Home Video Spotlight Mar 12-18: Disney Classics, Life of Pi, Hitchcock and more

Blu-Ray and DVD releases for the week of Mar 12 – 18

Here’s a rundown of this week’s highlighted releases with links to full reviews on all of them.

Disney Dual Pack Blu-rays

Disney released three dual pack Blu-rays for three of its animated films this week with Mulan 1 and 2, the Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 and 2 and Brother Bear 1 and 2. These are the first time these films have been released on Blu-ray as a dual pack with their direct to video sequels included.

Mulan Collection

Mulan 1 & 2

Disney’s classic tale of the Chinese fable that sees young Mulan secretly take her father’s place when he is conscripted to the Emperor’s army comes to Blu-ray with a beautiful looking transfer. Mulan 2 takes Mulan and her now fiance Shang on a secret mission from the Emperor himself delivering his princess daughters to arranged marriage designed to strengthen China.

Mulan is one of Disney’s classic tales from Disney’s very fertile mid 1990s which also produced another one of the packs released this week and other classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. The film looks glorious on Blu-ray and makes some of the more special scenes pop even more. Mulan 2 is actually one of the better direct to video sequels, even without the return of Eddie Murphy, as the animation is still solid and the story, while goofy, still retains some fun. The Blu-Ray pack is a must buy.


Hunchback of Notre Dame Collection

Hunchback of Notre Dame 1 & 2

Disney’s interpretation of the classic Victor Hugo tale of the deformed orphan Quasimodo also comes from the 1990’s era of Disney animation but is usually criminally overlooked and features one of the more dastardly Disney villains in Quasimodo’s master Frollo. Hunchback 2 tries to bring in a love interest for Quasi in the form of circus girl Madeline and also introduces her scheming and thieving boss to the mix.

The original Hunchback is a very underrated achievement with some gorgeous animation and a loveable hero at its core. Often lost in the crowd of the titles mentioned earlier, Hunchback is a title that deserves a lot more credit and spotlight. Hunchback 2 however should be forgotten. The step down in animation is terrible, even our main character Quasimodo looks different between the two films, and its story is pretty lame. The Blu-ray pack is a recommend based on the strength of it first film alone.


Brother Bear Collection

Brother Bear 1 & 2

Brother Bear was released during the leaner years of Disney’s animation in the early 2000s when Pixar had really taken over. In fact the film about a young man being transformed into a bear to learn a lesson was bumped from the traditional Disney summer slot for Finding Nemo that year. Brother Bear 2 also tries to find our protagonist in a love story situation, this time even throwing the supporting characters in to situations of their own to boot.

Brother Bear is one of the lesser of the Disney animated films, and Pixar has since done a similar tale in Brave that has a much better story and moral attached to it. Brother Bear 2 unfortunately does not fare any better, having to replace the non-returning Joaquin Phoenix with Patrick Dempsey as the lead Kenai and working in non-credible ending, even for a film involving such mystical elements. The Blu-ray pack is a non-recommend.


Life of Pi Blu-ray

Life of Pi Blu-ray

The Oscar winning Life of Pi makes it Blu-ray debut with an impressive looking pack. The tale of PI, the sole human survivor of a shipwreck,  lost at sea with only the company of a 450lb Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker has been captivating audiences and readers ever since the book debut back in 2001. Many felt the book to be un-filmable until director Ang Lee came along and delivered his award winning adaptation this year.

The film looks amazing and Lee’s determination to make the scenes look like living pieces of art really comes through on the home screen. The performance from Irrfan Khan as the older Pi is brilliant; it’s the true heart of the film and totally engaging. The effects work here is some of the best put to film last year and why Lee won the best director Oscar become crystal clear when you realize just how well these elements come together and that it was all shot in front of a blue screen. Lee’s imagination is on full display and the audience is the benefactor. Life of Pi on Blu-ray is a must own.


Hitchcock Blu-ray

Hitchcock Blu-ray

Hitchcock also hits Blu-ray this week. The tale of the filming of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and the relationship between Hitchcock and his wife Alma was met with a mixed reaction last year upon its release. Focusing more on a lighthearted treatment of the story than a hard hitting, 100% accurate biopic, the film is much more about the relationship between Hitchcock and his beleaguered spouse and features a strong turn from Helen Mirren in the role of Alma.

