It’s an outstanding week for home video, as all three major releases rank among the best films of 2011.
X-Men: First Class
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some sexual content including brief partial nudity and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 9
Marvel Comics is having a great year with book-to-screen adaptations, and the film that got things rolling is “X-men: First Class.” The picture is thematically tied to the three “X-Men” movies released between 2000 and 2006, and to 2009’s “Wolverine,” but really it stands on its own. That’s because director and co-writer Matthew Vaughn rolls the timeline back, allowing viewers to understand how several important X-Men characters came to be.
Key to the action is Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender). Charles, a man with remarkable telepathic abilities, will mature and become the peace-loving leader of the X-Men, and Erik will become the super villain Magneto. But first, they develop a friendship.
In “First Class,” viewers get a glimpse of both Charles and Erik as children, and it’s not always pretty. While Charles’ upbringing was one of wealth and privilege, Erik spent his youth in a Nazi concentration camp where a ruthless German doctor named Schmidt (Kevin Bacon) killed his mother. Schmidt’s evil is not, however, tied to Nazi ideology. Rather, he is interested in mutants and fascinated by Erik’s ability to manipulate anything made of metal.
Years after World War II, an older Erik is seeking revenge against Schmidt, who has hatched a plan to plunge the world into nuclear war. A CIA agent named Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) gets a sniff of the scheme and turns to Charles for help, ultimately prompting both men to go to war against Schmidt.
Although the movie’s plotting is centered on Erik and Charles, a number of other popular X-Men characters are depicted. Fans will, no doubt, be happy to see Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), Emma Frost (January Jones), Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Havok (Lucas Till), Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and others.
Of course, the danger of having so many characters is that the filmmakers will spend most of their time darting from one to another, sacrificing the plot in the process. Vaughn, who is yet to make a bad film (his others are “Kick-Ass,” “Stardust” and “Layer Cake”), avoids this pitfall. “First Class” walks a fine and difficult line, giving comic book fans a sampling of characters while keeping the plot focused and moving forward.
DVD special features are limited to a behind-the-scenes short. The Blu-ray release comes packed with extras, including 10 “X-Men” digital comics, extended and deleted scenes, the ability to isolate the score, and an interactive feature allowing viewers to learn more about specific scenes.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Director Joe Wright introduced the world to Saoirse Ronan when he cast her alongside Keira Knightley and James McAvoy in his 2008 best picture nominee “Atonement.” With “Hanna,” he gives her true leading lady status, calling on her to play the film’s complex and gifted title character.
Steeped in mystery, the movie starts by introducing viewers to Hanna (Ronan) and her father, Erik (Eric Bana). The two are staying in an isolated Finnish cabin where they have lived alone for years. Despite the fact that Hanna has no interaction with other people, she is intelligent beyond her 16 years of age. Erik, a former spy, has taught her hunting and self-defense skills as well as multiple languages. He has also helped her memorize a series of fake identities. Her training comes in handy when Hanna decides to alert the world to their presence, prompting a powerful U.S. intelligence officer named Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) to hunt both her and her father.
“Hanna” is an odd hybrid of thriller, coming-of-age tale and old-fashioned mystery, and it is fiendishly well conceived. It’s obvious from the beginning that Hanna is involved in a massive international intrigue, but Wright holds the details back, revealing the full story only when his movie climaxes.
Most interesting is the way Hanna is revealed. She has the skill set of a trained assassin, yet she is remarkably naïve socially because her father is the only other person she has interacted with. Ronan proved herself a great talent in “Atonement,” earning a best supporting actress nomination for her work in the film. She was also terrific in director Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones,” and she continues her string of successes here.
Because Hanna is such an unusual character – simultaneously innocent and worldly – the role required an actress with chops, and Ronan has them. It helps, too, that she’s surrounded by fine performers. Bana is underappreciated and underused, and he is great throughout the film, providing a nice foil for Blanchett’s finely tuned portrayal of Marissa Wiegler.
Wright, of course, gets credit for not only compiling a host of great ingredients but for cooking them to perfection. “Hanna” is a departure for the English director, as his previous movies – including 2005’s “Pride & Prejudice” and 2009’s “The Soloist” – were straight dramas. “Hanna” is an action thriller, but it doesn’t seem out of place among Wright’s catalog because it is also exceedingly smart.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a commentary by Wright and a feature on the making of one key sequence.
Everything Must Go
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Will Ferrell built his career on broad comedy, but he is proving himself equally adept at drama. Viewers got a taste of the more-serious Ferrell in 2006’s “Stranger Than Fiction” and they get another dose in “Everything Must Go,” a small-budget drama that’s downright dark.
Written and directed by Dan Rush, the film centers on Nick Halsey (Ferrell), a struggling alcoholic who – after losing his job – comes home to find all his possessions on the front lawn of his house. His wife has changed the locks and left a Dear John letter, causing Nick to settle in with his stuff. The police tell him he can’t “live” in front of his home, but a detective friend (Michael Pena) buys him some time, getting him a permit to hold a five-day “garage sale.”
As Nick sits in front of the house drinking and deciding whether or not to sell his things, he develops friendly relationships with a new neighbor named Samantha (Rebecca Hall) and a young boy named Kenny (Christopher Jordan Wallace). Each of these primary characters has issues, and they work through them together but not in a sappy or traditional manner.
In some respects, “Everything Must Go” is challenging. It doesn’t tell viewers what to think, doesn’t condemn Nick for his free fall and doesn’t resolve in a neat and tidy manner. That could lead to frustration, but viewers who allow the film to work its way under their skin should come to realize that its eccentricities are what makes it great.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, a bit on Ferrell and a commentary with Rush and Pena.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Two and a Half Men” – The Complete Eighth Season: When this immensely popular sitcom returns to TV, it will be without Charlie Sheen. So, the 16 episodes presented here serve as the troubled star’s sendoff.
“Scarface”: Universal is bringing director Brian De Palma’s critically acclaimed crime drama to Blu-ray for the first time. Written by Oliver Stone, the movie stars Al Pacino as a Cuban immigrant who becomes a drug kingpin in 1980s Miami. The Blu-ray has many extras, including a documentary about the movie’s influence, deleted scenes and a bit comparing the theatrical version of the film to the edited version that appeared on network TV.
“Scooby-Doo! – Legend of the Phantosaur”: New, animated movie featuring Shaggy, Scooby and the rest of the popular “Scooby-Doo!” characters. In this adventure, the Mystery Inc. gang try to discover what’s behind a monster that’s preventing paleontologists from digging for fossils.
Diana Rigg at the BBC: Dame Diana Rigg is best known for playing Emma Peel in “The Avengers” television series, but the English actress has a huge body of work. This collection gathers many of her BBC Television performances. Included is the comedy series “Three Piece Suite,” her five “Mrs. Bradley Mysteries,” “Ghengis Cohn,” “Little Eyolf” and “Unexplained Laughter.”
“Vidal Sassoon – The Movie”: Documentary film considering the life of the hair stylist who went from orphan to household name. Directed by Craig Teper.
“Police Story” – Season One: First 21 episodes of the police drama about cops working in 1970s Los Angeles. An anthology series, each episode features different stars, although there are a handful of recurring characters. The show, created by Joseph Wambaugh, was nominated for multiple Emmys and ultimately won in 1976.
“Airwolf – The Movie”: Restored and uncensored cut of the 97-minute pilot that kicked off the 1980s “Airwolf” television series. Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine and Alex Cord star. –
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.