DVD Update for July 26

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., July 26:


Set in the Philippines, “Graceland” is an unpredictable, tightly-paced thriller in which a family man (Arnold Reyes), longtime chauffeur to a corrupt Filipino politician (Menggie Cobarrubias), is ambushed while driving both his boss’s 12 year-old girl and his own daughter home from school. Confusion reigns as the ‘wrong’ girl is kidnapped and both families are forced into a downward spiral of deceit and betrayal.

Xan Cassavetes’ (daughter of director John and actress Gena Rowlands) erotic “Kiss of the Damned” revolves around a beautiful vampire (Josephine de La Baume) whose relationship with a handsome, human screenwriter (Milo Ventimiglia) is threatened when her troublemaking sister (Roxane Mesquida) arrives unexpectedly for a visit.

“Welcome to the Punch” is the story of two arch-nemeses:  a detective (James McAvoy) and a master criminal (Mark Strong) whose paths cross in London’s rejuvenated East End and the banking center of Canary Wharf.

In French with English subtitles, Ken Scott’s comedy “Starbuck” has nothing to do with coffee and everything to do with redefining the concept of family. David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), who delivers meat for his father’s Montreal butchery, made 693 donations to a sperm bank between 1988 and 1990 that resulted in 533 births. Suddenly, a class-action suit is filed by 142 offspring, demanding to know his identity.

In Korean with English subtitles and winner of the Golden Lion at the 2012 Venice Film Festival,
“Pieta” is South Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s brutal, perverse, unnerving revenge film in which a strange woman (Cho Minsoo) stalks a merciless Seoul loan shark (Lee Jung-jin), claiming to be his long-lost mother.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Danny Boyle’s trippy, intriguing “Trance” is a surreal, cleverly ambiguous brain-teaser that begins with a London fine art auctioneer (James McAvoy) explaining  the elaborate precautions that galleries practice to protect their multi-million dollar paintings. But when a Goya
masterpiece is stolen, he’s the prime suspect. Problem is: he cannot remember anything – which leads him to a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) who offers to help him try to recover his memory.

DVD Update for week of July 19

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., July 19:


In “Erased,” when an ex-CIA agent/tech-whiz (Aaron Eckhart) discovers that he and his teenage daughter (Liana Liberato) have been marked for termination as part of an international conspiracy, a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse ensues as he tries to outsmart his pursuers and uncover the truth.

Fred Alvarez’s recent remake of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” isn’t anywhere near as good as the
1981 horror classic, set in a remote, allegedly abandoned cabin which becomes a house of horrors when a group of twentysomething friends unwittingly awakens its ancient demons.

Swordplay and sorcery abound in “Solomon Kane,” featuring a brutally efficient 16th
century assassin and starring James Purefoy, the late Pete Postlethwaite, Rachel Hurd-Wood and Max Von Sydow.

Henry Jaglom’s showbiz-themed “45 Minutes from Broadway” follows an actress (Tanna Fredrick)
who flees to her family’s ramshackle upstate country house, where her non-theatrical sister (Julie Davis) and her sister’s non-Jewish fiancé (Judd Nelson), are also arriving for the family’s annual Passover Seder.

At the end of 2008, 27 year-old environmentalist Tim DeChristopher became “Bidder 70” at a federal auction of oil and gas drilling rights in prime Utah wilderness.  Bidding $1.7 million (which he didn’t have), he won 22,000 acres with no intention to drill. His two-year federal prison sentence, according to documentarians Beth and George Gage, ignited the climate justice movement.

Another documentary, “An Affair of the Heart,” is named for the classic Rick Springfield song and
follows the singer’s unique relationship with seven uber-fans who follow him on tour. And “The Life After Death Project” attempts a scientific investigation of apparent messages from the ‘Other Side.’

For kids, there’s “Tom and Jerry: No Mice Allowed!” showcasing 30 cartoons and “The Smurfs:
Smurfs To the Rescue?” with six entertaining adventures.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Revealing blatant racial bigotry, “42” is the inspiring story of how courageous Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) broke Major League baseball’s color barrier in 1947, when he was signed by Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

DVD Update for week of July 12

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., July 12:


Tina Fey deserves better material than Paul Weitz’s relationship dramedy “Admission,” in which
she plays a Princeton University admissions officer who has reason to believe that an unconventional applicant might be the son she secretly gave up for adoption 18 years ago.

