discs white house down

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Discs Section: Pick of the Week

disc white house downWhite House Down

John Cale (Channing Tatum) is a Capitol cop with aspirations towards the Secret Service, but while his application is rejected he gets a second shot when terrorists attack the White House with a nefarious goal in mind. Cale finds himself protecting the president (Jamie Foxx) while simultaneously trying to save his own daughter. All that and he still doesn’t get the job. Probably. You’ll have to watch.

Director Roland Emmerich‘s film had the misfortune of following the near-identical Olympus Has Fallen into theaters, but while most folks will tell you you can only like one or the other I’m here to say I love them both. Olympus is the better action film, but while this one does just fine in that department its real strength is its energy and sheer entertainment value. The effects are shady, and I’m fairly certain there’s not a single scene in the film that was actually filmed outdoors, but Tatum and Foxx have fantastic chemistry that when combined with an absolutely ridiculous script will have you smiling all the way through.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel]

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disc intoleranceIntolerance

Pitch: “Love’s Struggle Through the Ages” In case it wasn’t made clear, it’s love’s struggle with intolerance that is the focus here…

Four stories tied together by the best and worst of humanity form the centerpiece here. Religion and the intolerance it breeds is the motivator that moves people to judge and condemn those less powerful for being and/or thinking different from they are, and whether it be ancient Babylon, the time of Christ, 16th century France or modern day America (eh, 1916), our differences will always get in the way of peace.

Writer/director D.W. Griffith‘s film is the kind of work the word “epic” was created for. Immense sets and even larger crowds, both elements that would be accomplished via CGI today, come together to tell a massive story about the evils that men do. It’s an impressive feat made that much more so by Carl Davis‘ orchestral score.

[Blu-ray extras: Two full features, featurette, essays, trailer]

disc mad men 6Mad Men: Season 6

Pitch: “Where the truth lies…” It’s different from where lies the truth…

Sterling Cooper Draper Price Cheatem & Howe continues to be a hotbed of creativity and drama in the penultimate season of AMC’s other acclaimed series. Don Draper (Jon Hamm) finds himself growing more lost and unsure of himself as his successes mount, and while he continues to be a master of recovering from self sabotage his luck is bound to run out eventually.

I only started watching this show this year, and after working my way through earlier seasons marathon-style I’ve finally been able to get all caught up with the rest of the world. (Of course, I’m currently on season two of Breaking Bad.) Death continues to be a frequent motif throughout this season, as it has through much of the series, and it’s clear that things are coming to a head for several of the characters. It’s great television, and I look forward to its return next year.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]

disc robotech completeRobotech: The Complete Series

Pitch:  A jaeger says what…

An alien ship crash lands on earth and reverse engineered to inform and create fighting vehicles capable of transforming into robotic mechs. Good thing too as the owners of the ship eventually come calling, and they’re none too pleased to find an already inhabited planet. A series of wars follows pitting mankind against intergalactic invaders.

I’ve always been more of a Star Blazers guy, but this mid ’80s anime import had a larger reach thanks to a long running series and three feature films. This set includes those movies plus all 85 episodes, and the story they tell is as epic as they come thanks to a large cast of characters, dramatic story arcs, and a never-ending string of battles big and small. Both casual and hardcore fans will find a lot to love here thanks to the inclusion of new extras as well as all the old ones too.

[DVD extras: Documentaries, alternate versions, promos, deleted scenes, featurettes, galleries]

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As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner‘s early 20th century novel was a chore in high school thanks to its bleak and often repetitive narrative, but what do I know, I think Sanctuary is his best novel. Perhaps that’s why it works better on the screen. James Franco stars and directs, and the result is a film that brings the characters front and center as they move through the story of a dead matriarch and her family’s efforts to give her a proper burial. A strong cast and a no-nonsense sensibility top it off and help make it a fine adaptation.

[DVD extras: Behind the scenes]

Clear History

It’s unclear if this HBO film started life as a feature-length Curb Your Enthusiasm episode or if it just became one once Larry David came onboard in the lead role, but that’s clearly what it is. Whether that’s a good or bad thing will depend on your feelings toward David, but make no mistake. He’s playing Larry David. Even non-fans will find something to like here though thanks to a supporting cast that includes Bill Hader, Jon Hamm, Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, and others.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Computer Chess

It’s the early ’80s and computerized chess programs are sweeping the nation. Well, they’re sweeping a hotel convention hall anyway as legions of programmers descend one weekend to compare and compete with their own artificially intelligent designs. This comedy is an odd one, but anyone old enough to remember the early days of home computing (or maybe just nerdy enough to appreciate it) will find something to enjoy here. Pacing isn’t the film’s strong suit, but if you give it a chance the subtle, low-key humor will find its way into your brain.

