This week’s home video releases include a couple enjoyable indie films and two mainstream efforts featuring the great John Malkovich.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG for brief mild language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
Horseracing is the perfect topic for filmmaking, not only because races are exciting but because horses look great on screen. Director Gary Ross latched onto those facts and turned “Seabiscuit” into one of the best movies of 2003, and Randall Wallace has continued that tradition with “Secretariat.”
Although “Seabiscuit” and “Secretariat” have obvious similarities, they are distinct films because the two filmmakers went in different directions. Ross used his movie as an opportunity to contrast a horse’s greatness against the struggles of Depression-era America. Wallace decided to focus his film primarily on Secretariat’s owner and the sacrifices she made to bring her animal to prominence.
In the film, wife and mother Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) finds her life abruptly changed when her father is no longer able to care for his struggling Virginia stable. Rather than sell the property, Penny vows to keep things going and comes into possession of a horse that she believes will change everything.
Despite pressure from her husband, Jack (Dylan Walsh), and others in the traditionally male racing industry, Penny perseveres, eventually hiring an eccentric trainer named Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich). Together, they try to prove that anything is possible.
People who know horseracing won’t find surprises “Secretariat,” but they will find a movie with great heart and wonderful lead performances from Lane and Malkovich. They’ll also find terrific direction from Wallace, whose mix of dialogue and on-track action is exceptional.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include AJ Michalka’s “It’s Who You Are” music video, a feature about Secretariat and a collection of deleted scenes.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action violence and brief strong language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Every now and then it’s nice to watch a film that’s pure fun, and “RED” was made for those moments. The title is an acronym for “Retired Extremely Dangerous” and it describes just about everyone in the brilliant ensemble cast.
Bruce Willis leads the way as Frank Moses, a former CIA agent who finds himself targeted by a hit squad for no apparent reason. He eliminates his attackers, then tries to figure out what’s going on by gathering some old pals. Pretty soon, he’s leading an extremely effective group of senior-citizen soldiers that includes Marvin Boggs (John Malkovich), Joe Matheson (Morgan Freeman) and an assassin named Victoria (Helen Mirren). Also along for the ride is Sarah Ross (Mary-Louise Parker), a telephone operator who gets caught up in the mess just because Frank likes her.
Sometimes an all-star cast leaves a film without focus, but the players in “RED” are so self-assured and professional that they make each other better. Willis, of course, is a veteran of the action genre, but Mirren, Freeman and Malkovich are such naturals that it seems like they’ve been by his side all along.
The action in “RED” is over the top and director Robert Schwentke (“The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “Flightplan”) plays the material as much for laughs as excitement. Thanks to the tremendous star power and a script that veers between rambunctious and quirky, “RED” is a blast (often literally) from start to finish.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases. Extra features vary.
Rated R for language and a scene of sexuality
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Every now and then someone lives a life so extraordinary that it demands multiple examinations on film. Musician John Lennon was such a man, which is why audiences are now being treated to “Nowhere Boy,” a biopic focused on Lennon’s pre-Beatles days.
Over the years, filmgoers have seen a number of movies about The Beatles, but “Nowhere Boy” carves its niche by focusing on Lennon’s troubled childhood. The film depicts Lennon (Aaron Johnson) as a loud-mouthed, rebellious teen who struggled to fit in partially because his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), was a wild party girl who allowed her sister, Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas), to raise him.
Director Sam Taylor-Wood deserves credit for making a film that doesn’t pander to the Lennon legend, painting the musician as an explosive and fallible child who was often downright nasty. The film is not, however, a hit piece. Johnson also instills Lennon with the sort of charisma and charm that would allow him to become a superstar as he matured both as a musician and human being.
The timeline in “Nowhere Boy” is obviously compressed, and it would have been nice if Taylor-Wood and Johnson had gotten a little further under the musician’s skin. Still, their film covers new cinematic ground in a straightforward and well-crafted fashion, and for that it earns a recommendation.
DVD extras include a making-of featurette, a short about The Beatles and a collection of deleted scenes.
