Video Verdict: ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ ‘Life As We Know It,’ ‘You Again,’ ‘My Soul to Take,’ ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’

Josh Duhamel, left, and Katherine Heigl get a quick lesson in parenting in the romantic comedy “Life As We Know It.”

It’s a busy week on home video, with major releases ranging from an offbeat indie comedy to a couple of mainstream horror films.

 

Paranormal Activity 2
3 stars (out of four)
Sold with rated and unrated versions. The rated version received an R for some language and brief violent material
Paramount
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Although it was produced for less than $20,000, writer-director Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” brought in more than $100 million, making it one of the biggest Hollywood success stories of 2009. That original film focuses on Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherstone), a young couple who are haunted by what appears to be a demon, and their tale is related through “home video” footage that was supposedly found and later assembled.

Since clever presentation was such a big part of the first film, a sequel could have easily turned into a been-there-done-that mess, but director Tod Williams and writers Michael R. Perry, Christopher B. Landon and Tom Pabst turned “Paranormal Activity 2” into a project that pays proper homage to the original while introducing quality scares of its own.

Williams’ film follows the basic formula of “Paranormal” One, with all the action presented through “found footage.” The timeline is significantly shifted, however, with the depicted events occurring both before and after those in the original movie.

Although Katie and Micah are again characters, the focus this time is on Katie’s sister, Kristi (Sprague Grayden). She and her husband, Daniel (Brian Boland), have just welcomed a new baby boy into their home, which they share with Daniel’s older daughter, Ali (Molly Ephraim).

Williams spends a good deal of time establishing the fact that this is a healthy, well-adjusted family. Then, creepy things start happening, including a ransacking of their house where nothing is stolen. Conveniently, this apparent break in convinces Daniel to have security cameras installed, and much of the footage from that point forward comes from those cameras.

For a sequel, “Paranormal Activity 2” feels surprisingly fresh and well executed. Its ties to the original film should keep hard-core fans happy, but the movie holds up fine on its own. The one flaw is that Williams takes a long time setting up the action, but once he’s in the thick of things, it’s a thrilling ride.

“Paranormal Activity 2” is available on standard DVD and as part of a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Both releases include rated and unrated versions of the film and never-before-seen footage.

 

 

Life As We Know It
2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual material, language and some drug content
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Only in Hollywood, would someone decide there’s a cute romantic comedy in the story of two freewheeling thirty-somethings forced to care for the infant child of their recently deceased friends. Think about it. The parents of an infant die, and there’s nobody to care for her except two folks who – for one reason or another – haven’t previously settled down. It’s a barrel of laughs, no?

In “Life As We Know It” the roles of reluctant caretakers go to Josh Duhamel, who plays a womanizing broadcast professional named Eric Messer, and Katherine Heigl, who plays Holly Berenson, a restaurateur who hasn’t been able to find Mr. Right. Because they’re complete opposites, they repel one another, but they nevertheless agree to move in together to give the orphaned daughter of their dead friends a good home. And, because this is a movie, one thing leads to another.

The fact that Duhamel and Heigl are astonishingly likable actors makes the material more palatable than it might have been, but there’s no escaping the fact that the whole premise is kind of creepy. There’s also no escaping the patently overused parenting gags, like the horror of the first diaper change and the challenge of keeping up with a freshly mobile toddler.

Duhamel, Heigl and director Greg Berlanti make the most of the material, but one can’t help but wonder why they aren’t getting better stuff to work with. They’re a talented group, and they deserve more. So do their audiences.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a short in which cast members offer offbeat child-rearing advice, bits on Heigl’s and Duhamel’s preparation for the film and a collection of deleted scenes.

 

 

You Again
1½ stars
Rated PG for brief mild language and rude behavior
Touchstone
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Viewers of Andy Fickman’s “You Again” are supposed to believe that high school enemies are enemies for life. The shining example of this is Marni (Kristen Bell), an attractive professional woman who is mercilessly picked on as a teen. Although she has a rough go of it, she overcomes the past to become astoundingly successful as a businesswoman.

Still, her old insecurities resurface when she learns that her brother (James Wolk) is about to marry her high school arch enemy, Joanna (Odette Yustman). The voice of reason is Marni’s mother, Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), who wisely tells her daughter to let bygones be bygones. That is until Gail learns that Joanna’s aunt (Sigourney Weaver) is one of her own high school rivals. Suddenly, with two generations of nemeses staring each other down, the movie devolves into a long string of immature cat fights, where the supposedly adult women try to one up and embarrass each other.

