Movies Without Pity

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 23, 2013

by Ethan Alter April 23, 2013 8:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 23, 2013

This ain't no gangster's paradise.

Gangster Squad
The movie year got off to an inauspicious start with the delayed release of Ruben Fleischer's '50s-era slice of L.A.-set cops-and-robbers noir, which was originally scheduled for an August 2012 release before a real-life tragedy (the Aurora shootings) led the studio to push the movie to early January. The move was primarily intended to give Fleischer the chance to shoot a new ending in place of the original "shoot-out in a movie theater" climax, but it's likely that the studio realized that Squad simply wasn't coming together and opted to burn it off during the cinematic equivalent of the dreaded Saturday primetime slot where network shows generally go to die. It's a fate that Gangster Squad deserved, as this underwhelming pastiche of other, better gangster movies doesn't succeed as an extended homage or as a film unto itself, despite the presence of a seasoned crew of tough guy stars -- ranging from Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling to Robert Patrick and Anthony Mackie -- as the members of the titular police unit tasked with bringing down L.A.'s biggest gangster, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, in full I Am Sam scenery-chewing mode). Aspiring to attain the same level of pop art brio as Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, the movie misses the mark by a mile, instead coming across as a poorly-plotted, tension-free production that feels like a bunch of kids playing dress-up in their parents' and grandparents' clothes. A gifted director of comedies -- his previous films Zombieland and the underrated 30 Minutes or Less were among the funniest films of their respective years -- Fleischer's attempt to play it straight unfortunately turns out to be one big joke.
Extras: A commentary track with Fleisher, deleted scenes and four making-of featurettes.
Click here to read our original review

Jurassic Park 3D
Among the catalogue titles to get the retroactive 3D treatment, Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park makes a heck of a lot more sense for the conversion process than say, Top Gun, especially as it gives a new generation of moviegoers the chance to see the film on the big screen. A 3D version makes far less sense on your home television, especially since 2D editions of the film are readily available in both high and standard definition. (For the true completest, there's also a three-movie box set that packages the original along with its two inferior prequels and an extensive collection of bonus features.) But if you're one of those folks with a 3D-enabled television and are looking for movies besides Avatar to test it out with, you can trust the impeccable technical credentials of this release as Spielberg, like Cameron, is a stickler for presentation and has the clout to see it manufactured to the utmost quality. And the movie's still pretty great, too... even with the flaws cited below.
Extras: Apart from a lone 3D-oriented extra, the majority of the bonus features included here have been ported over from previous editions, most notably the first installment of a retrospective documentary made for the three-movie box set released. There's also a vintage '90s featurette, video recordings of early pre-production meetings, animatics, storyboards and a featurette about ILM, which brought those digital dinos to life.
Click here to see the five flaws in Jurassic Park that the 3D won't fix

Promised Land
You might think that the reunion of Good Will Hunting director and star Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon combined with the timely subject matter of natural gas frakking would have led Promised Land to make a larger dent in last year's awards race. But the film arrived in theaters at the tail end of December and barely made a ripple with voters or with audiences. That's not a huge surprise since -- despite the prestigious names involved -- Promised Land is largely a snooze, a disappointing attempt at an agitprop drama that seems strangely afraid of its own subject matter. Damon (who co-wrote the script with co-star John Krasinski) plays one of the top salesman for a natural gas corporation, who turns up in yet another small town ready to sell the locals on the benefits of getting into bed with his company. But a surprisingly entrenched opposition (led by Hal Holbrook and Krasinki's environmental activist) coupled with the romantic affections of a beautiful public school teacher (Rosemarie DeWitt) brings about a crisis of conscience that carries enormous professional and personal implications. Van Sant and Damon have made a conscious effort to avoid any Norma Rae style rah-rah rabble-rousing in its take on the frakking controversy and while that restraint is admirable to a certain extent, it results in storytelling that's bland and largely devoid of compelling conflict. (A needlessly convoluted last minute plot twist involving a key character's motivations doesn't help matters.) Promised Land is disappointing enough to make you wish that, for their next team-up, Gus and Matt would just go ahead and make Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season already.
Extras: A lone extended scene and making-of featurette.
Click here to read our original review

