This week’s home video releases are anchored by a country music drama starring Gwyneth Paltrow and the latest entry in the Harry Potter franchise.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download April 15
Much to the chagrin of fans everywhere, the Harry Potter movie arc will be complete after “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” enters theaters this summer. Still, there’s much to be thankful for, like the fact that Warner Brothers treated the series with respect each step of the way. Case in point: “Deathly Hallows Part 1.” Although only the prelude to a longer, two-part story, the film was one of the most enjoyable theatrical experiences of 2010, and it’s now poised to be one of the biggest home video hits of 2011.
Building on mythology most fans already know, the picture begins with Harry, the boy wizard, in more danger than ever. The evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) is gaining increasing power and, with a powerful team of wizards on his side, he is determined to kill Harry (Daniel Radcliffe). Meanwhile, Harry and his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), are working to find and destroy a series of items called Horcruxes. They have varying shapes and have imbued Voldemort with unthinkable power.
Director David Yates, who also helmed the two prior Potter films, continues his excellent track record, moving the story at a breathtaking pace, yet pausing often enough to give increasing depth to the characters. The Potter movies have grown increasingly dark over the years, but not in a disturbing way. Rather, the subject matter has become less fanciful as the story builds to what should be a thrilling conclusion.
Despite the serious plotting, there are still plenty of magical and charming moments in “Hallows Part 1,” and Yates and company show them off with spectacular special effects. Everything from simple magical items to completely computer-generated characters are rendered with astounding and realistic detail.
The ending of “Hallows Part 1” leaves something to be desired, as it’s essentially a setup for the final movie, which is slated for release on July 15. But that’s no reason to skip it. On the contrary, it’s a must-watch for anyone who wants to be fully prepared for the final adventure.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Extra features vary.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements involving alcohol abuse and some sexual content
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
When a film featuring Gwyneth Paltrow as a booze-addled country singer rolls into theaters in late December, it’s natural to expect it to make ripples come awards time. Alas, “Country Strong” made a relatively quiet trip through theaters, and the only time it and Oscars were mentioned in the same breath was when people started talking music. The single “Coming Home” earned a nomination for best original song.
Now that a few months have passed, it’s clear that “Country Strong” wasn’t slighted. It never was best picture or best actress material. Still, writer-director Shana Feste’s examination of celebrity culture and the music industry has as many worthwhile moments as it does problems.
The film focuses on a trio of country music singers. One is Kelly Canter (Paltrow), a huge star struggling with alcoholism. The other two are Beau Hutton (Garrett Hedlund) and Chiles Stanton (Leighton Meester), youngsters with differing views on their chosen professions. Beau is a purist, more concerned with the music than the celebrity surrounding it. Chiles is a former beauty queen who dreams of becoming the star Kelly used to be.
When Kelly’s husband, James (Tim McGraw), pulls her out of rehab before she’s ready, all three singers end up on the same tour. As the film travels a windy path toward conclusion, Feste focuses on the relationships that develop between all key characters. James is a mentor to Chiles but he seems to have more than business on his mind. In the meantime, the rugged Beau has romantic chemistry with both Kelly and Chiles.
The performances are generally solid, but Feste’s screenplay doesn’t do enough to develop the two female leads, and a few bad edits diminish the overall impact of the film. The material is also a bit heavy handed and soap opera-esque. Strangely, that’s not such a bad thing for folks who enjoy melodrama. “Country Strong” lays things on thick, but there’s a certain, operatic joy to be found in that approach.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, an extended version of Paltrow’s performance of “Shake That Thing” and music videos by Paltrow and Sara Evans.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“White Material”: In this 2009 drama, French director Claire Denis tells the story of a white woman (Isabelle Huppert) struggling to keep her family’s African coffee plantation despite threats of civil war. The film, released by the Criterion Collection, is presented in French with English subtitles.
“The Incredibles”: Pixar’s remarkable animated movie about a family of superheroes who come out of retirement is receiving its Blu-ray debut. The 2004 film was nominated for four Oscars, and it won the awards for best sound editing and best animated feature. This new release not only has a Blu-ray edition of the picture, it includes DVD and digital copies plus copious extras.
“Car 54, Where Are You?” – The Complete First Season: This TV comedy from the early 1960s is hitting DVD for the first time. The show centers on the adventures of New York police officers Gunther Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Francis Muldoon (Fred Gwynne). Included are 30 episodes on four DVDs.
“Dallas” – Movie Collection: CBS’ long-running night-time soap opera spawned four TV movies, and this set has them all. Included are “The Early Years,” “J.R. Returns,” “The War of the Ewings” and “Return to Southfork.” Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Ken Kercheval, Linda Gray, Steve Kanaly, Victoria Principal and Charlene Tilton star.
“The Third Reich”: History Channel release focused on the rise and fall of Germany’s frightening, World War II-era government. The program is highlighted by rarely-seen German newsreel footage and other historic images.
Antarctica documentaries: The home video company entertainmentone is releasing two titles documenting the efforts of scientists and filmmakers who embarked on a 430-day boat trip to Antarctica to study climate change. The first release, “The Last Continent,” runs 106 minutes and is narrated by Donald Sutherland. The second, “Antarctic Mission: The Complete Series,” runs 150 minutes and is narrated by David Suzuki.
“A Summer in Genoa”: This 2008 drama by English director Michael Winterbottom is debuting on video in the U.S. The film stars Colin Firth as a man struggling to hold his family together after his wife dies in an accident. In a bold move, he and his two daughters move from Chicago to the Italian town of Genoa.
“Ricky”: French film about two factory workers (Alexandra Lamy and Sergi Lopez) who fall in love and have a baby with extraordinary qualities. Directed by Francois Ozon, and presented in French with English subtitles.