Hopkins does a decent turn as Hitchcock, not completely morphing in to the character but assuming the tone and essence of the man pretty robustly. The film does play better on the smaller screen that it did in the theater, but still has its issues and Hitchcock aficionados are likely to have strong feelings about the films outcome. The film itself looks excellent on Blu-ray and the disc is packed with special features galore. Hitchcock on Blu-ray is a recommend.


Playing for Keeps

Playing for Keeps DVD

The newest Gerard Butler rom/com Playing for Keeps is out this week on DVD and Blu-ray. The film about and former soccer star who has blown his relationship with his son and former flame trying to make amends features an all-star cast. Of course Butler’s George can’t simply sweep into town and save the day by coaching his son’s soccer team and has to contend with a group of lonely, aroused and attractive soccer mom’s determined to get a piece of George for themselves.

Playing for Keeps is sadly bland and unoriginal and quite frankly we’ve seen this before from Butler far too many times. The film is not terrible; it’s just very average. Jessica Biel and Judy Greer managed decent performances while the rest of the cast seems content to toe the line and phone it in. The DVD is also without any additional features; just the film itself is included. Playing for keeps is a mild non-recommend.


Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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Wreck-It Ralph Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Wreck it Ralph Blu-ray

Wreck-It Ralph Blu-Ray Review

Starring the voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Denis Haysbert, Skylar Astin and Ed O`Niell

Written by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee based on a story by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston and Jim Reardon

Directed by Rich Moore

New to DVD and Blu-Ray from Disney Home Entertainment is the Oscar nominated animated feature film Wreck-It Ralph. The classic 8-bit video game inspired film was a smash hit when it was released in theaters last year and proved to be one of the front runners in one of the best years for animated feature films in a long time. Featuring a smorgasbord of cameos from famous classic video game characters and the newest and possibly most adorable ‘Disney Princess’ to date, the only question that remains is how awesome will the film transfer to home video.

For decades, Ralph (Reilly) has played the bad guy in his popular video game. The main villain in the game ‘Fix-It Felix’, Ralph has been thrown off the top of a building into a puddle of mud more times than he can count. But in a bold move Ralph embarks on an action-packed adventure and sets out to prove to everyone that he is a true hero with a big heart. As he explores exciting new worlds, he teams up with some unlikely new friends including feisty misfit Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman). But Ralph’s actions carry consequences dire for the Fix-It Felix (McBrayer) crew and Felix himself, who with the aid of Sgt. Calhoun (Lynch) must go after Ralph and try to bring him home.

Wreck-It Ralph is a sweet and endearing story that will delight gamers and non-gamers alike. The story and script are unique and smart, incorporating games and electronic accessories like a simple power bar in ways that have never been seen before onscreen. By allowing characters to go between games as well the filmmakers incorporate things into other games you would never see. Like Pac-Man ghost Clyde hosting a ‘Bad-Anon’ meeting inside the center box of the Pac-Man board with participants like Street Fighter’s Zangief and M. Bison, Dr. Eggman and Mario’s longstanding nemesis Bowser. The concept behind game central station is inspired and leads to some of the best cameos in the film.

Reilly is pitch perfect as the voice of Ralph. His work brings an earnestness and charm to Ralph that undermines any harshness that Ralph may carry. Even when Ralph is mad and does bad things we are still cheering for him. Silverman’s Venellope is the true heart of the story, a loveable and pesky runt known as ‘the glitch’ because of her unstable properties that cause her to occasionally scramble to code with unpredictable side effects. Add in McBrayer as the love-struck Felix and the object of his desire the scrappy Sgt. Calhoun, who has been ‘programmed with the worst back story ever’, pairing up to track down Ralph. And Tudyk as the irrepressible and maniacal King Candy, sounding very much like Roger Rabbit on a permanent sugar high, gives a great performance filled with underlying menace.

