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

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Side Effects Review (Dustin SanVido)

Side Effects Poster

Side Effects (2013)

Starring Jude Law, Rooney Mara, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Channing Tatum

Written by Scott Burns

Music by Tomas Newman

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh has been one of the most, if not the most prolific director of the last two decades. Although I’m not a particularly big fan of his work there is no debate as to the fact he is one of the most driven filmmakers in Hollywood. He’s successfully walked a fine line between appeasing general audiences with such mainstream fare as the Ocean’s trilogy, Magic Mike and Contagion while also pushing his independent artistic envelope with experimental works such as Bubble, Full Frontal and The Girlfriend Experience. Soderbergh recently stated his intention to retire from filmmaking after his latest works, his Liberace biopic for HBO “Behind the Candelabra” and the pharmaceutical thriller Side Effects.  With Side Effects being Soderbergh’s supposed swansong, he has crafted an engaging dramatic mystery that wears its Hitchcockian-inspired visuals and narrative proudly on its sleeve while also reminding the audience that few filmmakers today can make psychological thrillers as effective as he can.

Side Effects 1

It’s difficult to talk about the narrative in Side Effects without spoiling the many twists and turns found within so I will attempt to be brief. The film begins as Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) is awaiting the release of her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) from prison after serving a four year sentence for insider trading. Upon his release, Emily begins suffering from depression and begins treatment from Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), a psychiatrist who introduces Emily to a series of prescription drugs to cope with her illness. As Emily’s world begins to unravel from within, Dr. Banks prescribes a new drug after consulting with Emily’s prior doctor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) which leads to unexpected side effects that will change the lives of all involved.

Side Effects never reveals what film it’s trying to be until the last act. Is it a medical/crime drama, a moody character piece, or weighty message drama that screams Pharma-companies are bad? The answer is none of the above, which may lead some viewers to wrongly interpret Side Effects as a muddled who-dun-it that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I believe this was Soderbergh’s intention as he didn’t want to make a simple mystery film, but one that lets the viewer experience the narrative as his protagonist does. Disguising the film thematically allowed him to surprise the audience with many shocking moments that seemingly come out of left field but ultimately link up to create a taut and effective mystery thriller.

Side Effects 2

As with his previous works, Soderbergh gets every ounce of talent out of the actors involved, with Jude Law being the most effective. His Dr. Banks is a character that you would find in the kind of films Soderbergh is emulating. At first he is merely a supporting character who eventually discovers things are not entirely as they seem. Law is convincing and has no trouble changing gears between accentuating the performances of his co-stars to outright grabbing the focus of the film in the second act as his professional and personal life begin to crumble. Rooney Mara once again demonstrates why she was chosen to Americanize the character of Lizbeth Salendar in the remake of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo. Her ability to transition seamlessly from emotion to emotion in the same scene is a rare talent that is used effectively in her dramatic moments with Tatum and Law. That being said, Tatum and Zeta-Jones are fine in their respective roles and make the most of what is called for, but since Side Effects is centrally focused on Emily and Dr. Banks, the secondary roles are by nature forgettable.

Side Effects 3

Like his previous works, there is an intentional plainness to the look of Side Effects with the exception of a few visual cues that harken back to the old noir films of the 50’s and 60’s. This is ever present in the beginning as a slow moving pan through a condo instantly establishes atmospheric tension that remains for nearly the film’s entire running time. Unbeknownst to most casual viewers is the fact that Steven Soderbergh shoots and edits his own films under a pair of pseudonyms, which is of course why his features all have a distinct feel. Also, the minimalist approach taken by Thomas Newman’s score effectively maintains the visual rhythm without taking attention away from the narrative or performances.

Side Effects is an effective mystery that slowly pulls its viewer in and rewards their patience and should be a delight for Hitchcock fans and lovers of old crime/noir stories. It’s fair to say that Soderbergh has made superior films, but should not be a deterrent to seeing Side Effects. If anything, you may be watching a masterful filmmaker engage your cinematic intelligence for one last time.

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