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article imageReview: New on DVD for April 8 Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 8, 2014 in Entertainment
This week’s releases include the best foreign language film of 2013 (according to Oscar); a new tale of paranormal activity; the wrath of a materialistic dragon; and a three-decades-old score that’s settled.
The Great Beauty (DVD)
Mongrel Media
Journalist Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) charms and seduces his way through the lavish nightlife of Rome as a permanent fixture in the city's literary and social circles. However, when his sixty-fifth birthday coincides with a shock from the past, Jep finds himself unexpectedly taking stock of his life, turning his cutting wit on himself and his contemporaries, and looking past the extravagant nightclubs, parties and cafés to find Rome in all its glory: a timeless landscape of absurd, exquisite beauty.
The striking cinematography is this film’s best asset. From the architecture to the culture to the chaos of the social scene, it is all visually exquisite. The opening sequence at Jep’s outrageous birthday celebration is dazzling. Rapidly cutting from one merrymaker to another, the movie gives the impression that partying in Italy at any age is wild. However, the pressure to stay young and attractive is growing uglier. This burden is presented in a haphazard manner that makes it impossible to become invested in the narrative – however loose it is. It jumps from one scene to another with no logic, just presenting a different situation involving Jep. At its extended length of nearly two-and-a-half hours, the viewer’s mind can drift and return to realize they’ve missed nothing. Director Paolo Sorrentino presents an admirable depiction of aging in a society that values youth, but it spends most of the time meandering aimlessly through impressive visuals.
There are no special features. (Mongrel Media)
Grudge Match (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Old boxing rivals (Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone) come out of retirement for one final match when boxing promoter Dante Slate, Jr. (Kevin Hart) makes them an offer they can’t refuse to reenter the ring and settle the score once and for all.
De Niro and Stallone played two of cinema's most iconic boxers – though they each did it more than 30 years ago. This film draws on the possibility of that hypothetical question: "who would win in a fight - Jake La Motta or Rocky Balboa (originally portrayed by De Niro and Stallone respectively)?" Both men take up the roles of aging pugilists with ease. De Niro is the loud-mouthed instigator, while Stallone remains the punchy, blue collar muscle. Alan Arkin steps in as Stallone's friend and coach, but isn't as curmudgeonly as Burgess Meredith. This is generally an enjoyable film, but it is far longer than necessary and could have benefitted from some serious tightening. The desire to give both characters extended storylines of regret and redemption stretches the narrative to nearly two hours when main event doesn’t even fill the final quarter.
Special features include: an alternate opening; two alternate endings; “In the Ring with Kevin Hart”; “Kevin Hart Unedited”; “Ringside with Tyson & Holyfield”; and “Blow-by-blow with Larry Holmes.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
The hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), continue their journey to reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. Along the way, they encounter the skin-changer Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt); giant spiders of Mirkwood; wood-elves led by Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and King Thranduil (Lee Pace); and a mysterious man named Bard (Luke Evans), who smuggles them into Lake-town. Finally reaching the Lonely Mountain, they face their greatest danger – the dragon Smaug.
The second film carved out of J.R. Tolkien's novella is once again a mix of content based on the source material and newly added storylines to pad the narrative. The cast from the first film returns and Bloom reprises the role of Legolas to anchor one of the previously nonexistent plots. The timelines are also altered as shorter periods are more suitable for film. The need to construct these films as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy seems to be the main motivation for the extraneous accounts at the expense of actual stories included in the book. Fortunately the appearance of Smaug is not a disappointment as he looks as mammoth and intimidating as Tolkien's words would have you believe. All signs point to the final installment centering on an epic battle, following the same structure as the aforementioned trilogy.
Special features include: “Peter Jackson invites you to the set”; production videos; and “New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth, part 2.” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
Holy Ghost People (DVD)
XLrator Media
A teenager (Emma Greenwell) searching for her lost sister in the Appalachian Mountains encounters a snake-handling religious cult and eventually learns the truth about her sister's fate.
This film approaches several topics, but never fully realizes any of them. The inner workings of the religious cult the main characters infiltrate are never fully explored. It's clear the leader, Billy (Joe Egender), is preying on the hardships and vulnerabilities of his followers. But everyone is either presented as a stereotype or in vague terms. Wayne (Brendan McCarthy) is a veteran haunted by memories of war that he tries to keep at bay with alcohol. Again, this is a heady subject that is glossed over throughout the movie. Charlotte (Greenwell) has a very troubled past that is only hinted at but never completely explained. Overall the story is adequate as far as movies about religious sects go, but it's quite superficial.
There are no special features. (XLrator Media)
Lizzie Borden Took an Axe (DVD)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
On a scorching, hot summer day in 1892 in Fall River, Massachusetts, Lizzie Borden (Christina Ricci) returns home to the house she shares with her father Andrew (Stephen McHattie), stepmother Abby (Sara Botsford) and sister Emma (Clea DuVall). But, unlike any normal day, Lizzie encounters the bloody scene of her parents violently murdered. Police quickly question multiple suspects in town, but evidence keeps pointing back to the Borden’s youngest daughter Lizzie, the seemingly wholesome Sunday school teacher. Lizzie’s lawyer, Andrew Jennings (Billy Campbell), proclaims her innocence arguing that it is inconceivable a woman could commit the heinous crime of brutally murdering her family with an ax. Lizzie is put on trial for the murders, both in the courtroom and in the press, sparking a widespread debate about her culpability. As the case rages on, the courtroom proceedings fuel an enormous amount of sensationalized stories and headlines in newspapers throughout the country, forever leaving Lizzie Borden’s name in infamy.