Wreck it Ralph 2

The environments and backgrounds in Wreck-It Ralph are brilliantly rendered and executed. From Fix-It Felix’s delightful throwback style, clearly inspired by Donkey Kong, to the hyper realistic Hero’s Duty. Sugar Rush may be the most visually impressive with everything involved in the world being candy and edible meaning sweet treat hounds will be salivating. And the aforementioned Game Central Station which looks much like New York’s Grand Central Station but with power outlets instead of terminals. Of course there is also Litwick’s Arcade, where all the games exist, which looks exactly like the many arcades that were wildly popular in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Over an hour of all-new bonus material is featured on the Blu-ray combo pack, including deleted and alternate scenes, a behind the scene featurette about the environments of Wreck-It Ralph plus the Oscar winning animated short Paperman and fake commercials made for each of the three games in the movie. Paperman is an exceptionally cute and well-crafted short that was well deserving of its Oscar win and the fake commercials are fun to watch. The best special feature though is the Disney Intermission feature that when activated kicks in whenever you pause the Blu-ray. Hosted by Stand-Up comedian and Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick, The Gamer’s Guide to Wreck-It Ralph takes the viewers through the hidden Easter eggs and cameos that are present throughout the movie. The amount of information and fun stuff unveiled here make it by far the most fun 10 minutes of special features on the disc.

Wreck it Ralph 3

Wreck-It Ralph makes a brilliant transition to the home screen as the film actually looks more like a game than before on a television screen where most games nowadays are played. The transfer looks excellent and the special features shine, Wreck-It Ralph is a must own on Blu-ray and DVD.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Skyfall Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Skyfall Poster

Skyfall Blu-ray (2013)

Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Bérénice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw with Albert Finney and Judi Dench

Written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan based on characters created by Ian Fleming

Directed by Sam Mendes

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment is the latest entry in the James Bond saga, Skyfall. Ian Fleming’s iconic creation celebrates its 50th year in film with this new entry. Starring the enigmatic and some argue best bond of the series, Daniel Craig, Skyfall doesn’t just serve to continue the series as much as reboot the franchise around Craig in order to establish Bond for another 50 year run, or so Fox and MGM studios hope.

In Skyfall, James Bond’s (Craig) loyalty to M (Dench) is tested as her past returns to haunt her. We open in the middle of an important lifesaving operation that goes drastically wrong. As a result, MI6 is compromised from both inside and out, leaving M to turn to the only ally she can trust, Bond. After emerging back in England 007, aided only by field agent Eve (Harris) and against the wishes of new supervisor Gareth Mallory (Fiennes), immediately starts on the trail of the mysterious Silva (Bardem). But the closer to Silva Bond gets the more Bond realizes Silva has been one step ahead the whole time and his lethal and hidden motives could end up destroying not only MI6, but M herself.

Skyfall 1

Skyfall, when it was released in theaters in November 2012, quickly became the most financially successful Bond of all time. The film proved Mendes could direct an action film and infuse it with the dramatic sensibilities he has been lauded for ever since his feature debut with American Beauty. The script is written with homage and reverence to the past while keeping a steady and focused eye on ramping up Bond for the future. Skyfall may actually have the most nods to prior Bond films that we have seen in one Bond outing, while completely dismantling and rebooting every aspect of the story at the same time. Talking cues from JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, Skyfall allows for Craig and company to take Bond in a new yet familiar way.

Craig is excellent as the ‘old dog’ Bond here, allowing Bond to be vulnerable at parts while not losing the swagger that is always inherit with the world’s coolest spy. Dench does most of the heavy dramatic lifting here and as usual she is more than up to the challenge. Her M takes on more complexities and gravitas than in any other of her Bond outings as the story features a “sins of the mother” style payout that drags all of M’s decisions into the harsh light of day. Naomie Harris is a pleasant addition to the cast and her playful banter with Bond is sparkling due to an obvious chemistry between her and Craig. Ralph Fiennes seems almost giddy under the gruff exterior of Mallory, clearly excited to be a part of Bond history. And Bardem shines as one of the strongest bond villains in years.

