New on DVD: ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘August: Osage County’

One of last year’s great but overlooked dramas and one of its better-than-average FX blockbusters are hitting DVD and Blu-ray today.

August: Osage County

John Wells’ star-stocked adaptation of Tracey Letts’ sprawling and brawling Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan is perhaps a little too truncated but mostly hits it out of the park. For once, Julia Roberts proves herself to be not only not done with acting but able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Meryl Streep. Full review

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second of Peter Jackson’s all-too-much trilogy on The Hobbit packs in even more non-Tolkien material to its middle-part travelogue following the intrepid dwarves and hobbit on their way to steal back the stolen riches of Smaug the dragon. Better by far than the first bloated entry, and possessed of a greater sense of rollicking adventure, still in need of a good pruning. Full review

 

New on DVD: ‘The Grandmaster’

Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung compare styles in 'The Grandmaster'

Zhang Ziyi and Tony Leung compare styles in ‘The Grandmaster’

dvd-grandmaster-cvr-200The great Hong Kong romantic Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love) hadn’t completed a feature film since 2007′s misfire My Blueberry Nights. So it was pretty good news to hear that his latest film was going to be a classic martial-arts extravaganza, reuniting Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi with The Matrix choreographer Yuen Wo Ping.

The Grandmaster, which received well-deserved Oscar nominations for cinematography and costume design, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray next Tuesday. My review is at PopMatters:

“Don’t tell me about your teacher,” says Ip Man (Tony Leung) at the start of Wong Kar Wai’s dreamlike heartbreak of a kung fu film, The Grandmaster, “or brag about your style.” Using that same steady humility flecked with a hint of the sardonic that’s made Leung such a crucial counterweight to the Hong Kong school of overkill filmmaking, he preemptively bleeds the hot air out of what’s to follow. This is a good thing, because that scene is intercut with the already-legendary scene in which Ip Man faces down a dozen or so adversaries in pouring rain. He dispatches them all with practiced ease but not a whiff of arrogance, just as the real Ip Man’s student Bruce Lee would do on film decades later…

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Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Before Midnight’

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, still romancing each other in 'Before Midnight'

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, still romancing each other in ‘Before Midnight’

beforemidnightdvd1In 1995, Richard Linklater impressed with Before Sunrise, a sharp, talky piece about Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a traveling American who meets Celine (Julie Delpy), a beguiling young French woman, on a train. Nine  years later, in Before Sunset, the two meet again, nine years older. Both films were redolent with romantic longing and possibility. Now in Before Midnight, the two are married, and it doesn’t seem like mere love is going to cut it anymore.

Before Midnight is available today on DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Film Racket; here’s part of it:

Before Midnight turns out to be a bright, good-humored, and painfully combative love story that stings more than it soothes. In it, modern cinema’s most enduring couple discovers what life is like after peeling back the veil of conjoined love and discovering the specters of selfishness lurking behind. Every moment of this swift yet relaxed film (time-compressed like the first two, it all happens over just one sunny day and moonlit evening) feels like a negotiation or a skirmish, viciously fought…

You can watch the trailer here:

 

New on DVD: ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

Alexis Denisof  and Amy Acker play Benedick and Beatrice in Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing'

Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker play Benedick and Beatrice in Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

muchadoaboutnothing-dvdThe best of this week’s DVD releases comes to us courtesy of Joss Whedon. His bright and sparkling black-and-white adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing differs from most other takes on Shakespeare’s comedies for actually being…funny.

My full review is at Film Journal International:

While cleaving away some of Shakespeare’s more dragging plot points, Whedon hews to the original text. He also lets the plot breathe and move at its own quick pace, trusting the audience not to require the anxious pushiness of Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 version…

You can watch the trailer here:

New on DVD: ‘World War Z’

Brad Pitt tries to save his family in 'World War Z'

Brad Pitt tries to save his family in ‘World War Z’

worldwarz-dvdIn case you missed the last zombie apocalypse to come running into theaters with bloody abandon, World War Z is out today on DVD, Blu-ray, and all other home viewing media.

My review of the summer’s surprise hit (all that talk of reshoots and budget problems), Brad Pitt vs. the Flesh-Eating Undead, can be found at Film Journal International; here’s part:

Zombies are people, too. That’s one truth understood by the better stories in the genre, from Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend to Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. At no moment in Marc Forster’s churning and unfocused World War Z are the rampaging CGI hordes of the undead made to appear like anything more than swarming bits of computer code. Many of the human actors don’t fare much better…

The rather vague ending left a gaping opening for a sequel, which is apparently being planned right now but has not been officially greenlit yet.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Seconds’

Rock Hudson discovers his new life isn't so much better than the old one in 'Seconds'

Rock Hudson discovers his new life isn’t so much better than the old one in ‘Seconds’

seconds-dvdIn the 1960s, as the old Hollywood studio system started to fall apart, an increasingly paranoid style started creeping into the era’s thrillers. John Frankenheimer’s films like The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May made a point of undercutting trust in just about every American institution in sight.