This film takes many liberties with the murderous legend that drew attention because of the nature of the crime and the gender of the accused. While the truth would never be known, it assumes Lizzie is guilty. Portraying a strained and manipulative relationship with her parents, the narrative suggests that combined with her unbalanced mental stability Lizzie could have committed the gruesome slayings. The movie goes as far as to project Lizzie tortured her sister with the details of their parents' deaths. Though Ricci delivers an exceptional performance, the audacity of her character is difficult to accept for if she had appeared as guilty as she's shown here the outcome of the trial would have likely been different. In addition, the modern punk soundtrack only enhances the movie's lack of believability.
There are no special features. (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Blu-ray, DVD & Digital copy)
Paramount Home Media Distribution
Seventeen-year-old Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has been hearing terrifying sounds coming from his neighbour’s apartment, but when he turns on his camera and sets out to uncover their source, he encounters an ancient evil that won’t rest until it’s claimed his soul.
As with all of the films in this franchise, they link together in some way; it's not immediately obvious how, but the ending makes the connection quite clear. This is the first film to really branch out from the sisters' stories and it makes a concrete distinction by centering on a male possessed rather than seduced. Nonetheless, this picture continues the tradition of well-built atmosphere and hair-raising scares. However, Jesse's transformation becomes a bit more disturbing than some of the previous supernatural occurrences as his body changes and his actions grow increasingly malevolent. This entry does not match the bar set by some of the other movies, but it does an excellent job weaving this seemingly unrelated story into the already existing world of witches and demons.
Special features include: extended version of the film; and found footage. (Paramount Home Media Distribution)
Sofia the First: The Floating Palace (DVD)
Disney Pictures Home Entertainment
After Sofia helps a young mermaid named Oona, Sofia’s amulet grants her the power to transform into a mermaid and visit her new friend’s secret underwater kingdom. But when Cedric (disguised as a sea monster) plots to steal Oona’s enchanted Mermaid Comb, danger surfaces for both worlds. With a little help from special guest, Princess Ariel, Sofia embarks on an adventure to rescue Oona.
This was a Disney special based on the television series about a little girl being prepped for a life of royalty after her mother marries a king. Of course the fact that she was once a commoner is an easy circumvention to the unpleasant stereotype about the elite. Sofia is so sweet and caring, she wins over everyone she encounters. Many episodes include the help of a Disney princess and this one not surprisingly features The Little Mermaid’s Ariel, though her role is limited to a cameo. The computer-generated images are vibrant and have more depth than the average cartoon, making her world somewhat more immersive than its flatter counterparts.
Special features include: three additional episodes. (Disney Pictures Home Entertainment)
War of the Worlds: Goliath (3D Blu-ray & Blu-ray)
Anderson Digital & Barking Cow Media Group
In a parallel universe, World War One is imminent as we follow the story of human resistance fighters who march to battle against the second invasion of the Martians. In 1899, the Earth was attacked by ruthless invaders from the planet Mars. The Martians’ 80 ft. tall, heat-ray spewing, Tripod battle machines laid waste to the planet, but the invaders ultimately fell prey to Earth’s tiny bacteria. Fifteen years later, Man has rebuilt his shattered world in large part by utilizing captured Martian technology. Equipped with giant, steam-powered Tripod battle machines, the international rapid reaction force is Mankind’s first line of defense against the return of the rapacious Martian invaders. And return the Martians do. The rematch finds the multinational battle squad tripod “Goliath” on the front lines of a vicious interplanetary offensive. This time the Martians are using even more advanced alien technology. In the crucible of combat, the young crew helming the mighty Goliath will be tested to the limits of their endurance and courage as they fight for Mankind’s very survival under the onslaught of an implacable enemy.
This is an animated war film that is comparable to most live action pictures in the genre. It doesn’t spend a lot of time spoon-feeding audiences the back story, assuming they are at least somewhat familiar with the original novel or movie. Instead it focuses on the contemporary story about soldiers of various nationalities dedicated to defend the world against formidable odds. They are forced to put aside their domestic grievances in favour of uniting on behalf of humanity. But many of them die during the confrontation. The cost of war is not concealed in any way, repeatedly showing the effects of the Martian’s heat rays close up, fear in the face of imminent death and the utter destruction of battle. On a smaller screen, the 3D appears more vibrant than in most movie theatres and it adds a respectable amount of depth to the beautifully designed, steampunk-inspired picture.
Special features include: a making-of featurette; “Stories Before the War”; “The Movie in Storyboards”; “Meet our Voice Actors”; “The Art of War”; “The Lovers”; the trailer. (Anderson Digital & Barking Cow Media Group)
More about The Great Beauty, grudge match, the hobbit desolation of smaug, paranormal activity the marked ones, War of the Worlds Goliath
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