Saoirse Ronan stars in Andrew Niccol’s “The Host,” based on Stephanie Meyer’s love story, set in the future, when Earth is occupied by seemingly benign extraterrestrials, or Souls, that erase the minds of their human hosts, leaving their bodies intact and their eyes crystalline blue. Along similar lines, “Upside Down” with Kirsten Dunst, Jim Sturgess and Timothy Spall is romantic sci-fi in an alternate university where twinned words have opposite gravities.

“Spring Breakers” is avant-garde filmmaker Harmony Korine’s voyeuristic, visually exploitive,
hyper-sexualized cinematic commentary on youth-driven pop culture, and “Tyler Perry’s Temptation” is a straitlaced, sermonizing cautionary tale about wanting what you haven’t got.

In “Dark Power,” two FBI Agents (Sean Patrick Flanery, Kristanna Loken) join forces to investigate a murder, only to discover that City Hall holds more secrets than the identity of the killer, and Jack the Ripper lives in “Hands of the Ripper,” widely recognized one of the most gruesome Hammer horror films ever made.

Foreign film aficionados: in Italian and Mandarin with English subtitles, “Shun Li and the Poet” is about old souls from different cultures and different times forging a strong, meaningful friendship.

For kids, “Cody the Robosapien” centers on a techno-savvy whiz kid and a smart, spunky bot who’s
on the lam from an evil Kinetech executive.

For toddlers, “Best of Daizy” is the fourth and final title in the “Best of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”
collection, while “Imagine With Barney” finds everyone’s favorite purple dinosaur embarking on four all-new adventures, plus “Imagination Vacation.”

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Oscar-nominated as Best Documentary, Dror Moreh’s “The Gatekeepers” is an unprecedented, deeply unsettling glimpse inside Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet; it’s an insider’s view of the Arab-Israel conflict since the Six Day War in 1967, when one million Palestinians came under Israeli control in the West Bank, Gaza and the old city of Jerusalem.

DVD Update for week of July 5

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Friday, July 5:


Coming to DVD this Independence Day weekend, “Death by China” is Harvard-trained economist Peter Navarro’s alarming and alarmist documentary about the history and implications of the imbalanced U.S.-China trade relationship.  Narrated by Martin Sheen, it gives background insight into the recent meetings between President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping.

Alexander Siddig, Marisa Tomei and Joshua Jackson star in in the tense “Inescapable,” about a
Canadian businessman but must confront his past as a former Syrian military intelligence officer when his journalist daughter suddenly disappears in his hometown of Damascus.

Julianne Moore stars in the eerie, supernatural thriller “Six Souls,” as a forensic psychiatrist who specializes in debunking criminals’ claims of insanity and is challenged by a curious patien (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) who convincingly shifts from one personality to another.

Taking responsibility for your own life is a difficult lesson, particularly if you have a self destructive personality like the sullen, south Texas mother (Abbie Cornish) who has lost custody of her five-year old son in writer/director David Riker’s “The Girl.”

Tennis fans should enjoy “Venus and Serena,” a documentary love letter to the African-American
Williams sisters, who left South Central Los Angeles to take the lily-white world of tennis by storm.

For film buffs, “56 Up” and “The Up Series” box set is a collection of Michael Apted’s ground-breaking documentary series, based on the belief: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” And there’s a new 20-film “Best of Warner Bros. Comedy Collection,” combining classics with modern favorites.

For foreign film aficianados, “The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu” is an exhaustive – and
exhausting – three-hour epic by Romanian filmmaker Andrej Ujica, meticulously chronicling the 25 year (1965-1989) reign of an arrogant, autocratic 20th century dictator.

PICK OF THE WEEK: “The House I Live In” is Eugene Jarecki’s award-winning documentary, dissecting America’s 40 year-long War on Drugs. Costing $1 trillion and resulting in 45 million
arrests, it’s failed to successfully address the problem, yet has made the US the world’s leading jailer, with 2.3 million people behind bars.

