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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Out on Blu-ray/DVD

Releases for Feb. 28

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HUGO

(2011)

* * * (B)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law

Paramount//Rated PG//Fantasy//127 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

The undeniably handsome Hugo draws visual poetry from both its storyline and its setting in a Parisian train station. Adapted from Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the film's first half depicts the travails of orphaned 12-year-old Hugo (Asa Butterfield). As the industrial age draws to a close, Hugo eagerly tries to reconnect with his deceased father (Jude Law); he lives beneath the Paris train station and is comforted by his father's notebook and a broken automaton he is attempting to repair. From the station's interior clock tower, the lad surveys the action below. When the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) is out of sight, Hugo slips through a grate to gather supplies. The station toyshop is run by Pappa Georges (Ben Kingsley), who catches Hugo stealing and confiscates the boy's beloved notebook. While trying to retrieve it, Hugo befriends Pappa Georges's god daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Her friendship changes Hugo's life as he joins her in adventures, and in solving a mystery that reveals Pappa Georges is none other than early cinema pioneer Georges Melies. The film loses its footing when it repeatedly retreats, in flashback, to romanticized scenes of Melies at work on his film and to his depression, which devolved into bitterness, when his work fell from favor. Cohen's station inspector is a keystone cop. He too is outfitted with a sad past, though his mean-spirited character fails to evoke sympathy. Meant to function as comic relief, Cohen's scenes undermine the story's philosophical underpinnings. The visuals are astounding, especially those showing a train station during the 1930s. Despite its numerous flaws, the tale benefits from neat twists and Kingley's nuanced, intelligent performance. The major letdown occurs during the second half, when the story wades through puddles of sentimentality after adroitly sidestepping them during its first half. DVD features: Making of featurette. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features same plus: film on both DVD and Blu-ray, The Cinemagician, Georges Melies, The Mechanical Man, Big Effects, Small Scale, Sacha Baron Cohen: Role of a Lifetime.



J. EDGAR

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer, Naomi Watts, Judi Dench

Warner//Rated R//Drama//137 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray

Following in the footsteps of Oliver Stone, director Clint Eastwood puts his own spin on the life on J. Edgar Hoover, a controversial, enigmatic figure during much of the 20th century. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1924, Hoover was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he served as director until his death in 1972. During his years in office, Hoover's growing paranoia prompted him to see that unethical orders were carried out. Eastwood follows rumors casting Hoover as a closeted homosexual engaged in a longtime affair with his FBI associate director Clyde Tolson (Hammer), a rumor disputed by Hoover's biographer Richard Hack. Watts appears as Hoover's personal assistant, Helen Gandy, aging along with her boss, and Dench plays Hoover's mother. Though entertaining, Eastwood's film veers into tabloid journalism, and the film suffers for it. DVD or Blu-ray features: Featurette on Hoover and Digital copy.

THE DEAD

(2010)

* * (C)

Director Jon Ford, Howard Ford

Starring David Dontoh, Rob Freeman, Prince David Osei

Anchor Bay//Rated R//Horror//105 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Attempting to flee a zombifying virus, U.S. Air Force Lt. Murphy (Freeman) boards a plane out of Africa, but it crashes, stranding him there. Murphy is well-armed, but alone amid a throng of zombies until he joins forces with a local military man (Osei) who has deserted his post to find his young son. A low-budget offering, passable special effects are trampled by inconsistent zombie rules that script some zombies as fast-moving while others creep. Likewise some victims are turned instantly while others linger. Couple these deficits with an average story and this is one zombie flick you can live without. DVD or Blu-ray features: Director commentary with Howard J. Ford and Jon Ford, Unearthing The Dead: Behind the scenes, Deleted scenes.


STORAGE WARS: Volume Two

(2011)

* * * (B)

Created by Thom Beers

Starring Darrell Sheets, Brandon Sheets, Jarrod Schultz, Brandi Passante, Dave Hester, Barry Weiss

A&E//Not Rated//Reality TV//408 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

A&E's popular reality show is a little bit "Antiques Road Show," and a lot of maneuvering by a cast of strong personalities. Each of 14 episodes features a storage locker auction run by Dan and Laura Dotson. Attending, and determined to find what they want or run the other bidders up are Dave Hester, who bids with a signature "yup" and runs a large resale business; Darrell Sheets and son Brandon who favor flea markets and despise Dave; Jarrod Schultz and longtime business partner/significant other Brandi Passante seeking wares for their thrift store; and 61-year-old Barry Weiss, a wealthy collector and all-around wit. The show follows the bidders as they vie for lockers and search for hidden treasure. There's plenty to be found, including rare items brought to experts for in-depth appraisals. While all cast members have become minor celebs, Weiss, whose schemes to entertain are seemingly endless, is especially loved and fun to be around. No special features on the 2-Disc DVD set.



