Simpsons Season 15 DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Simpson's DVD cover

Simpsons Season 15 DVD Review

With the voices of Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria

Created by Matt Groening

The longest running primetime show in American television history, the Simpsons, is world renowned and beloved. They also produce some of the most influential and feature packed DVD sets on the market place. New to DVD from Fox Home Entertainment comes the 15th season of the series. So how does season 15 stack up with their already impressive library?

In Season 15 the show welcomes guest voice performances from Jerry Lewis, Jennifer Garner, and Oscar De La Hoya in this season’s hilarious Treehouse of Horror episode. Tony Blair, Jane Leeves, Sir Ian McKellan and J.K. Rowling in the vacation episode of the season as the Simpson’s clan head to England. Glenn Close makes a return as Homer’s Mom and Jackie Mason as Krusty’s Dad. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Gina, the girl Bart meets and escapes juvenile hall with, in the classic ‘The Wandering Juvie’ and Matt Groening himself in the also classic comic-con episode. Among some of the subjects of season 15 we have Robot Fighting, a watch that stops time, Homer becoming the grim reaper, Lisa running for Class president in a take-off of the film ‘Evita’, Maggie scoring higher SAT scores than Lisa and the story of Homer’s first kiss.

Simpson Wandering Juvie

As much as the show has lost some relevance over the decade and a half run, and perhaps even more now that it has hit year 25, the show is still hilarious when it is at its best. By season 15 the show had really shifted its focus almost completely from Bart to Homer as the focal characters, something the show had been moving towards for a while at the time. The show remains one of the most sought after vocal guesting jobs on television, even non-traditional vocal performances like this season’s turn from Prime Minister Tony Blair are almost common place for the show. Homer seems to be getting less and less coherent the more the show continues. Bart and Lisa seem stuck though, the best episode seem to involve them growing in some sort or the full out flash forward to them as older versions of themselves that show up from time to time.

The 15th season set is jammed packed and stuffed with all sorts of special features and hours’ worth of material to follow up on. Every episode features a commentary track from members of the cast and crew, one of the few shows that do a commentary on every show. Featurettes include ‘All Aboard with Matt’, ‘The Unusual Ones’ and ‘Living in the Moment’. Deleted scenes and original animation sketches along with commercials and new animation for the menu screens also appear on the set. The collector’s box also features an embossed picture of school bus driver Otto. There is enough fascinating and engrossing material here for hours of distraction for the whole family.

The Simpsons may be a show that is more hit and miss that its boundary pushing beginnings, but the box sets for the DVDs remain some the most masterfully crafted and satisfying sets on the market. For fans of series, no matter what the level of interest, the Simpsons season 15 box set is a solid recommend. And for die-hard fans of the show, The Simpsons Season 15 is a must buy. Let’s hope the folks behind the Simpsons continue to show the same dedication to their following seasons for years to come.

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ParaNorman DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

ParaNorman DVD

Starring the voices of Cody Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Leslie Mann, Jeff Garlin and John Goodman

Written by Chris Butler

Directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell

New this week on DVD and Blu-Ray from Alliance Films is the stop motion animated wonder, from the same studio that brought us Henry Selick’s Coraline, which scared up some decent box office this summer, ParaNorman. Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell bring us the story of a boy with the gift to talk to the deceased and a mission to fulfill. So what does the DVD have in store for us?

Norman Babcock (Smit-McPhee) is an awkward child with an extraordinary gift, he can see and converse with ghosts. Norman regularly converses with his dead grandmother, much to the exasperation of his incredulous father (Garlin), mother (Mann) and his sister Courtney (Kendrick). An outcast at school, Norman is constantly tormented by Alvin (Mintz-Plasse) and his cronies, and is constantly made fun of over his gift. But when the anniversary of a heinous act in his town’s history approaches, Norman’s estranged Uncle Prenderghast (Goodman) tracks him down as Norman must take over his role in order to save the day. But when all hell breaks loose it’s up to Norman, his friend Neil (Albrizzi), Neil’s hulking brother Mitch (Affleck), Courtney and Alvin to save the day and put everything right.