DVD Update for week of June 28

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., June 28:


This week’s cinematic curiosity is “Saving Lincoln,” introducing CineCollage, utilizing actual Civil War photos from the Library of Congress for the green-screen backdrops in every scene. The historical piece profiles U.S. Marshal Ward Hill Lamon (Lea Coco), an Illinois lawyer who became the self-appointed bodyguard of Abraham Lincoln (Tom Amandes).

On the lighter side, “Divorce Invitation” is a frothy romantic comedy with Elliott Gould, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Lainie Kazan and Paul Sorvino.

What’s most incredible about “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is how shallow and inept it is, given the talent of Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, who play superstar Las Vegas illusionists taunted by Jim Carrey, as a cable TV entertainer who specializes in gruesome, dangerous, endurance stunts.

It’s not easy to cinematically torpedo a submarine thriller starring Ed Harris and David Duchovny, but Todd Robinson manages to sabotage all diabolical intent in “Phantom,” inspired by true events, concerning a Russian sub that mysteriously sank and was discovered, years later, on the ocean floor.

Set in Martin, Tennessee, Patrick Wang’s “In the Family” revolves around Chip, a precocious six year-old who’s been raised by two dads, Cody and Joey. When Cody’s killed in a car accident, his sister is named as Chip’s guardian, leaving Joey to search for a solution to regain custody of his son.

Luis Prieto’s “Pusher” is a British remake of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn’s edgy exploits of a low-life London drug-pusher (Richard Coyle) who’s at the mercy of his ruthless supplier (Zlatko Buric).

In Danish with English subtitles, the second season of Denmark’s blockbuster political drama “Borgen” follows the country’s first female Prime Minister, her cynical spin doctor, an ambitious journalist and her more seasoned colleague.

For kids, “Babar’s Adventure Pack” offers more adventures with the Elephant King and his jungle

PICK OF THE WEEK: In “The Call,” an intense psychological thriller, Halle Berry plays a veteran Los Angeles 911 dispatcher dealing with a panicked teenager (Abigail Breslin) who has been
abducted from the parking garage of a shopping mall by a stranger and is trapped in the trunk of a moving car.

DVD Update for week of June 21

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of June 21:


“Jack the Giant Slayer” is a family-friendly reworking of the familiar fairy tale, set in the medieval kingdom of Cloister, where earnest Jack (Nicholas Hoult) befriends an adventurous princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) whom he rescues from Giants in therealm of Gantua floating high above the clouds.

Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode star in Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s “Stoker,” a sinister black comedy about a mournful teen who becomes infatuated with her uncle.

Reflecting our materialistic culture’s worst instincts, “The Brass Teapot” is a modestly amusing fable about a young suburban couple who buy a mysterious antique that could relieve all their financial angst.

“The Last Exorcism, Part II” is another tale of demonic possession, bringing back Ashley Bell as a
deeply religious Bayou farm girl who tries to put the pieces of her life back together in New Orleans, while “American Mary” is a feminist-themed horror/medical thriller about a demented medical student (Katharine Isabelle) who takes bizarre revenge on the doctor who drugged and raped her.

“21 and Over” is a crude, misogynistic comedy bacchanal by writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott
Moore, who collaborated on “The Hangover.” It’s only slightly better than the dismal, witless “Movie 43,” the worst picture I’ve seen in many years, despite its star-studded cast of Halle Berry, Richard Gere, Hugh Jackman, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Naomi Watts and Kate Winslet, among others, who are probably embarrassed.

New documentaries include “Save the Farm” about the need to protect urban green spaces and “The First 70: California’s State Parks Under Threat,” exploring the closing of historic and natural treasures.

Film buffs: TCM’s Greatest Classic Films Legends series now includes Gene Kelly, John Wayne and
Paul Newman, along with Romantic Affairs, featuring Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn.

Kids may enjoy Season 2, Part 2 of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated,” the final 13 episodes
of the hit Cartoon Network series.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Astutely directed by Dustin Hoffman, “Quartet” is an endearing, deliciously tart comedy, set in an elegant retirement home for musicians, starring Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Michael Gambon and Pauline Collins. It’s a classy, uplifting crowd-pleaser.

