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DVD Update for week of March 8

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., March 8:

 

In “Garbage,” two garbage truck drivers (comedians Jon Huck and Jed Rees) discover Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Academy Award in a landfill; as they decide what to do with the Oscar, they realize that this piece of Hollywood history is changing their lives.

In “California Solo,” Robert Carlyle plays a former Britpop rocker-turned-organic farmer who confronts the demons of his post-fame life and finds personal redemption.

Esai Morales delivers a powerful performance as an ex-con struggling to do the right thing in “Gun Hill Road” as his troubled teenage son undergoes a sexual transformation.

British director Stephen Frears details the life of a Las Vegas bookie-in-training in “Lay the Favorite,” starring Rebecca Hall as a one-time stripper and Bruce Willis as an adrenaline-junkie sports nut with Catherine Zeta-Jones as his wife.

Ellen Burstyn and Marcia Gay Harden co-star in “Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You,” the adaptation of Peter Cameron’s heartfelt, coming-of-age novel about a vulnerable, precocious 17 year-old (Toby Regbo) who decides to reject the adult world.

In Hebrew and English, Maya Kenig’s “Off White Lies” is loosely informed by news stories and family events that she experienced during the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon.

“Red Dawn” is the ill-fated re-imagining of John Milius’ 1984 action hit, as North Korean paratroopers invade Seattle and a high-school quarterback (Josh Peck) and his big brother (Chris Hemsworth) form a guerilla resistance force.

“Tom & Jerry: Pint-Sized Pals” is a 30-cartoon collection for the while family.  “Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, Season Two” features the final 13 episodes of the Cartoon Network’s #1 rated show for boys ages 6-11. And for pre-schoolers, “Thomas & Friends: Go Go Thomas” is a high-spirited race around Sodor, while “Barney: Play With Barney” demonstrates all the benefits of playtime.

PICKS OF THE WEEK:  Oscar-nominated “Wreck-It Ralph” is Disney’s inventive, animated arcade-game-hopping adventure, following a bad guy (voiced by John C. Reilly) determined to prove that he’s really a hero with a big heart. And “The Intouchables” is a sweet, irresistibly subversive French odd-couple comedy, starring Omar Sy and Francoise Cluzet.

“DVD Update for week of March 1″

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of March 1

 

“This Is Not a Film,” shot partly on an iPhone and smuggled into France inside a cake, is an experimental documentary film about acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. In March, 2010, Panahi was arrested and taken to Evin Prison, noted for its incarceration of political prisoners. Since his detention and six-year sentence, Panahi has been awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, winning international support from the film community, including directors Joel and Ethan Coen, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Robert De Niro, Ang Lee, Steven Spielberg, Michael Moore, Terence Malick, Robert Redford, Martin Scorsese and Frederick Wiseman.

In writer/director Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet,” Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg play an engaged couple backpacking in the Caucasus Mountains in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. After hiring a local guide to lead them into the stunning wilderness, the trio’s adventure takes a dark turn when they encounter an armed man and his two sons.

Based on Elmore Leonard’s best-seller, Charlie Matthau’s “Freaky Deaky” is a crimedy, starring Christian Slater, Billy Burke, Crispin Glover and Michael Jai White. There’s
also “Happy in the Valley,” a dark, twisted comedy reflecting the craziness of
reality television with William Forsythe as an aging photographer and Dee
Wallace as his lonely, alcoholic neighbor in the San Fernando Valley.

Michael Madsen, Steven Bauer, Danny Glove, John Savage and Anne Jeffreys head the cast of the Mafiosa thriller “Sins,” as the wages of sin turn deadly when a chosen son of the violent, Sicilian Cortello family betrays them.

Exuding sexual tension, David Trueba’s “Madrid 1987” is a May/November seduction as a powerful Spanish journalist (Jose Secristan) engages a student (Maria Valverde) in an emotional duel involving sex, age, intellect, ambition and experience.

“Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon” finds the animated super sleuth and Shaggy battling the legendary super villain, Mr. Hyde, from the classic Blue Falcon television series.

PICK OF THE WEEK: The Oscar-nominated documentary “How to Survive a Plague” recounts how a fearless, dedicated group of people demanded the attention of a fearful nation and successfully reversed the tide of the AIDS epidemic.  These improbable activists formed ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group), infiltrating government agencies and the pharmaceutical industry, helping to identify promising new medications and treatments, moving them through trials and into drugstores in record time. In the process, they saved their own lives and lifted AIDS’s death sentence.