[DVD extras: Commentaries (including one by an "enthusiastic stoner"), video, promo, chess games, how-to, trailer]

The Fitzgerald Family Christmas

It’s a holiday dramedy from writer/director Edward Burns! That will mean different things to different people, but the bottom line is that this particular family film leans a bit heavy on the talky side with most of that feeling rushed. It doesn’t help that there are seven adult siblings to wrangle together in addition to their estranged parents and an attractive neighbor lady (Connie Britton) whose stocking may need stuffing. But on the bright side the disc comes with an unrated version too.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary]

Girl Most Likely

Imogen’s (Kristen Wiig) life is falling apart so she returns home to live with her mother and brother, but things only grow worse from there. Until they suddenly get better. Annette Bening, Matt Dillon, and Bob Balaban co-star, but while there are a few laughs and moments to be found too much of it feels ultimately inconsequential.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Gag reel, featurettes, deleted scenes]

Grown Ups 2

May not be the best movie featuring both incontinence and continuity errors in the first five minutes, but it’s definitely one of them.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Deleted scenes, featurettes, a lack of Rob Schneider]

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Extended Edition)

Sigh. Even if you’re not put off by Peter Jackson and WB splitting a 300-page book into two or three movies, each running over two hours, you have to acknowledge that then turning around and forcing fans to double dip for an extended version is the epitome of greed. We get it, Jackson is afraid to leave Middle Earth, but there just isn’t enough material to justify these running times. The extra scenes here are superfluous and make a padded feature even fattier.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, over nine hours of behind the scenes features (and yet they still feel shorter than the film itself)]

Lovelace

The story of Linda Marchiano aka Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried) is far from a happy one no matter whose perspective you believe. This film takes Linda’s offering up a tale of abuse and degradation behind one of the porn industry’s most classic films, Deep Throat. Try as they might though, the film never quite manages the drama and pathos it’s aiming for, and instead it survives based solely on the strengths of its cast.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurette]

Macabre

A group of friends take a drive through the countryside, and everything turns out okay. Just kidding, it all goes to hell just as you’d expect from that setup in a horror film. The gang does learn a valuable lesson though when they offer a ride to a stranger in that no good deed goes unpunished, and the punishment here includes all manner of violent death. What the story lacks in originality or smarts it more than makes up for in energy and gore. Seriously, this is a gory flick, and once the mayhem starts the momentum keeps things moving to the very end. If you were a fan of the “Safe Haven” segment in V/H/S/2 then definitely check this one out, and if you weren’t… what the hell’s wrong with you?

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: None]

Magic City: The Complete Second Season

This ’50s-set Starz series about mobsters in Miami boasts a wonderfully sultry look, a great cast (including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko, Danny Huston, and newcomer James Caan), and some mildly engaging story lines, but it’s what the show does for the real world economy that’s most important. The series is single-handedly keeping merkin manufacturers in business. And yes, I used this same joke for season one, but it bears repeating as they seem to have upped their order this year.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes]

Passion

Brian De Palma has made some fascinating films, but sadly none of them have been in this century. His latest does little to challenge that assessment with its tale of dueling corporate executives (Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace) who use sex, deceit, and highly improbable plot turns in their race to the top. McAdams actually has fun here, but Rapace shows yet again that her strength is not acting (in English anyway).

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]

The People Under the Stairs (UK)

Wes Craven’s early ’90s thriller starts off strong with a truly creepy setup, but squanders too much of it away through sloppy, tone-deaf execution and a ridiculous ending. Thankfully, his ability to mix horror and comedy improved later in his career. That said, the film has its admirers, and this new Blu from Arrow Video offers a beautiful transfer that they’re going to love.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Commentary, interviews, trailer] *This is a UK release and requires a region-free player in the US.*

Renoir

France, 1915, and the Renoir estate has just welcomed a new model onto its grounds. The renowned artist, in his final years, has found perhaps his finest muse, but when his son returns from war her affection becomes an entanglement between them all. Perhaps fitting for a film about a painter, Gilles Bourdous‘ film is a gorgeous feast for the eyes. The drama doesn’t captivate quite as well, but narrative lulls are made easier by the beauty onscreen.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interviews]

Syrup

Max Berry‘s bestselling novel comes to life with Amber Heard and Shiloh Fernandez taking point as wannabe marketing wizards struggling to make their mark in the competitive and cutthroat world of big business and sheep-like consumers. The film thinks it’s far smarter than it actually is, and the first third is a bit of a chore, but there are enough fun bits to make it worth a watch.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Interview, featurette, trailer]

Under the Dome

We all know The Simpson’s did it first, but what this mini-series presupposes is… maybe they didn’t. Stephen King‘s novel about a town that awakes to discover a clear dome has settled over their community effectively cutting them off from the outside world comes to life as a summer series from executive producer Steven Spielberg, but all that cache doesn’t exactly translate into compelling television. The adaptation diverts from the novel enough that King’s fans might not like what they see, but virgin viewers are no better off as the series seems far more interested in mysteries than in answers. That’s fine for a returning show, but a hard 13-episode run shouldn’t be playing those games.

[Blu-ray/DVD extras: Featurettes, gag reel, deleted scenes]

Discs Section: Also

Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:

13/13/13
The Big Picture
Boy Meets World: The Complete Collection
Broken
Deceptive Practices: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay
Hava Nagila
James Dean: Ultimate Collector’s Edition
Naked City: The Complete Series
Paranormal Whacktivity
Parkland
Saved By the Bell: The Complete Collection
The Three Faces of Eve
Twilight Forever: The Complete Saga


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