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New on DVD and Blu-ray Week of October 29-November 4

View Harley Lond's Profile

By Harley Lond - 10/28/13 at 07:35 PM CT


THIS WEEK'S THEATRICAL RELEASES:

"Monsters University": Ever since the release of "Toy Story" (1995), the folks over at Pixar have striven to equal (or surpass) the breathtaking excitement of that ground-breaking film. Although they've rarely fallen on their faces, it's been pretty hard to match the humor, kindness, warmth, love and sense of adventure of the three "Toy Storys." They've never really had a flop, but some of their outings have failed to stir the imagination and have fallen somewhere between the redundancy of "Cars 2" and the creativity of "Finding Nemo." "Monsters University" lands somewhere in the lower portion of that continuum, a weak prequel to 2001's Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) go back to school in the top 2013 animated film Monsters University "Monsters, Inc." Where that film came up with the brilliant story of Monsters, Inc., a company that sends "Scarers" into bedrooms to generate their city's power by frightening children, "Monsters University" breaks no new ground but instead comes off as a bland animated buddy film created to cash in on and take advantage of Disney's merchandising juggernaut. (That being said, of course, I have to note that even a lackluster Pixar outing is still more entertaining than 90 percent of what passes for family product on the big -- and little -- screen). The story here revolves around college-bound monster Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal), who's dreamed of becoming a Scarer since a little kid. Knowing that the best Scarers come from Monsters University, he enrolls in the school, but his plans go awry when he meets natural-born scarer James P. Sullivan, "Sulley" (voice of John Goodman). The two begin to compete with each other, and their outrageous shenanigans get them kicked out of the university's elite Scare Program. It's then that they realize they'll have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right. There's a wealth of extras on both the DVD and Blu-ray versions, including commentary; "The Blue Umbrella," an animated short film from Pixar Animation Studios about two umbrellas who fall in love during a rain storm; a variety of behind-the-scenes featurettes; deleted scenes; set flythroughs; an art gallery; and more. Also features the voices of Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Julia Sweeney, John Krasinski, Aubrey Plaza, Bonnie Hunt, Frank Oz, Steve Buscemi and Charlie Day.

I really wanted to like "R.I.P.D." It had gotten such bad buzz before it opened, and then such a lukewarm reception by the critics, that I wanted to give the film the benefit of the doubt and be generous with what -- in concept -- sounded like a great idea: A police force made up of dead cowboys and deceased cops whose mission was to return to the "other side" monstrous Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynalds in the 2013 action movie R.I.P.D. spirits still roaming the Earth (the screenplay was based on the Dark Horse graphic novel). Unfortunately, however, the whole affair came off as a re-purposed "Men in Black," right down to the use of secret entrances to the agents' headquarters, the pairing of a grizzled veteran (Jeff Bridges as a long-dead old West gunslinger) and a newbie (Ryan Reynolds as a recently dead cop), and outlandish bodies for the evil spirits once their human facades are stripped off. The plot: Reynolds, on the verge of becoming a dirty cop, is killed in the line of duty and in order to redeem himself, he's forced to join the Rest in Peace Department and, with veteran dead sheriff Roy Pulsifer (Bridges), has to track down criminals trying to escape final judgment. They soon uncover a plot to open a tunnel between Earth and the afterlife that would begin sending angry souls the wrong way, an action that could end life as we know it. Despite sporadic spectacular special effects, the film drags, especially in lengthy "talky" scenes between Bridges -- here making a mockery of his "True Grit" persona -- and Reynolds. And the one original bit -- both men have avatars that represent them when they're seen by the living, a Chinese man for Reynolds, a sexy woman for Bridges -- falls flat because of stilted acting and pacing. Co-stars Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker. Extras include deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reel, and several making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Universal

COLLECTIBLES:


