BLOGS

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

by Ethan Alter January 29, 2013 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Time to figure out a different activity.

Paranormal Activity 4
The Awakening
After getting the Paranormal Activity series back on track following a dismal second installment with a great third movie, directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman may have just killed the franchise for good with Paranormal Activity 4, a scareless and witless follow-up that doesn't so much advance the story as run out the clock. The first direct sequel to the original movie, PA4 moves the action ahead five years and unfolds in a Nevada suburb where the demon-possessed Katie (Katie Featherstone) has moved in across the street from an ordinary nuclear family, including teen daughter Alex (Kathryn Newton, whose appealing performance is the best thing about the movie -- here's hoping she finds more work), and the wacky poltergeist shenanigans start up again. Unlike PA3, which found some creative approaches to the increasingly routine found footage aesthetic (oscillating fan camera FTW!), this one has nothing new in the tank; the only visual innovation is the unexpected use of an Xbox Kinetic, but that grows old quickly as does the franchise's terrible habit of teasing more questions rather than providing actual answers. Paranormal Activity 5 has already been announced for October, but after this dud, it's hard to get very excited about it. While the British ghost story The Awakening has better actors and a more interesting story than PA4 (including the luminous Rebecca Hall, as well as Dominic West), this period chiller also largely fails on the scare-front, a few decent jumps aside. Hall plays a '20s-era paranormal debunker who is hired to investigate supernatural goings-on at a boys' boarding school in the English countryside. Things get off to a promising start, but the movie soon loses itself amidst contrived plot twists and a surprise ending that's only surprising because it makes next to no sense. If you're after chills, skip both of these and just rent V/H/S again.
Extras: Paranormal Activity 4 comes bare bones, apart from an unrated cut that's 30 minutes longer. (The extra runtime doesn't improve the movie much, but it does flesh out a few character relationships that are glossed over in the theatrical version.) The Awakening includes deleted scenes with an introduction by director Nick Murphy, an extended interview with Murphy and four featurettes.
Click here to read our original review of Paranormal Activity 4
Click here to read our original review of The Awakening

Seven Psychopaths
Noobz
Nature Calls
If this week's horror offerings are largely failures, the comedies are more promising... well, one of them, anyway. Irish playwright Martin McDonagh made a splashy feature filmmaking debut with In Bruges, the great hitman comedy from 2008 that gave Colin Farrell his career back. Farrell is back at the center of McDonagh's sophomore effort, Seven Pyschopaths, playing a thinly veiled version of the writer/director -- a Hollywood screenwriter hard up for his next idea. In the process of trying to crack a story he's been nursing, Farrell gets caught up in an elaborate and increasingly fanciful plot involving dognapping (an act committed by his pal, Sam Rockwell), a vicious gangster (Woody Harrelson), an ex-killer with a rabbit fetish (Tom Waits) and, of course, Christopher Walken... himself, essentially. McDonagh's flair for darkly funny, profanity-laden dialogue is still in full effect and the actors are clearly relishing every line. Overall, though, Psychopaths is more scattershot than Bruges, ultimately becoming too meta for its own good. But at least it's actually funny, which is more than I can say for Noobz, a direct-to-DVD "comedy" that plays like a cross between Fanboys and that '80s feature length Nintendo commercial, The Wizard. Co-written and directed by Blake Freeman, the movie follows a group of gamers (including a Kevin Smith-less Jason Mewes) who make the cross-country trip to California to compete in a major video game tournament and have a series of odd adventures along the way. Flagrantly misogynistic, deeply annoying and ineptly told, Noobz gives the gaming community a bad name. Last, and maybe least, is Nature Calls, in which a crop of talented comics (Patton Oswalt, Rob Riggle and the late Patrice O'Neal among them) literally get lost in the woods. Oswalt plays a gung-ho scoutmaster who leads his young charges on an accident-prone camping trip, while Riggle and O'Neal are the cavalry sent to rescue them. We'll always love Patton for Ratatouille, Young Adult and Big Fan, but this movie is bad enough to sentence him to a brief stint in movie jail.
Extras: Seven Psychopaths includes five featurettes; Noobz offers video interviews with Freeman and Mewes; and Nature Calls has outtakes and a behind-the-scenes mini-doc.
Click here to read our original review of Seven Psychopaths

