Quite a few new movies have come to home video this week, led by Robert Redford in "All Is Lost," Jerusha Hess’ "Austenland" and "Ender’s Game," based on Orson Scott Card’s award-winning sci-fi novel.
"All Is Lost" (Lionsgate, 2013, PG-13, $26.98, DVD and digital versions, audio commentary, featurettes). Robert Redford is virtually a one-man show, delivering a commanding, compelling and very physical performance at age 77 in this riveting tale of a yachtsman lost at sea.
The film takes on an almost biblical tone as Redford’s character is tested by the elements with one disaster after another challenging his resolve. Alone and adrift in the middle of the ocean, his boat is damaged by a floating storage container and he finds himself scrambling to patch it up, only to encounter a terrifying storm. His character is resourceful but up against overwhelming odds. Will he survive?
This is a tricky film, one that deserves kudos for its writer-director J.C. Chandor, as well as editor Pete Beaudreau and his many assistants. Spending an hour and 45 minutes with one nearly silent character could have been really boring in the wrong hands, but this one is gripping all the way. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.99)
"Austenland" (Sony/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, $35.99, audio commentary, featurette). This "chick-flick" comedy is co-written and directed by Jerusha Hess (co-writer of husband Jared Hess’ "Napoleon Dynamite," among others); co-written by Shannon Hale and based on her novel; and one of the producers is Stephenie Meyer, author of the "Twilight" novels.
The central conceit here is a good one, with Russell as a "Pride and Prejudice" fanatic – particularly obsessed with Mr. Darcy as played by Colin Firth – who travels to England to stay at the title theme park, dedicated to the writings of Jane Austen (and run by Jane Seymour). There she meets a number of wacky characters, the wackiest played by Jennifer Coolidge, who seems to have been allowed to ad-lib a bit too much. And that’s the film’s biggest problem: It’s terribly undisciplined and ragged. But in fairness, I confess that when I saw this in a theater, it was filled with women laughing uproariously. (Also on DVD, $30.99)
"Ender’s Game" (Summit/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, two discs, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted/extended scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes). In 2086, after an attack on Earth by a hostile alien race, young Ender Wiggin (although not as young as in the book) is among children recruited for special training in Battle School. There, he proves his worth during increasingly difficult war games and is pegged as the next savior of the human race. Pretty good sci-fi, though not as satisfying as the book. A first-rate cast helps, led by Asa Butterfield as Ender, with support from Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin. (Also on DVD, $29.95)
Page 2 of 4 – "Grace Unplugged" (Lionsgate, 2013, PG, $19.98, deleted scenes, featurette, bloopers). Above-average faith film follows a teenage musician (AJ Michalka) dreaming of stardom who feels stifled by church performances with her father (James Denton). But he’s a former rock star who knows the pitfalls of show business. So she runs off and signs a recording contract with dad’s former manager (Kevin Pollak) to test the waters for herself. The story is nothing new but it’s handled well with engaging performers and a strong faith-promoting message for youths. (Also on Blu-ray, $24.99)
"Wadjda" (Sony Classics/Blu-ray, 2013, PG, two discs, $40.99, audio commentary, featurettes). Wonderful little film about a 10-year-old Saudi girl who wants a new bicycle to race a boy in her neighborhood, but her mother says no, as bikes are frowned upon for girls. So she tries to raise the money on her own. Touching, laced with humor, this is the first movie filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first directed by a Saudi woman, Haifaa al-Mansour.
"Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight" (HBO, 2013, not rated, $19.98). Interesting but very talky cable-TV dramatization of how the U.S. Supreme Court came to rule in Ali’s favor in 1971 after he sought conscientious-objector status, refusing to report for military duty during the Vietnam War due to religious beliefs. The cast is full of familiar actors, led by Frank Langella as Chief Justice Warren Burger and Christopher Plummer as Justice John Marshal Harlan. Rather than have Ali played by an actor, the heavyweight champ is shown in the ring and during TV interviews.
"Chicago" (Miramax/Lionsgate/Blu-ray, 2002, PG-13, two discs, $14.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted musical number, new retrospective documentary, audio commentary, featurette). Good, if not great, movie version of the popular stage musical about murder and celebrity during the Jazz Age, with Catherine Zeta-Jones setting the screen on fire. But Renee Zellweger (in the lead as Roxie Hart) and Richard Gere (as her defense attorney) seem miscast at best. True, it won the best-picture Oscar, but is it really up there with "An American in Paris" or "West Side Story"? Director Rob Marshall has watched too many music videos, as evidenced by the quick-cut editing that shakes up the musical numbers.