DVD Update for week of Feb. 22

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Feb. 22:

 

“Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part 2” concludes Stephanie Meyer’s tormented vampire saga with Rob Pattinson as brooding, chivalrous Edward Cullen and Kristen Stewart as conflicted Bella Swan; in this surreal final chapter, they protect their daughter Renesmee from the contemptuous Volturi.

Adroitly capturing teenage confusion and angst, Stephen Chbosky’s “Perks of Being a Wallflower” follows Charlie (Logan Lerman) during his freshman year in high school in suburban Pittsburgh in 1991. It’s far better than “Fun Size,” filled with silly Halloween misadventures.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s meditative “The Master” is a provocative, insidious character study of a psychopath (Joaquin Phoenix) and a charming, charismatic charlatan (Philip Seymour Hoffman); as it parallels the life of L. Ron Hubbard and the rise of his Church of Scientology, it details how spiritual and religious systems can psychologically seduce and subversively manipulate vulnerable minds.

Keira Knightley and Jude Law star in the highly stylized remake of “Anna Karenina,” notable primarily for its exquisite, if hollow, artifice, superficial spectacle and dazzling costumes.

For fright fans, “Sinister” is Ethan Hawke’s nightmarish suspense thriller blending found-footage with a haunted house and the search for a serial killer, while “The Factory” finds John Cusack as a detective determined to find a killer who is abducting prostitutes in snowy Buffalo.

Smithsonian’s “Undersea Edens Collection” explores six underwater realms, while “Chasing Mavericks” is the tragic, true story of surfer Jay Moriarty, who survived a 1994 wipeout that landed him on the cover of Surfer magazine, only to die in 2001 while free-diving in the Maldives.

Although it missed an Oscar nomination, India’s charming romantic comedy “Barfi” stars Ranbir Kapoor as a charming deaf mute from Darjeeling whose antics are reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, while France’s “Holy Motors” is an inscrutable study of a shape-shifting actor-for-hire.

For preschoolers, there’s “Barney Loves You” and “Thomas & Friends: Full Steam Ahead.”

PICK OF THE WEEK: A ‘must see’ before the Academy Awards, Ben Affleck’s “Argo” combines the strength of a sensational, true-life story with relevant, politically-charged suspense that’s strategically laced with humor; the result is intense, intelligent entertainment.

DVD Update for week of Feb. 15

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Feb. 15:

 

Helen Hunt is Oscar-nominated for her role as a compassionate sex surrogate in “The Sessions,” about a poet/journalist (John Hawkes), paralyzed by polio, who wants to lose his virginity; it’s an adult film that approaches the subject of sex with refreshingly explicit honesty.

Frank Langella stars in “Robot & Frank” as an irascible, retired jewel thief whose grown children (James Marsden, Liv Tyler) insist that he allow an electronic ‘caregiver’ to accompany him everywhere, even to the library, where he visits with the kindly librarian (Susan Sarandon); it’s a surprisingly amusing, ingratiating Alzheimer’s allegory, leaving a bittersweet afterglow.

Rapper and mastermind of hip-hop’s Wu-Tang Clan, RZA is writer/actor/director of “The Man With the Iron Fists,” a campy martial arts action-adventure set in 19th century feudal China, co-starring Russell Crowe as a metallurgist who helps a British mercenary recover a stolen shipment of gold.

But it’s best to ignore “Silent Hill: Revelation,” an incomprehensible, humorless horror fantasy, based on the popular video game franchise.

Sundance winner “Teddy Bear” is a touching Danish dramatic comedy about a 38 year-old bodybuilder perpetually trapped in adolescence by his domineering mother and his escape to Thailand in a quest for romance. In French, there’s the deeply moving “The Kid With a Bike,” revolving around a young Belgian boy who’s been abandoned by both parents and is living in a state-run home for boys.

“The Origins of Oz” pulls back the curtain, revealing the inspiration behind the first genuinely American fairy tale, who Dorothy was modeled after, why a scarecrow and tin man served as the main characters and how the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair sparked the conception of Emerald City.

For preschoolers, in “Babar: The Movie,” the lovable pachyderm stars in his own, feature-length, animated comedy. “The Red Hen” contains a delectable buffet of scrumptious tales about food. And “Chuggington: Safari Adventures” takes an exotic jungle expedition.

