This week’s DVD releases include a star-studded tearjerker, a traditional teen comedy, a controversial adult comedy and one of the most enjoyable adventure films of the year.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence, and brief sexual content
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Leave it to producer-director J.J. Abrams (creator of “Alias” and co-creator of “Lost” and “Fringe”) to successfully reboot the original “Star Trek” franchise. For years, there was talk of a movie that would look at the younger days of Vulcan Starfleet officer Spock and his human friend James T. Kirk, and Abrams has delivered an outstanding movie around that premise.
When viewers first meet Kirk (Chris Pine), would-be captain of the Starship Enterprise, he is an angry young man who lacks discipline, likely because his dad died saving hundreds of lives in a losing starship battle. When Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) meets Kirk by chance, he convinces him to join Starfleet and try to live up to his father’s heroics.
On his way to the Academy, Kirk meets Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), and it’s not long until other key characters from the original television series are introduced. They include Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin). Kirk and Spock were dear friends throughout the television series, but they are at-first depicted as adversaries in this film. Soon enough, however, the men must put their differences behind them, as they accompany Pike on a mission that could mean the difference between the destruction and salvation of the planet Vulcan.
Abrams’ storytelling is fast-paced and exciting even though the film runs more than two hours, and the young cast does a wonderful job capturing the spirit of the actors from the original series. This is particularly true of Quinto who is in the unenviable position of being compared directly to Leonard Nimoy, who is seen as the older Spock in several key sequences.
Although this new “Star Trek” was designed to be faithful to previously produced stories, longtime fans may notice minor continuity issues. All can be explained, however, by the fact that the entire script is built around a time shift that occurred just before Kirk’s birth. I’m sure fanboys will be debating the specifics for years to come, but I’ll leave that to them because this is the best “Star Trek” film since 1982’s “The Wrath of Kahn.”
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc Blu-ray edition. Extra features vary.
Rated R for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
To appreciate what comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles have done with “Bruno” — their follow-up to “Borat” — one must understand how they make their films. Unlike most Hollywood comedies, which are heavily scripted, Cohen and Charles shoot their movies guerilla-style, relying heavily on unsuspecting marks who are filmed as they honestly react to Cohen’s over-the-top antics.
For “Bruno,” Cohen took on the persona of the fictional title character, a flamboyantly gay Austrian fashion journalist with dreams of becoming an American star. On his journey toward that goal, Bruno interviews celebrities ranging from singer Paula Abdul to former presidential candidate Ron Paul, treating them all with a shocking lack of respect and doing his best to get them to embarrass themselves. But it’s not just the rich and famous who take a beating. Cohen, as the super-swishy Bruno, shocks everyone from blue-collar hunters to wife-swapping swingers, capturing footage that is often as disturbing as it is hilarious.
“Bruno” is really a cross between “Candid Camera” and a traditional feature film, only Cohen is more controversial than original “Camera” host Allen Funt ever dreamt of being. He doesn’t think twice about making out with another man in front of testosterone-filled fans at a mixed martial arts competition, and he seems perfectly comfortable telling a predominately black talk show audience that he has given his adopted African baby a traditional name: “O.J.”
The bits are designed to push people’s buttons and they achieve that goal, to the point where one wonders how Cohen and Charles got through the filmmaking process alive. At times the humorous skits come across as mean spirited, but they can also be surprisingly poignant, as when stage parents are shown falling all over themselves to get their child a role in one of Bruno’s photo shoots. One mother goes so far as to say she would submit her child to liposuction. Because the behavior is so bizarre and horrifying it is funny, but it’s also sad.
That’s the rub with “Bruno.” Much of the humor is in watching everyday people make asses of themselves, either out of a quest for fame or just sheer discomfort with Bruno’s flamboyance. Presumably — along with making us laugh — the movie is meant to show us that we still have a long way to go in terms of accepting people who are different than us. Unfortunately, Cohen relies on countless gay stereotypes to make his point, and he actually may end up harming the gay movement more than he helps it.
DVD extras include deleted and extended scenes, alternate sequences and a commentary where Cohen and Charles talk about the making of the movie.
My Sister’s Keeper
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content, some disturbing images, sensuality, language and brief teen drinking
New Line Cinema
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Is it ethical for parents — faced with the impending loss of a daughter — to conceive a sibling, knowing they will tap her for blood, bone marrow and possibly even organ donations in hopes of keeping the first child alive? It’s an intriguing question, and it’s central to the story of Anna Fitzgerald (Abigail Breslin), a girl who learns she was brought into the world for no other reason than to save her sister Kate’s (Sofia Vassilieva) life.
