This week’s DVD releases include two animated films and an unusual relationship drama by director Steven Soderbergh.
Monsters Vs. Aliens
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for sci-fi action, some crude humor and mild language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Each year, it becomes increasingly clear that the animated film world is divided into two camps. Pixar releases … and everything else.
Sure, there’s the occasional standout — “Shrek,” “Monster House,” “The Iron Giant” — created by someone other than Pixar. But, by and large, Pixar seems to have a formula for success that nobody else can duplicate.
“Monsters Vs. Aliens” is a perfect example. It’s a cute movie. One that will undoubtedly leave little tykes smiling and clamoring for more. It is not, however, overflowing with the sight gags and attention to detail that make Pixar films like “Up,” “Ratatouille” and “The Incredibles” so joyful for adults.
Fortunately, “Monsters” looks great and has a clever premise, which makes it entertaining even if it doesn’t stand at the top of its genre. The film starts on Susan Murphy’s wedding day. She’s riding on top of the world when the world … or at least a large meteorite … comes crashing down on top of her.
Suddenly, Susan starts growing at a ridiculous pace, busting through the roof of the church where her wedding was to take place and turning into a monster that the government names Ginormica. Within minutes, Susan is subdued and placed in a holding facility. She’s also introduced to several other government-imprisoned monsters. One is a blob-like creature named B.O.B. One, Dr. Cockroach, is a fusion of man and roach. Another is a giant creature known as Insectosaurus. Yet another is a muscle-bound amphibian known as The Missing Link.
Just when it seems they will all live in solitude for the rest of their lives, an alien robot attacks Earth, and the government asks the monsters subdue it.
The movie packs a nice message about personal empowerment, and the animation is exceedingly good. Also impressive is the voice cast. Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon portrays Susan, and she is joined by an all-star group including Seth Rogen, Hugh Laurie, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, Stephen Colbert, Paul Rudd and Kiefer Sutherland.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a filmmakers’ commentary and making-of featurettes.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Rated PG-13 for action violence throughout and a crude comment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
This sixth entry in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie series pairs two of the most popular heroes in comic book history, Superman and Batman. Based on the comic series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, the story is set at a time when supervillain Lex Luthor has become president of the United States. Although some heroes have chosen to believe in Luthor and fight for his cause, both Superman and Batman see him for the crook that he is and ultimately become wanted men because of that.
Also key to the plotting is a giant Kryptonite meteor heading toward Earth at a high rate of speed. Should the rock strike the planet, millions will die, but Superman is unsure how to react because even small doses of Kryptonite render him helpless.
The animation is solid and the movie has some fine moments that comic book fans should appreciate. Unfortunately, the plotting suffers from an over-reliance on action, as a disproportionate number of the film’s 67 minutes are spent depicting Superman and Batman in combat. Even so, “Public Enemies” should be of interest to hardcore D.C. Comics fans. It just isn’t as strong as the previous D.C. movies, especially “Superman: Doomsday.”
“Public Enemies” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a two-disc set with a digital copy for portable devices. Extra features vary.
The Girlfriend Experience
2 1/2 stars
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Steven Soderbergh likes to alternate between big-budget, star-laden pictures, like his Danny Ocean flicks, and intimate features with independent sensibilities. “The Girlfriend Experience” is very much the latter, an unusual drama centered on a high-end Manhattan call girl named Chelsea (adult film star Sasha Grey in her mainstream debut).
The movie gives insight into Chelsea’s life through a series of intermingled vignettes that are shown out of sequence, yet edited together in a sensible manner. In one recurring segment, Chelsea talks to a journalist who is doing a story about her lifestyle. In other sequences, we meet her boyfriend (Chris Santos), who has accepted her profession but insists that she follow certain rules.
The movie is fascinating, but a number of the scenes feel forced, and that takes away from Soderbergh’s gritty, reality-soaked style. Also, the film ends abruptly, almost as though Soderbergh ran out of things to say mid-sentence and simply shut the camera off.
As for Grey, her first effort as a conventional leading lady shows promise, but she isn’t as comfortable with dialogue as Soderbergh’s more experienced leading ladies.
“The Girlfriend Experience” DVD includes an unrated alternate cut, a commentary by Soderbergh and Grey, and an HDNet feature about the movie.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Shrink”: Kevin Spacey stars as Henry Carter, a down-and-out psychiatrist to a bunch of Hollywood’s A-list actors. Trouble is, Henry has problems equal to those of his patients. The ensemble cast includes Mark Webber, Keke Palmer, Robert Loggia and Gore Vidal.
“Management”: This romantic comedy tells the story of an uptight sales rep named Sue (Jennifer Aniston) who is relentlessly pursued by Mike (Steve Zahn), a laid-back motel manager. Mike is so determined, in fact, that he follows Sue across the country, even though her hot-headed boyfriend (Woody Harrelson) is still in the picture.
“Away We Go”: Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”) delivers an offbeat comedy about a couple (John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph) who travel across America to find the perfect place to raise their first child. Catherine O’Hara, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jeff Daniels and Allison Janney also star.
“The Wizard of Oz”: Warner Brothers is rolling out a restored version of the classic fantasy film in celebration of its 70th anniversary. The movie is available for the first time on Blu-ray, and you can also choose between two-disc and five-disc DVD editions.
“Life on Mars” — The Complete Series: This TV crime drama is centered on modern-day police detective Sam Tyler (Jason O’Mara), who was mysteriously transported to the early 1970s following a hit-and-run accident. The stories take place in New York City and touch on events of the time, including Watergate, women’s lib, and the Vietnam War.
“How I Met Your Mother” — Season Four: This sitcom about twenty-somethings dealing with the ups and downs of romantic relationships, friendships and working life is one of the best shows on television. Now you can add one more chapter to your collection.
“The Universe” — The Complete Season Three: History Channel series exploring space and the mysteries of our universe. The show is built largely around NASA images and realistic computer animation and recreations.
Storybook Treasures: Scholastic is delivering two new entries to its Storybook Treasures series just in time for Halloween. The first, “A Very Brave Witch,” includes eight favorite Halloween stories. The second, “Treasury of Classic Bedtime Stories,” features video adaptations of 28 beloved children’s books including “Curious George Rides a Bike,” “Corduroy” and “Harold and the Purple Crayon.”
Disney Christmas DVDs: In anticipation of the holiday season, Disney is rolling out three Christmas releases for little ones. “A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa” features Kermit, Gonzo and company in a story about letters to St. Nick that get lost on the way to the North Pole. “Winnie the Pooh Seasons of Giving” 10th Anniversary Edition explores the holiday traditions of winter. Lastly, “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” offers an animated spin on Charles Dickens’ Scrooge story, with Mickey, Donald and friends in the leading roles.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com