A number of high profile titles are making their way to home video this week. Included is an urban comedy starring Bow Wow and Brandon T. Jackson, an indie drama with Julianne Moore and Annette Bening and a holiday classic from Walt Disney Studios.
Disney’s A Christmas Carol
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG for scary sequences and images
Available on: Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD
Writer-director Robert Zemeckis’ animated adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” was released into theaters more than a year ago, but it’s just making its way to home video. This makes sense, of course, because it’s easier to sell a holiday title this time of year.
To make the film, Zemeckis used the same motion capture technique he employed for both “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf,” and refinements in the process are paying dividends. Although “Express” and “Beowulf” were impressive, “A Christmas Carol” is the best-looking movie to date.
The motion capture technique records the performances of actual actors, allowing animators to work with and manipulate them after the fact. This, of course, makes the human cast vitally important, and Zemeckis gathered a nice collection of talent, including Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman and Colin Firth. Carrey has the largest role, playing not only the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge but the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.
Zemeckis, who wrote the screenplay, stayed relatively faithful to Charles Dickens’ novel, in which Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts, each one demonstrating that he is doomed if he doesn’t change his miserly ways. Overall, the adaptation is successful, in large part thanks to Carrey’s behind-the-scenes work. Zemeckis does, however, have a tendency to get carried away here and there. For instance, one bit has Scrooge getting blasted into space like a rocket. Another has him shrinking down to the size of a rat. These sequences were no doubt designed to make the 3D version of the movie more appealing, and they are richly animated. The trouble is, they’re so over the top that they distract from Dickens’ brilliantly conceived story.
The film would have been better without these storytelling excesses, but Carrey and the beautiful visuals make it worth a viewing nonetheless.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a four-disc set that includes Blu-ray 3D, standard Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the film. Extra features vary, but every release includes deleted scenes and a couple making-of features.
The Lottery Ticket
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language including a drug reference, some violence and brief underage drinking
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
When Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) learns that he purchased a lottery ticket worth $370 million, he makes his grandmother (Loretta Devine) swear to keep quiet. But grandma isn’t the silent sort, and it’s not long before everyone in Kevin’s ultra-poor neighborhood knows he’s holding the winning ticket.
Unable to cash out until the end of a long holiday weekend, Kevin finds himself under siege from a variety of folks who want him to share the winnings. Along with his best pal, Benny (Brandon T. Jackson), Kevin struggles to make it through the weekend alive … and with the ticket intact.
Although the setup is mildly amusing, director Erik White doesn’t do much with it. In fact, he confuses matters by letting the film veer between moments of broad comedy and intense drama. Because of this, it’s never clear whether he’s shooting for a rambunctious inner-city farce or trying to make a broader social statement, and he doesn’t succeed on either front.
Bow Wow and Jackson are likable performers, and they get a helping hand from Ice Cube, who’s decent in a supporting role, but the script and White’s direction don’t give them enough support.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases including a Blu-ray combo pack that includes a standard DVD and digital copy. Extra features vary.
The Kids Are All Right
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand
With “The Kids Are All Right,” co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko offers a fascinating glance into modern familial relations, making a point of avoiding stereotypes in the process. For starters, Cholodenko focuses on a family led by two lesbians, one a practical doctor named Nic (Annette Bening) and the other a free spirit named Jules (Julianne Moore).
Nic and Jules have a dedicated – if stale – relationship cemented by an unflinching commitment to their children, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Since the women couldn’t conceive by themselves, both children were fathered by the same anonymous sperm donor, a fact that becomes important when Joni and Laser seek him out.
The donor turns out to be a successful local businessman named Paul (Mark Ruffalo), and he is surprisingly willing to become part of the family. Alas, Nic isn’t sure she wants to complicate the dynamic.
The movie – co-written by Stuart Blumberg – offers a strong reminder that families needn’t adhere to any particular standard in order to be successful and loving. It’s also a lot of fun, in large part thanks to wonderful performances by Bening, Moore and Ruffalo.
Sadly, the story loses steam as it rolls to its conclusion, but the first two acts are so enjoyable that most viewers will be able to forgive the slowdown.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features and an audio commentary by Cholodenko.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Cats & Dogs – The Revenge of Kitty Galore”: This sequel to 2001’s “Cats & Dogs” is set in a world where many canines and felines are actually highly skilled secret agents. Although the cats and dogs usually use their spy skills against one another, a plot by a rogue feline forces them to team up. Most of the stars are animals, but they are supported by a voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, James Marsden, Neil Patrick Harris, Bette Midler and Christina Applegate. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Blu-ray 3D.
“The Last Airbender”: Director M. Night Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of the animated TV series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The film tells the story of four nations stuck in a conflict that only a young boy with remarkable powers can end. Noah Ringer and Dev Patel star.
“The World at War”: This 26-episode documentary series about World War II originally aired in the 1970s, but A&E Home Entertainment is rolling it out anew on high-definition Blu-ray. The series, narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, features remastered audio and video and more than 12 hours of special features.
“Avatar” – Extended Collector’s Edition: Director James Cameron’s Oscar-winning science-fiction epic is getting a new, deluxe treatment available on both Blu-ray and DVD. The primary selling point is that these new releases include both the theatrical cut of the film and an extended cut with 16 minutes of additional footage.
“Metropia”: Animated science-fiction thriller set in a future Europe where oil is scarce and vast underground train systems have been connected to create a dark world beneath the streets. The voice cast includes Alexander Skarsgard, Stellan Skarsgard, Vincent Gallo, Juliette Lewis and Udo Kier.
“Don’t Look Back”: French psychological thriller about a writer and mother who is experiencing altered states of consciousness. Sophie Marceau and Monica Bellucci star. Directed by Marina de Van.
“The Lightkeepers”: Two men who make a pact to stay away from women (Richard Dreyfuss and Tom Wisdom) see their plans derail when two feisty women (Blythe Danner and Mammie Gummer) enter their lives. Written and directed by Daniel Adams.
“Sondheim! – The Birthday Concert”: A score of celebrities gathered at Lincoln Center to celebrate the 80th birthday of composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and this DVD records the event. More than two dozen Broadway show tunes are featured, many of them performed by original Broadway cast members. The music is provided by the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Paul Gemignani, and the program is hosted by David Hyde Pierce.
Scholastic Storybook Treasures: Scholastic has two read-along DVD releases this week: “Click, Clack, Moo – Cows that Type…and More Fun on the Farm” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf … and More Children’s Fables.” The preceding title is a three-disc collection containing 17 animal stories from authors including Doreen Cronin, Don Freeman, and Steven Kellogg. The latter release packs five children’s stories, including “Charlie Needs a Cloak” and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” onto a single disc.
“They Came to Play”: Award-winning documentary about the International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation. This film explores the lives and backgrounds of some of the talented musicians who have competed.
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.