ParaNorman is a film that actually works even better at home. It remains a smart film that doesn’t pander to the audience while never getting scary enough to truly frighten its target audience. The script is smart with the more adult targeted humor playing better on the small screen. The story does borrow from films like the Sixth Sense quite a bit, but the endearingness of Norman and his friends more than compensates for some of the more familiar story beats.  The animation style works extremely well and the stop-motion is fantastic. It does not try to be anywhere near photo-realistic thankfully and I found it very reminiscent of the old Rankin/Bass TV specials I grew up on and still watch around Christmas every year. Directors Butler and Fell keep the film tightly paced and on target as it clocks in at a satisfying 93 minutes. The actors performing the voice work all work well here, especially our leads Norman and Neil along with Norman’s perfectly casted parents. Kendrick’s work as Courtney is really solid here as well, as the nuances of her character play better on the small screen.

The DVD is packed with a ton of great features to check out as they really go deep behinds the scenes and into all aspects of the production. We get a feature length commentary track going into all aspects of the filming with Directors Butler and Fell along with some pre-visual animatic sequences used for the filming. At around 40 minutes in total, the multi segmented Behind the Scenes package “Peering through the Veil” is full of informative and fun facts. And if that weren’t enough there are 7 additional featurettes covering other aspects of the film. A great pack for adult and child alike.

Sure to be present under many a Christmas tree this year, if you can hold out that long, ParaNorman is a treat and delight for the entire family. Loaded with special features and featuring a brilliant crisp and clean digital transfer, the DVD really becomes a can’t lose package. Based on this, ParaNorman on DVD is a must buy DVD and will be a fun holiday watch for the whole family.

You can read my original ParaNorman review HERE

Also Noteworthy : Rise of the Guardians Review  and Wolf Children Review

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Ruby Sparks Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

Ruby Sparks Blu-Ray

Starring Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas, Elliot Gould and Steve Coogan

Written by Zoe Kazan

Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris

Now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from 20th Century Fox is the quirky comedy from writer/star Zoe Kazan, Ruby Sparks. Zoe, granddaughter of prolific director Elia Kazan, is following in the footsteps of her parents by writing Ruby Sparks.  Yet when it came to directing the film she was more than happy to let the tandem of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of Little Miss Sunshine fame take the lead. It’s been six years since Dayton and Faris stormed the indie scene with the runaway sensation of Sunshine, will Ruby Sparks make that six year span without a follow-up worth the wait?

29 year old high school dropout Calvin, who at 19 wrote a ground-breaking novel, lives a solitary existence in a giant house struggling to write his follow-up. On the advice and orders of his therapist (Gould) Calvin is assigned something to write and that night he dreams of a girl named Ruby (Kazan). Immediately inspired Calvin begins writing a new tome based on a supposed love story between Ruby and himself. His brother Harry (Messina) asks where the book is going and warns him that he’s written his ideal of a girl, but not a real person with his manuscript. Calvin awakes one morning to discover Ruby standing in his kitchen preparing breakfast, completely unaware she has sprung from his imagination. Ruby is the “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” he has always fantasized about and this leads him to decide he will never write about her again, until she develops ideas and needs of her own. Calvin does what he swore he wouldn’t and starts rewriting their relationship, and Ruby herself. Of course things go drastically wrong and the real question becomes can Calvin let go of his controlling ways to allow someone else to exist, either in his life or on the page.

Ruby Sparks manages to assemble a great amount of talent behind and in front of the camera. Upon a second viewing the inspiration drawn from Marc Webb’s 500 Days of Summer and Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind becomes even more evident. Kazan’s smart script never becomes trite and pandering like some similar films tend to fall prey to, yet like the aforementioned films it stays the course and proves worth the journey. Paul Dano is fantastic here as Calvin, the awkward introvert faced with the gift of a lifetime that can’t seem to find a way to change his structured/controlling ways. Calvin’s Mother (Bening) and Step Father (Banderas) are the free spirited artistic type of people that served as inspiration in his writing of Ruby, yet he cannot get along with them. Kazan’s Ruby is the girl that Calvin has dreamed off, but she also has her own personality, goals and dreams. What could have been a one dimensional caricature becomes an intense and intimate portrayal in her capable hands.