BENEATH THE DARKNESS

(2012)

-BOMB- (F)

Directed by Martin Guigui

Starring Dennis Quaid, Devon Werkheiser, Stephen Lunsford, Aimee Teegarden

Image//Rated R//Thriller//98 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The cops and upstanding citizens of a "good old boy" Texas town fail to realize that their beloved ex-football hero turned undertaker (Quaid), is also a prolific serial killer. Sociopath Ely Vaughn (Quaid) befriends police while toward local teens he openly flaunts his murderous intentions. One-by-one, he kills inquisitive kids, and anyone he imagines has done him wrong. The story repeatedly flits from past to present, a strategy that chops its narrative to pieces, yet utterly fails to camouflage upcoming twists, or the film's ending. Far beneath Quaid's abilities, this flick deserves a swift death. DVD or Blu-ray features: behind-the-scenes featurette, theatrical trailer.



RETREAT

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Carl Tibbetts

Starring Thandie Newton, Cillian Murphy, Jamie Bell

Sony//Rated R//Thriller//86 minutes

Available on: DVD

Despite its gaping plot holes, this home-invasion thriller is brought to life by excellent performances and a tightly controlled, economical script. Hoping to work out their marital difficulties, Martin and Kate (Murphy and Newton), leave London for a cabin retreat on a tiny island. Once there they find an unconscious, wounded soldier (Bell), whom they take in to convalesce. When the soldier awakens, he tells a morbid tale of a deadly virus sweeping through Europe, insisting that they fortify the cabin and remain inside. Unable to communicate with the outside world, the pair can't verify the soldier's tale, and as his behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, they begin to feel more threatened by their "guest" than by what may await them "out there." DVD features: Behind-the-scenes Featurette, Photo Gallery.



RUNAWAY JURY

(2003)

* * * (B)

Directed by Gary Fleder

Starring John Cusack, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, Rachel Weisz

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

Available on: Blu-ray

According to author John Grisham (and any number of O.J. Simpson trial watchers), impaneling a favorable jury outstrips the importance of presenting plausible evidence. A crisply cynical Gene Hackman portrays trial lawyer Rankin Fitch, principal of a super-surveillance system where which he watches footage of a fat woman in the jury pool. Responding to her unyielding body language Fitch exclaims, "Get me another nine like her!" Fitch's client, an assault weapon's manufacturer, has the funds to assure victory. By contrast, folksy attorney Wendall Rohr (Dustin Hoffman), can only hope the jury will prefer his rumpled, no frills style, and the bereaved widow he represents. Neither lawyer's wish is granted because juror number nine (John Cusack) and his girlfriend (Rachel Weisz) are auctioning the verdict. A potboiler divvying its time between three alpha actors, "Jury" teams Hoffman's peculiar mix of modesty and arrogance with Hackman's well-fitting control-freak and the easy composure at the center of Cusack's auctioneer. In these capable hands, Runaway Jury careens wildly without running off the road. Blu-ray features: Hackman & Hoffman Together at Last: Over 20 Minutes of Exclusive Scene Rehearsal Footage and Interviews, Commentary by Director Gary Fleder, Scene-Specific Commentary by Gene Hackman and Dustin Hoffman, Deleted Scenes with Director Commentary, 5 featurettes: Acting, Making-of, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing.



ANATOMY OF A MURDER

(1959)

* * * * (Grade A)

Directed by Otto Preminger

Starring James Stewart, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton, Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden, Lee Remick, Orson Bean

Criterion Collection//Not Rated//Drama - B & W//161 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Based on an actual case, this vanguard courtroom drama mainly belongs to Jimmy Stewart. He is cast as defense attorney Paul Biegler, a sharp legal mind disguised as a country-bumpkin. Scott portrays Biegler's legal adversary, a big-city-smart prosecutor from the State Attorney General's office. Time flies in the presence of rapier exchanges between these two. Real-life Judge Joseph Welch (famous lawyer from the Army-McCarthy hearings) is cast as the trial Judge. DVD or Blu-ray features: New interviews with Otto Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch and Critic Gary Giddins on Duke Ellington's score, remastered soundtrack.