Video Verdict: ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Alpha and Omega,’ ‘Piranha’

Jesse Eisenberg, left, and Joseph Mazzello enjoy some screen time in “The Social Network.” The film, directed by David Fincher, is one of the best reviewed of the year.

This week’s home video releases include a computer-animated kids’ flick, a horror movie with a fishy twist and an award-winning drama that ranked among the best theatrical releases of 2010.

 

The Social Network
4 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Nominations for the 83rd Academy Awards won’t be announced until Jan. 25, but it will be shocking if “The Social Network” doesn’t walk away with at least a handful.

Already, the film has been named best picture of 2010 by the National Board of Review, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Circle, Boston Society of Film Critics, Las Vegas Film Critics Society and a number of other organizations. Add six Golden Globe and nine Critics’ Choice award nominations, and you’re looking at a movie that will likely be in contention for Oscar’s top prize.

The greatest thing about “The Social Network,” however, is that the buzz isn’t just hype. It really is a great film.

By now, everyone knows that the movie is about the beginnings of Facebook, the social networking site that seems to be taking over the world. What people might not know is that the film is accessible even to folks who have never updated their online status or made a friend request. That’s because director David Fincher, with apt help from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, has humanized the story.

“The Social Network” isn’t so much about the building of a business as it is the eclectic individuals who allowed that business to grow. Front and center is Mark Zuckerberg, the brains behind the company. As portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, Zuckerberg is a pure tech guy, an ingenious egotist far more interested in testing his limits than in what the results could mean for himself, his friends or society. Whether or not it’s a fair representation of Zuckerberg, it’s a great and believable performance.

Eisenberg also gets outstanding supporting work from Andrew Garfield, who plays Zuckerberg’s college friend and business partner, and Justin Timberlake, who is superb as Sean Parker, the smooth-talking founder of Napster.

Fincher’s direction is rock solid, nuanced and possesses his trademark attention to detail. For those who have forgotten, he’s the guy who brought us “Zodiac,” “Fight Club” and “Se7en.” If you can only watch a handful of movies this year, “The Social Network” should be at the top of your list.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a lengthy documentary on the making of the film, numerous making-of featurettes and two audio commentaries (one with Fincher and one with Sorkin and assorted cast members).

 

 

Alpha and Omega
2½ stars
Rated PG for rude humor and some mild action
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

In “Alpha and Omega,” there are two types of wolves: sturdy, athletic hunters and goofy, playful followers. You’ve probably already guessed, but the former are alphas and the latter omegas. One might think a follower would make an ideal partner for a natural leader, but in the world of this computer-animated feature, each wolf is expected to mate with its own kind.

That’s a bummer for Humphrey, a good-hearted omega with a major crush on Kate, the alpha daughter of his pack leader. Kate and Humphrey are friends, but his pals regularly remind him that they’re forbidden to be more.

Just about the time Humphrey has accepted that he and Kate will never be together, they get tranquilized by park rangers and shipped halfway across the country to bolster a struggling wolf population. This seems like good news for Humphrey except for the fact that Kate is desperate to get back to the pack and provide the alpha leadership she knows it needs.

Although sweet-natured, one can’t help but compare “Alpha and Omega” to the other animated films that hit theaters in 2010. Since that crop included “Toy Story 3,” “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Despicable Me,” “Alpha” feels second-rate. Still, the animation is likable and the simplistic story offers a nice message about honoring responsibility without losing your soul. Also, the voice cast, which features Justin Long as Humphrey, Hayden Panettiere as Kate and Dennis Hopper in his final film, is strong throughout.

“Alpha and Omega” may be second-tier, but that’s not a condemnation when you consider how great the top-level entries are.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include feaurettes on the making of the film, a deleted scene, animal trivia and an interactive “log sliding” game.

 

 

Piranha
2½ stars
Rated R for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

There are two ways to approach a horror movie. Take it deadly serious and try to get the tone just right or bask in the flaws of the genre and turn them into advantages.

For “Piranha,” a loose remake of Joe Dante’s like-titled 1978 film, director Alexandre Aja (“High Tension,” “Mirrors”) cut loose, and his picture is better because of that. The movie isn’t scary but it is unapolagetically gory, relentlessly campy and saturated with gratuitous nudity. In other words, it’s a B-movie lover’s dream.

The film opens with a cameo by Richard Dreyfuss, who is fishing on beautiful Lake Victoria when an earthquake opens a huge, underground channel, releasing hoards of prehistoric piranha. That’s bad news not only for Dreyfuss’ character but for Sheriff Julie Forester (Elisabeth Shue). Since Lake Victoria is a popular spring break destination, hundreds of nubile college kids have descended on the town, and it suddenly becomes Julie’s job to prevent them from becoming fish food. Upping the stakes is the fact that she’s got three kids of her own to worry about, the oldest being Jake (Steven R. McQueen, grandson of Steve McQueen), a teen who is keen on the spring break action.

The carnage in “Piranha” is so unyielding and the nudity so wanton that the movie will surely turn some folks off. What’s more, the plotting is ridiculous and the special effects substandard. But Aja embraced those flaws just as he did the bloodshed, making the film a rare treat for audiences who go to horror films primarily to ogle breasts and marvel at the many ways a filmmaker can kill a character.

“Piranha” is available as part of multiple home video releases. Extra features vary, but all editions include a number of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a filmmakers’ commentary.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Funny or Die Presents” – The Complete First Season: The HBO sketch comedy series produced by Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy gets the home video treatment. The two-DVD set includes all 12 episodes from the first season and features appearances by Ferrell, David Spade, John C. Reilly, Don Cheadle, Zooey Deschanel and other notables.

“Love Hurts”: Romantic comedy about a man (Richard E. Grant) who is devastated when his wife (Carrie-Anne Moss) leaves him … until his son transforms him into a ladies man. Jenna Elfman, Janeane Garofalo and Camryn Manheim also star.

“Greek” – Chapter Five – The Complete Third Season: It’s been announced that season four (currently airing) will be the last for this episodic show about college students taking part in the Greek system. This release features all 20 season three episodes on six DVDs.

“The Narnia Code”: Documentary film claiming to unlock new secret meanings within the texts of author C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books. For the right audience, this release could pair nicely with “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which is in theaters now.

 

 

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.

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1 Comment

Filed under Video Verdict

One response to “Video Verdict: ‘The Social Network,’ ‘Alpha and Omega,’ ‘Piranha’

  1. Jp

    Piranha targeted a different type of audience. Not really the horror going type but those losers who like nudity and all that. Quite a good market 🙂 Nudity has always been used to sell low quality films. Hmmm…works somehow.

    Like

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