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Friday, Nov. 18, 2011

Out on Blu-ray/DVD

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HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 2

(2011

* * * (B)

Directed by David Yates

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Gambon

Warner//Rated PG-13//Fantasy//131 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

The final "Harry Potter" movie clocks in at 131 minutes, short for this franchise. Along with their original fan base, the central trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron, has grown into young adulthood. Recent chapters are darker to include brief glimpses of gruesome deaths. In this final episode, Hogwarts School for Wizards has become a haven for Lord Voldemort's black witchcraft. Played by Ralph Fiennes, the dark lord ponders his final battle with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) while delegating the everyday evil to his horde of minions. But Voldemort has underestimated the resourcefulness of Harry and his friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson). An exciting sequence, featuring goblins and a dragon, opens the film. The coherent storytelling moves quickly, avoiding the previous chapter's slow-paced teen melodrama. Alan Rickman receives generous screen time as Prof. Severus Snape, an ambiguous character whose allegiance is anyone's guess, but will finally be revealed. The film takes a last fond look at favorites British actors in recurring roles. These include Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall, Jim Broadbent as Prof. Slughorn, Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid, Tom Felton as Draco Malfoy, Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange, David Thewlis as lycanthrope Remus Lupin and Evanna Lynch as New Agey Luna Lovegood. It's so long for now, but we may meet again in Rowling's "Harry Potter the Next Generation." DVD and Blu-ray extras include: A conversation with Rowling and Radcliffe, Creating the goblins in Gringotts Wizarding Bank, A short featuring the women of Harry Potter and a collection of deleted scenes.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES

(2011)

* * (C)

Directed by Rob Marshall

Starring Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush, Ian McShane, Kevin McNally, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Sam Claflin

Disney//Rated PG-13//Action//127 minutes

Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) has lost his ship and is therefore intrigued to learn his name is being used to crew another sailing vessel. He tracks down the culprit, feisty Angelica (Penelope Cruz), an old friend ripe with "Espanishness." She entices Sparrow to join Blackbeard's (Ian McShane) on a quest to locate the fountain of youth. The crew must work round the clock to beat both Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and the Spanish King's vessel to the prize. During its middle passage, director Rob Marshall focuses to his four principals, but their constant bickering lacks wit. The crew's encounter with seductive mermaids is breathtaking and reveals creatures with a frightening agenda of their own. One of the film's shortcomings is our inability to invest in Sparrow's welfare since he displays a blatant disregard for others. Depp's waning interest in the franchise echoes these concerns, but the film's spiffy box office receipts indicate there's more treasure, yet to be unearthed.

THE CHANGE-UP

(2011)

* * (C)

Directed by David Dobkin

Starring Jason Bateman, Ryan Reynolds, Olivia Wilde, Leslie Mann

Universal//Rated R//Comedy//105 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Childhood besties, Mitch (Reynolds) and Dave (Bateman) remain friends despite their different lives. Hard-working Dave is married with three younguns, while carefree Mitch is a bachelor. After too many drinks, the guys wish for one another's lives, and poof, they awaken in one another's bodies. Yes, it's Freaky Friday for adults—except loaded with sound effects and brown goo that flunk the scatological-humor sniff test. The misogynist plot fails as date movie fodder, making this one a guy thing. DVD and Blu-ray features include: unrated film cut, director commentary, gag reel, deleted scenes and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.



LARRY CROWNE

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Tom Hanks

Starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts

Universal//Rated PG-13//Comedy//99 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Tom Hanks earns a triple paycheck as director, star and co-writer of this featherweight dramatic comedy. He plays downsized retail-store manager Larry Crowne (Hanks), seeking to improve his job prospects by taking college classes. Unaccountably optimistic, Larry crushes on his burned-out, speech teacher, Mercedes (Roberts), whose sour attitude, and over-imbibing, reflects her unhappiness. It's a little sappy, but this date-movie features likeable performers and a storyline squarely aimed at adult viewers. DVD and Blu-ray features include: making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

DRAGONS: GIFT OF THE NIGHT FURY/BOOK OF DRAGONS

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Available on: Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

Dreamworks//Not Rated//Animation//40 minutes

Following the success of How to Train Your Dragon (2010), Dreamworks releases this short story that returns to the original characters. Dragons now live and work with the Viking villagers, until on day when the dragons suddenly fly away—leaving the Vikings perplexed and concerned they will never see their beloved companions again. Retaining its superior CGI animation, this feature should satisfy younger fans of the original, although this short film functions more as a doorway to the game that is included with purchase. 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD features include an Animators' featurette, Hatch a Dragon featurette, The ultimate Book of Dragons, a number of kid-friendly activities and access to the online video game.

SEA REX: JOURNEY TO A PREHISTORIC WORLD 3D

(2010)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Ronan Chapalain, Pascal Vuong

Universal//Not Rated//Documentary//58 minutes

Available on: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray Combo Pack

When compared to more comprehensive Discovery Channel programming on the same topic, this IMAX feature is merely an overview. The program takes its audience back in time, through the imagination of a young girl visiting an aquarium where she is given a tour of Earth's prehistoric seas by a long dead paleontologist. Presented in a story format that includes meeting present day scientists, the IMAX version showcases several awe-inspiring special effects and exquisitely detailed creatures. Yet, these slight advantages fail to overcome the film's slight runtime. The programming looks great, but its jumbled format is less kid-friendly than foreseen.