From the opening shots of "La notte" (1961), you know you're in the hands of a master filmmaker. The stark black-and-white images contrast old and new Milan from a street-level camera view of a pre-war building and a modern skyscraper, them moves to the top of a newly constructed high-rise, finally descending to earth as an outdoor elevator moves to the ground floor. The contrasts between the values of the old and La notte Criterion Collection Cover the new, between love and lust, and between ennui and happiness continues in this psychologically acute, visually striking modernist work -- director Michelangelo Antonioni's follow-up to the epochal "L'avventura." Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau star as a novelist and his frustrated wife who, over the course of one night, confront their alienation from each other and the achingly empty bourgeois Milan circles in which they travel. Antonioni's muse Monica Vitti smolders as an industrialist's tempting daughter. "La notte" is an indelible illustration of romantic and social deterioration. In a gorgeous looking new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition. From where else -- The Criterion Collection ... "Beauty and the Devil" (1950), directed by master filmmaker Rene Clair ("Under the Roofs of Paris," "A Nous la Liberte," "I Married a Witch," "And Then There Were None"), is a retelling of the Faust legend. An aging professor of alchemy makes a bargain with the Devil that will give him youth, fame and riches in exchange for his soul. Clair creates an allegorical fantasy that is both whimsical and tragicomic in this rarely seen masterpiece. Stars Michel Simon and Gerard Philipe. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc, newly remastered by Cohen Media Group.

BUZZIN' THE 'B'S:


"Bounty Killer" (2013), starring Matthew Marsden, Christian Pitre, Barak Hardley, Eve, Gary Busey, Beverly D'Angelo and Alexa Vega, postulates a near-future in which corporate greed Byzantium Blu-Ray Cover led to a fierce global battle that laid waste to the world and in which a new breed of killers -- who compete for body count, fame and a fat stack of cash -- hunt down white collar criminals and exterminate self-serving CEOs. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Arc Entertainment ... In "Byzantium" (2013), directed by Neil Jordan and starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan, vampire Clara and her daughter Eleanor have been sating their need for blood for 200 years. Sensitive Eleanor relies on the elderly to survive, but Clara is far less compassionate, working as a prostitute and bringing a violent end to those who would take advantage of women. When the trail of bloodless corpses left in their wake forces them to flee to a coastal town in England, Clara turns a rundown hotel into a brothel and Eleanor tells her story to a young man she befriends, jeopardizing their existence. On DVD and Blu-ray from IFC Films

ON THE INDIE FRONT:


"Margarita" (2012) is a charming lesbian drama that tells the tale of an undocumented Mexican nanny, Margarita, whose girlfriend is reluctant to commit and whose yuppie employers -- Margarita DVD Cover a nice Toronto family with money problems -- are about to let her go, leading to her possible deportation. Stars Nicola Correia Damude, Christine Horne, Patrick McKenna, Claire Lautier and Maya Ritter. From Wolfe Video ... A Stanford law-school dropout retreats to Los Angeles and helps run her best friend's ice cream truck, fending off locals and oddball friends alike as she doles out free soft serve and, on the day of her boyfriends's birthday, finds herself being courted by a young man whom she barely remembers from the night before in "Free Samples" (2012), starring Jess Weixler, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Halley Feiffer and Tippi Hedren. From Anchor Bay ... Successful businessman Archie Skidmarks Fenton returns to his hometown to run for mayor and winds up facing his mullet-wearing childhood buddy Reg, the local tow-truck driver in "Running Mates" (2011), starring Thomas Michael, Paolo Mancini, DJ Qualls, Graham Greene, Henry Winkler and Jane McLean.From Monarch Home Entertainment.

FOR THE FAMILY:


Get ready for a gigantic onslaught of Christmas DVDs as this year's holiday gift-selling season starts much sooner than ever -- the first salvo of DVDs includes "Coming Home for Christmas" (2013), starring George Canyon, Amy Jo Johnson, Britt McKillip and Carly McKillip in a tale about an estranged family that agrees to come back together to their old family home for a Christmas reunion. But there's one big problem -- there's someone else living in their home now. From Nasser Entertainment ... "Little Brother, Big Trouble -- A Christmas Adventure" (2012) is an animated feature about a young reindeer who must find his missing little brother in order to save Christmas. From Lionsgate ... The Secret World of Santa Claus DVD Cover Curious what Santa Claus, his nine flying reindeer and the Elves do the other 364 days of the year? In the non-stop adventure "The Secret World of Santa Claus" (1997), Santa and his team search for the perfect presents for boys and girls around the globe. Each two-disc set contains a dozen episodes of the animated series. In "The Secret World of Santa Claus: Elves in Toyland," after sleighing around the world, they journey into a place full of magic where they discover the evil Gruzzlebeard has cast a spell on all the toys, making them come to life. With Christmas rapidly approaching, Santa and the Elves must undo this evil spell before it's too late. In "The Secret World of Santa Claus: A Present for Santa," the children from a nearby village meet with the Elves and work together to make Santa a gift -- he's the only person on the planet who never receives presents on Christmas. $14.95 each from Cinedigm ... "Saving Santa" (2013) is an animated family film with the voices of Martin Freeman, Noel Clark, Tim Conway, Tim Curry, Ashley Tisdale, Joan Collins. A lowly stable elf finds that he is the only one who can stop an eccentric billionaire scoundrel's invasion of the North Pole by using the secret of Santa's sleigh, a TimeGlobe, to travel back in time to Save Santa -- twice. Due Nov. 1 on DVD and in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Anchor Bay.

