It’s a banner week for home video, with a half dozen major theatrical releases making their way into stores. Included are two animated films, a live-action family movie and a thriller directed by and starring Ben Affleck.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use
Available Dec. 17 on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
With age, Ben Affleck has become increasingly self-assured as an actor, something one expects from a maturing artist. More surprising is the level of work he’s producing as a relatively new director.
His debut behind the camera, “Gone Baby Gone,” was a high-quality drama. For “The Town,” his sophomore effort, he pulled out all the stops, co-writing and starring in the film as well as directing. The results? Even better.
The movie focuses on a group of Boston area bank robbers led by Doug MacRay (Affleck), a disciplined thinking man who carefully engineers each score. During a robbery, one of MacRay’s accomplices, the hotheaded James Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), takes a bank manager (Rebecca Hall) hostage. Although the group promptly frees her, MacRay agrees to trail her and make sure she didn’t see anything that could implicate them in the crime. Struck by her beauty and innocence, MacRay asks her out and they begin to date.
Affleck is at his best when playing earthy, working-class roles like this one, and he delivers a fantastic leading performance. Equally important is the fact that he has great chemistry with both Renner and Hall.
“The Town” moves like a rocket and it’s filled with exciting chase scenes and shootouts. In fact, the movie’s only flaw is that a couple action sequences are so dramatic that they don’t seem plausible. Fortunately, Affleck more than makes up for these flights of fancy with plotting that is above average for the genre.
The film is available on DVD and as part of a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack. The standard DVD has a couple making-of features and a commentary by Affleck. The combo pack has all of that, plus additional making-of features and an extended cut of the film.
Rated PG for rude humor and mild action
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
One could reasonably call “Despicable Me” a subset of the superhero genre, but it doesn’t feature any superheroes. That’s because the focus of this easygoing animated feature is on one of the bad guys, an underachieving evildoer by the name of Gru (voiced by Steve Carell).
The film begins with Gru learning that a younger super-villain named Vector (Jason Segel) has stolen one of the Egyptian pyramids. Bummed that an up-and-comer is hogging the spotlight, Gru vows to mount the greatest heist of all time. With the help of his right-hand man, Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), and his hundreds of minions – cute little yellow guys who seem more cuddly than evil – Gru designs a plot to steal the moon. Trouble is, Vector isn’t keen on letting an old man one up him, so the two baddies go toe to toe.
Along the way, Gru discovers a secret weapon: three orphan girls who have been roaming the streets selling Vector’s favorite cookies. He adopts them to get at his nemesis, and it’s not long before he’s balancing life as a supervillain with that of a super dad.
“Despicable Me” isn’t as deep as this year’s best animated film – “Toy Story 3” – but it’s still extremely entertaining.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a Blu-ray 3D combo pack. Extras vary, but every version includes several features on the making of the film and an audio commentary by directors Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence throughout, language and smoking
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray and DVD
We don’t really need more big screen updates of classic TV shows, but as such things go, “The A-Team” is decent. That’s probably because the cast of characters is so wacky … and because director Joe Carnahan assembled a first-rate cast to portray them.
The first rule when updating any show is to maintain enough of the original to breed nostalgia while eliminating anything dated. Carnahan, who also directed “Narc” and “Smokin’ Aces,” gets an A in that department. This new “A-Team” is recognizable, but it’s all 21st century in terms of setting and style.
Liam Neeson stars as John “Hannibal” Smith, leader of an elite group of combat soldiers who are framed during a mission in Iraq and sent to prison. Not one to sit quietly behind bars, Hannibal escapes and orchestrates the rescue of the rest of his crew, which includes the heavily muscled B.A. Baracus (Quinton “Rampage” Jackson), the handsome charmer Templeton “Faceman” Peck (Bradley Cooper) and the slightly insane H.M. Murdock (Sharlto Copely). Together, they set out to clear their names, and blow a lot of stuff up.