Skyfall 2

Of course there has to be action and the film delivers there as well. The opening chase is a nail bitter and really kick-starts the film in the right way. Bond’s pursuit of Bardem’s Silva through the underground of London finishes with an impressive bang and the finale on the moors of Scotland delivers as well. Overall it certainly isn’t the action that lets the film down in any way.

Of the disappointments with the film comes the weakest “Bond Girl” in recent history with Bérénice Marlohe’s Severine. Though the role is small and by the end another character emerges as the true “Bond Girl” of the film, her performance is lacking any impact and in fact her departure is handled as unceremoniously her introduction is. Her almost wooden performance could be overlooked if it wasn’t front and center in the weakest segment of the film that takes place in an ‘exotic’ gambling house complete with killer komodo dragons.

Skyfall 3

The Blu-ray comes with over 3 hours of special features including an excellent comprehensive segmented production diary “Shooting Bond”. The documentary covers all the aspects of the production from the Intro to the fallout of the film through to the future of Bond. Also included is footage from the Red Carpet premiere and two separate audio commentaries featuring director Mendes and the producers.

For Bond fans this should be a no-brainer, Skyfall is the best of the Daniel Craig led Bond films and the best Bond film since Sean Connery held the mantle. For non-Bond aficionados the film works as well. The homages and some context may be lost to the uninitiated, but the smart script and excellently paced story will drag them in none the less. Skyfall on Blu-ray is a solid buy.

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A Simple Life Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

A Simple Life Blu-Ray

A Simple Life Blu-Ray Review

Starring Andy Lau, Deanie Ip, Pik Kee Hui, Paul Chun, Elena Kong with Anthony Wong, Sammo Hung Raymond Chow and Tsui Hark

Written by Susan Chan and Yan Lam Lee

Directed by Ann Hui

New on Blu-ray February 26 from Well Go USA is the multi-award winning drama about a lifelong servant and the relationship she develops after a life altering incident: A Simple Life. The film stars Andy Lau and Deanie Ip in a tale that covers many similar themes to director Michael Haneke’s Amour, but from a much less dour place, as this film is a mostly about the blossoming of their relationship that is years old but has never fully developed into the family it becomes.

Roger (Lau) is a successful movie producer. Ah Tao (Ip) has worked for Roger’s family as a nanny and maid over the course of four generations. Now she is only looking after Roger who is the only member of the family still residing in Hong Kong. When Roger comes home to find Ah Tao has suffered a severe stroke and is no longer able to take care of herself, he agrees to help her relocate to a nursing home. Ah Tao moves in and begins acquainting herself with a new ‘family’, the brisk but fundamentally kindly supervisor Ms. Choi and a motley crew of elderly residents, including the dapper Uncle Kin, the jealous Auntie Kam and the good-hearted dialysis patient Mui Gu. Giving even more time and attention to Ah Tao’s needs and pleasures, Roger comes to realise how much she means to him. But the closer the two get the more Ah Tao’s health begins to deteriorate.

A Simple Life 1

A Simple Life is a very uncomplicated movie. The film knows it lives off the relationship between the two leads and the chemistry they create, which comes in waves. The script is smart and tight and keeps the focus where it needs to be without fearing to take interesting little side excursions into the lives of Ah Tao’s fellow residents. Do we need to know what Uncle Kin does with all the money he borrows, what is going on with Auntie Kam’s family, or even need to meet Mui Gu doting mother? No, but these little details help flesh out the world where Ah Tao has chosen to make home and give the nursing home itself a world of its own and director Hui makes it believable and real.

A Simple Life 2

Deanie Ip is fantastic here. Her performance is vibrant and engaging, the type of performance that has you happily following her story even though you already know from the beginning that it can only be a heart breaking conclusion. Ip infuses her character with little nuances and reactions that make her even more endearing; a conversation about dating between her and Lau’s Roger is infused with quirky charm based on her performance alone. And the end of the film, where it could be lost to over dramatization, it  goes the opposite way into an endearing finale. Lau manages to support Ip solidly here, as his performance as Roger is not a flashy one, but deals a lot with interior moments and emotions. Roger’s ever growing devotion to Ah Tao is manifested through the more entangled and invested he becomes in her welfare and her life in general.