Despite the pain of this knowledge, she loves her sister and endures numerous medical procedures in hopes of helping her recover from leukemia. Finally, though, when it becomes clear that Anna is expected to give her sister a kidney, she contacts a lawyer (Alec Baldwin) and sues her parents (Cameron Diaz and Jason Patric) for the rights to her own body.
Although the story focuses on Anna, co-writer and director Nick Cassavetes allows each member of her family to express their feelings through a series of voiceover segments. This is an interesting approach because few movies ever allow voiceover from more than one character. Judging by the result here, that’s a good thing. By giving us a tiny look into the minds of each character, Cassavetes leaves us wanting more, but the film is too short to go back to all of them. Instead, we’re left with a lot of half-drawn characters and, by default, a half-drawn story.
“My Sister’s Keeper” does have genuinely touching moments, particularly those involving Kate’s struggle with cancer, but they’re not as powerful as they would have been if Cassavetes had decided to tell his story from the point of view of a single character, Anna being the obvious choice.
DVD extras are limited to a collection of additional scenes.
Rated PG-13 for some coarse and suggestive content, sex references and language all involving teens
Available on: DVD
It’s sad that “Wild Child” is the last credited screen role for the late Natasha Richardson, as the movie never even pretends to be more than a lightweight teen comedy. Anyone who’s paying attention will see the end coming before the film reaches its mid-point, and the only thing separating it from a Disney Channel feature are some lightweight cuss words and an obscene gesture that wouldn’t fly on TV.
Richardson, to her credit, did a fine job in her role as Mrs. Kingsley, the headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in Britain, but she was more talented than the part allowed her to demonstrate. The same can be said about Emma Roberts (niece to Julia Roberts), the feisty young actress who played the title role in 2007’s “Nancy Drew” and gets another stab at a lead here. She’s a spoiled Malibu teen named Poppy who gets shipped off to Kingsley’s boarding school when her wild antics push her father, Gerry (Aidan Quinn), over the edge. Cue the fish-out-of-water bits, as Poppy is forced to reconcile her freewheeling California ways with the stodgy lifestyle of a strict British school. She hates it so much that she decides she’s going to convince the staff to throw her out, leading to a number of misadventures with the handful of British chums that she’s actually able to make.
There’s also an ongoing feud with the school’s nasty head girl, romantic possibilities with the headmistress’ handsome son and an extended sequence where Poppy teaches her British classmates a thing or two about fashion. Betcha didn’t see that coming.
Extra features include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by director Nick Moore and writer Lucy Dahl.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Rome — The Complete Series”: This historical drama, which originally ran on HBO, chronicles Rome’s transition from Republic to Empire, as seen through the eyes of two soldiers. It is available on both DVD and Blu-ray formats.
“Farscape — The Complete Series”: Catch all four seasons of this Sci-Fi Channel series about astronaut John Crichton (Ben Bowder), who accidentally enters a wormhole near earth and winds up part of a renegade group of aliens who are always on the run. This 25-disc set includes Crichton’s entire saga.
“The Best of Star Trek The Original Series Volume 2” and “The Best of Star Trek The Next Generation Volume 2”: If the new “Star Trek” movie doesn’t satisfy your thirst for the series, these two collections might do the trick. “The Original Series Volume 2” features four of the show’s most memorable episodes, including the series’ second pilot, “Where No Man has Gone Before.” “The Next Generation Volume 2” episodes include “Relics,” “The Inner Light,” “Cause and Effect” and “Tapestry.”
“7th Heaven The Ninth Season”: This long-running show looks at the lives of the Camden family, led by patriarch Eric (Stephen Collins), a reverend. This season, the family dynamics change as a child is born, children move back home, Martin (Tyler Hoechlin) becomes a permanent member of the family, the twins start school, and Ruthie (Mackenzie Rosman) goes on her first date.
“The Open Road”: Due to his mother’s illness, Carlton Garrett (Justin Timberlake) enlists his ex-girlfriend, Lucy (Kate Mara), to help him find his estranged father (Jeff Bridges) and reunite his family. Along the way, the three experience a series of misadventures and ultimately bond.
“Downhill Racer”: Criterion Collection release of the 1969 film starring Robert Redford, Gene Hackman, and Dabney Coleman. Redford plays David Chappellet, a hotshot skier competing for Olympic gold with an underdog American team in Europe. Hackman plays the coach who tries to wrangle David’s overblown ego.
“Thirst”: Things go awry when priest Sang-hyun (Korean star Kang Ho, “The Host“) is given a blood transfusion. The blood is infected and Sang-hyun turns into a vampire with a thirst for erotic love.
“The Canyon”: A psychological thriller set in the Grand Canyon. Newlyweds Nick (Eion Bailey) and Lori (Yvonne Strahovski from the TV series “Chuck”) wind up being hunted while they’re trapped within the unforgiving landmark.
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