DVD Update for week of Dec. 21

Susan Granger’s DVD UPDATE for week of Fri., Dec. 21:


    With Christmas just a few days away, here are 18 perennial holiday favorites:

“It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946):  Classic redemption story with Jimmy Stewart contemplating suicide, wishing he’d never been born until he discovers what would have happened if he’d never existed.

“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944): Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

“Holiday Inn” (1942): Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are an irresistible song-and-dance duo.

“White Christmas” (1954): Technicolor remake of “Holiday Inn,” teaming Bing Crosby with Danny Kaye.

“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947): Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood befriend Edmund Gwenn, a Macy’s Santa who claims to be the real Kris Kringle.

“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940): Ernst Lubitsch’s romantic pairing of Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart.

“Christmas in Connecticut” (1945): Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.

“The Bells of St. Mary’s” (1945): Priestly Bing Crosby comes to the aid of a parochial school run by a nun played by Ingrid Bergman.

“Remember the Night” (1940): Fred MacMurray is a prosecutor who befriends a shoplifter, played by Barbara Stanwyck, at Christmas and they fall in love.

“The Lemon Drop Kid” (1951): Bob Hope is a racetrack tout who runs afoul of a big-time gambler and introduces the classic tune “Silver Bells.”

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989): a comedy featuring disaster-prone Chevy Chase

“Home Alone” (1990): Macaulay Culkin gets left behind when his family goes to Paris.

“Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992): A unique version of Charles Dickens’s classic.

“Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993): Inventive stop-motion animation

“The Santa Clause” (1994): Tim Allen plays a divorced dad who’s chosen to be the next Santa Claus

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000): The timeless Dr. Seuss tale

“Elf” (2003): Will Ferrell believes he’s one of Santa Ed Asner’s helpers until he discovers the truth.

“Bad Santa” (2003): Terry Zwighoff’s subversive comedy mocks the commercialism of the season, as Billy Bob Thornton plays a misanthropic criminal masquerading as a shopping mall Santa to rob department stores.

DVD Update for week of Dec. 14

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


    Can a Bourne action-adventure succeed without Jason Bourne? That’s the premise of “The Bourne Legacy,” as the popular espionage series continues with a new protagonist, Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), who joins a highly secretive national security program.

    “Ice Age: Continental Drift” is the fourth franchise incarnation, but this installment wears thin, frozen by predictability.

    Alison Klayman’s revelatory documentary “Al Weiwei: Never Sorry” profiles the celebrated, avante-garde artist, one of China’s most outspoken dissidents; this Internet-savvy rebel helped design Beijing’s Olympic Stadium, then denounced the games as communist propaganda.

    In Jonathan Lisecki’s “Gayby,” a gay man (Matthew Wilkas) and a straight woman (Jenn Harris), friends since childhood, decide to have a baby together; needless to say, there are complications.

    With the dire Mayan calendar predictions looming on Dec. 21, “Ancient Aliens” delves into whether aliens are responsible for civilization as we know it, encompassing the theories first proposed by Erich von Daniken in “Chariots of the Gods” (1968).

    On the lighter side, “MLB: All-Time Bloopers” shows how the ballpark can turn into an amusement park when the unexpected, unintentional and unexplainable happens.

    The family-friendly basketball comedy “Thunderstruck” revolves around a young fan who magically switches talents with his hero, NBA All-Star MVP Kevin Durant, and “Backwards” tells the story of a fiercely competitive rower (Sarah Megan Thomas) who must find a new path after failing to make the Olympic team.

    Can’t get tickets to “Life of Mormon”? Jon Garcia’s “The Falls” is a not-dissimilar story of two young Mormon men who question just what it means to be faithful to God while being true to themselves.

    In French with English subtitles, “Unforgivable” explores the relationship of a successful crime writer (Andre Dussollier) who moves to Venice, where he meets and marries a model-turned-real-estate agent (Carole Bouquet). Also in French, “Tell No One” is Guillaume Canet’s acclaimed 2008 mystery thriller, starring Francois Cluzet, Marie-Josee Croze and Kristin Scott Thomas.

    For pre-schoolers, “Bob the Builder: Teamwork Time” teaches collaboration, while“Thomas & Friends: Sticky Situations” has sticky, slippery tales.

