Video Verdict: ‘Percy Jackson,’ ‘The Crazies,’ ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ ‘The White Ribbon’

From left, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, John Cusack and Clark Duke take a trip to the past in “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

This week’s major home video releases cover multiple genres. Leading the way are a raunchy comedy about the 1980s, a bloody horror film starring Timothy Olyphant, an award-winning German drama and a big-budget fantasy flick.

 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Chris Columbus proved he can make children’s fantasy films with the first two Harry Potter movies. Now, he’s onto another franchise with an adaptation of the first book in novelist Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series.

The film, like the book, focuses on Percy (Logan Lerman), a seemingly average boy who learns that he is in fact the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Greek god of the sea. This knowledge comes with the realization that he has remarkable powers, including the ability to manipulate water. Unfortunately, there’s also a down side to being the son of a god. Percy’s uncle Zeus (Sean Bean), the king of the gods, has decided (without reason) that Percy stole his lightning bolt, and that puts him in great danger.

During the course of the movie, Percy learns not only about himself but about the fantastical alternate world that he is a part of. And, with his friends Grover the satyr (Brandon T. Jackson) and another demigod named Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), he embarks on a wild adventure that takes him deep into the bowels of the underworld.

“The Lightning Thief” is campier and less serious than the Harry Potter films, and the third act falls a little flat. Still, Columbus keeps most of the film moving at a rapid pace, and the special effects are outstanding throughout.

The “Percy Jackson” DVD release includes five deleted scenes, a featurette about converting the book to a movie and a “Discover Your Powers” quiz. The Blu-ray release contains all of those features, plus additional deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes material.

 

 

The Crazies
3 stars
Rated R for bloody violence and language
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Breck Eisner’s remake of George Romero’s 1973 horror film “The Crazies” is fast-moving and above average for its genre even though it doesn’t attempt anything new or unusual.

In fact, it may be Eisner’s straightforward approach that makes the movie so enjoyable. Like Romero’s original, this version of “The Crazies” banks heavily on suspense with an underpinning of political commentary.

The action is set in a small Iowa town that falls apart when a bizarre virus causes citizens to fly into homicidal rages. Sheriff David Dutton (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), do their best to figure out what’s going on, but it doesn’t take them long to realize the best they can do is try and stay alive. In the meantime, the military descends on the town in an attempt to prevent the virus from spreading, even if that means killing everyone in sight.

Facing an increasingly hostile citizenry on one hand and a trigger-happy military on the other, David and Russell go on the run with David’s wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell).

Eisner does a good job blending action sequences, gore and old-fashioned suspense into a movie that should satisfy both hardcore horror fans and casual viewers. Olyphant, Anderson and Mitchell turn in likable performances, and the film’s simple-but-worthwhile political message gives viewers something to think about even once the blood stops flowing.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features, “Crazies” motion comics and a commentary by Eisner.

 

 

Hot Tub Time Machine
2½ stars
DVD and Blu-ray releases contain rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received an R for strong crude and sexual content, nudity, drug use and pervasive language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Longtime John Cusack fans remember him as the star of numerous 1980s sex comedies, which makes his casting in “Hot Tub Time Machine” genius. Cusack plays Adam, a down-on-his-luck 40-something who reunites with high school buddies Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) when the latter winds up in the hospital.

Although Lou denies it, medical professionals tell Adam and Nick that Lou’s emergency room visit is the result of a suicide attempt, so they decide to take him on a trip to their favorite 1980s hangout, the Kodiak Valley Ski Resort. They also bring Adam’s nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke), because he has nowhere else to go.

While partying heavily and talking about their glory days, the guys accidentally spill a drink on the control panel of their hot tub, and it sends them back to the 1980s to relive a ski festival they attended as kids. Afraid they could change the future and possibly even end Jacob’s existence, the guys agree to let the weekend play out exactly as it did when they were teens.

The setup is silly, as are many of the film’s jokes, and director Steve Pink (“Accepted”) leans heavily on profanity and sex gags. That in itself isn’t a problem, but only about 50 percent of the jokes actually land.