EVIL DEAD 2: Dead By Dawn

(1987)

* * * (B)

Directed by Sam Raimi

Starring Bruce Campbell, Dan Hicks, Sarah Berry, Richard Domeier, Kassie Wesley

Lionsgate//Not Rated//Horror//84 Minutes

25th Anniversary Edition Available on: Blu-ray

The sequel to Sam Raimi's cult favorite brings Ash (Campbell) and friends back to the cabin where it all began, to once again tangle with protean spirits of the dead—fighting back with a chainsaw, a shotgun and Egyptian mumbo jumbo. Writer-director Sam Raimi weaves his signature camp comedy into the horrific action, and it remains fun even though stripped of the element of surprise found in the original. Blu-ray features include commentary with Raimi and Campbell, cowriter Scott Spiegel and special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero, 90-minute, making-of documentary and archival featurettes.

MY FAIR LADY

(1964)

* * * * (A)

Directed by George Cukor

Starring Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn

Rated G//Musical//171 minutes

Available on: Blu-ray

Debuting on blu-ray, My Fair Lady represents the pinnacle of filmed musicals. Hepburn's voice was notoriously dubbed by singer Marnie Nixon, yet Rex Harrison simply "talked" his songs and does so with flair. At the close of the 19th century, professor Henry Higgins (Harrison) bets that nobles are made rather than bred. To prove the point he wagers a friend that he can teach Cockney flower vendor Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn), to be a proper English lady. It all begins with tutoring Eliza to speak like one of the upper crust. Following a number of comic flubs, Higgins slowly recognizes that Eliza has become an enchanting companion. Great songs include Higgins's lament, "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like A Man?" Eliza's, "I Could Have Danced All Night." and Higgins's "I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face." A gorgeous film owing much to its costume and set design, the movie remains a tribute to education's role in achieving upward mobility.


WEST SIDE STORY

(1961)

* * * * (A)

Directed by Robert Wise, Jerome Robbins

Starring Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Simon Oakland, Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris, Eliot Feld, Tony Mordente

MGM//Not Rated//Musical//153 minutes

50th Anniversary Edition, Available on: Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

Winner of 9 Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture, this musical reboots Romeo and Juliet as a pair of star-crossed lovers in New York's Upper West Side. It the 1950s, racial tensions ignite between rival gangs, the Puerto Rican Sharks and the Caucasian Jets. Natalie Wood plays Maria, a Puerto Rican seamstress who falls for ex-Jet member Tony (Beymer) despite her brother Bernardo's (Chakiris) position as leader of the Sharks. At Maria's behest, Tony attempts to prevent a rumble between the gangs, but tragedy ensues. Fine music, composed by Johnny Green and Leonard Bernstein, and exciting choreography, mark this production as one for the ages. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features include: hardcover book with rare photos, 10 collectible postcards, tribute CD with covers from Julie Andrews, Gloria Estefan with Dave Grusin, the Original Broadway Cast.

Disney unleashes four titles on 3D:


G-FORCE 3D

(2009)

*1/2 (Grade C-)

Directed by Hoyt Yeatman

Voices of Will Arnett, Penelope Cruz, Zach Galifianakis, Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Tracy Morgan

Disney//Rated PG//Family, Animated//88 minutes

Available on: 3-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD

Disney teams with producer Jerry Bruckheimer for this film centered around a team of biologically engineered, brainiac guinea pigs trained in espionage. Tapped by the US government to stop a diabolical billionaire from taking over the world, the rodents are outfitted with tiny high-tech gear. Team members include squad leader Darwin (Rockwell), weapons expert Blaster (Morgan), and a martial arts master Juarez (Cruz), described as sexy in Disney's literature. The team's reconnaissance expert is a housefly, and for the dirtiest jobs they've recruited Speckles (Cage), a star-nosed mole. Presented in 3-D, this one's likely to benefit the pet store industry as g-pigs get wish-listed by 5 to 8 year-old's everywhere.

BOLT 3D

(2008)

* * * (Grade B)

Directed by Byron Howard, Chris Williams

Voices of John Travolta, Malcolm McDowell, Kari Wahlgren, Susie Essman, Chloe Grace Moretz, Miley Cyrus, Sean Donnellan, Mark Walton

Disney//Rated PG//Comedy//96 minutes

Available on: 4-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy

John Travolta voices Bolt, a celebrity dog from a hit TV show starring Bolt as a superhero. After he's accidentally shipped to the East coast, Bolt is surprised to find his superpowers no longer function. Believing his owner, Penny (Cyrus), is being held captive in Hollywood, Bolt relies on his natural canine abilities, and help from his newfound buddies, to get back home where he plans to save Penny. Bolt's tour guides are a cynical cat (Essman) and a hamster (Walton) encased in a clear plastic ball who also cheer him on. The animation boasts a crisp, detailed picture, likeable characters and an observant story.

MEET THE ROBINSONS 3D

(2007)

* * (C)

Directed by Stephen J. Anderson

Voices of Daniel Hansen, Wesley Singerman, Angela Bassett, Laurie Metcalf

Disney//Rated G//Animated Family//102 minutes

Available on: 3-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD

Lewis (Hansen), an orphaned 12-year-old, invents a memory scanner that is stolen by a time-traveling thief. Wilbur (Singerman), a young stranger from the future, takes Lewis to meet his descendents and retrieve his invention. A good idea sloppily executed, with frenetic action and loud colors—all painful to those older than seven.

CHICKEN LITTLE 3D

(2005)

* *1/2 (C-)

Directed by Mark Dindal

Voices of Zach Braff, Joan Cusack, Steve Zahn

Disney//Rated G//Animated//81 minutes

Available on: 3-Disc Combo Pack: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD

A nerdy male chicken (Braff) stumbles upon evidence of an impending alien invasion. The film is dizzyingly busy, as it scurries to offer theories about the formation of crop circles while reminding kids to remain true to themselves.

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