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.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

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.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

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.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

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.

 FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW AVAILABLE HERETHEATRICAL REVIEW HERE

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.

FULL BLU-RAY REVIEW AVAILABLE HERETHEATRICAL REVIEW HERE

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.

FULL REVIEW AVAILABLE HERE

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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Hitchcock Review (Kirk Haviland)

Hitchcock (2012)

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Danny Huston, Toni Collette, James D’Arcy, Jessica Biel and Michael Wincott

Written by John J. McLaughlin based on the book “Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho” by Stephen Rebello

Directed by Sacha Gervasi

New this week in theaters, opening exclusively at the Varsity in Toronto and expanding nation-wide in the weeks to come, from Fox Searchlight comes Hitchcock. The biopic about the master of suspense himself Alfred Hitchcock, despite the inference of title, is not a story of the man and his life, but the shooting of his seminal film Psycho and his relationship with his wife and most trusted collaborator Alma Reville.

Hitchcock starts at the premiere for Alfred Hitchcock’s (Hopkins) North by Northwest. With the media convinced that the director’s best days are behind him, Alfred sets his wife Alma (Mirren) and assistant Peggy (Collette) on the lookout for his next project. Hoping to get his script in contention Whitfield Cook (Huston) shows up and starts sweet talking his former flame Alma. Meanwhile Hitch becomes enamored with the new book based on the real story of serial killer Ed Gein (Wincott), who Hitch sees as a manifestation during the filming, entitled Psycho. Against the wishes of the studio, his wife and everybody else, Hitchcock embarks on adapting the story and getting it committed to film. But the studio, his health, his former starlet Vera Miles (Biel) and current starlet Janet Leigh (Johansson) may all conspire to get in the way. And Whitfield may have other plans for Alma.

Hitchcock is far from an in depth, hard hitting biopic, but almost immediately the audience realizes they are in for a more whimsical and light hearted treatment. Hopkins is memorable as Hitchcock, like his Nixon he does not completely disappear physically into the role, but uses his performance to allow the audience to buy into the character. That said it’s Mirren and her portrayal of Alma that steals the show. Her Alma is a confident and strong woman who is long overdue for her room in the spotlight after all the work she has done in her husband’s career, and sensing this Huston’s Whitfield attempts to take advantage. The rest of the supporting cast is quite good here, with Johansson doing some excellent work as Leigh and Biel possibly doing here best work in ages as Vera Miles. The decision of including Ed Gein as a character in the film is far-fetched and would have been terribly out of place if the performance by Wincott wasn’t so accomplished. His Gein makes you yearn for a biopic of his own on the serial killer.

The script plays it light in tone and strives more for comedic beats rather than hard hitting, dramatic interpretations. More “My Week with Marilyn” than a straight biopic, Hitchcock only serves to explain and enact the period in 1959/1960 surrounding the filming of Psycho and not much else. The characters are fleshed out well here, though the script does manage to stay close to the surface throughout, not delving too deeply into any of the relationships besides Hitch and Alma’s. And other characters, like the studio head for example, are more caricatures than characters. The film would be better suited with a title that exudes this whimsy and tone rather than the more serious sounding Hitchcock.

Kudos must be given however to the team behind the film as the set design and decoration, costuming and cinematography are all fantastic. The film looks phenomenal and provides an exceptional peek into the work of producing a feature film in the late 1959 studio system. From the small housing offices for the production and the soundstages to the vintage vehicles and decor of the Hitchcock home, the film doesn’t miss a beat. The film will not surprise me at all if Oscar comes calling in February rewarding the fine work here with some technical nominations.

Audiences going into this film expecting a warts and all telling of Hitchcock’s life and loves will be disappointed with this effort. But audiences willing to go with the tone and playfulness of the film and really invest in the performances, especially Hopkins, Mirren and Wincott, will be satisfied with the effort. Despite its flaws, Hitchcock is indeed a 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.

Follow me directly on twitter @moviejunkieto and by liking my Facebook page at Movie Junkie TO

Email me at moviejunkieto@gmail.com

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The Debt Review (Matt Hodgson) – Movies I missed

The Debt

Starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Tom Wilkinson, Ciaran Hinds, Jessica Chastain, Marton Csokas, and Jesper Christensen

Screenplay by Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman, Peter Straughan

Directed by John Madden

Still on my non-National Lampoon’s European Vacation (mine is much funnier), I’ve been catching up on some flicks that I have missed out on. Now I don’t think that I let any of the best movies of the year fall through the cracks, but who knows, that’s why I’m taking precautions and catching up on ‘Movies I Missed’. Some will be praised and some will be slammed, and just maybe I will find a hidden gem somewhere. First up is the international spy thriller, The Debt, based on an the 2007 Israeli film Ha-Hov.

Initially the story of The Debt seems quite simple: In 1965 three Mossad spies, Rachel Singer, Stephan Gold, and David Peretz (Chastain, Worthington, and Csokas; Mirren, Hinds, and Wilkinson play the present day versions) go into East Berlin to apprehend and bring back for trial one of the most notorious Nazi war criminals. His name is Dieter Vogel and during the war he essentially tortured countless human beings in bizarre experiments, masquerading as science. In the present day the mostly successful mission is in the history books and the three agents are regarded as heroes, especially thanks to a new book written by the daughter of the now separated Singer and Gold, but everything is not as it seems. The trio of ex-spies are harbouring a terrible secret. In a blending of past and present, The Debt revisits the old while trying to move forward with the new, but the past may prove to be too haunting for these agents to ever live what could be called a normal life.

I had been browsing through IMDB or some other film website when I stumbled upon The Debt. It had received a lukewarm score of about 7/10, but that was more than enough to intrigue me. I’m very glad I took the time to track it down, as it turned out to be one of the most pleasantly surprising films I have seen in a long time.

The real strengths of The Debt lie in three areas: the acting, the storytelling, and the script.

There are many recognizable actors in The Debt, and luckily, they are recognizable for their acting talents, not only for walking down red carpets. The cast handles the material very well with Mirren, Wilkinson, and Chastain standing out for me. It should be said that some of the casting for the old and young versions of the same characters was a little questionable for the male agents; I thought that Worthington and Wilkinson looked more similar than Csokas and Worthington, likewise for Csokas and Hinds, but I’m sure the casting decisions were made regarding the type actor needed for the role, rather than who looks like who. Still, it does pull the viewer out of the story a little.

The film flips back and forth between past and present so often that it could have been a jumbled narrative if it wasn’t handled with expertise. Despite all the jumps in time, The Debt manages to stay crystal clear throughout. I did not find myself forgetting character names, or wondering what was going on very often, unlike my recent experience with Haywire.

Finally, I have not yet read the script (I intend to), but from what I saw onscreen, this is one of the freshest spy thrillers of recent memory with just enough suspense and violence, and more than its fair share of intrigue as the plot unfolds.

If you’re a fan of spy movies or thrillers in general then you owe it to yourself to check out The Debt, a film that’s very unlike typical Hollywood spy fare, refreshingly so.

 

 

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