Fortunately, the film ends on a high note that, not coincidentally, is reminiscent of those 1980s movies that made Cusack a star. That doesn’t make “Hot Tub Time Machine” a modern day “Sure Thing” or “Better Off Dead,” but it’s certain to bring back memories for people who remember those films.

DVD extra features are limited to the film’s theatrical trailer and a collection of deleted scenes. The Blu-ray release includes these special features plus several promotional spots that were used to market the film in theaters.

 

 

The White Ribbon
2½ stars
Rated R for some disturbing content involving violence and sexuality
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The fact that writer-director Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” won the Palme d’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival is a testament to its technical merit. Alas, the beautiful black-and-white photography and finely drawn characters are much easier to warm to than Haneke’s storytelling style.

The movie, presented in German with English subtitles, is set in a small German village during the days leading up to World War I. Although the locale is idyllic, life there becomes troubled, as the villagers find themselves facing a series of bizarre and dangerous happenings. The first occurs when the local doctor is injured because his horse trips over a wire that was clearly strung to bring it down. Soon after, there’s a death in the village. Then, the son of a powerful baron is kidnapped and tortured.

Haneke presents his story through the eyes of the village schoolteacher (portrayed in youth by Christian Friedel and in aged voiceover by Ernst Jacobi), and the plotting and characters are fascinating. The film – entirely in black and white – is also wonderfully shot and serves as a reminder that one needn’t use color to create beautiful images.

“The White Ribbon” is frustrating, however, in that Haneke presents several interesting plot threads yet refuses to resolve any of them, including the primary mystery. This was clearly an artistic choice and many critics enjoy the film’s cloudy nature, thus the Palm d’Or. While I appreciate that Haneke is attempting to set his story apart, I find the complete lack of resolution frustrating, and I suspect many viewers will feel the same.

The DVD release doesn’t have any extras, but the Blu-ray comes with a making-of feature, an interview with Haneke, a look at the director’s career and a bit on the film’s premiere at Cannes.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Leave it to Beaver” – The Complete Series: This 37-disc collectors’ set includes all 234 episodes of the classic 1950s and ’60s sitcom about family life and coming of age. Jerry Mathers, Tony Dow, Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont star.

“Creation”: Screen adaptation of the book “Annie’s Box,” written by Charles Darwin’s great-great-grandson, Randal Keynes. The film, directed by Jon Amiel, considers Darwin (Paul Bettany) and the struggle he faced when his scientific work challenged the religious beliefs of his time. Jennifer Connelly also stars.

“Everlasting Moments”: Director Jan Troell’s 2008 drama based on the story of Swedish photographer Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen). The story takes place in the early 1900s and focuses on how winning a camera in a lottery changed Larsson’s life. Presented in Swedish with English subtitles.

“Night Train to Munich”: World War II-era suspense story about a Czech scientist and his daughter (Margaret Lockwood) who flee Prague with the help of a British secret agent (Rex Harrison). The 90-minute black-and-white film was originally released in 1940, and the digital transfer has been newly restored for the Criterion Collection. Directed by Carol Reed.

“The Warlords”: Set in the 1860s during the Taiping Rebellion, this drama revolves around three blood brothers. After the men pledge their loyalty to one another, politics, deceit and a love triangle compromise their commitment. Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro star. Presented in Mandarin and English with English subtitles.

“The Closer” – The Complete Fifth Season: In this police drama, Kyra Sedgwick plays tough-as-nails Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson. This season, Brenda deals with her gruff niece, Charlie, played by Sedgwick’s real-life daughter, Sosie Bacon.

“How the Earth Was Made” – The Complete Season Two: This History Channel series explores geology and uncovers, layer by layer, how the earth evolved.

“The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo!” – The Complete Series: The Mystery Inc. gang is on a global mission when Scooby and Shaggy accidentally unleash a bunch of troublemaking ghouls. Two new characters joined the group for this series: Flim-Flam, an impish boy, and Vincent Van Ghoul, a mystic. This collection presents all 13 episodes of the show on two discs.

“Red vs. Blue – The Blood Gulch Chronicles” – The First Five Seasons: Created by a group of Halo video gamers, this sci-fi comedy series became an Internet hit. The stories focus on ten soldiers fighting a war that few comprehend and no one really wants to be a part of.

 

 

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

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Video Verdict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s