid. The story emphasizes the value of teamwork, but stumbles by revisiting the theme five too many times. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy.

Toy Story 2

(1999)

* * * (B)

Directed by John Lasseter

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack

A lesser sequel Disney//Rated G//Comedy//92 minutes

Available on: 4-Disc Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack

Andy's toys are left on their own when Andy heads off to summer camp. Woody, a valuable collectible toy based on a popular 1950s TV show, is stolen by evil toy collector, Al McWhiggin. It isn't all bad, since Woody gets to spend time with the toy versions of his TV cohorts—cowgirl Jessie (Cusack), prospector Stinky Pete (Grammar) and Woody's trusty steed Bullseye. Woody comes to believe his future won't include Andy, but the other toys make a daring dash across town to rescue him. A notch below the original, this sequel features jaw-dropping graphics and several excellent action setpieces. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy.

Toy Story 3, 3D

(2010)

* * *1/2 (A-)

Directed by Lee Unkrich

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Ned Beatty, Don Rickles, Michael Keaton, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris, John Morris, Laurie Metcalf, Timothy Dalton, Jodi Benson, Wallace Shawn

Disney//Rated G//Animation//103 minutes

Available on: 4-Disc Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack

In this adventurous chapter, college-bound Andy (Morris) readies his toys for storage in the attic, but the toy bag, mistaken for trash, winds up at the dump. Woody (Hanks), the only toy spared, is compelled to save his friends, but instead, the gang is scooped up by a daycare center. Though initially pleased to reunite with children, the toys become fearful when the kids abuse them to the breaking point. Buzz Lightyear (Allen), the Potato Heads (Rickles and Harris), Cowgirl Jessie (Cusack), Hamm the Piggy (Ratzenberger), and Rex (Shawn), are bullied by nasty Teddy bear Lotso (Beatty), who rules the roost with a furry fist. Barbie (Benson) finds happiness in finally meeting Ken (Keaton), even if he does wear hot pants, and everyone is baffled by a theatrical hedgehog named Mr. Pricklepants (Dalton). Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy.

Jurassic Park: The Ultimate Trilogy

(1993 - 2001)

* * *1/2 (A-)

Starring Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough

Universal Studios

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Michael Crichton was still writing his book when director Steven Spielberg decided to adapt it to the screen. The first film, arguably the best, features memorable performances by Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblu, Laura Dern and Richard Attenborough. However, the real stars are a menacing pack of velociraptors and one incredibly pissed off T-Rex. Goldblume returned for the sequel, released in 1997. He brings wit and charm to the film's first half, set on a remote island, but when the plot conspires to bring a Mama-Rex and her baby to Los Angeles, it loses focus and becomes a monster mash. The third film, playing out on yet another remote island, benefits from the pairing of William H. Macy and Tea Leone, as a bickering couple. Sam Neill acts as their guide to rescue their son from an island filled with genetically engineered dinosaurs, but they are stalked to brilliant effect by a Spinosaurus, and pterodactyls. Now remastered, and loaded with new features, this definitive edition is available on either DVD or Blu-ray. Special features include a new six-part documentary.

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