“The A-Team” won’t win awards for originality, but Neeson and company do a nice job capturing the spirit of the original TV series, and the action sequences are as big and bold as anything you’ll see at the movies.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an unrated extended cut of the film (the theatrical cut is also included) and feature-length audio commentaries.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole
Rated PG for some sequences of scary action
Available Dec. 17 on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
With three consecutive R-rated films under his belt – “Dawn of the Dead,” “300” and “Watchmen” – director Zack Snyder wasn’t the obvious choice to make a kid-friendly animated film. Nevertheless, Snyder did a credible job with “Legend of the Guardians,” a fantasy epic built around talking owls.
The story begins with two youngsters, Soren (voiced by Jim Sturgess) and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten), getting kidnapped by evil owls that are building a sinister army. Soren escapes and begins a quest to find the Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a group of warrior owls that he believes capable of squashing the bad guys.
The animation in “Guardians” is gorgeous and many of the flying sequences are breathtaking. Unfortunately, the storytelling isn’t as strong as the visuals. One problem is that the master plan and motivation of the bad guys isn’t as well fleshed out as it should be. Snyder also skimps on character development, a move that makes it hard to invest in the full arc of the story.
Still, this is one beautiful film, and anyone willing to sit back and let the images sweep them away is sure to find enjoyment.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases. Extra features vary, but every release includes the Looney Tunes short “Fur of Flying” and a 15-minute piece about real owls and their environment.
Nanny McPhee Returns
Rated PG for rude humor, some language and mild thematic elements
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
There are many things to like about Emma Thompson’s career, but versatility may be her biggest asset. Whether playing a quirky professor in the Harry Potter franchise, a famous author in “Stranger Than Fiction” or a cancer victim in “Wit,” Thompson instills her roles with realism and emotional depth. She’s also an apt writer, which is evidenced by her screenplays for 2005’s “Nanny McPhee” and this new sequel, “Nanny McPhee Returns.”
Both movies were inspired by Christianna Brand’s “Nurse Matilda” books, and they focus on a magical Nanny who uses unorthodox methods to teach children life lessons. She also lives by the rule: “When you need me but do not want me, then I will stay. When you want me, but do not need me, then I have to go.”
Thompson is terrific in the title role, and in “Nanny McPhee Returns” she finds herself helping a young mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who is struggling to care for her children and their two spoiled cousins while her husband is fighting in World War II.
Like many sequels, “Nanny McPhee” follows a blueprint set by the first movie, so it’s not very original. Still, Thompson and Gyllenhaal have a great time with their roles, and director Susanna White keeps everything moving at a vibrant pace. The result is a sequel that’s almost as good as its inspiration.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, an audio commentary with director Susanna White and several making-of featurettes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Other Guys”: Big-budget comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell as Terry Hoitz and Allen Gamble, New York City detectives who have long lived in the shadow of star investigators Christopher Danson and P.K. Highsmith (Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson). When Terry and Allen discover that the seemingly simple case they’ve been working might become a big deal, they get a shot at the spotlight. The question is, can they handle it? Directed and co-written by Adam McKay (“Step Brothers,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”).
“24” – The Complete Series: The episodic thriller “24” may have wrapped its TV run earlier this year, but that doesn’t mean fans have been left out in the cold. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has released the entire series – about a federal agent (Kiefer Sutherland) thwarting national security threats – on an impressive 57-disc set. Included are all eight seasons of the show, plus the TV movie “24: Redemption.” The set retails for $349.98, but many retailers are selling it cheaper. Fans who already own seasons one through seven, can also pick up “24: The Complete Eigth Season” as an individual release this week.
“Cyrus”: Dramatic comedy about a lonely man (John C. Reilly) who thinks he’s finally found the woman of his dreams (Marisa Tomei) only to discover that her son (Jonah Hill) is unusually clingy. The film was written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass (“Baghead,” “The Puffy Chair”).
“Mother and Child”: Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia interweaves three tales of women who have been profoundly affected by adoption. There’s Karen (Annette Bening) who is haunted by her decision to give up a child, Lucy (Kerry Washington) who is about to adopt, and Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) a professional woman who was adopted. The impressive cast also includes Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits.
“Micmacs”: French film starring Danny Boon as a downtrodden man who comes up with a plan to destroy the weapons manufacturing companies that he believes ruined his life. The movie was written and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2002 film “Amelie.”
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.