SPECIAL INTEREST:


In "American Experience: War of the Worlds" (2013), PBS examines the infamous radio broadcast on its 75th anniversary. On October 30, 1938, just after 8 p.m. on the East Coast, the American Experience: War of the Worlds DVD Cover millions of Americans tuned to CBS Radio were treated to an unusual dramatization of H.G. Wells's classic "The War of the Worlds," performed by 23-year-old wunderkind Orson Welles and his "Mercury Theater on the Air." Although most listeners understood that the program was a radio drama, thousands of others -- perhaps a million or more -- were plunged into panic, convinced that America was under a deadly Martian attack. With the CBS radio broadcast serving as its narrative spine, the film examines the elements that came together to create one of the biggest mass hysteria events in U.S. history: our longtime fascination with life on Mars; the emergence of radio as a powerful, pervasive medium; the shocking Hindenburg explosion of 1937, the first disaster to broadcast live; a nation anxious about the imminent outbreak of war in Europe; and the brilliant enfant terrible Orson Welles. $24.99 from PBS Distribution.

FROM TV TO DVD:


David Suchet stars as Agatha Christie's mustachioed mystery-solver in "Agatha Christie's Poirot, Series 9" (2003), which consists of four feature-length episodes: "Five Little Pigs," "Sad Cypress," "Death on the Nile" and "The Hollow." Newly remastered and restored to their original U.K. broadcast order. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc from Acorn Media ... Set in Montpelier in the south of France, "Antigone 34" (2012) is a stylish, fast-paced police-Family Tree: The Complete First Season DVD Cover thriller that examines the dark underbelly that lies beneath one of Europe's most beautiful cities, featuring Victor, a disbarred doctor, and Helene, a non-conformist psycho-criminologist. Three-disc set with six episodes, $39.95 from MHz Networks Home Entertainment ... "Cook's Country, Season 6" (2013) is a two-disc set with 13 episodes of the series that features the best regional home cooking in the country and relies on the same practical, no-nonsense food approach that has made Cook's Country magazine so successful. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc, $29.99 from PBS Distribution ... "Family Tree: The Complete First Season" (2013) is a two-disc set with eight episodes that centers on 30-year-old Tom Chadwick (Chris O'Dowd) who, after losing his job and his girlfriend, begins exploring his family heritage after inheriting a mysterious box from a great aunt he never met. Unsure of his identity, he uncovers a world of unusual stories and characters as well as a growing sense of who he and his real family are. The Johan Falk Trilogy DVD Cover Writer-director Christopher Guest's first television series. $29.98 from HBO ... "The Johan Falk Trilogy" includes three feature films about touch Swedish cop Johan Falk, whose fictional exploits are based on true stories of criminals, victims, law enforcement operatives and private security companies. Three-disc DVD, $39.95 from MHz Networks Home Entertainment ... "Line of Duty, Series 1" (2012) is a two-disc set with five episodes of the British police drama series about a London police officer who is transferred to the anti-corruption unit after he refuses to participate in a bureaucratic cover-up following a botched counterterrorism raid. $39.99 from Acorn Media ... "Spiral: Series 2" (2008) is a four-disc set with eight episodes of the hard-hitting Parisian cop procedural/thriller. $49.95 from MHz Networks Home Entertainment.

Check out other new October 29-November 4 DVD releases at OnVideo.

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