DVD Update for week of June 14

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., June 14:


Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson uses brains, not brawn to protect his son in “Snitch,” playing a
trucking company owner who cuts a deal with an ambitious D.A. (Susan Sarandon) to go undercover as an informant and help the DEA catch a drug kingpin in exchange for his son’s freedom.

In “A Bullet to the Head,” Sylvester Stallon plays a gritty, grizzled New Orleans hitman teaming up with a young, techno-savvy detective (Sung Kang) to bring down a hulking killer (Jason Momoa from “Game of Thrones”), sleazy lawyer (Christian Slater) and real estate developer (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).

“Knife Fight” is a savvy contemporary thriller, starring Rob Lowe as a manipulative political strategist, delivering a satirical message about the end justifying the means.

“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” is a preposterous, blood-splattering, campy horror/action/comedy with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Atherton as revenge-seeking vigilantes.

Michael Landon Jr. directs “Beverly Lewis’ The Confession,” a heartwarming, inspirational drama
about a young Amish woman (Katie Leclerc) searching for her identity.

But don’t bother with “Wrong,” in which writer/director Quentin Duplex strings together a surrealist litany of episodic absurdities centered around a man trying to find his lost dog.

Jerry Aronson’s “The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg” documents American activist counterculture, as epitomized by the iconic poet, visionary and outspoken champion of human rights, while “Honor Flight” follows four elderly Wisconsin veterans who visit the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C. And “Hellbound” is Vancouver-based Kevin Miller’s thought-provoking debate about the Christian doctrine of hell.

Foreign film aficionados: French superstar Vincent Cassel plays a 17th century Capuchin preacher who struggles with temptation in Domink Moll’s sexy French thriller “The Monk,” adapted from Matthew Lewis’ cult classic gothic novel.

PICK OF THE WEEK: “Oz the Great and Powerful” is a spirited, family-friendly prequel to “The Wizard of Oz,” delving into the charlatan-behind-the-curtain’s origin story. James Franco stars as
Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a conniving carnival magician who’s transported to a fantastic realm, where he meets a trio of Witches (Mila Kunis, Rachel Weitz, Michelle Williams) and is befriended by a wisecracking, winged monkey and a tiny China Doll.

DVD Update for week of June 7

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of June 7:


As a Florida con artist, Melissa McCarthy scams a Denver accountant, played by Jason Bateman, in
“Identity Thief,” maxing out his credit cards and tainting his good name,
turning cyber-crime into cinematic chaos.

Bruce Willis is back for the fifth time as durable New York detective John McLane, traveling to Moscow to help is estranged son in the dumbed-down, heavy-handed “A Good Day to Die Hard.”

Suburbanites, including Julia Stiles, America Ferrera and David Cross, get together to gossip
and fight in Todd Berger’s broadly drawn, dark comedy “It’s a Disaster,” facing the apocalypse in the form of nerve-gas attack on Los Angeles, while Keanu Reeves plays a mopey driver for a New York escort service in the forgettable, low-budget  “Generation Um…”

“Mental” is a hyperkinetic farce that reunites Australian director P.J. Hogan with Toni Collette, who plays a dope-smoking, knife-carrying nanny hired by the Mayor (Anthony LaPaglia) of Dolphin Heads, a coastal town in Queensland, to care for his five teenage daughters – all of whom think they have mental illness.

“The Last Ride” imagines Hank Williams’ final days with Henry Thomas (who played the child in
“E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”) as the iconic country music superstar who became a cynical addict. And Deborah Anderson’s “Aroused”  gets up close and personal with 16 of the most successful women in the adult film industry.

For family viewing, there’s the animated “Escape from Planet Earth,” a serviceable, sci-fi, escapist diversion, teaching teamwork and preaching family loyalty and love.

For film buffs, “Perfect Understanding” is a rediscovered 1933 Ealing Studios comedy, starring
Gloria Swanson and Laurence Olivier with a screenplay by Michael Powell. There are two, new comprehensive Clint Eastwood collections, along with Mel Gibson’s “Max Max Trilogy’ on Blu-Ray.

For foreign film aficionados, “2+2” in Spanish with English subtitles is the most successful
comedy of all time in Argentina, revolving around swinging suburban couples.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Strangely sentimental, “Warm Bodies” adapts Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” with a zombie twist. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s a paranormal romantic comedy in which heart, humor and the human connection conquer everything, even death.

