I Want My DVD: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

by Ethan Alter January 15, 2013 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Liam Neeson is taking it to the limit one more time.

Taken 2
For the sequel to the surprise 2009 hit that rebirthed Liam Neeson as a late-career action star, producer Luc Besson and director Olivier Megaton didn't mess too much with the formula, once again dispatching Neeson's one-man wrecking crew to Europe to rescue a family member from a shadowy crew of Albanian thugs. The only differences this time around are the location (Istanbul taking over for Paris) and the family member in peril (his wife, Famke Janssen, rather than daughter, Maggie Grace, who gets promoted to sidekick here). Sticking with the familiar certainly didn't hurt the movie's box office ($139 million, just behind the original's $145 million), but like most carbon copies, Taken 2 is mostly a case of been there, seen that. The lone exception is a hilarious -- in a good way -- sequence where Grace sets off a series of explosions in a crowded Istanbul neighborhood in order to help her captured father orient herself. That's the kind of action movie tomfoolery that Taken 2 would have benefitted more from. Maybe they'll save it for the inevitable Taken 3 when Neeson's dog is taken...
Extras: Deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate ending, two featurettes, a Black Ops field manual for your inner weekend warrior and a kill counter to keep track of all the Albanian gangsters that Neeson offs.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to see the movies Liam Neeson couldn't save

To Rome With Love
Woody Allen follows up his biggest box-office hit ever, Midnight In Paris, with this modestly charming anthology collection of four short stories all set in the picturesque Italian metropolis. Believe it or not, the funniest of the bunch stars discarded '90s relic Roberto Benigni as an ordinary wage slave who randomly becomes Italy's most famous citizen overnight. Also amusing is the storyline that features Allen himself (in his first on-screen appearance in one of his movies since 2006's Scoop) as a retired opera director who discovers a new talent in the form of the father of his daughter's fiancé. But there's a catch: the guy can only sing up to his full potential when in the shower. Alec Baldwin turns up in the uneven third story as an architect visiting Rome for the first time in years only to meet his younger self (Jesse Eisenberg) and observe an old affair of the heart play out again decades after it originally happened. Last and certainly least is a flat-footed farce about a honeymooning couple whose young marriage is tested by infidelity and family matters. (The sole redeeming factor of this storyline is Penélope Cruz's turn as the world's most attractive Italian prostitute.) So yes, To Rome With Love is certainly a mixed bag. But hey, at least it isn't another Curse of the Jade Scorpion. (By the way, if you want to see Allen's comedy skills at their finest, pick up his 1973 sci-fi laughfest Sleeper, out on Blu-ray today.)
Extras: Since Allen refuses to record commentary tracks, the lone extra here is a short featurette about Rome.
Click here to read our original review
Click here to read our Q&A with Woody Allen and the film's cast

The Possession
"Sam Raimi Presents" may be prominently billed above the title of the latest Exorcist knock-off, but if you're expecting/hoping for another Evil Dead, look elsewhere. Loosely derived from a piece of Jewish mythology, The Possession casts Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the divorced father of two young girls, one of whom purchases the wrong antique box at a garage sale and winds up inhabited by a malevolent spirit known as a Dibbuk. In order to cast the demon out of his kid, Morgan enlists the aid of a sect of Orthodox Jews (see, it's totally nothing like The Exorcist!), but their efforts may be too little too late. Director Ole Bornedal borrows liberally from every other demonic possession movie ever made, with a healthy dose of The Amityville Horror's bug fixation tossed in. We can only hope that the Raimi-endorsed Evil Dead remake is better than this disposable bit of horror junk.
Extras: Two commentary tracks, one with the director and the other with the screenwriters, and a featurette detailing the history of the so-called "Dibbuk Box."

The Other Dream Team
Now Is Good
While the American-created Dream Team garnered all the headlines at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics for putting basketball superstars like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird on the same court, an equally dramatic story was taking place with the Lithuanian B-ball squad. After years of being forced into service for the Soviet team, the recent fall of the USSR meant that the players were representing their own nation for the first time ever. The Sundance-approved documentary The Other Dream Team details this historic occasion with fresh interviews from the former Olympians, as well as a number of sportswriters. Why this didn't debut as part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series is beyond me, but if you like those true-life sports stories, you'll enjoy this one as well. In further '90s nostalgia, the direct-to-DVD British drama Now Is Good feels like a loose remake of the 1991 Julia Roberts "classic" Dying Young, with a close-cropped Dakota Fanning in the Campbell Scott role of a young person dying of cancer and trying to make every last second count by, among other things, starting a romance with the hunky guy next door. It's predictable stuff, but Fanning is quite good; maybe now that The Twilight Saga is officially done, she'll actually get decent roles in Hollywood again.
Extras: Dream Team includes a commentary track and bonus Q&A with the documentary's director and writer/producer. Now is Good comes with a featurette and deleted scenes.

Wake in Fright
Missing in action for years following its 1971 debut and only just rediscovered and restored courtesy of Drafthouse Films (the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse chain), Ted Kotcheff's Australian Outback-set dramatic thriller is one of 2013's must-have DVDs for fans of '70s cinema. Adapted from the book by Kenneth Cook, the movie follows transplanted British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond) instructing a gaggle of Aussie kids in a tiny town's one-room schoolhouse. With the Christmas holidays approaching, John starts on the long trip to Sydney, but gets sidetracked in the mining burg of Bundanyabba, where his ill-advised participation in a local gambling game leaves him flat broke and wholly dependent on the (un)kindness of strangers, including a boozing doctor played by Donald Pleasence. The longer the teacher spends in "The Yabba" participating in such pastimes as an after-dark kangaroo hunt (by the way, animals were most definitely harmed in the making of this sequence as the film crew was invited to film an actual hunt) the more his sanity seems to be slipping from his grasp. Although not a traditional action film in the vein of Kotcheff's best-known feature, First Blood, Wake in Fright is still a terrifically tense and gripping feature and the foreboding desolation of the Outback just heightens the drama. If you think you've seen every '70s classic, think again.
Extras: A commentary track with Kotcheff and the film's editor, a making-of documentary, footage from a Q&A with the director at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival and a vintage featurette from the '70s.

Also on DVD:
Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis take on the public school system and embarrass themselves in the process in the painfully clichéd inspirational picture, Won't Back Down. The unlikely duo of Bow Wow and Seth Gabel star in the underwhelming military drama Allegiance, following an about-to-be deployed soldier who goes AWOL in order to visit his dying son. A fascinating city symphony depicting the current state of one of America's most troubled cities, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing's Detropia fell short of an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature, but deserves discovery on DVD. Branded takes place in a future where corporations have at last mastered the art of mind control, until one lone warrior tries to wake the populace up. The road to porn is paved with good intentions, so sayeth the indie drama About Cherry, which stars James Franco, Heather Graham, Dev Patel and Ashley Hinshaw as the titular runaway-turned-sex movie star. Finally, the first of Alfred Hitchock's two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much turns up on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion, which packages the 1934 thriller with a commentary track from film historian Philip Kemp, as well as an interview with a contemporary Master of Suspense, Guillermo del Toro.

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