This week in home video, we’ve got a slew of brand new releases coming your way. Unfortunately, only a few of them were critical darlings, but the ones that are critic-approved are pretty good ones. Among the new releases are the latest in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the most recent offering from Disney’s traditional animation department, a couple of action flicks that didn’t perform as well as they would have liked, a computer animated update of an anime classic, director Pedro Almodovar’s latest film, and a boxset of a brutal South Korean trilogy. Dig in, and hopefully there’ll be something worth your while this week!
The second installment of Stephenie Meyer’s hugely popular and successful Twilight franchise did exactly what it set out to do: capitalize on its pre-existing fanbase and deliver more vampire/human/werewolf romantic intrigue. Though it only scored an overall 28% on the Tomatometer (compared to the first movie’s 50% rating), The Twilight Saga: New Moon was a box office success, making close to $300 million. The story follows the continuing adventures of everygirl Bella Swan, whose vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen leaves town in order to keep Bella safe from his enemies; as a result, Bella’s relationship with longtime friend (and closet werewolf) Jacob begins to blossom. If you’re familiar with the book series the films are based upon, there probably won’t be any surprises here, and the true draw of the film is to see the characters come to life off the page. If you’re not a Twilight fan, chances are you probably haven’t even read this far, but if you’re a die hard Twi-hard, you can pick up the movie this week on DVD or Blu-Ray.
During this modern era of animation, in which computer-generated characters and landscapes dominate the theaters, some considered it a brave move by Disney to return to their traditional hand-drawn 2-D animation for their latest princess-themed film, The Princess and the Frog. In the end, however, this is precisely what the Disney empire is built upon, and by most accounts, their efforts were not in vain. Critics marked the film Certified Fresh with an 85% on the Tomatometer, citing the warmth of its traditional animation and the strength of its musical numbers and vivid imagery as strengths. Though perhaps not the weightiest or most impressive of the Disney canon, you can rest assured that this entry effectively draws upon its predecessors and recalls aspects of them in a lively fashion that should still please children of all ages. You can pick it up in regular DVD or snag the Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack that comes with a digital copy.
Hugh Grant has made a career of playing the goofy, slightly neurotic lead in romantic comedies, and Sarah Jessica Parker has done her share of “America’s sweetheart”-styled fare, so why didn’t Did You Hear About the Morgans? work? Well, for one, writer/director Marc Lawrence had only helmed one film prior to this, 2002’s Two Weeks Notice (42% Tomatometer), and no other film he’s been involved with has been rated Fresh, so there’s that. But speaking plainly, critics felt that Grant and Parker had little chemistry together on screen, despite the inherent likability of the two stars. Pair that with an unfunny script about a struggling married couple who experience a romantic renewal when they witness a murder and are sent to Wyoming to hide out, and it all starts to make sense. For better or for worse, Did You Hear About the Morgans? hits video store shelves this week, so we’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not it’s something you’d enjoy.
Ninja Assassin gets some brownie points for its straightforward title; there’s really no mistaking what the movie’s about, and the absolute simplicity of the title implies that the tone of the film will be raw, an action film focused on the most basic elements of being a ninja assassin — namely stealth and killing. Then, when you’ve got the Wachowski brothers pushing it, as they did with their other collaboration with director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) , and one wouldn’t be crazy to expect a good time at the movies. Unfortunately, Ninja Assassin was panned by critics, who were only willing to grant a 26% Tomatometer, noting that the film took itself much too seriously and that the action sequences, which should have been the film’s strength, were incomprehensibly edited. This is doubly unfortunate for South Korean pop star Rain, who no doubt believed this would be his breakout Hollywood role, and for 80s ninja movie star Sho Kosugi, who plays a shadow of his former roles here.
Though many who saw the film probably weren’t aware of this, Astro Boy was actually one of the more influential characters in Japanese animation, a 50-year-old story that began in manga form and went on to spawn an animated TV series that aired in over 40 countries. In fact, one could argue that Astro Boy was one of the shows that pioneered the Japanese “anime” genre. Last year, Imagi Animation Studios and Summit Entertainment hit theaters with a computer-animated update on the story, starring the voice talents of Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Charlize Theron, Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Nighy, and Donald Sutherland, among others. These days, unfortunately, big name voice talent is hardly a guarantee that an animated film is going to be any good; Astro Boy only managed a 49% Tomatometer. The good news is that the visuals are, by all accounts, pretty stellar; what critics didn’t like was the somewhat shoehorned political message the film seemed to carry. But, all things considered, there is worse animated fare out there, so this could be a pleasant enough distraction for the kiddies.
