Of the major theatrical releases making their way to home video this week, none are targeted at children. Instead we have a gritty independent drama, an intense foreign film and the latest from the “Sex and the City” ladies.
Sex and the City 2
Rated R for strong sexual content and language
Available on: Blu-ray and DVD
In 2008, the “Sex and the City” gang made its first foray onto the big screen and the result was formulaic but enjoyable. Fast forward to 2010 and we have a sequel that relies on the same formula but is considerably less fun.
The biggest problem is that the film fails to cash in on a promising first-act premise. Set about a year after the first film, Carrie Preston (Sarah Jessica Parker) and her man (Chris Noth) are settling into married life, and she’s worried that they’re becoming a boring, old couple. Since the “SATC” TV series was all about cocktails, high fashion and romance, one can understand Carrie’s concern.
Alas, the film switches gears at its halfway point when Samantha (Kim Cattrall) gets the opportunity to fly all of her friends to Abu Dhabi for a vacation. So, Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) pack their designer duds and head for the desert. Once they arrive, the movie devolves into a ridiculous string of overworked gags that revolve around Samantha shocking the locals with her overt sexuality. None of this is particularly interesting or funny, and it derails the better storyline about Carrie’s marital woes.
Longtime fans may be happy gazing at the countless fashion pieces that are paraded across the screen, but those looking for plot and emotional resonance should go elsewhere.
DVD extras are limited to a bit on Alicia Keys working on the soundtrack and a short about 1980s fashion. The Blu-ray release, which also includes a standard DVD copy of the film, has many additional features, including an audio commentary with director Michael Patrick King.
Rated R for some drug material, language and violent content
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Writer-director Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” landed best picture and best screenplay awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, making it one of the more important indie films to hit theaters this year. Co-written by Anne Rosellini, the feature follows the harrowing journey of Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence), a 17-year-old Ozark girl caring for her mentally impaired mother and two younger siblings.
Already struggling, Ree’s life goes into a tailspin when she learns that her drug-dealing father used their family home as collateral for a bail bond, then went missing. With only days before she and her family will be evicted, Ree goes in search of her dad.
The trip forces her into unsavory company, including that of her drug-addicted uncle (John Hawkes) and a backwoods Ozark crime family. Lawrence is outstanding in the lead role, instilling Ree with such a subtle sense of desperation that it would take a very hard heart not to feel empathy for the character. Hawkes is also terrific as Ree’s Uncle Teardrop, a dangerous man with a powerful sense of family honor.
The plotting of “Winter’s Bone” is so bleak and depressing that it’s not always easy to watch, but there’s no disputing the skill and grace of Granik’s dramatic storytelling.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, an alternate opening, a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Granik and director of photography Michael McDonough.
The Girl Who Played With Fire
3 ½ stars
Rated R for brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language
Music Box Films
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Late writer Stieg Larsson’s trilogy of Swedish mystery novels – anchored by “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” – has become an international phenomenon, and it’s a tribute to his intense plotting that the books transitioned to the screen so well. Of course, much credit is also due the filmmakers who worked on the franchise, which Americans got their first look at earlier this year.
For “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” producers moved to a new director (Daniel Alfredson) but maintained the outstanding cast that made “Dragon Tattoo” a winning film. People who haven’t seen that earlier effort will do well to rent it before watching “Fire,” if only to gather a better sense of the characters and where they’re coming from.
The focus of “Fire” is squarely on Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a small-but-fiery computer hacker with a dragon tattooed over her entire back. After a brief recap of some of the events from the first film, “Fire” blasts forward into a complex plot that sees Salander accused of multiple murders. Always suspicious of authority, she goes on the run. Although many assume Salander is guilty, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is convinced of her innocence and does his best to help her from afar.
Alfredson tells his story with urgency and polish and, as in the first movie, Nyqvist and Rapace are outstanding. If “Fire” has a flaw it’s that of the typical middle entry in a trilogy. Although the film ends in exciting fashion, it leaves a lot of unresolved questions.
Fortunately, we don’t have to wait long to get the answers. The next film, “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” starts a limited run in U.S. theaters Oct. 29.
“The Girl Who Played With Fire” is presented primarily in Swedish with English subtitles. Home video extras are minimal, but an English-language dub track is included.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Sex and the City” – The Complete Collection: Big “Sex and the City” fans can skip buying “Sex and the City 2” as an individual release and opt for this massive 20-disc set. Included is the entire TV series, both theatrical movies and a bonus disc containing 90 minutes of exclusive interviews with executive producer Michael Patrick King and some of the series’ writers.
“Paths of Glory”: Restored high-definition transfer of director Stanley Kubrick’s 1957 war film about a French officer who refuses to push forward with an unwinnable assault. Kirk Douglas stars. Presented by the Criterion Collection.
“House”: This 1977 Japanese horror film was the first feature-length effort by director Nobuhiko Obayashi. It tells the story of a schoolgirl who, along with several classmates, discovers evil at her aunt’s country home. Presented by the Criterion Collection in Japanese with English subtitles.
“The Winning Season”: Comedy starring Sam Rockwell as a down-and-out guy who lands a job as a high school girl’s basketball coach. Emma Roberts, Rob Corddry and Rooney Mara also star. Available on DVD, digital download, and on demand from Lionsgate.
“Nice Guy Johnny”: Indie romantic comedy by actor-writer-director Edward Burns. Engaged to get married, Johnny Rizzo (Matt Bush) is forced to give up his dream of being a radio DJ so he can take a job at his fiancees father’s business. But Johnny’s wild Uncle Terry (Burns) has other plans for his nephew.
“You Don’t Know Jack”: The Life and Deaths of Jack Kevorkian”: HBO original movie starring Al Pacino as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the controversial physician who advocates patients’ rights to die via physician-assisted suicide.
“Alien Anthology”: The four major films in the “Alien” franchise are getting their Blu-ray debuts this week as part of an extensive six-disc set. Included are “Alien,” “Aliens,” “Alien3,” “Alien Resurrection” and a host of extra features.
“Star Wars – The Clone Wars – The Complete Season Two”: This Cartoon Network series is a hit with youngsters and a great way for “Star Wars” fans of any age to quench their sci-fi thirst. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Acorn Media releases on Blu-ray: Acorn is releasing two noteworthy titles on Blu-ray this week. The first is “Slings & Arrows: The Complete Collection,” a six-disc set featuring all 18 episodes of the acclaimed Canadian TV series about a Shakespearean theater troupe. The second is “Agatha Christie’s Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express,” a new take on the classic Christie mystery.
Scholastic Storybook Treasures: Scholastic is releasing two impressive collections of read-along DVDs this week. The first, “The Halloween Stories Collection,” features video adaptations of 18 well-known children’s books, including “A Very Brave Witch,” “Where the Wild Things Are” and “The Teacher From the Black Lagoon.” The second collection, “Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics 2,” is a massive set of book adaptations, including “Corduroy,” “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Good Night, Gorilla.”
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.