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Rated R for strong violence, some sexual material and brief language
Music Box Films
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray digital download and on demand
Fans of Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy will get an Americanized look at his stories when director David Fincher tackles “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in December. There’s no reason to wait that long for a cinematic taste of his work, however.
This week’s home video release of “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” completes the Swedish film series based on Larsson’s novels, and it’s hard to complain about the adaptations. Like “The Girl Who Played With Fire,” “Hornet’s Nest” is directed by Daniel Alfredson, which makes sense because the two films are so closely linked that an independent viewing would be frustrating.
The action picks up where “Fire” ended, with computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) suffering from multiple gunshot wounds sustained while confronting her nasty, estranged father, Alexander Zalachenko (Georgi Staykov). Salander isn’t alone in the hospital, though, as she was able to lodge an axe in her father’s head before she collapsed at the end of “Fire.”
In “Hornet’s Nest” viewers gain greater insight into Salander’s past and the odd set of political circumstances that allowed her father – a Russian defector – to hole up in Sweden. They also watch as Salander’s pal, journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) works tirelessly to ensure that she doesn’t go to jail once everything gets sorted out.
If “The Girl Who Played With Fire” was Salander’s film, “Hornet’s Nest” is Blomkvist’s because his actions drive everything. Nyqvist and Rapace (both reprising their roles) are great, and “Hornet’s Nest” provides a satisfying conclusion to the three-film saga. It is not, however, as visceral and action packed as the franchise’s first two entries. Because of that, the series limps, rather than dashes, into the sunset, which is a bit of a letdown.
“The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is presented in Swedish with English subtitles and an English dub track. DVD and Blu-ray extras are scant, but it’s worth noting that Larsson’s entire Millennium Trilogy will be released as a boxed set on Feb. 22. That substantial compilation promises nearly two hours of bonus features.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Saw – The Final Chapter”: As the title indicates, this seventh entry in the “Saw” horror franchise is supposed to be the last. The film once again sees a maniacal killer playing sick and twisted games with would-be victims. Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery and Cary Elwes star. The film is being released as part of multiple home video releases, including a DVD/Blu-ray combo pack and a Blu-ray 3D disc.
“Glee” – Season 2, Volume 1: This popular show about a high school choir in rural Ohio just won the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy TV series for the second straight year. This release includes the first eight episodes of season two.
“Zorro” – The Complete Series: The legend of Zorro has inspired more than 40 films and several television shows. This collector’s set includes 15 discs with all 88 episodes of the TV series that ran from 1990 to 1993 on The Family Channel. Duncan Regehr stars.
“Stone”: Suspense thriller about an arsonist (Edward Norton) who uses his wife in hopes of manipulating a veteran guard (Robert De Niro) into granting him parole. Directed by John Curran.
“Open Season 3”: In this second direct-to-video sequel to the original animated film, Boog the bear winds up in the circus and his forest buddies have to rescue him. Directed by Cody Cameron.
“Broadcast News”: The Criterion Collection is adding this 1987 dramedy to its repertoire of outstanding films. Written and directed by James L. Brooks, the movie stars Holly Hunter as a young producer torn between a veteran reporter (Albert Brooks) and a handsome anchorman (William Hurt). The two-disc set features a freshly restored high-definition digital transfer of the film and a documentary on James L. Brooks’ career.
“Inspector Bellamy”: This 2009 crime drama was French director Claude Chabrol’s final film. Gerard Depardieu stars as Paul Bellamy a police detective summoned to solve a puzzling crime while on vacation. Presented in French with English subtitles.
“Which Way Home”: Documentary film about children leaving Mexico and Central America by jumping freight trains in search of a better life in the United States. The movie, which was nominated for best documentary at the 2010 Academy Awards, is presented in Spanish with English subtitles.
“Enter the Void”: Psychedelic thriller centered on a brother and sister living rough lives in Tokyo’s club scene. Written and directed by Gaspar Noe (“Irreversible”).
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.