"Festival Express" (Shout!/Blu-ray, 2003, R for some language, two discs, $24.98, complete film or songs-only version, deleted interviews/performances, featurette, trailer). This documentary/concert film gets a Blu-ray upgrade and a raft of bonus features that should please baby boomers, especially Deadheads. Besides the Grateful Dead, performers include the Band, Janis Joplin, Ian & Sylvia, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, among others. (The film’s footage sat on a shelf for 30 years before this chronicle of the 1970 concert tour was edited and released in 2003.)
"Ballroom Confidential" (Lilla, 2014, not rated, $20). Documentary about older women finding themselves energized in remarkable ways through ballroom dancing in a Florida studio. The most compelling material comes as the women talk about their loves and losses in widowhood. (Available at ballroomconfidential.com)
Page 3 of 4 – "Mike Tyson: The Undisputed Truth" (HBO, 2013, not rated, $14.98, featurette). This is Tyson’s autobiographical one-man Broadway show that was directed by Spike Lee. And Lee is also behind this HBO film of the show, which finds Tyson surprisingly personable and funny, leaving no stone (or controversy) unturned.
"The Summit" (IFC, 2013, R for some language, $24.98). The tragedy of 11 mountaineers who died on K2 in 2008 is explored in this documentary, which interviews a wide array of people about the treacherous climb and whether some of the 11 might have been saved if things were handled differently. Visually stunning but rather convoluted and unfocused in the telling.
"Diana" (eOne/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, $29.98, featurette; 16-page fashion-photo booklet). Disappointing film about the Princess of Wales chooses to focus on the last two years of her life and her affair with a Pakistani heart surgeon. Naomi Watts works hard but the script and direction let her down. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
"The Best Man Holiday" (Universal/Blu-ray, 2013; R for sex, language, nudity; two discs, $34.98; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted/extended scenes, alternate ending, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers). Surprisingly raunchy sequel to 1999’s "The Best Man" brings back the principles (Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa) for a Christmas reunion that dredges up old rivalries. Again written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee (cousin of Spike). (Also on DVD, $29.98)
"Anna Nicole" (Sony, 2013, not rated, $22.99). This laughably lurid Lifetime cable-TV movie stars Agnes Bruckner as Anna Nicole Smith, the supermodel whose life of drugs and debauchery ended at age 39. Stops short of R-rated nudity, although that’s mostly what Smith was famous for – that, and her marriage to gazillionaire octogenarian J. Howard Marshall (Martin Landau) and the litigation over his estate that followed his death.
"The Artist and the Model" (Cohen/Blu-ray, 2013, b/w, not rated, $39.98, in French with English subtitles, featurette, photo gallery, trailer). Jean Rochefort stars as an aging sculptor during World War II in Occupied France whose desire to return to his art is invigorated by a young Spanish girl who has escaped a refugee camp. Not rated but in R territory for non-sexual nudity. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
"22 Bullets" (Flatiron/Blu-ray, 2012, not rated, $34.95, in French with English subtitles, audio commentary, featurette). Nice to see that the French take time out from art films to make mindless action pictures. Jean Reno is a retired mobster gunned down by rivals but survives 22 bullet wounds to go after his would-be assassins. Lots of mindless action more suited to ’80s Stallone or Schwarzenegger. (Also on DVD, $29.95)
"Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon" (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Mandarin with English subtitles). Not quite up there with the first "Detective Dee" film but filled with computer-animated action, this prequel is about Dee becoming a police officer and going after a sea monster terrorizing the Imperial City. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
Page 4 of 4 – "Masquerade" (CJ/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $19.98, in Korean with English subtitles). The plot of this period drama is similar to the 1993 comedy "Dave," with Kevin Kline as an ordinary Joe impersonating the president. Here, a tyrannical Korean ruler wants a royal body double and a peasant gets the job, only to have to fill in when the king is poisoned. Turns out, the peasant is a more humane leader but there are rivals for the throne.
"On the Job" (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, in Filipino with English subtitles, deleted scenes, featurette, trailer). Modern-day Filipino thriller loosely based on a true story about two contract killers let out of prison to do government officials’ dirty work while two law-enforcement officials investigate. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
"Haunter" (IFC/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, $29.98, audio commentaries, featurette, storyboards, trailer). Abigail Breslin stars in this offbeat haunted-house yarn that is part "Groundhog Day," part "Beetlejuice." A family of ghosts has repeated the day before their death for 30 years, but now the youngest has connected with a living girl who may be in line for the same fate. (Also on DVD, $24.98)
"A Night in the Woods" (Cinedigm/Blu-ray, 2013, not rated, two discs, $29.95, Blu-ray and DVD versions). Three friends go camping deep in the woods only to engage in jealous competition until a sinister force becomes apparent. British entry into the found-footage genre simply proves bad horror movies come from every country. (Also on DVD, $26.95)%3Cimg%20src%3D%22http%3A//beacon.deseretconnect.com/beacon.gif%3Fcid%3D145592%26pid%3D46%22%20/%3E