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
Hotel Transylvania
The first installment in DC's animated version of the seminal Frank Miller graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns was something of a disappointment. So how to account for the fact that Part 2 is actually, pretty darn great? Well, for starters, the second half of the original comic is stronger as well, with the aged Dark Knight facing off first against his old nemesis The Joker, followed by a confrontation with his friend-turned-foe, Superman. The animators have done a terrific job translating Miller's Man of Steel to the screen, making him formidable and even frightening in a way he's never been before. (Their climatic battle is every bit the clash of the titans you want it to be.) But the Joker material is equally well done and far more brutal than you traditionally expect from one of these comic book-based cartoons. After two middling attempts at adapting Miller's work, this one finally gets it right. Maybe DC Animation guru Andrea Romano could even figure out some way to make The Dark Knight Strikes Again palatable. While you're off watching The Dark Knight Returns, put your kids in front of the far more family-friendly Hotel Transylvania, which sends Adam Sandler back to the animation realm for the first time since Eight Crazy Nights with more successful results. A goofy, mostly harmless horror movie send-up with Sandler voicing Dracula and his usual crew of pals (including Kevin James, Andy Samberg and David Spade) voicing other movie monsters, Hotel Transylvania is, amazingly, the first animated feature from one of my favorite cartoon creators, Genndy Tartakovsky, the guy behind Samurai Jack and the early version of Clone Wars. And while I'd prefer a Samurai Jack feature to Hotel Transylvania, at least the dude is still working.
Extras: TDKR Part 2 comes with three featurettes, a trio of bonus cartoons and a sneak peek at the next animated offering, Superman: Unbound, a Superman vs. Brainiac tale based on a Geoff Johns miniseries. Hotel Transylvania includes a commentary track with Tartakovsky, the new animated short, Goodnight Mr. Foot, three deleted scenes and two featurettes.

That Obscure Object of Desire
Flight of the Navigator
The final act of cinematic surrealism from famed Spanish artist Luis Buñel, That Obscure Object of Desire (making its Blu-ray debut) caps a career that was filled with some of the strangest -- and finest -- features in movie history, from the groundbreaking short Un Chien Andalou (the film that grossed out millions of film school students) to the art house staples Belle de Jour and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie. Desire follows a well-off businessman who grows so obsessed with a lovely flamenco dancer, that he somehow overlooks the fact that she's, quite literally, two different people. (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina both play the role and establish separate traits and temperaments within the same identity.) If you've never seen a Buñel film... well, maybe don't start here, but definitely make it a stop somewhere along your journey through his filmography. A less high-minded classic, but a classic all the same (at least to me), Disney's 1986 time-travel/outer space adventure mash-up Flight of the Navigator flies onto Blu-ray at last. The fun begins when 12-year-old David Freeman (Joey Cramer, where are you now?) falls into a ravine on July 4, 1978 and, when he climbs out, the year is 1986 and, while everyone around him aged eight years, he's still an apple-cheeked tween. Turns out he traveled to a distant galaxy and now, the spacecraft that took him there wants him aboard again as a navigator. Pretty much the coolest movie ever made when I was an eight-year-old, Navigator has dated somewhat in the ensuing decades (check out that '80s hairstyle on supporting player Sarah Jessica Parker!), but boy, is it a welcome blast from the past.
Extras: Desire includes an interview with both actresses in addition to the co-screenwriter, Jean-Claude Carrière, and a documentary portrait of Buñel. Flight, sadly, is bonus features-free. What, was Parker too busy to tape an interview or something?

Best of Warner Bros.: 20 Film Collection -- Best Pictures
As part of their 90th anniversary celebration, Warner Bros. -- one of Hollywood's most iconic studios -- is putting together a series of box sets celebrating some of their best-remembered titles. This particular set collects 20 of Warner's Best Picture winners, stretching all the way back to 1929's The Broadway Melody and capping it off with 2006's The Departed. (Maybe they should have held off until after this year's Oscars ceremony, when Argo's increasingly likely Best Picture victory would give them another disc to add to the collection.) Now, not all of these "classics" have aged as well as others. 1956's Around the World in 80 Days, for example, is a grand spectacle, but dramatically hollow, while 1989's Driving Miss Daisy is only worth revisiting for the fine double act of Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy. But any set that offers Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, An American in Paris, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus in one box is worth picking up, especially if you don't own those titles already. Look for more themed box sets (next up is Musicals, on February 15) to hit shelves over the rest of 2013.
Extras: Bonus features vary by title; some come with commentary tracks, some with trailer and some bare bones.

Also on DVD:
New Superman Henry Cavill plays at being Jason Bourne in the yawn-inducing thriller Cold Light of Day. John Krasinski offers up a refreshingly un-Jim like performance in the nicely observed indie drama, Nobody Walks. Shame his co-star is Olivia "Black Hole of Charisma" Thirlby. The documentary Out in the Open is a cinematic how-to guide for gay teenagers still uncertain about coming out of the closet, sprinkled with words of advice and encouragement from folks like Carson Kressley. With just weeks to go until a new Die Hard hits theaters, Die Hard: 25th Anniversary Collection collects the four previous installments in one handy set... although, to be honest, you only need the first one. Finally, Ridley Scott's feature filmmaking debut The Duellists turns up on Blu-ray at last, the better to appreciate the sumptuous visuals Scott was a master of even then.

Think you've got game? Prove it! Check out Games Without Pity, our new area featuring trivia, puzzle, card, strategy, action and word games -- all free to play and guaranteed to help pass the time until your next show starts.

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