PICK OF THE WEEK: James Bond celebrates his 50th cinematic birthday with “Skyfall,” as Daniel Craig delivers his third compelling performance as Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent, this time confronting a deviously shrewd, dangerous villain, played by Javier Bardem.

DVD Update for week of Feb. 8

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Feb. 8

 

Commemorating Black History Month, there’s the 12-disc collection: “Spirit of the Church: Celebration of Black Gospel Music.”

In the satirical comedy “The Whole Truth,” Elisabeth Rohm is an acting coach who makes it big – not in Hollywood but by coaching criminal defendants on how to work the system and win jury acquittals, while the tech-savvy toddlers return in “Baby Geniuses and the Mystery of the Crown Jewels.”

Zoe Kravitz plays a shy, introspective, mixed-race teenager who unsuccessfully tries to blend into her inner-city high-school in Victoria Mahoney’s “Yelling To The Sky,” a visceral coming-of-age story, while Matthew Gordon’s “The Dynamiter” paints a vivid portrait of a lonely 14 year-old boy growing up in the rural South.

“Deadfall” is a contrived caper with Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde as casino-robbing siblings whose escapade leads to lots of bloodshed and violence, and Tyler Perry flounders as the forensic psychologist-turned-detective in “Alex Cross.”

Interested in documentaries?  Stephen Kessler’s “Paul Williams: Still Alive” reveals the songwriting genius, and “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel” is about the famous Vogue editor who reached her pinnacle of influence during the 1960s.

Oscar-winners Jean Dujardin and Marion Cotillard top the cast of “Little White Lies,” Guillaume Canet’s sharply observed comedy-drama “Little White Lies,” while Isabelle Huppert stars in Anne Fontaine’s delectable French comedy, “My Worst Nightmare,” as a Parisian art dealer who’s seduced by her skirt-chasing handyman (Benoit Poelvoorde).

In Japanese with English subtitles, visionary auteur Takashi Miike’s “Hara-Kiri” is a remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 classic samurai film, exploring revenge, honor and individuality in the face of oppressive power.

For children, “Elmo’s World: All Day With Elmo” follows the beloved “Sesame Street” character from when he first wakes up to when he falls asleep.

PICKS OF THE WEEK: You don’t have to know chamber music to be enthralled by the engaging drama of “The Late Quartet,” as Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir never strike a dissonant note. And Denzel Washington plays an intoxicated pilot in “Flight,” an intense aviation drama redefining the concept of “flying high.”

DVD Update for week of Feb. 1

Susan Granger’s DVD update for week of Fri., Feb. 1:

 

Psychological horror takes a twist in Irish filmmaker Ciaran Foy’s “Citadel,” as an agoraphobic father confronts the same hooded gang that killed his wife and now seems intent on kidnapping his daughter, leaving him trapped between his
paralyzing fear and protective parental instinct.

“Paranormal Activity 4” continues the found-footage horror franchise, as a suburban Nevada family takes in a creepy six year-old neighbor with a malevolent friend, the invisible demon Toby, with whom he constantly converses.

Only fitfully funny, “Hotel Transylvania” is a stale, animated fright-fest with Adam Sandler voicing Count Dracula and Selena Gomez his rebellious teenage daughter in a cavernous castle inhabited by a motley variety of misunderstood Eastern European monsters.

Inspired by Michael Dooley’s memoir, Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s “Stella Days” follows a priest (Martin Sheen) trying to open a cinema in a small town in rural Ireland in the 1950s, facing intense opposition not only from the bishop but also from conservative residents, including an aspiring politician (Stephen Rea).

“Femme Fatales: The Complete First Season” is the Cinemax anthology series about powerful, sexy and dangerous women – in the tradition of pulp stories, film noir and graphic novels.

No one is safe when comedy’s unstoppable icon delivers her trademark biting wit in her first-ever live stand-up DVD – “Joan Rivers: Don’t Start With Me” – which premiered on Showtime last November.

Bryan D. Hopkins’ documentary “Dirty Energy: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster” shares first-hand stories from the Grand Isle fisherman, environmentalists and members of the cleanup crew hardest hit by the aftermath of the April, 2010, disaster and the destruction of that Louisiana Bayou ecosystem.

From French filmmaker Michael Ocelot, there’s the English-language version of “Tales of the Night,” weaving together six exotic fables, each unfolding in a unique locale – from Tibet to medieval Europe to the Land of the Dead.