Hungarian director Nimrod Antal turned heads with his 2005 debut film, Kontroll, which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film that year at the Oscars. Unfortunately, it’s his only Fresh film so far (will this year’s Predators change that?), and while Armored boasted an interesting take on a familiar genre (the heist movie), critics were mostly unimpressed by it. Despite its solid cast, which includes Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, and Laurence Fishburne, the film is ultimately undone by its plot holes and by a messy conclusion, which left the critics wanting. The story here revolves around a foolproof plan by a crew of armed transport officers to hijack one of the company trucks; initially intended to be clean and easy, the plan encounters complications when an unexpected witness appears. Antal displayed a knack for claustrophobic environments in Kontroll, and there are some moments in Armored that recall this, but beware if you pick this one up at the video stores; it may leave you a bit disappointed in the end.
There’s a chance The Fourth Kind might have done a little better if it hadn’t been preceded by a little movie called Paranormal Activity, which seemed to capitalize on the same atmospheric brand of horror. While critics felt the latter was an effective, suspenseful exploration of the supernatural, they dismissed the former as clumsy and strangely mundane, despite a handful of genuine scares. The Fourth Kind is purportedly loosely based on true events, even going so far as to utilize what is supposed to be real footage from historical records, and tells the story of Dr. Abigail Taylor (Milla Jovovich), a psychologist in Alaska whose husband’s unsolved death spurs her on to investigate a string of alien abductions. It only scored an 18% on the Tomatometer, but critical acclaim tends to pass the horror genre by regularly, so some of you may find this to be an adequate thriller if you pick it up this week.
John Krasinki is best known as Jim on the popular NBC sitcom The Office, but he’s enjoyed some moderate big screen success with films such as Leatherheads and Away We Go. Last year, he took his first stab at working behind the camera, for Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, based on the short story collection of the same name by David Foster Wallace. While the book was presented as a series of “interview” transcripts, sans interviewer, Krasinki’s script includes the interviewer, played by Julianne Nicholson, as a means of tying all the stories together. Unfortunately, critics felt the film was uneven overall, despite Krasinki’s ambitious efforts to capture the same depth that Wallace’s book offered. Part of this may have to do with the fact that the source material was less than ideal for adaptation, so it may be worth checking out, if only to see what potential Krasinki might possess as a director.
Director Pedro Almodovar has maintained quite an impressive career, at least according to the Tomatometer. Only his debut film is rated Rotten, and his previous directorial efforts before Broken Embraces were rated at 92% (Volver), 89% (Bad Education), 92% (Talk to Her), and 98% (All About My Mother). Put simply, the man knows how to make a quality movie, and Broken Embraces is no different; it’s Certified Fresh at 81%. The story centers around a novelist and filmmaker named Mateo Blanco who was rendered blind in an auto accident that also claimed the life of his beloved. Determined to leave that part of his life in the past, he adopts his literary pseudonym, Harry Caine, as his permanent identity, and it isn’t until his young secretary has an accident of his own that he retells the events of the tragic night fourteen years prior that took away his lover and his eyesight. Though critics agreed that this wasn’t necessarily Almodovar’s best work, the film is filled with fine performances and enough visual flair to make it worth watching. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
South Korean cinema has been experiencing quite a boom lately (as evidenced by Bong Joon-Ho’s film Mother, which opened just last weekend to widespread critical acclaim), and one of the more recent success stories has been Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy, a dark and mysterious thriller with flashes of visual brilliance and a gripping plot. When Oldboy achieved a moderate cult following, moviegoers discovered it was the second film of what Park called his “Vengeance Trilogy,” along with 2002’s Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and 2005’s Lady Vengeance (unrelated stories, by the way). Park’s Vengeance Trilogy is a collection of brutal stories about desperate people in unthinkable situations, often punctuated by gritty violence, and though they aren’t always easy to watch, they signal Korea as an emerging source of quality filmmaking. A side note: you can pick up the Vengeance Trilogy on regular DVD most anywhere tomorrow, but if you want it in Blu-Ray, you’ll either have to trek on over to your nearest Best Buy or wait till it drops everywhere else in June.