The setting of the nursing home works very well. It encompasses the parallels in Ah Tao’s life, being used to living in smaller surroundings, and the lack of thought that can be put into our elderly as they get put into undermanned and almost ramshackle environments to live out their years under the supervision of others. We see many examples of how the home is not adequately suited to take care of the residents as well as it should, but without the money to afford better accommodations the occupants of the home must do what they can to continue on. Roger’s apartment, tiny as it is, also shows that despite his success he still desires to live a simple life himself. Director Hui demonstrates a delicate yet masterful hand here, the direction used to guide and not interrupt the story.

A Simple Life 3

Filled with some fun cameo appearances from top people in the Chinese film industry like Sammo Hung and Tsui Hark, A Simple Life also deals with the film industry from more of the workman-like side of the business, without the glitz and glamour with which it frequently presents itself. A Simple Life may be simple on premise but it is strong on execution and features some excellent performances. And backed by the strong performances of the leads the film stays true and engaging throughout. Although the disc itself contains no special features, the Blu-ray is well worth a purchase. A Simple Life is a definite recommend.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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The Sessions Blu-ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

The Sessions Poster

The Sessions Blu-ray Review

Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, William H. Macy, Moon Bloodgood, Annika Marks, Adam Arkin

Written and Directed by Ben Lewin, based on the original article by Mark O’Brien

New to Blu-ray and DVD from Fox Home Entertainment is the inspiring true story of Mark O’Brien in The Sessions. The biopic is the brainchild of writer/director Ben Lewin, himself suffering from polio as a child which has resulted in him requiring crutches to maneuver with for the rest of his life. The similarities between Lewin and O’Brien’s backgrounds gave Lewin a unique and experienced vision in which to craft the film.

Paralyzed and confined to an iron lung since childhood after being stricken by polio, poet-journalist Mark O’Brien (Hawkes) has overcome adversity time and time again. But now, at age 38, he faces his toughest challenge yet, losing his virginity. After being assigned to write an article on sexuality in the world of the disabled, Mark himself decides to consult a sex surrogate for his own issues. With the help of the beautiful therapist (Hunt), a sympathetic priest (Macy), and his own unbridled sense of optimism and humor, Mark embarks on an extraordinary personal journey to discover the wondrous pleasures that make life worth living.

The Sessions 1

The Sessions features some exceptionally brave and bold performances that elevate it above the “movie of the week” level script. The story is pretty standard fare, outside of the humor and comedic timing exhibited by Hawkes as O’Brien, and the outcome of the film should not come as too much of a surprise even if you have no knowledge of O’Brien’s story. Hawkes is exceptional here, with a razor sharp and complete body transformation, there is no CGI used in his performance at all, he manages to twist and contort his physical frame into positions unthinkably painful. Hunt’s performance is equally as brave, her role requiring her to be completely naked for close to half of her screen time means the role could only be played so effortlessly by someone completely secure in their physical features. Macy’s time may be limited in the film but his work here is also very good as the priest who befriends and encourages Mark, but his character is one of the ones hampered the most by the generic script.

The Sessions 2

The film’s pacing is good, clocking in at 95 minutes, though there are sequences that do tend to drag a tad with exposition. The production looks sharp as its clear much thought and preparation was placed in realizing the setting and surroundings, made easier of course due to the real life nature of the story. Images such as Hawkes on a gurney in the aisle of a beautiful church while conversing with Macy’s priest and the tiny insular world of Mark’s apartment, overrun by the gigantic iron lung in the middle of the room, are fantastic in conveying tone and setting.

The Blu-Ray comes loaded with special features including many fetaurettes examining the behind the scenes aspect of the film. John Hawkes becomes Mark O’Brien, Helen Hunt as the Sex Surrogate, The Women Who Loved Mark O’Brien, Writer/Director Ben Lewin Finds Inspiration, A Session with the Cast are all easily digestible chunks of goodness focusing on the production of the film. The disc also features a section of deleted scenes that did not make the movie.

The Sessions 3

Overall The Sessions does enough right, especially with our two leads here, to warrant a successful film. And while the film does have issues there is more than enough here to recommend the film for purchase and rental.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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