DVD reviews: 'Taken 2,' 'To Rome with Love' and 'Won't Back Down'
“Taken 2” (2012, PG-13, 92 min., $29.98). Upon its release in 2008, “Taken” became one of the most popular action flicks in years and solidified Liam Neeson as a bankable star in the genre. Unfortunately, “Taken 2” isn't as strong as its predecessor. The picture has Neeson reprising his role as Bryan Mills, a freelancing security expert who has plenty of work. While doing a job overseas, he invites his ex (Famke Janssen) and his daughter (Maggie Grace) for some family time. Unfortunately, the friends and family members of the bad guys he took out in the first film are out for revenge, and they have a fix on him. The bad guys initially get the jump on Mills, but he quickly dispatches his captors and goes looking for his family. He might just be walking into a trap. Yes, “Taken 2” offers some fun action sequences, but the storyline is lazy. It's stacked with plot holes, a lack of pacing and predictability. It's too bad, because the “Taken” franchise, with Neeson in the lead, had some real momentum coming out of the first film. Fans of the film would be better off picking up the beefier Blu-ray set. Standard DVD packages have an alternate ending and a slim Neeson featurette, but Blu-ray's stacked with some great making-of stuff. 2 Stars.
“To Rome with Love” (2012, R, 112 min., $30.99). Woody Allen follows up his largely successful 2011 hit “Midnight in Paris” with a love song to another European city. Allen wrote, directed and even stars in “To Rome with Love.” He is joined by an impressive cast that includes Penelope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg. Roberto Benigni and Greta Gerwig. The aforementioned players, as well as the sights and sounds of the beautiful Italian city of Rome are the best parts of the film. Otherwise, there's not much to like about this unfunny romantic comedy that never really delves too deep into its characters or their stories. Allen's film is made up of four vignettes, all using relationships in Rome as themes. One follows a young woman's family arriving in town to meet her future husband. Another one follows a young couple moving from a small town to Rome. A working stiff who suddenly becomes a celebrity is the centerpiece of another vignette. Finally, a young man who falls for his girlfriend's best friend is told in another story. None of the stories intersect. As with most Allen titles, this one's limited with extras. A making-of featurette, with interviews with the cast and crew, is the only special feature to be found on standard DVD and Blu-ray. 2 Stars.
“Won't Back Down” (2012, PG, 121 min., $22.98). Filmed and set in Pittsburgh, “Won't Back Down” won't make anybody forget about “The Dark Knight Rises” or “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Directed by Pennsylvania native Daniel Barnz off of a screenplay he worked on with Brin Hill, the feature film is one of the more lackluster productions to use the city as its backdrop. Despite two talented leading ladies — Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis — the production falls flat, using an unending collection of cliches that viewers have experienced before in prior pics focused around schools. The education system needs a lot of work, and movies like “Won't Back Down” help. Unfortunately, the film's execution hurts the message. Gyllenhaal has the part of Jamie, a single mother whose daughter (Emily Alyn Lind) has a learning disability. When Jamie sees how her kid is being treated at her local public school, she goes looking for answers. Unable to find any, she starts a movement with a teacher (Davis) to improve the school. As more folks join in the movement, Jamie starts to realize that she can really make a difference for her daughter. Deleted scenes and commentary are available, along with two featurettes examining education. These extras are available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD. 2 Stars.
“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934, NR, 75 min., $39.95). The latest addition to the Criterion Collection will certainly be classified as one of it's finest. One of Alfred Hitchcock's first films, this thriller starring Peter Lorre has a family finding out about an assassination attempt. To keep them quiet, the assassins kidnap their daughter. Hitchcock made another version of this film in 1956 with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.
“Compliance” (2012, R, 90 min., $26.98). One of the more chilling pictures of 2012, this film, based on actual events, has a police officer calling an Ohio fast-food restaurant looking for an employee who supposedly just ripped off a customer. As management holds the employee, the supposed cop leads an eerie investigation from the phone.
“The Other Dream Team” (2012, NR, 89 min., $24.98). The team from the U.S., lead by players like Magic and Bird, wasn't the only Dream Team in 1992. There was the Lithuanian basketball team, whose players struggled under Soviet rule. Through the Olympics, the team became a symbol for independence movement in Lithuania.
“The Possession” (2012, PG-13, 92 min., $29.95). Produced by Sam Raimi, this horror film starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick follows a family that is preyed upon by an evil force after its youngest daughter becomes obsessed with a wooden box acquired at a yard sale. The force has the power to take all their lives.
“Detropia” (2012, NR, 90 min., $29.95). The rise and fall of Detroit is the focus of this powerful documentary from filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. After losing great portions of its population, America's Motor City is now in the process of downsizing, and that means demolishing thousands of abandoned structures.
“China Heavyweight” (2012, NR, 89 min., $29.99). From Yung Chang, the filmmaker behind the 2007 documentary “Up the Yangtze,” comes another fascinating pic. This time, Chang takes a look at the boxing scene in China. More specifically, Chang follows a coach who recruits young athletes to become future champs.
“Farewell, My Queen” (2012, R, 100 min., $24.98). Benoit Jacquot wrote and directed this French picture that gives a glimpse inside the final days of Marie Antoinette leading into the French Revolution. The film stars Diane Kruger and Lea Seydoux.
“Jack & Diane” (2012, R, 110 min., $26.98). This one from Bradley Rust Gray follows two teen girls in New York City who fall for each other after a passionate night. However, when one of the girls has to move away, it causes violent changes to her body, shaking up the relationship. Riley Keough and Juno Temple star.
“Love Me” (2012, PG-13, 97 min., $22.98). A fresh-faced cast of up and comers — Lindsey Shaw, Jamie Johnston and Jean-Luc Bilodeau star — is on display in this suspenseful thriller about a young woman who really wants to fall in love. She might just get her wish when an attractive, but mysterious boy transfers to her school.
“Undercover Bridesmaid” (2012, NR, 86 min., $14.93). This romantic movie made its debut in 2012. Starring Brooke Burns, Nicole Paggi and Justin Baldoni, the picture has a bodyguard going undercover to protect the daughter of a Texas mogul who's been getting death threats.
“Cupid” (2012, NR, 86 min., $14.93). Another product of the Hallmark Channel, this picture — starring Joely Fisher, Jamie Kennedy and Roark Critchlow — made its debut around Valentine's Day in 2012. The film follows a young lady unlucky in love. She gets a break when a magical visitor gives her a job to do on Valentine's Day.
“Branded” (2012, R, 106 min., $27.98). Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski and Jeffrey Tambor star in a futuristic thriller set in a dystopian society where gigantic corporations rule. When a terrifying conspiracy is revealed — corporations control the minds of the citizens — one man sets out to find the truth.
TV ON DVD
“Men of a Certain Age: The Complete Second Season” (Ray Romano and Andre Braugher, three discs, 12 episodes, $39.98)
“Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season” (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, two discs, seven episodes, $29.98)
“Perry Mason: The Eighth Season, Volume Two” (Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale, four discs, 15 episodes, $57.99)
“Archer: The Complete Season Three” (animated series, two discs, 13 episodes, $29.98)
“The Amazing World of Gumball ‘The Mystery'” (animated series, one disc, 12 episodes, $14.97)
“Joan Rivers: Don't Start with Me” (standup comedy, NR, 69 min., $19.98)
“Anthony Jeselnik: Caligula” (standup comedy, NR, 59 min., $14.99)
“Harland Williams: A Force of Nature” (standup comedy, NR, 53 min., $14.98)