Video Verdict: ‘The Next Three Days,’ ‘Jackass 3,’ ‘Morning Glory,’ ‘The Walking Dead’ season one

Elizabeth Banks, left, plays Lara Brennan, and Russell Crowe plays her husband, John, in “The Next Three Days.”

This week’s major home video releases range from the first season of an outstanding horror television series to a new thriller by the writer-director of “Crash.”

 

The Next Three Days
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for violence, drug material, language, some sexuality and thematic elements
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Writer-director Paul Haggis’ 2004 drama “Crash” is an artful and intense film that asks viewers to consider the makeup of diverse characters who are more than they initially seem. His latest effort, “The Next Three Days,” isn’t so ambitious, but Haggis is still interested in characters that defy expectations.

The movie centers on John Brennan (Russell Crowe), an easygoing father and teacher whose life unravels when his wife, Lara (Elizabeth Banks), is convicted of murder. Suddenly a single father, John does his best to provide stability for their son, Luke, while waging a legal battle for Lara’s freedom. When it becomes clear that the court system has failed him, John makes plans for a daring jailbreak.

Haggis’ film, which is a remake of the 2008 French thriller “Pour elle,” is fascinating in that it forces viewers to consider how far they would go to help a loved one. The setup is good, and Crowe, as always, is a powerful screen presence. Still, “The Next Three Days” has flaws, the most notable being that it takes itself seriously despite several preposterous plot twists.

The movie also suffers because Lara’s character is underdeveloped, a problem that has more to do with the script than Banks’ performance. On several occasions, she does things that are so unusual or poorly explained that they call her sanity into question, and that makes it difficult to buy into her plight or believe that John would go to such extremes to free her.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of featurettes and a collection of deleted and extended scenes.

 

 

Jackass 3
2½ stars
The home video release contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received an R for male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout and for language
Paramount
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Anyone familiar with Johnny Knoxville and his crew of adventurous misfits already knows what to expect from “Jackass 3.” The film is a predictable mix of comic pranks, dangerous stunts and oddball bits designed primarily for shock value.

The “Jackass” movies were spun off from the aptly named television show in which Knoxville and company took reality TV to its limits. Not much has changed over the years except that theatrical and home video releases allow them to produce stunts that go beyond even their wildest TV offerings.

“Jackass 3” contains such bits as Steve-O being launched into the air in a portable toilet connected to bungee cords. And, yes, the toilet is filled to the brim with excrement. Not every setup is so disgusting, as the guys balance extreme stunts against absurdist bits, like a naked tetherball game played with a beehive and a tooth extraction via sports car.

Detailing all the bits in a review would only ruin the movie for folks inclined to see it, and you know who you are. Those who enjoy watching grown men make, well, asses of themselves will be in cinema heaven. Those who prefer more highbrow entertainment should steer clear.

“Jackass 3” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Extra features vary but each release includes both theatrical and unrated cuts of the film, a making-of feature by MTV, two deleted scenes and five outtakes.

 

 

Morning Glory
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content including dialogue, language and brief drug references
Paramount
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “Morning Glory,” Rachel McAdams plays Becky Fuller, a twenty-something who is so obsessed with becoming a big-time morning TV producer that she barely makes time for dates. And, when she finally finds a guy who merits the few hours required for a sleepover, her main concern is whether or not he has a good alarm clock. This is worth mentioning only because the one-dimensional Becky is representative of most of the characters in director Roger Michell’s sometimes-cute-but-always-unbelievable dramedy.

Becky is joined by Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), a former beauty queen turned morning show anchor; Mike Pomeroy, an award winning journalist who is bitter at being ousted from the nighttime news; and Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum), Becky’s no-nonsense boss. You don’t need to know much more about any of them because that’s all there is.

What you do need to know is that Becky gets her first big break by landing the executive producing job for “Daybreak,” a national morning show that is perennially bested by its peers. In hopes of turning things around, she ousts one of the current hosts and replaces him with Pomeroy. He bristles at the thought of producing morning fluff stories, but has no choice because it’s either that or lose the payout on his contract.

Since Pomeroy also detests Peck, Becky is stuck juggling the egos of her anchors while trying to come up with a solution to their terrible ratings. There’s also a subplot involving a romance with a handsome network colleague (Patrick Wilson), but that’s so poorly executed it’s hardly worth mentioning.

The trouble with “Morning Glory” isn’t the concept, as there’s certainly comedy to be mined from morning television. The problem is the characters are neither broad and wacky enough to work in a no-holds-barrred comedy nor believable enough to work in anything else.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a deleted scene and an audio commentary by Michell and writer Aline Brosh McKenna.

 

 

“The Walking Dead”: The Complete First Season
4 stars
Unrated
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

There have been countless zombie stories over the decades, but only a handful are as well written and executed as AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” The show, which earned a Golden Globe nomination for best dramatic television series, focuses on a small band of Americans trying to survive in a section of Georgia that’s been overrun by the living dead.

The lead character is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a small-town police officer who is shot in the line of duty, then – days later – wakes in his hospital bed to find his world literally changed. As he struggles to adjust to the fact that the dead have come back to life, he searches for his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) and young son (Chandler Riggs) who are nowhere around.

The series was adapted from books published by Image Comics, but it owes a debt to many previous zombie tales, including George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” As in Romero’s films, the zombies can be permanently killed, but only if their brains are destroyed and, as in director Danny Boyles “28 Days Later,” there’s a viral component to the zombification process.

Despite similarities to other horror tales, none of the series’ six first-season episodes feels tired or overdone. That’s in large part because creator Frank Darabont and his team focus more on the living characters than the zombies. In essence, the creative team has created a brilliant character drama that just happens to be set against a zombie apocalypse.

Lincoln is outstanding in the lead role, and he gets strong support from an ensemble including Jon Bernthal, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun and Norman Reedus. Dramatic television doesn’t get much better.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include extra footage and a number of behind-the-scenes features, including a panel discussion with the producers and zombie makeup tips.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Inside Job”: Director Charles Ferguson’s documentary film considers the events leading up to our ongoing financial crisis. Through interviews with important folks, including Congressman Barney Frank and former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, Ferguson argues that the disaster was largely spawned by corrupt financial institutions aided by the U.S. government. The movie won best documentary at the Academy Awards ceremony last month.

“Hannah Montana Forever”: This two-disc set includes the final 13 episodes of Disney Channel’s wildly popular “Hannah Montana” TV series. As the show winds down, Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) must decide if she wants to live life as a regular girl or continue to moonlight as a pop star.

“The Zombie Farm”: If this week’s release of “The Walking Dead” whets your appetite for undead horror, you can check out this small film about a woman who visits a voodoo priestess and accidentally starts a zombie uprising.

“A Film Unfinished”: Documentary movie built around 60 minutes of raw footage the Nazis shot in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. Among other things, the film demonstrates the breadth of the Nazi propaganda machine. Directed by Yael Hersonski.

“The Miracle Maker”: This stop-motion animated movie from 2000 is focused on the life of Jesus Christ, and it’s being released on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The voice cast includes Ralph Fiennes, Julie Christie, Ian Holm, Alfred Molina and William Hurt.

“Jonah – A VeggieTales Movie”: The story of Jonah and the Whale as related by the VeggieTales characters. This movie was released into theaters in 2002, but it’s making its high-definition debut just in time for Easter. Like “The Miracle Maker,” the home video release features both Blu-ray and standard DVD versions of the film.

 

 

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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