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Irreverent and outrageous, Seth MacFarlane’s live-action/CG animated comedy “Ted” is the weirdest, funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. Narrated by Patrick Stewart, it’s about a lonely, eight year-old whose new Teddy Bear really talks! As years pass, John (Mark Wahlberg) keeps Ted as his best buddy, much to the chagrin of his girl-friend (Mila Kunis), until his arrested development is threatened.

DVD Update for week of Dec. 7:

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Dec. 7:


    Christopher Nolan saved the best for last…“The Dark Knight Rises” concludes Batman’s epic thrill-ogy, re-imagining the iconic comic-book hero played by Christian Bale and making it relevant today.

    Meryl Streep teams with Tommy Lee Jones in the irreverent “Hope Springs,” a downright funny, feel-good romantic comedy for adults.

    Uniquely enchanting, “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” is a wish-fulfillment fantasy fable that centers on a despairing couple (Jennifer Garner, John Edgerton) who are trying to adopt a child when, miraculously, from their garden emerges mud-caked 10 year-old Timothy; while he has all the qualities they’d hoped for in a son, they manifest themselves in ways his parents could never have imagined.

    Playing a far different role, Jennifer Garner also stars in “Butter,” as the prim, prissy, ambitious wife of the reigning champion butter sculpture carver at the Iowa State Fair; it’s a sassy, undeniably strange and subversive slice of Americana.

    Narrated by Ryan Reynolds, “The Whale” tells the true, life-affirming story of a young, wild killer whale, an orca that lost her pod off British Columbia and tried to make friends with human beings.

    The complex, controversial documentary “Money and Medicine” examines the dangers of excessive health care, profiling patients and physicians from UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles and Intermountain Medical Center in Utah as they grapple with rising health-care costs and overtreatment.

    From Comedy Central, “The Legend of Neil” follows beer-guzzling slacker Neil Grimsley (Tony Janning), who accidentally finds a code that sucks him into the fantasy video game, “The Legend of Zelda.”

    For younger children, there’s “Icy Capades,” “Chilly Christmas,” “Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups,” “The Dog Who Saved the Holidays” and “Elf-Man.”

    PICK OF THE WEEK:  An evocative, contemporary allegory, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is one of the best of the year.  Set in a post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana swampland, it’s about the relationship between an unruly, precocious six year-old African-American girl called Hushpuppy and her ailing, alcoholic father. The narrative is presented in her poetic voiceover, illuminating with magical realism her wonderment about the brutal, primordial wilderness in which she lives.

DVD Update for week of Nov. 30

Susan Granger’s DVD update for the week of Fri. Nov. 30:


    Set during Prohibition and the Great Depression, John Hillcoat’s uber-violent “Lawless”   is a gangster/Western about a legendary trio of bootlegging brothers (Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Jason Clarke) who controlled whiskey manufacturing and distribution in the backwoods of Virginia.

    Set in Miami, “Step Up Revolution” is the fourth installment of the popular, if formulaic franchise as Kathryn McCormick and Ryan Guzman engage in elaborate, cutting-edge flash mobs.

    Sudsy, spirited “Sparkle” will be remembered as Whitney Houston’s cinematic swansong, playing a former pop singer-turned-churchwoman whose three daughters form a Supremes-like trio.

    Concurrent with Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” there’s “Omnibus: James Agee’s Mr. Lincoln and the Civil War,” an ambitious five-part biographical drama, starring Royal Dano and Joanne Woodward.  Other new docudramas include “Last Call at the Oasis,” revealing the world’s water crisis; “Objectified,” an ode to industrial design; “They Call It Myanmar,” featuring Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Suu Kyi; “Half the Sky” examining gender inequality around the globe; “Booker’s Place” about tensions in the Mississippi Delta during the civil rights struggle; and “Paradise Lost Trilogy” chronicling the gruesome murders of three eight year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas.

    A terrifying look into a post-apocalyptic future, “The Day” follows a group of five survivors (Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore, Ashley Bell, Cory Hardrict, Shannyn Sossamon) wandering  through a ravaged landscape, looking for refuge.  Last and definitely least, Ashley Greene (“Twilight”) stars in “The Apparition” about the poltergeist pathway that’s unwittingly opened during a para-psychological séance.

