Movies Without Pity

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, November 12, 2013

by Ethan Alter November 12, 2013 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Batfleck! Oh wait... that's the next movie.

Man of Steel
Perhaps recognizing the mixed reaction that greeted the re-introduction of Superman -- now in the ultra-buff form of Henry Cavill -- DC and Warner Bros. aren't giving the Man of Steel a second solo flight. The 2015 sequel is currently slated to feature Batman, as well as Nightwing and (maybe) Wonder Woman, as the studio rushes headlong towards its longed-for Justice League movie. Considering the generally iffiness of Man of Steel, that's probably the best move. Although Cavill is a perfectly serviceable Superman, the movie around him is a mess. It's an attempt to apply Dark Knight-style grim and grit to a hero who needs to be allowed to soar. It doesn't help that director Zack Snyder shoots too much of the movie with a jittery, faux-documentary camera that never stays still long enough to get a good sense of this soon-to-expand DC universe. In Snyder's defense for a moment, he does exploit Superman's powers more effectively than any director has previously, choreographing elaborate action sequences that take full advantage of all the special effects tools blockbusters have on hand today. But after awhile, the non-stop barrage of destruction goes from being fun to wearying, particularly in the controversial climactic set-piece where Metropolis is reduced to rubble while its champion seems completely uninterested in averting disaster. No wonder Batfleck is going to start off the next movie as Superman's enemy -- dude is a one-man wrecking crew on par with Zod.
Extras: A feature-length making-of documentary, plus four additional behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see an alternate history of DC movies
Click here to see our suggestions for the sequel

In the tradition of the Oscar-winning activist documentary The Cove, Gabriela Cowperthwaite's Blackfish takes aim at a long-standing, highly-controversial practice regarding the planet's sea life. Opening with the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was pulled into the water by the park's star orca Tilikum, the film covers the whale's troubled history in captivity, which dates back to 1983. But Tilikum's story is just the jumping-off point to explore SeaWorld's troubling track record in general when it comes to safety and animal care. Relying mainly the testimony of ex-employees (the company declined to go on record for the film) as well as damning footage, Blackfish does make the case that, at the very least, SeaWorld needs to take a long, hard look at some of its current practices.
Extras: A commentary track with the director, deleted scenes and a video note explaining the intentions of the film.

Frances Ha
Prince Avalanche
Noah Baumbach's early summer New York story was a breezy charmer -- a loose, but far from rudderless portrait of a single woman (Greta Gerwig) experiencing some overdue, but very necessary, growing pains. After her best friend and roommate announces that she's getting married, Frances finds herself adrift in her boho Brooklyn lifestyle, bouncing from apartment to apartment and job to job, increasingly driven to distraction by the lack of permanence in her life. While the similarities to Lena Dunham's Girls are all too apparent (and further helped by a supporting turn from Adam Driver), Frances Ha has its own distinct take on this particular character type, as well as the landscape she inhabits. Modest in its style and ambition, the film nevertheless has lots to say. Prince Avalanche David Gordon Green's return to low-budget character pieces, strains for the same nuance and pleasantly light touch, but for me at least, came up short. Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play a pair of highway workers in rural Texas, restoring a throughway after a devastating wildfire swept through the area. The very definition of an odd couple, the duo bicker and fight about minor and major issues, until bonding happens almost against their will. Both actors are game, but the movie is lacking that essential spark that makes it more than just a slight diversion. I'm gonna come out and say it: Your Highness is a better movie.
Extras: Frances Ha comes with three video conversations between the director, star and various film world luminaries. Prince Avalanche offers a commentary track, two interviews, a deleted scene and a making-of featurette.

JFK 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector's Edition
All the President's Men
Just to keep things clear in case you thought we had somehow fast-forwarded to the year 2041, this isn't the 50th anniversary of Oliver Stone's JFK, which is only 22 years old. Rather, Warner has chosen to mark the 50th anniversary of the actual JFK assassination by re-issuing Stone's movie in a deluxe box set that also includes various Kennedy-related documentaries that are a bit moreā€¦ well, honest. Not that Stone's movie is completely the conspiracy-minded basket o' crazy that some at the time accused it of being. Much of it is actually a gripping drama about obsession, fueled by Kevin Costner's terrific performance as Jim Garrison, as well as an impressive ensemble cast that includes Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon. Still, Stone's flair for seeing cover-ups where none, perhaps, exist does weigh too heavily on the film at times. That's why it's nice to be able to switch over to the more grounded history offered by the new retrospective documentary JFK Remembered as well as the vintage '60s non-fiction feature Years of Lightning, Day of Drums. To see history dramatized in more subtle ways, check out Alan Pakula's terrific fall-of-Nixon docudrama, All the President's Men, receiving a 2-disc high-def release timed to the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. A product of the Hollywood studio system (with confirmed stars Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing the roles of reporters Woodward and Bernstein) made like an independent feature (dialogue-driven, stripped-down style), Men is a movie that makes you believe in the power of journalism again, even as the contemporary state of that institution brings you to tears.
Extras: The JFK collection includes the 1963 film PT 109, starring Cliff Robertson as a young Kennedy fighting aboard a warship during World War II, a JFK-related episode of Stone's Untold History of the United States series, a 32-page book of quotations, a reproduction of a campaign poster and 17 pieces of reproduced correspondence between Kennedy and other world leaders. All the President's Men offers an all-new making-of documentary, plus previously released featurettes.

Also on DVD:
Ryan Reynolds took two bullets at the box office this summer, the live action bomb R.I.P.D. and the animated Turbo, a Fast and the Furious-style spoof about a snail who has a desperate need of speed. Diablo Cody sits down in the director's chair for the first time and the result is the anemic, annoying Paradise. The superb, groundbreaking anime feature Akira: 25th Anniversary Edition scores an anniversary release with new extras and two English dub tracks to choose from. Speaking of John F. Kennedy, Thirteen Days (also starring Kevin Costner, this time as Kenny O'Donnell) may be the best JFK-related flick ever made. Charlie Chaplin's sentimental classic City Lights gets a Criterion release, while the influential silent vampire picture Nosferatu gets a handsome Blu-ray set courtesy of Kino.

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