DVD Reviews 

The Skeleton Twins

by Alan Rapp on December 21, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: The Skeleton Twins
  • IMDb: link

The Skeleton TwinsWritten and directed by Craig Johnson and Mark Heyman The Skeleton Twins, is a holiday release staple of a awkward family dramedy starring Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as estranged twins who both contemplate suicide on the same day.

Brought back together after Milo’s unsuccessful suicide attempt, Maggie and Milo get to know each other again after being apart for nearly an entire decade as Milo struggles to fit into Maggie’s life with her optimistic go-getter husband (Luke Wilson) while discovering his sister’s life is just as fucked-up as his own as she continually cheats on the man she professes to love while hiding the fact that she’s still on birth control as they try to get pregnant.

Neither as dramatic nor humorous as you might first assume given the subject matter and its two former Saturday Night Live stars, splitting the difference The Skeleton Twins mixes in some dark humor to balance out the siblings’ poor life choices which lead them both to consider taking their own lives.

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Snowpiercer

by Alan Rapp on December 3, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Snowpiercer
  • IMDb: link

SnowpiercerI had a very mixed reaction to writer/director Joon-ho Bong‘s Snowpiercer. One one-hand I’m increasingly tired dramas using the trappings of sci-fi to offer up dystopian futures and thinly-veiled class struggle that offer no message other than the fact that such inequality is wrong and ultimately disastrous to the human species. My rebelling against the form isn’t really Snowpiercer‘s fault other than the fact it adds to the glut of similarly-themed films in recent years. On the other hand the film certainly embraces the literal interpretation of rising above your class to offer a bizarre struggle of less fortunate train passengers attempting to climb their way upward.

At its worst Snowpiercer feels preachy and overreaching in its visual style presenting each train car as a bizarely impossible worlds for the voyagers to walk through. It’s also not well served by a performance so over-the-top by Tilda Swinton it’s amazing she doesn’t hit her head on the roof in every scene. At its best the film does serve its message and offer Chris Evans a role as a would-be hero forced to face the deficiencies in both himself and the world he hopes to make more equitable through his struggle.

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A Most Wanted Man

by Alan Rapp on December 2, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: A Most Wanted Man
  • IMDb: link

A Most Wanted ManNotable for being the final non-Hunger Games role of Philip Seymour Hoffman, A Most Wanted Man is a slow-burning espionage thriller involving a secret German anti-terrorism unit tracking a potential suspect (Grigoriy Dobrygin). Although it’s based on the work of the same author, sadly, it’s not Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (which surprisingly moves at a far better pace than A Wanted Man).

The main takeaway from the film is how little actually happens in surveillance and much of what we do see (including a flailing romantic subplot) isn’t always that interesting. The cast is well chosen, and Hoffman leads a group of talented actors (Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe) each providing strong performances, but the movie lacks the will or motivation to put them to better use than we see here. It’s certainly not a bad film by any means, and is certainly worth viewing for the performances alone, but the end result is less than the sum of its parts.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2

by Alan Rapp on November 15, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • IMDb: link

How to Train Your Dragon 2Set a few years after the events of the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 continues the hero’s journey of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and Toothless and the rest of the dragon riders of Birk as Hiccup finds his long-lost mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) and squares off against a dragon army led by the villainous Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou).

How to Train Your Dragon 2 works as well for me on Blu-ray as it did in theaters (and some of the emotional beats even work better a second time). Given the quality of the first two films, I hope we see this series continue for a long time. For more on the movie, check out my original review.

The Blu-ray includes DVD and UV digital copies of the film along with a half-hour short explaining the creation of Birk’s dragon races, deleted scenes, trailers, and short featurettes on Hiccup’s inventions, Drago’s weapons, the various dragons in the film, and Birk.

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Begin Again

by Alan Rapp on October 31, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Begin Again
  • IMDb: link

Begin AgainReleased this week on Blu-ray and DVD, writer/director John Carney‘s tale of the unexpected friendship between a down-on-his luck record label exec (Mark Ruffalo) and a heartbroken singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) ranked at the top of my favorite films from the first-half of 2014. My opinion hasn’t changed.

With a pair of terrific leads and a talented support cast that includes Hailee Steinfeld, Catherine Keener, Adam Levine, Mos Def, and James Corden, the movie works as well on home video as it did in theaters as the mismatched pair of attempt to record an album on the fly around New York City in an enterprise that is at least as much about getting over life’s recent hurdles as the finished project. For more, read my original review.

The Blu-ray includes music videos for the movie’s big numbers and a single behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film.

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Arrow – The Complete Second Season

by Alan Rapp on October 30, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Arrow – Season Two
  • wiki: link

Arrow - The Complete Second SeasonPast mistakes loom large in Season Two of Arrow as old friends and enemies make their way to Starling City and Oliver Queen‘s (Stephen Amell) journey from killer to vigilante to hero continues. Split between flashbacks from the island and his time in Starling City following the Undertaking, the show’s Second Season forces the Queen family to deal with ghosts from their past and the arrival of another madman who has plans to burn the city to the ground.