    To enhance the upcoming season, Nat King Cole, Mary Tyler-Moore, Peggy Lee and Wayne Newton spend “Christmas With Danny Kaye,” featuring digitally restored footage, unseen since the original ‘60s telecast, while Lifetime’s “12 Days of Christmas” compiles a dozen original, holiday-themed movies.

    PICKS OF THE WEEK:  Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back “Men in Black 3,” joined by Josh Brolin, as they time-travel not only to save the planet but also to discover some uncanny revelations about their relationship.  And kids will love spooky “ParaNorman,” a cleverly macabre, stop-motion animated feature about an 11 year-old who sees dead people.

DVD Update for week of Nov. 23

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Nov. 23:


    After a quick theatrical release, “Vamps” is already on DVD, as “Clueless” director Amy Heckerling reunites with Alicia Silverstone in a cheeky comedy about twentysomething vampires in modern-day Manhattan, having rejected the evil ways of their boss, played by Sigourney Weaver.

    “Wolf Lake” is the Emmy-nominated horror series that ignited the vampire/werewolf genre, and now the complete TV series – nine episodes – is available, plus the un-aired pilot.

     Commemorating the anniversary of his death, “Inside John Lennon” is an intimate account of the beloved icon.  “Ike & Tina: On the Road: 1971-72” examines dynamic Ike and Tina Turner at their creative peak. And “Color Me Obsessed” is the first documentary about the famed ‘80s indie-rock band The Replacements.

    Craig Roberts, Imogen Poots, Kevin McKidd and Timothy Spall appear in “Comes A Bright Day,” an offbeat, romantic crime thriller about an ambitious bellboy at a five-star London hotel.

    A comedy about loneliness, “Prairie Love” is an amusing, peculiar and bittersweet love story set in the vastness of North Dakota.

    “Nitro Circus: The Movie” chronicles the stunt driver buddies who engage in reckless, death-defying antics – with guest appearances by Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and Channing Tatum.

    Compiled from a fan survey, “The Best of Red vs. Blue” salutes the best of the web series that heralded online viral video, recalling the show’s most ridiculous, explosive and jaw-dropping moments.  

    “Ancient Aliens” documents why theorists like Erich von Daniken (“Chariots of the Gods”) believe that, thousands of years ago, extra-terrestrials landed on Earth and were hailed as gods as they shaped human civilization and altered the course of history.

    From the Smithsonian, “The Predator Collection” follows nature’s fiercest killers: the big cats of the Serengeti and the huge crocs of Botswana – from the top of the Savannah food chain to the depths of the Okavango Delta.

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Those self-deprecating geriatric goons are back, blasting fire power in the Balkans in the action-packed “The Expendables 2,” starring Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Jason Statham, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Liam Hemsworth.

DVD Update for week of Nov. 16

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Nov. 16:


    “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2, Ultimate Edition” is filled with more than six hours of special features and collectibles, including a 48-page photo booklet featuring rare cast/crew photos, concluding J.K. Rowling’s popular cinematic franchise.

    Boasting a supporting cast that includes Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow, Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse” revolves around a pathetic 36 year-old underachiever (Jordan Gelber) who falls for a profoundly depressed woman (Selma Blair) and proposes on their first date.

    Jude law, Anthony Hopkins, Rachel Weisz and Ben Foster star in “360,” a jigsaw-puzzle drama about people whose relationships are fragmented or falling apart, and the title refers to coming full-circle.

    Narrated by Werner Herzog, “Dinotasia” blends classic visual storytelling with CGI dinosaurs in an anthology of prehistoric tales, randomly recalling bizarre, graphic novel-style film vignettes.

    In Bryan Malone’s documentary “Celebrity Trials in the Media,” the Kobe Bryant rape trial and Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial are examined in regard to ethical dilemmas in the big business of news coverage.

   “Paradise Lost Trilogy” is the true story of the most notorious murder case in Arkansas history, including intimate portraits of grief-stricken families in this strange, uniquely American drama.

    As for Ben Stiller’s ill-conceived, incoherent comedy called “The Watch” – it’s unwatchable.

    Insofar as foreign films: Class privilege and sexual politics are inextricably linked in “Trishna,” Michael Winterbottom’s loosely-updated version of Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” in English, Hindi and Marwari, with English subtitles. In Japanese with English subtitles, the charming “I Wish” finds pre-teen brothers’ trying to connect their family after a divorce.