A seedy, low-budget throwback to grindhouse prison movies that's primary claim to fame is that it was directed by Kristen Stewart's mother, Jules, K-11 desperately wants to be taken seriously, but that proves difficult when so much about it is absurd. After a DUI arrest, a fast-living music producer (Goran Visnjic) is locked up in a special division of the L.A. jail system reserved exclusively for gay and transgender prisoners (among them Jason Mewes and Portia Doubleday), who are ruled over by ferocious drug dealer, Mousey (Kate Del Castillo), while the prison staff (led by D.B. Sweeney) looks the other way. An obvious fan of Tom Fontana's late, great Oz series, Stewart strives to replicate that show's potent mixture of gritty violence and soap opera storylines, but her screenplay (co-written with Jared Kurt) is stuck in D-block along with much of the out-of-their depth cast. (Tarted up Russ Meyer style, Del Castillo delivers the only performance of any note.) And if you're looking for an appearance by her more famous daughter, don't strain your eyes: KStew's cameo is audio only.
Extras: A commentary track with Mama Stewart, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, interviews with the cast, a photo gallery and a music video.
Click here to read our original review

Wuthering Heights
A stark contrast to the more traditional cinematic adaptations of Great Novels like 2011's Jane Eyre, Andrea Arnold's version of Emily Brontë's seminal doomed love story Wuthering Heights is vibrantly alive, feeling like part of our world instead of removed from it. Shot almost exclusively outdoors on the moors of Northern England, Arnold's film eschews the novel's framing device (as well as much of its dialogue) and leaps right into the action, with the orphan Heathcliff (played as a boy by Solomon Glave and a man by James Howson) being brought to a remote farm, where he develops a relationship with the farmer's daughter Catherine (Shannon Beer/Kaya Scodelario) that ventures far beyond the "just friends" stage. Arnold connects the ferocity of the characters' various passions to the wildness of the natural world surrounding them, giving the story a vibrancy that too many period pieces lack. Better still, it doesn't just slavishly parrot back the text of the book, which has its own distinct pleasures. This Wuthering Heights exists as its own entity, one that's strongly rooted in the source material but demonstrates an artistic vision that's utterly unique.
Extras: A video essay by film critic David Fear.

Also on DVD:
The devastating tsunami that swept through South Asia in 2004 left the region reeling, but based on The Impossible, the more important story was how it affected the lives of a family of white European tourists. Okay, that's a cheap shot at a movie that's very well-directed (particularly in the first half) by Spanish director J.A. Bayona and well-intentioned throughout, but the backgrounding of the Thai locals in favor of these interlopers can't help but grate. Getting a jump on Scary Movie 5 by opening back in January, the Marlon Wayans horror spoof A Haunted House takes on the Paranormal Activity series in an entirely toothless and witless fashion. Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt headline the based-on-a-true-story drama Any Day Now about a gay couple in the '70s trying to adopt a boy with Down syndrome. Ray Liotta, Michael Chiklis and Forest Whitaker are just some of the actors slumming in the direct-to-DVD crime picture Pawn, while the Norwegian horror movie -- is given a horror movie twist via Thale brings a figure of folklore to terrifying life. Also terrifying is Family Weekend, a would-be comedy starring a grating Kristen Chenoweth that borrows everything else from the cult hit The Ref except its laughs. The Aussie-made pot flick Stoned Bros., sends a dude and his cousin off for a ride through the outback, Cheech and Chong style. Chinatown scribe Robert Towne gave Tarzan the serious treatment in 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and while the finished product is uneven, at least it introduced Chrisopher Lambert to mass moviegoing public in all his shirtless glory. Finally, with Baz Lurhmann's take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous novel The Great Gatsby only weeks away, here's a new Blu-ray version of the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow version from 1974, which is probably more faithful to the source material, but lacks Luhrmann's addictive (or, depending on where you sit, maddening) visual razzmatazz.

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