Ruby Sparks also gets dark, real dark, in its 3rd act and to the credit of directors, Dayton and Feris, they do not let any of the dark scenes pass without impact. The inevitable scene where Calvin comes clean is particularly rough, and it’s never treated as flippant as actions and their implications are painfully played out. The ending is not completely satisfying if not predictable, but it’s far from enough to ruin the overall effect of the film.

The Blu-Ray is very limited on special features coming with 5 featurettes that total less than half an hour in length. The lack of a commentary track here is disappointing as both real life couples of Dayton and Feris and Kazan and Dano would most likely prove a fascinating listen. The featurettes being as short as they are only skim the surface of the production, but are fun none the less.

A film that survives multiple viewings, Ruby Sparks is the best type of romantic comedy, one that challenges the conventions of a relationship without resorting to typical conventions. Ruby still delivers on Blu-Ray and is a solid buy.

Till Next Time

Movie Junkie TO

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The Raven DVD Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

The Raven (2012)

Starring John Cusack, Luke Evans, Alice Eve, Brendan Gleeson, Pam Ferris and Kevin McNally

Directed by James McTeigue

James McTeigue’s The Raven has two interconnecting premises, the first of which is a fictionalized account of Edgar Allan Poe’s (played by John Cusack) still mysterious and controversial death. The real Poe, on his way to New York City, has made a surprise pit stop at Baltimore. Just like the one in the movie, he was found on a park bench in that city, wearing ill-fitting clothes and incoherently mumbling about a man named Reynolds. Theories about his death vary from different diseases and substances that were plentiful during the Antebellum. This movie’s supposed to tell what happened to Poe that led him to his mysterious death. The second premise is that during his stop, a serial killer has victimized members of the city’s population, while also copying plot points in Poe’s stories. Edgar is the prime suspect but he’s helping with the solving of the cases. So it’s also basically like watching libraries worth of Vincent Price and Hammer material within one movie with a 2012 time stamp. The source material and McTeigue’s glossy, ‘modern’ approach to it unfortunately gives us a pulpy movie.

And since there are murders you can assume that we have a buddy cop movie on our hands – yay! The real Poe had phases on relying on substances during his worst days, this script relies heavily on the account that he was a rabid, a violent drunk, a label disputed by his peers. Other actors considered to play Edgar were Ewan McGregor and Joanquin Phoenix who, as we know, had better things to do with their time. So Cusack’s stuck in this role, an actor who has played midlife crisis roles in better movies than, ahem, Hot Tub Time Machine. The script demands him to abscond others for being Philistines and Cusack decides to yell the word ‘philistine’ which yes, we get the irony but I wish he gave everyone, including me, earplugs before he ruins his vocal chords.

Since Cusack is the loud one in this dynamic, the more quiet one is Baltimore Detective Emmett Fields, played by Luke Evans. Both actors don’t lean back and realize how ridiculous their movie is, and this obliviousness is more pointed with Evans because his performance is mostly humourless. Other characters rounding out the story are Edgar’s love interest played by Alice Eve, an actress too good for most of her movies. But she’s delightful to watch as she recites Poe’s ‘Annabelle Lee’ falls in love, no matter which loudmouth gross person she’s falling in love with. There’s the love interest’s father, Mr. Hamilton, played by Brendan Gleeson, the most Southern of the performances, incorporating twangs within certain parts of his speech without overdoing it (Maryland, although loyal to the Union, is still part of the South). Then there’s Pam Ferris playing one of the Baltimore ladies, and she, just like any Children of Men cast member, gets a pass.