    Those meddling kids and their lovable dog are back in “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, Season 2, Part 1.” And for pre-schoolers, there’s “Fireman Sam: Holiday Heroes” and “Thomas & Friends: A Very Thomas Christmas.”

    PICKS OF THE WEEK: For family viewing, Disney/Pixar’s sweet, spirited “Brave” introduces a spunky teenage princess named Merida in medieval Scotland. For adult viewing, the socially relevant documentary “The Queen of Versailles” reveals the financial challenges of an extravagant billionaire family in Florida in the wake of the economic crisis.

DVD Update for week of Nov. 9

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Nov. 9:


    Halloween’s behind us but first-time filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy’s new haunted house chiller, “The Pact,” follows a young woman (Caity Lotz) whose mother has just died and whose sister has disappeared as she discovers a secret room in their childhood home where dark deeds occurred.

    Intuitively funny filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s “Your Sister’s Sister” is a smart, amusing comedy about romance, grief and sibling rivalry, featuring Emily Blunt, Rosemary DeWitt and Mark Duplass.

    There’s more comedy in “Hollywood to Dollywood,” as twin brothers Gary and Larry Lane embark on a cross-country trek to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, to get their screenplay into the hands of Dolly Parton.

    In “High Ground,” documentary filmmaker Michael Brown joins a group of 11 wounded Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and a team of Everest Summiteers, led by blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, on a gripping, emotional, life-changing expedition to climb 20,000-ft. Mount Lobuche in the Himalayas.

    Alice Rohrwacher’s Italian drama “Corpo Celeste,” set in Calabria in southern Italy, is the story of 13 year-old Maria who is struggling to make friends and settle in after growing up in Switzerland.

     Looking ahead, the scrappy, smart “Arthur Christmas” answers the question of how Santa Claus is able to deliver all those presents to the whole world in a single night – with the vocal help of Jim Broadbent, James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Hugh Laurie.

    All 54 episodes from the first season of the popular Anime TV series “Digimon” are available in an 8-disc set…in “Let’s Explore with Thomas,” the Steam Engines and Diesels don’t seem to get along…”Barney: Let’s Go to the Doctor” introduces physicians as friends…and ”Sesame Street: Old School, Vol. 3” takes a trip down memory lane, reviving some of the show’s greatest moments from 1979-1984.

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Andrew Garfield becomes angry, rebellious Peter Parker in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” an awesome fantasy/adventure that delivers emotional truth along with spectacular special effects and strong supporting performances from Sally Field, Martin Sheen, Campbell Scott and Emma Stone. Be sure to watch the pivotal, provocative scene after the closing credits.

DVD Update for week of Nov. 2

Susan Granger’s DVD Update for week of Fri., Nov. 2nd:


    Timely and amusing, “The Campaign” stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as political opponents, vying for a North Carolina Congressional seat. And even before Thanksgiving, there’s “Christmas Story 2” about a 15 year-old who accidentally wrecks his dream car before getting it off the lot and is helped by his family and friends.

    “Ruby Sparks” is Zoe Kazan’s humorous, slyly sentimental romantic fable about a neurotic literary prodigy (Paul Dano) who envisions an idealized woman (Kazan) who, inexplicably, comes to life, cooking breakfast in his kitchen – with a supporting cast that includes Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas.

    In “Americano,” writer/director Mathieu Demy (son of filmmakers Jacques Demy and Agnes Varda) plays a Frenchman who travels from Paris to Los Angeles to settle his estranged mother’s estate and discovers her attachment to a mysterious, south-of-the-border woman (Salma Hayek); featured are progeny of other famous film folk, like Geraldine Chaplin and Chiara Mastroianni.

    Sundance Film Festival winner “The Invisible War” is an emotionally powerful investigative documentary that reveals the profound personal and social consequences of the shameful rape epidemic in the U.S. military; it’s an alarming fact that a female soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire.

    “Wish Me Away” is an inspiring documentary about Chely Wright, the first major country singer to come out as gay – a brave move since the C&W music world is notoriously homophobic. And in “Elvis & Madonna,” Copacabana lesbian photographer Elvis is hired to deliver pizzas on her motorcycle and her first delivery is to the transvestite hairdresser Lady Madonna, who has been beaten and robbed by her lover.

    Danish provocateur/director Mads Brugger rips the corroded lid off political corruption and exploitation in the Central African Republic in “The Ambassador,”  a darkly comic, gonzo journalism stunt.

