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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Life of Pi Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Life of Pi (2012)

Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall and Gerard Depardieu

Directed by Ang Lee

The opening credits already worried me, showing me every exotic animal with names I’ve already forgotten in the slowest pace possible. Is this the beat that Life of Pi will be flowing to?

This adaptation of novel of the same name show these animals within a zoo that’s managed by the father of the young Piscine Molitor or ‘Pi’ Patel (Sharma), the latter being an Indian boy growing up in Pondicherry, a land transforming from French colonization into joining independent India.

The adult version of Pi (Khan) lives in Montreal, his voyage between the two countries – or three, for technical purposes – is so compelling that an off-screen character named Mamaji recommended him to a man (Spall) who’s stuck on what he’s going to write. Pi is a religious professor, the writer is a North American brand of young secular atheist. Both of them aren’t smug about their intellectual backgrounds. But part of Mamaji’s recommendation of Pi is that his story will convince the writer that God exists but again, not in a smug way. I can feel some eyes rolling at such a premise.

I loved the book, its simple language evoking the energy of a boy’s growth and his lonely and one in a trillion journey that puts him in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in the same lifeboat as a terrifying tiger named Richard Parker. Or at least, that’s what I remember from the novel.

It’s the opposite of the film’s approach. Again, the pacing in the first scenes, as well as its mixture of Indian and French music softening the impact of the moments when Pi takes a stand on his (religious) identity. It almost damages my experience of the entire film. Those scenes should have amped us up to the movie’s climax, its chaos building up and complementing the ocean’s disturbing quietness. The scenes in India as also have this digital, amateurish texture capturing the shallowest characters in Ang Lee’s directing career.

His time in the ocean, then, isn’t stark but a magical although scary time. Allow me to compare this another director’s work, James Cameron, who has championed the film. I’ll also say that the shipwreck scenes, when the camera occasionally follows Pi in and out of ships and lifeboats, are more audacious than its predecessor. And since Pi, Richard Parker and the rest of us are out in the ocean, we get to see every type of real marine life that evokes the fictional life forms in Avatar. I never pegged Lee as a visual director but his rural/exurban landscapes should have given me that hint, and the aesthetics are what I can give this movie its credit. It’s worth the 3D medium although it’s not necessarily worth its price.

But does watching someone with God’s creatures, or watching him in a Job-like situation make anyone feel closer to God? Not necessarily (Full disclosure: you probably all know that I’m gay but I’m also a Catholic, one of the religions that Pi adheres to). The movie dazzles and thrills but its main goal should come from a text not just about wonderment but endurance and perseverance. I never really felt those here, and knowing the movie’s ending, as well as other factors in the movie’s storytelling might have spoiled that for me. The ending also doesn’t offer any answers, and this is the kind of movie that should have done that.

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