This week’s DVD releases include a stunning animated feature from Disney/Pixar and an intriguing Ashton Kutcher drama that earns its R rating.
Four stars (out of four)
Rated PG for some peril and action
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Few filmmakers are brave enough to allow a key character in a children’s film to die during the opening moments, but the creative folk at Pixar have always broken the rules. With “Up,” co-directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson don’t even seem to be playing the same game as their peers. First, they use the aforementioned death to establish both the mindset and motivation of the movie’s lead, a retiree named Carl Fredricksen. Second, they dared to place the elderly Carl at the center of an adventure so wild that most directors wouldn’t have even considered using a character over age 35.
Soured because he is a widower and because the modern world has left him behind, Carl decides to launch his home into the air using thousands of helium balloons. His plan is to float his house all the way to Paradise Falls, a South American destination that he and his late wife always dreamed of visiting. Shortly after takeoff, Carl is surprised to learn that a young Wilderness Explorer named Russell has stowed away.
Reluctantly, the grumpy, old man forms a relationship with the boy, and they find themselves on an unexpected journey when the house descends into a jungle not far from Paradise Falls. While wandering, they run into strange jungle inhabitants that include a huge bird that Russell names Kevin and a dog that is able to talk using a translating collar. They also meet an explorer named Charles F. Muntz, an elderly man who was once Carl’s boyhood hero. Alas, time has weakened Muntz’s mind and perspective, and both Carl and Russell find themselves at odds with the man.
The animation in “Up” is gorgeous, but that’s expected in Pixar films. The real treat is the story. Because Docter and Peterson are willing to take chances, they created a thoroughly unique piece of entertainment that is exciting yet packs a powerful messages about what it means to get old and the valuable things senior citizens add to our world. It also reminds us that the gap between adults and children isn’t as big as it first appears. The excellent voice cast includes Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Jordan Nagai and John Ratzenberger.
“Up” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a four-disc set with Blu-ray, standard DVD and digital copies of the film. Extra features vary.
2 1/2 stars
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Despite the guiding hand of superstar Ashton Kutcher, who both produced and stars in “Spread,” the movie didn’t do much during its theatrical run. Maybe it will have more luck on DVD because it’s a fascinating, if imperfect, look at the personality types willing to sell their souls for wealth and luxury.
Kutcher plays a handsome boy toy named Nikki who has learned to survive in Los Angeles by seducing wealthy older women who are insecure enough to allow men to sponge off of them. Although Nikki is a fascinating character, he’s difficult to relate to because he is selfish, arrogant and often downright cruel, particularly in the way he deals with a middle-aged lawyer named Samantha (Anne Heche).
Because Nikki is a cad, director David Mackenzie is charged with the difficult task of keeping viewers from turning against him. And, thanks to a standout performance from Kutcher, he does a reasonably good job, even when Nikki decides to abandon his womanizing ways for a woman that he develops feelings for (Margarita Levieva). Although the plotting sounds typical, the movie is darker than most relationship dramas, and the film maintains an edge all the way to the end.
“Spread” received an R from the Motion Picture Association of America, but it must have been pushing the limits of the rating because it is filled with graphic nudity and sex scenes that border on soft-core porn. That in itself isn’t bad but it’s something to keep in mind when deciding if and when to watch.
DVD extras include a making-of feature and an audio commentary with Kutcher, Heche and Levieva.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Ugly Truth”: Unfortunately a review copy of this mainstream romantic comedy was not available at press time. Gerard Butler stars as Mike Chadway, a chauvinistic television correspondent who lends romantic advice to a pretty morning show producer (Katherine Heigl) with guy problems. The film was directed by Robert Luketic, who had success with an earlier comedy, “Legally Blonde.”
“Monsters, Inc.”: Disney/Pixar’s animated classic about friendly monsters is available on Blu-ray for the first time, but this new four-disc combo pack also includes standard DVD and digital copies of the film. Bonus features include a filmmakers’ roundtable, the shorts “For the Birds” and “Mike’s New Car,” plus an audio commentary and several games.
“Keeping Up with the Kardashians” — Season Two: What does it take to make a reality TV show? Apparently not much. This program focuses on the lives of super-rich sisters Kim, Kourtney and Khloe along with their brother Rob, mom Kris and step-dad Bruce Jenner.
“Enlighten Up!”: Documentary film that explores the world of yoga from the perspective of filmmaker Kate Churchill, who believes the art form can transform anyone, even the biggest skeptic.
“Greg Behrendt is That Guy From That Thing”: Video of a live, one-hour comedy show by Behrendt, best-selling author of “He’s Just Not That Into You.”
“The Echo”: Psychological thriller about an ex-con who moves into the apartment of his dead mother. Strange things happen with the neighbors, and Walker suspects foul play in his mother’s death. Jesse Bradford and Amelia Warner star.
“Move On: The Movie”: A look inside the grassroots political movement that was born from a single e-mail. The movie considers both those who support the Move On group and those who oppose it. Featured in the film are Senator John Kerry, former Vice President Al Gore and Arianna Huffington.
“Rethink Afghanistan”: Documentary that questions the war in Afghanistan and examines the main issues surrounding it. Produced and directed by Robert Greenwald.
“Doomsday 2012”: History Channel documentary considering the supposed prophecy that the world will end in 2012. The release is timely because the big-budget disaster flick “2012” — starring John Cusak, Danny Glover, Amanda Peet, and Thandie Newton — is due to hit theaters Nov. 13.
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