Again, this is trashy, and Lucas Vidal’s ill-fitting electronic musical score and McTeigue’s little visual effects don’t help me in liking whichever effect this movie is trying to instill in me. But that doesn’t mean that McTeigue doesn’t try to insert moments of beauty within it. The CGI used for transforming sets are barely noticeable – the movie doesn’t use what it doesn’t need. There are, at least, some aesthetically pleasing moments in the movie. The first is when Edgar is lecturing the Baltimore ladies about poetry. I don’t want to go on Armond White territory, comparing pulpy movies to classics, but then, I can’t help noticing the medium shots of the ladies remind me of ones in the party scene in Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo, showing these women in various degrees of facial beauty despite coiling themselves in the time’s fashions. There’s something authentic in showing that the upper classes don’t all look like starlets. There’s also another scene where Edgar lunges at a door, cape flying behind him. These beautiful bits come with period movies and I’m a sucker for moments like that, no matter what else comes in between.

The DVD comes with French audio, French and English subtitles, and helpful audio commentary from McTeigue and the movie’s different producers. Along with these special features, The Blu-Ray has deleted and extended scenes, various featurettes about shooting the movie, about Poe, the cast, the music, as well as the theatrical trailer.

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Chained DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Chained DVD

Starring Vincent D’Onofrio, Julia Ormond, Eamon Farren, Gina Phillips, Evan Bird and Jake Weber

Written by Damian O’Donnell and Jennifer Lynch

Directed by Jennifer Lynch

After her trials and tribulations in India directing the film Hisss, documented in the excellent feature documentary Despite the Gods, with her next effort Jennifer Lynch wanted to get back to the friendly confines of small indie horror that spawned her, the result is Chained. Armed with a script she adapted herself and a stellar lead actor in D’Onofrio, Lynch set out to once again carve out her unique vision with the level of creative control only an indie film can provide, although it should be mentioned that the title was changed from Rabbit to Chained.

Coming home from a routine trip to the movies, eight-year-old Tim (Bird) and his mother, Sarah (Ormond), are picked up by a psychopathic cab driver named Bob (D’Onofrio). Bob murders the young boy’s mother and keeps Tim as his unwilling protegee, making him clean up the mess following each murder he commits. After a couple of aborted escape attempts, Bob chains Tim, now renamed Rabbit, to the inside of the house allowing just enough length to move freely within. As the years pass, Bob starts instructing Rabbit, teaching him anatomy and human behavior. Now a teenager, Rabbit (Farren) is slowly being pressed by Bob to start his own homicidal spree. Slowly but surely, he must eventually choose whether to follow in Bob’s serial killer footsteps or make one final, desperate attempt to break free from his long captivity.

D’Onofrio’s Bob is a menacing, grimy and remorseless beast of a man with no redeeming characteristics at all. Through flashback sequences we see the violence and degradation he went through that led him to become the man he is today. Lynch’s script pulls no punches in showing us exactly what Bob is capable of as we are taken right into his “killing room” and shown exactly what becomes of the girls he brings home. D’Onofrio’s performance is unflinching and fascinating to watch, he truly is one of the finest actors we have working today. Sadly the film is basically a two man piece, and our other lead Farren is way out of his league here. Left to sullen blank stares and random fits of screaming and moaning, one in particular is pretty laughable, Farren isn’t awful here, he’s just vastly overshadowed and the film suffers because of it. The story is passable here, though there are plot holes and an ending that is completely unearned and quite frankly terrible. The twist we are presented with is not only implausible but it’s also so bad that even M.Night Shyamalan at his absolute worst could do better in his sleep. That said, Lynch shows strength behind the camera as her lens is unforgiving, exploring every inch of the excellent set and setting, and the film has a great feel and pacing to it. Clearly Lynch is evolving into a solid, style based director, but it’s just too bad the script was her downfall on this one.

The disc itself is practically bereft of special features as we get an alternate cut of one of the death scenes and a trailer for the film. The saving grace here is the audio commentary with Lynch and D’Onofrio. Lynch is her usual self-deprecating, open book that she is known for and a charming D’Onofrio provides a great play-by-play as the two show they have a natural chemistry moving the commentary along.

Despite the great performance from D’Onofrio, Chained doesn’t quite satisfy due to a weaker second lead and an ending that ruins any goodwill the film had before. Sadly I cannot recommend a purchase of Chained, but if you can get a cheap rental or attach it to your Netflix cue, you could do far worse. Chained is a mild non-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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