    For toddlers, there’s a Chuggington winter wonderland in “Icy Escapades,” as trainees undertake brave rescue missions.

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Based on a bizarre, real-life classified ad, looking for someone to go back in time, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a fun-filled, uplifting feel-good journey taken by Seattle magazine staff writers.

DVD Update for week of Oct. 26

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


    Cinematic scares abound during this pre-Halloween weekend.

    From Troma, there’s Daniel Boyd’s “Chillers,” in which five lonely strangers swap ghost stories while stranded at a rural bus depot, ignorant of the fact that they’ll soon be transported beyond their wildest fears.

     From Long Island filmmaker Michael Shershenovich, there’s “Bloody Christmas,” in which police are searching for a child murderer while a ‘has-been’ ‘80s action movie star fantasizes about the meaning of Christmas as he plays Santa on a public access TV show.

    Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”) stars in Darren Lynn Bousman’s “The Barrens,” as a father who takes his family into the dense pine forests of New Jersey where they encounter the Jersey Devil, a winged beast spawned 400 years ago by Satan himself.

    Rudyard Kipling’s “Mark of the Beast” follows two people as they try to save a friend who, after defacing a religious shrine, becomes cursed by a faceless silver leper.

    Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Blake Lively, John Travolta and Salma Hayek star in“Savages,” Oliver Stone’s silly, sordid, sadistic story about how Mexico’s drug cartels dominate the marijuana trade.

    And before your dismiss the absurd title “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” consider that our 16th President was a strong outdoorsman, quite capable of tossing an axe at the blood-sucking undead.

    If you prefer comedy, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley team up for doomsday in “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” as a 70 mile-wide asteroid catapults toward Earth. And there’s “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection,” filled with frantic, throwaway gags and self-conscious scenes.

     Michelle Williams plays a married Toronto copywriter who deceives her easy-going husband (Seth Rogen) when she becomes fixated by an edgy/artist neighbor (Luke Kirby) in writer/director Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz.”

    PICKS OF THE WEEK: For family viewing, “Crooked Arrows” is an authentic, uplifting movie about the Native American game of lacrosse, starring Brandon Routh (“Superman Returns”). For adults, Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey and their cohorts entertain as exotic dancers in “Magic Mike,” a sleazy, raunchy R-rated beefcake fest.

DVD Update for week of Oct. 19

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


    Science-fiction doesn’t get much more exciting or provocative than Ridley Scott’s visionary “Prometheus,” integrating thematic concepts of a robot with artificial intelligence with the visceral horror of slithering, carnivorous alien creatures.

    “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” once again follows the quartet of anthropomorphic animals who are determined to make their way back to New York City’s Central Park Zoo.

    Hugo Weaving (“Matrix,” “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) stars in “Last Ride,” as a desperate fugitive and his 10 year-old son take on the rugged Australian Outback. Also set Down Under, Simon Wincer’s “The Cup” revolves around jockeys Damien Oliver and his brother, who were both destined for greatness until  tragedy struck just before the prestigious Melbourne Cup race.

    Six “extreme tourists” visit the Ukrainian ghost city of Prypiat in “Chernobyl Diaries,” a dismally contrived thriller, cursed with shaky camerawork and clichéd dialogue. And Adam Sandler’s relentlessly vulgar “That’s My Boy” is based on the notorious 1996 report of a junior high school student who impregnated his seductive teacher.

   “The Forgiveness of Blood” finds a teenager (Tristan Halilaj) becoming a marked man after his father kills a neighbor in a land dispute and, under ancient custom, the dead man’s family is entitled retribution – in Albanian with English subtitles.

    “Turn Me On, Dammit!” is Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s whimsical, refreshingly honest coming-of-age story about the blossoming sexuality of a gawky 15 year-old girl – in Norwegian with English subtitles.

    Film buffs will enjoy the legendary rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in the 50th anniversary edition of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” and the suspense of Grace Kelly/Ray Milland in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” in 3D. And new from Turner Classics’ Legends Collection, focusing spotlights on Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart.

    PICK OF THE WEEK: Wes Anderson’s wryly tender, melancholy “Moonrise Kingdom” follows two troubled 12 year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact and run away together into the coastal wilderness off New England’s Narragansett Bay. As a violent storm brews, various adults (Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman) try to find them.