The most terrifying of Frankenheimer’s ’60s paranoia-noirs, though, was 1966′s Seconds, which I wrote about for PopMatters:

A bleak and noirish Frankenstein thriller whose DNA is threaded with zeitgeist-heavy satire, Seconds attacks a cherished American myth: the belief that everybody can start over. It takes a science-fiction concept—advanced surgery transforms somebody’s appearance so they can live life as an entirely new person—and turns it into both terrifying existential drama and black comedy. While those earlier Frankenheimer films channeled the anti-establishment distrust gnawing at the postwar American consensus, Seconds tweaked the pretensions of the post-Beat, proto-hippie self-awareness movement that promised to wipe away all the problems of modern life in a blaze of enlightenment and spiritual rebirth…

Seconds was just released in beautiful new DVD and Blu-ray editions from Criterion.

Check out the trailer here:

DVD Tuesday: ‘The Great Gatsby’

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, hidden somewhere in the set decoration like the rest of the cast.

greatgatsby-dvdThe first and biggest movie spectacle of the 2013 summer movie season had nothing to do with IMAX superheroes, but a genre-blending half-musical Baz Luhrmann adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Sound like a refreshing change of pace? It should have been. Unfortunately the result was more like a feature-length trailer for a movie that never quite arrived.

The Great Gatsby hits DVD and Blu-ray. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

Luhrmann’s take on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age fable is all about trying to make it seem as “modern” as possible; a story gambit that makes sense, given the current economic climate. Of course, the one percent’s current Gilded Age just kept on trucking after the Great Recession, unlike the excesses of the 1920s fantasized about so lovingly in Gatsby, which were put on ice by the Great Depression. To that end, Luhrmann comes to the story armed not with a respectable screenplay, great location scouts, and the best actors he could find but a war chest of whizbang computer graphics, some pretty faces, and executive music producer Jay-Z. It’s gonna be a show, kids!…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Oblivion’

Tom Cruise contemplates 'Oblivion'.

Tom Cruise contemplates ‘Oblivion’.

oblivion-dvdJust one of this year’s post-apocalyptic mega-budget sci-fi projects, Oblivion is a somewhat ambitious piece of work that doesn’t ultimately know what to do with itself. In part, that could result from the ever-amped presence of Tom Cruise, who doesn’t ever seem able to tamp down the Maverick long enough to register any true doubt in his own abilities to save the world. Again.

Oblivion hits Blu-ray and DVD today. My review is at Short Ends & Leader; here’s part:

Oblivion starts as some blissed-out spread in a post-apocalyptic edition ofArchitecture Digest before moving into Big Revelation science fiction. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a happy-go-lucky tech who’s one of two humans left on the Earth’s surface in the year 2077. Jack and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough, lithe and ghostly) live in a gorgeously sleek pod of a place elevated hundreds of feet off the blasted landscape. It’s like one of those moderne postwar glass bungalows in the hills overlooking Los Angeles, only it floats above the clouds and is packed with all manner of gadgetry that would make an Apple fetishist’s heart beat dangerously fast…

Here’s the trailer:

 

DVD Tuesday: ‘Ginger & Rosa’

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in 'Ginger & Rosa'

Alice Englert and Elle Fanning in ‘Ginger & Rosa’

The newest film from Sally Potter (Orlando) is something of a departure for her. Straightforward stylistically, it’s a beautifully-shot story about two girls growing up in fractured families and learning how to navigate the stresses that the outside world and inexplicable, irresponsible adults put on their friendship.

gingerandrosa-dvdMy review ran at PopMatters:

In Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa, two girls are linked by disaster at birth and have a hard time dodging it during their lives. As the film begins, the 17-year-olds are wrapped around each other like young kittens looking for a warm place to sleep. But soon enough, even joyful experiences (political activism, young love) lead to frustration and rage.

The setting is 1962, London. It’s a grey place, barely rebuilt after the Second World War: people keep their coats on indoors because the heating is no good. Here Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) find solace in one another and in jazz records. These bohemians have been best friends since childhood. Their mothers gave birth in adjoining hospital beds just as an atomic bomb was blasting Hiroshima off the planet’s surface. As the film juxtaposes the mushroom cloud and its aftermath with the mothers screaming in childbirth, we get the idea that the girls are born into a world of destruction…

It’s available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

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James Franco (the one in the hat) in ‘Oz the Great and Powerful’

oz-dvd1L. Frank Baum’s fantastical Oz series gets turned into another CGI spectacle with Sam Raimi’s pretty but pretty unremarkable Oz the Great and Powerful, which hit shelves today on DVD and Blu-ray.

My review is over at Film Racket; here’s part of it:

Sam Raimi’s big and splashy but tin-eared prequel Oz the Great and Powerful turns the spirit of the 1937 The Wizard of Oz inside out. Oz is no longer the place where misguided Earth youths like Dorothy can discover how special home really is. This time, Oz — with its expensively imagined rainbow- and candy-colored vistas of cold, computer-generated wonderment — is all things to its titular human interloper. For Oz the man, he would never think to say there’s no place like home, since dreary old black-and-white Kansas offers no home for him. They never appreciated his act back there anyway. The land of Oz, on the other hand, provides the greatest audience he’s ever seen…

You can watch the trailer here: