Video Verdict: ‘In a Better World,’ ‘Prom’

Aimee Teegarden, left, and Thomas McDonell play polar opposites in Disney’s “Prom.”

This week’s home video releases include a new Tyler Perry comedy, a high school drama from the folks at Disney and an Academy Award-winning foreign film.

In a Better World

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for violent and disturbing content some involving preteens, and for language
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD/Blu-ray combo pack

Danish director Susan Bier’s “In a Better World” gathered enough buzz in early 2011 to win best foreign language film at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes, and it deserves the accolades. The feature centers on the friendship between Elias (Markus Rygaard) and Christian (William Johnk Nielsen), two pre-teen boys dealing with varying degrees of trauma and isolation.

Elias is regularly bullied at school and is further troubled by the fact that his physician parents, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt) and Marianne (Trine Dyrholm), are on the verge of divorce. Christian is struggling with the death of his mother and feels utterly alone. The boys meet after Christian and his father relocate to the small Danish town where Elias and his parents live.

The two boys become fast friends after Christian helps Elias confront a bully, but their relationship is strained when Christian becomes more and more obsessed with taking violent revenge against anyone who wrongs him. Elias doesn’t like Christian’s thirst for violence, but he doesn’t want to lose his friendship, so the boys walk an increasingly dangerous path.

Although the movie is centered on the boys, Bier skillfully cuts between their experiences and those of their parents. Of particular note is Anton, a talented doctor who makes frequent trips to Africa to provide medical care for a poverty-stricken village.

The cast gives Bier terrific performances, and she makes the most of them, weaving the narrative into an intense tapestry that reaches staggering levels of suspense.

The movie is presented in Danish, Swedish, English and Arabic with English subtitles. Home video extras include deleted scenes, an interview with Bier and a commentary by Bier and editor Pernille Bech Christensen.

Prom

2½ stars
Rated PG for mild language and a brief fight
Disney
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Disney’s “Prom” is so clearly targeted at young girls that one wonders if an entire generation is being set up for disappointment. The movie isn’t offensive or poorly made, but it is based on a bogus concept.

The faulty premise hits early, when protagonist Nova Prescott (Aimee Teegarden) reports in voiceover that prom is special because it brings everyone in a school together, transcending the boundaries that students have built up over years. While that may be true in a physical sense, there are plenty of nerds to attest that high school cliques aren’t easily dissolved … even when disco balls and fruit punch are deployed.

Director Joe Nussbaum is not, however, interested in teen angst. He’s all about the glitzy, heartwarming, Hollywood side of prom, one where bad boys are handsome and lonely guys find their match in the end. As phony and obvious as this vision is, “Prom” has the potential to resonate with preteens who are yet to enter the awkward high school years.

The film follows Nova as she prepares for prom, dutifully gathering decorations even after her original stash is destroyed in a fire. She’s aided by Jesse Richter (Thomas McDonell), a motorcycle riding bad boy who’s only helping because the principal forced him.

The film also includes mini stories featuring other high school archetypes: the star athlete (DeVaughn Nixon), the girl who decides on a different college than her boyfriend (Yin Chang), the guy who can’t land a date (Nicholas Braun) and the sophomore hottie that everyone wants (Danielle Campbell).

The young actors are talented and, although the predictable material doesn’t ask much of them, they handle their roles adeptly. The biggest problem with “Prom” is that it’s as predictable as it is unrealistic. Anyone who doesn’t know how the story threads will play out – long before they do – just hasn’t watched enough movies.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include bloopers and a making-of featurette.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Big Happy Family”: In this latest offering from writer-director Tyler Perry, Madea gathers her family after her niece receives bad news about her health. Loretta Devine, Bow Wow, Shannon Kane and Natalie Desselle star alongside Perry.

“Forks Over Knives”: Documentary film arguing that Western diets, which are largely based on animal protein, account for many of the health problems Americans face. Written and directed by Lee Fulkerson.

“Detroit 1-8-7” – The Complete First Season: It’s unclear whether this crime drama will receive a second season, as it was cancelled by ABC. Nevertheless, this set allows fans to dip into the 18 episodes that have aired. The show focuses on a homicide unit working in inner-city Detroit. Michael Imperioli, Jon Michael Hill, James McDaniel, Aisha Hinds, Natalie Martinez, D.J. Cotrona and Shaun Majumder star.

“Running Wilde” – Season One: Every episode of the short-lived Fox comedy about a do-nothing playboy (Will Arnett) trying to regain the affection of the environmentalist he dated in high school (Keri Russell).

“Storage Wars” – Season One: First 12 episodes of the A&E reality show about professional “buyers” who bid on repossessed storage units in hopes of selling the contents for profit.

“The Vampire Diaries” – The Complete Second Season: The third season of this supernatural drama – based on a love triangle between a human woman and two vampires – will kick off Sept. 15 on the CW. That gives fans a little more than two weeks to watch the 22 episodes presented here.

“Desperate Housewives” – The Complete Seventh Season: The ladies of Wisteria Lane may have seen declining ratings during season seven, but ABC still renewed the show. Fans who failed to tune in can get up to speed with this five-disc set.

“Cougar Town” – The Complete Second Season: Twenty-two episodes of the ABC drama about a forty-something divorcee (Courtney Cox) adapting to the single life.

“Tim Burton’s the Nightmare Before Christmas 3D”: Disney is releasing this stop-motion classic on Blu-ray 3D for the first time. Don’t have a 3D TV or Blu-ray player? No worries. The release comes with four versions of the film: Blu-ray 3D, standard Blu-ray, DVD and a digital copy.

“Good Will Hunting”: Lionsgate is rolling this popular 1990s drama onto Blu-ray for the first time. The film stars Matt Damon as a brilliant young man working as a janitor at a top-tier university. Although he is reluctant to change his lifestyle, a psychology professor (Robin Williams) tries to show him a better way of life.

“Wonders of the Universe”: Documentary series in which professor Brian Cox explores the scientific mysteries that surround us. The show was originally aired in the United Kingdom, and it’s being released on DVD and Blu-ray by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

– 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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