PICK OF THE WEEK: Insightful and intense, “End of Watch” emphasizes not only the importance of Los Angeles Police Department brotherhood and teamwork but also the cinematic chemistry between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, as they follow an escalating trail of drugs, guns and money that leads them into a climactic encounter with street gangs and a Mexican drug cartel.

DVD Update for week of Fri., Jan. 25

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Jan. 25:

 

Filled with brutal violence, “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” continues the franchise with Scott Adkins seeking revenge against killing machines Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.

Southern Gothic to its sexploitation core, “The Paperboy” is a tacky, tawdry, murky melodrama with Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack and Nicole Kidman.

Long before she made “Hunger Games,” Jennifer Lawrence was in Jonathan Mostow’s banal, low-budget horror thriller, “House at the End of the Street,” playing a high-school girl-in-jeopardy.

“Hit & Run” is a car chase caper comedy with Dax Shepard as a former getaway driver, pursued by Tom Arnold and Bradley Cooper (in bleached-out dreadlocks).

“For a Good Time, Call…” is a smutty, salacious female relationship comedy, revolving around a mousy editor (Lauren Anne Miller) who loses her publishing job and – at the suggestion of her real-estate broker buddy (Justin Long) – moves into the spacious Gramercy Park apartment owned by Katie (Ari Graynor),  a phone-sex operator.

Ira Sachs’ electrifying, gay drama “Keep the Lights On” chronicles the emotional and sexually-charged journey of two compulsive risk-takers who share friendship, love and addiction.

Jeffrey Kimball’s “Birders: The Central Park Effect” charts more than 200 wild bird species that flock to Manhattan’s grandest park each year – and the impassioned birdwatchers fascinated by them, including author Jonathan Franzen and matriarch Starr Saphir.

Foreign-language films:  Set in the frozen landscape of northern Finland, “Lapland Odyssey” is an edgy comedy about a bizarre quest to purchase
a cable box, despite obstacles like hostile reindeer, bikini-clad babes and
naked, gun-toting Russians.  Plus, Wim Wenders’ “Pina” celebrates the dance creativity of legendary choreographer Pina Bausch.

    Three acclaimed documentaries are my PICKS OF THE WEEK: 1) “The Impostor” relates the unbelievable-but-true story of a 23 year-old French Algerian con man who assumes the identity of a missing Texas teenager. 2) “The Gatekeepers” is an eye-opening account of non-violent resistance in Bil’in, a Palestinian West Bank village threatened by encroaching Israeli settlements. And 3) Malik Benjelloul’s “Searching for Sugar Man” is the astonishing story of Detroit’s long-lost, enigmatic folk singer/musician Sixto Rodriguez.

DVD Update for week of Jan. 18

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Jan. 18:

 

In the preachy yet persuasive “Won’t Back Down,” Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis team up as exasperated mothers determined to rescue and re-design a decrepit Pittsburgh elementary school.

Kyra Sedgwick and Jeffrey Dean Morgan star in “The Possession” about a hapless family in upstate New York that unearths a dibbuk (a malicious spirit that captures and devours the soul of an innocent person), while Nicolas Cage and Josh Lucas team up in “Stolen,” a fast-paced action thriller set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

Famed director Ted Kotcheff’s early Australian shocker, “Wake in Fright,” unseen for decades, arrives at last, revealing the story of a schoolteacher in the Outback taking a journey into the heart of darkness.

From the makers of “Jesus Camp,” Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’ highly acclaimed documentary “Detropia” chronicles the collapse and potential renewal of America’s Motor City. And “Battle for Brooklyn” documents the controversial land grab that enabled construction of the Barclays Center.

In French with English subtitles, Nenoit Jacquot’s period drama “Farewell My Queen” speculates that Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) was in love with her best friend, Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginia Ledoyen); the sets are gorgeous and the costumes are stunning.  Also in French, “17 Girls” is based on the headline-gripping true story of 17 teenagers who made a pregnancy pact.

For family viewing in time for Chinese New Year, “Stone Soup…and Other Stories from the Asian Tradition,” and to commemorate Black History month, “March On: The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World.”  For pre-schoolers, in “Thomas & Friends: Muddy Matters” the engines get down and dirty – in a good way – as they work on the Island of Sodor.