This might have been funny if Fickman had attempted to make a comic farce, but the tone is straightforward, meaning viewers are supposed to take this stuff somewhat seriously. That’s tough to do, especially when “You Again” uses it’s final act to sermonize on the merits of forgiving and forgetting, not realizing that most of the audience probably learned that lesson years before any character in the film.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a short on Fickman’s filmmaking process, a spoof interview with members of the cast and a collection of deleted scenes.

 

 

My Soul to Take
1 star
Rated R for strong bloody violence and pervasive language including sexual references
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Writer-director Wes Craven has made some great horror films over the years, but “My Soul to Take” doesn’t live up to their standard. The film is disjointed and populated with offbeat characters that are hard to take a liking to. Even worse, it’s not that scary.

The movie starts effectively, introducing viewers to the Riverton Ripper, a schizophrenic serial killer who murders his wife and nearly kills his young daughter before police apprehend him. Then, before the Ripper can be jailed, he disappears.

Fast forward 16 years and Riverton is still haunted by memories of the killer. There are whispers that seven children who were born on the night of his disappearance are somehow tied to his legacy, and when several of them wind up dead it seems there’s something to those rumors.

Craven’s story takes some decent twists and turns, but it also leaves major plot points severely underdeveloped. That makes it hard to invest in – and sometimes understand – what’s going on. A listless third act that’s too similar to countless other horror films, makes things worse. Where Craven’s movies are concerned, “My Soul To Take” is purely second tier.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two alternate endings, an alternate open, deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary with Craven and cast members Max Thieriot, John Magaro and Emily Meade.

 

 

It’s Kind of a Funny Story
3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Despite the name, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is more poignant than comedic, but that isn’t a criticism by any means. The story is built around the struggles of a teen boy named Craig (Keir Gilchrist) who checks himself into a mental hospital because he’s overwhelmed by the world.

At first, Craig thinks he’s made a huge mistake, but after a few days interacting with the hospital’s other patients, particularly a frequent visitor named Bobby (Zach Galifianakis) and a beautiful young woman named Noelle (Emma Roberts), he sees that he’s right where he belongs.

The subject matter is serious, and the writing-directing team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck treat it appropriately, never diminishing the gravity of patient problems, yet keeping the tone light enough to be enjoyable. In the end, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” is humorous, thought-provoking and uplifting, and that’s a hard balance to strike.

Much credit goes to Boden and Fleck but also to Gilchrist, who is spot on in the lead role, and to Galifianakis and Roberts who offer fine supporting work.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes and a slide show from the film’s New York City premiere.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“For Colored Girls”: Director Tyler Perry’s film adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” The drama considers the interconnected lives of nine black women and features a powerhouse cast including Janet Jackson, Loretta Devine, Kimberly Elise, Macy Gray, Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Tessa Thompson, Kerry Washington and Whoopi Goldberg.

“I Spit On Your Grave”: Director Steven R. Monroe’s unrated remake of the 1978 horror thriller about a beautiful writer who seeks revenge after being raped and brutalized by a group of men. Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Chad Lindberg and Andrew Howard star.

“Tamara Drewe”: Comedy starring Gemma Arterton as the title character, a sexy young woman who returns to her small British hometown, causing a stir among the men who live there. Directed by Stephen Frears (“The Queen,” “Dangerous Liaisons”).

“Middle Men”: A successful businessman (Luke Wilson) helps two oddballs with an Internet startup and finds himself surrounded by conmen, mobsters and a host of other seedy characters. Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht and James Caan also star. Co-written and directed by George Gallo.

“See You In September”: Romantic comedy about a woman (Estella Warren) who finds herself in crisis and uses Craig’s List to create a makeshift support group. Justin Kirk, David Eigenberg, Sandra Bernhard and Whoopi Goldberg also star. Directed by Tamara Tunie.

“Care Bears to the Rescue”: New computer-animated movie featuring the popular Care Bears characters. The story has the bears gathering for the Care-a-Lot Awards, where they honor those who have spread caring and sharing throughout the year.

 

 

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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3 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

3 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ ‘Life As We Know It,’ ‘You Again,’ ‘My Soul to Take,’ ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’

  1. I really wanted to watch “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”, but just couldn’t find the time.. sounds like it’s a good watch, so I hope I’ll see it soon

    Like

  2. It’s definitely the best of the new stuff this week. Hope you enjoy it!

    Like

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Video Verdict: ‘Paranormal Activity 2,’ ‘Life As We Know It,’ ‘You Again,’ ‘My Soul to Take,’ ‘It’s Kind of a Funny Story’ | -- Topsy.com

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