DVD Update for week of May 31

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of May 31:


    “Dark Skies” is a dire, unsettling alien abduction thriller, starring Keri Russell (TV’s “The Americans”) and Josh Hamilton as suburban parents whose younger son has been having nightmares about a mysterious ‘sandman’ apparition by his bedside at night.

    Joe Taslim (“Fast & Furious 6”) stars in “Dead Mine,” the legend of Yasmashita’s Gold, as a treasure hunter who gets trapped in an abandoned Japanese bunker deep in the Indonesian Jungle.

    Set Suffolk, England, “The Numbers Station” is about a disgraced CIA Agent (John Cusack) given one last chance: guarding a code operator (Malin Akerman) who receives/sends secret, encrypted messages.

    “Battle Earth” is an action-packed sci-fi thriller about a young paramedic who enlists to fight for his planet when extraterrestrials invade the Earth’s atmosphere on a crash course into the Atlantic Ocean.

    Inspired by a true ghost story/murder mystery, “A Haunting at Silver Falls” follows teenagers who discover the tormented spirits of twin sisters whose father was condemned to death for their murders. And “Picture Day” follows a teenager learning the difference between sex, intimacy and friendship.

    “Dorfman in Love,” revolving around Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue), a Valley girl who’s always taken care of others, like her widower father (Elliot Gould) and stingy brother (Jonathan Chase), is an amiable romantic comedy about how she transforms her life and finds true love.

    “Of Two Minds” is Doug Blush and Lisa Klein’s award-winning documentary that explores the struggles and successes of a few of the over five million Americans living with bipolar disorder. And “The Loving Story” is the definitive account of the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision that legalized interracial marriage: Loving v. Virginia.

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Set in the Bavarian countryside just after Germany surrendered in W.W. II, “Lore” is the coming-of-age/survival story of a German teenager (Saskia Rosendhal) who’s left in charge of her younger siblings when her parents are taken into custody for war crimes.  As they traipse thru the Black Forest, it becomes a chronicle of the triumph of the human spirit – in a class with Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon.” In German with English subtitles, it’s directed with stunning detachment and restraint by Australian director Cate Shortland.

DVD Update for week of May 24

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., May 24


    Back in 1964, British director Michael Apted began to create a series of documentaries that profiled seven year-old children from diverse socio-economic backgrounds in order to evaluate how class structure affects their lives. Since then, he’s questioned them again every seven years. In “56 Up,” they’re coping with the global financial crisis.

    Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects” is a far-fetched psycho-thriller about an ex-con (Channing Tatum), his depressive wife (Rooney Mara) and two psychiatrists (Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones) who become involved in their lives; unfortunately, what could have been a cautionary fable or social commentary strains credulity, becoming a lurid murder mystery.

   Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin are criminal cronies in “Stand Up Guys,” a flimsy, contrived caper that’s filled with formulaic Viagra jokes and sleazy sexual innuendos. 

    When mystery writer Donald Westlake was alive, he fiercely guarded his hardboiled, highly principled antihero “Parker,” but Westlake died in 2008 and his estate has allowed muscled Jason Statham to become the master criminal who righteously operates within a specific code of honor.

    “The First 70” is an awe-inspiring journey through California’s budget-threatened state parks, as young documentary filmmakers highlight the need to keep them open for future generations.

    For family viewing, “Adventures of Bailey: A Night in Cowtown” features dogdom’s latest star in the third installment of the popular series. And based on the popular video game, there’s ”Lego Batman: The Movie DC Super Heroes Unite.”

    To get youngsters moving, “Dance With Barney” gets their groove on by building confidence learning new steps dino-style, along with “Twinkle Toes Music Video Collection.”   

    PICKS OF THE WEEK: For adolescents, Richard LaGravanese’s supernatural Southern Gothic love story “Beautiful Creatures,” based on the best-selling series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, explores forbidden romance with Alice Englert, as a teenage ‘spell caster,’ and Alden Ehrenreich, as Emma Thompson and Jeremy Irons fear for their future.  And for hardcore action fans, “The Last Stand” stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as the mild-mannered sheriff of a small Arizona border town who must capture a diabolical Mexican drug cartel kingpin.