    PICKS OF THE WEEK: In Woody Allen’s fanciful “To Rome With Love,” Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz and Roberto Benigni find adventure and romance in Italy’s Eternal City. And in “Taken 2,” Liam Neeson returns as the former CIA agent; this time, he and his ex-wife (Famke Janssen) are abducted in Istanbul, and only their teenage daughter (Maggie Grace) is able to track them.

DVD Update for week of Jan. 11

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Jan. 11:

 

Coinciding with the theatrical release of “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden,” first seen on the National Geographic Channel, is based on true events and framed by real-time footage. In the same vein, “Pathfinders: In the Company of Strangers” drops you behind enemy lines, revealing the untold story of a covert WWII military mission, concealed for nearly 70 years.

Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow and Anna Camp star in saucy, snarky, spirited “Pitch Perfect” about college competitive singing, while Channing Tatum, Justin Long and Rosario Dawson team up for the ensemble comedy “10 Years” about a group of friends at their high-school reunion who, a decade later, still haven’t quite grown up.

Taking its name from the Sanskrit word for “ever-turning wheel of life,” “Samsara” examines life, humanity and our relationship with the eternal, dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text and reuniting filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, whose award-wining “Baraka” and “Chronos” dazzled with visual artistry.

Set on a bleak, futuristic Earth that’s been wasted by wars and divided into overcrowded urban centers and filled with dreadful, dystopian, digitally-enhanced carnage, Peter Travis’s “Dredd” introduces Karl Urban as the mythical Judge and Olivia Thirlby as his psychic trainee.

In Portuguese with English subtitles, “Found Memories” is a meditation on time and memory as expressed by a young Brazilian photographer who stumbles upon a small, rural village of Jotuomba that seems to be a relic of an earlier era.

For kids, “Tiny Toon Adventures Crazy Crew Rescues!” features over five hours of Looney Tunes fun at Acme Looniversity, plus there’s “Angelina Ballerina: Dance Around the World,” “Barney: Let’s Go To
the Moon,”  and “Best of Widget,” the second installment of the “Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!”  series.

PICKS OF THE WEEK: For family viewing, Disney and Tim Burton’s inventive “Frankenweenie,” the morbid, macabre Gothic tale about a boy and his dog, packaged with the delightful short “Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers.”  For adults, “Compliance,” inspired by a chilling, true story, is a twisted moral parable set at ChickWich, a fast-food joint; it delves into just how far one might go to obey an authority figure.

DVD Update for week of Jan. 4

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Jan. 4:

 

   “Premium Rush” is a race-against-time as Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a Manhattan bicycle messenger entrusted with a mysterious envelope that he must deliver within a prescribed timeframe; it’s memorable only for the impressive chase scenes and stunt work on a bike without brakes.

    Robert Pattinson stars as a hotshot investment tycoon in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” a cynical, pretentious  thriller that purportedly examines our obsession with power, money, control, information, technology, sex, mortality, revolution, destruction and, ultimately, redemption.

    “The Words” refers to a new book written by an author (Dennis Quaid) who describes an ambitious young writer (Bradley Cooper) who discovers an old manuscript and publishes it as his own; basking in fame and fortune, he encounters a mysterious old man (Jeremy Irons), the manuscript’s real author.

    Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Retribution” continues the sci-fi/horror series in which Milla Jovovich remains the human race’s last-and-only hope against the vicious bio-pharmaceutical company that concocted the T-virus, a plague that triggered a zombie apocalypse.

    In that same vein, “The Millennium Bug” follows the Haskin family as they seek refuge from Y2K hysteria in the isolated forests of the Sierra Diablos Mountains, only to be abducted by a vicious hillbilly clan and beset by a monstrous nightmare erupting from deep below.

    Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer” celebrates African-American strength and resilience in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood as a middle-class Georgia boy (Jules Brown) spends summer vacation with his devout Methodist grandfather, Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse (Clarke Peters).

   Kids – ages three to seven – can learn about science the fun way with “Isis: The Happy Professor,” and there’s a new Wild West cowgirl “Cinderella,” featuring a furry and feathered cast of animated characters in an inventively reimagined story.

   PICKS OF THE WEEK:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis star in “Looper,” an exciting, action-packed, futuristic thriller revolving around the tricky concept of time-travel and its challenging consequences. …and Clint Eastwood scores in “Trouble With the Curve,” playing a cranky, aging baseball scout on one final recruiting trip with Amy Adams as his daughter.