Much of the season revolves around Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) and Sara Lance (Caity Lotz) who returns home, much like Oliver, changed by her experiences following the shipwreck. Flashbacks deal with Slade’s exposure to the super-serum that makes him a mentally-unstable but nearly unbeatable warrior and the end of his friendship with Oliver. Slade’s arrival in Starling is slow to unfold, choosing to work through subordinates such as Brother Blood (Kevin Alejandro) to build an army of warriors and destroy the city Oliver swore to protect.

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Less Than Heavenly

by Alan Rapp on October 25, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Kingdom of Heaven
  • IMDb: link

Kingdom of HeavenOrlando Bloom as a blacksmith turned soldier defending a stone fortress against a vast army, or a man who falls in love with a married queen from across the ocean? Liam Neeson as a dying knight with an apprentice? Haven’t I already seen this before?

Kingdom of Heaven features a fine cast and some good visuals, but I think you will find, as I did, that much of the story is a little too familiar, much too preachy, and more than a little dumb.

Okay, so Godfrey (Neeson) is a crusader except he’s about as pleasant and courteous one as you could ever expect to find.  He doesn’t rape and pillage but just kills people to keep the peace. On a short vacation he takes a horse ride up from Jerusalem to France to find his son (the result of the raping a pillaging he did before he grew one with the Force, um, I mean matured) who is the blacksmith from Pirates of the Caribbean (Bloom) whose name is now Balian.

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Percy Jackson (Double Feature)

by Alan Rapp on October 18, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief / Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
  • IMDb: link

Percy Jackson (Double Feature)Based on the young adult novels of Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief and its sequel Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters come off as Harry Potter-lite with a Clash of the Titans-level understanding and use of various mythological elements.

Centered around Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) – the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and his fellow demi-gods Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), both films feature the threesome embarking on some kind of quest to both learn about themselves and retrieve a powerful mythological weapon which has been stolen.

In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (read the full review) Percy learns of his true parentage and sets with his two new friends to retrieve the stolen lightning bolt of Zeus (Sean Bean). In the second movie (read the full review) the group must retrieve the Golden Fleece and stop the resurrection of Kronos (Robert Knepper) and the Titans.

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Once Upon a Dream

by Alan Rapp on October 11, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Sleeping Beauty
  • IMDb: link

“Not in death, but just in sleep, this fateful prophecy you’ll keep.  And from this slumber you shall wake, when true love’s kiss the spell shall break.”
 

Sleeping BeautyThe classic tale of a princess cursed by witch who falls into deep slumber on the night of her 16th birthday only to be awakened by love’s first kiss is, in many ways, one of Walt Disney‘s most amazing accomplishments. However, most people don’t remember that initially Sleeping Beauty was a box office disappointment. The film which took six years and cost $6,000,000 wasn’t an immediate hit in theaters and the overruns had even Walt Disney wondering if feature animation would continue to be a profitable enterprise.

Using new sound and visual technology, the film was the first Disney film to be created in Super Technirama 70 increasing the size and scope of the negative which called for more detailed backgrounds and artwork than ever before.  It’s also the first of the Disney films to put everything on screen in focus allowing the viewer’s eye to move freely between the lush sets and brightly colored characters.

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Hawaii Five-0 – The Complete Fourth Season

by Alan Rapp on October 5, 2014

in DVD Reviews 

  • Title: Hawaii Five-0 – Season Four
  • wiki: link

Hawaii Five-0 - The Complete Fourth SeasonThe Fourth Season of Hawaii Five-0 would see some change, most notably the introductions of Chi McBride as the head of the Hawaii Police Department’s S.W.A.T. team and pain in McGarrett‘s (Alex O’Loughlin) butt and Jorge Garcia as a conspiracy nut who helps 5-0 on a handful of cases, the departure of Catherine Rollins (Michelle Borth), and a subplot involving Kono (Grace Park) going into hiding (itself designed to hide Park’s pregnancy and absence from a large portion of the season).

Highlights from the season include Grover’s daughter being kidnapped, a 70 year-old murder during Japanese interment on the island, the discovery of an Al-Qaeda cell on the island, McGarrett and Grover hunting Grover’s old friend in the jungle, Danny (Scott Caan) and McGarrett getting trapped in the rubble of an explosion, murder at Chin-Ho‘s (Daniel Dae Kim) high school reunion, Chinese spies after a crashed satellite, Chin-Ho at the mercy of a serial killer, the murder of a secret service agent, a complicated bank heist planned by a young hacker (Nick Jonas), and the murder of Catherine’s partner.

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