DVD reviews: 'Argo,' 'Anna Karenina' and 'Undefeated'
“Argo” (2012, R, 120 min., $28.98). Ben Affleck has proven himself as a director with titles like “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town.” However, his third feature is his most complete. “Argo” has already scored an impressive collection of accolades, and they've been well deserved. The film follows a 1980 situation in Iran in which six Americans are hiding from militants during a violent revolution. The six Americans — workers at the United States' diplomatic offices — have found shelter with the Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber), but they won't be able to hide for long. Enter Tony Mendez (Affleck), a CIA agent who specializes in getting Americans out of turbulent places. With help from a couple of Hollywood veterans (Alan Arkin and John Goodman), Mendez puts together a plan to get the six out by claiming they're with a crew scouting for a movie. “Argo” has drama and humor, not to mention some incredibly tense situations. The script isn't too heavy, and the performances — Affleck, Arkin, Goodman and Bryan Cranston, especially — add punch. That's why it's a favorite to bring home the Oscar for best picture. Consumers would be wise to pick up the Blu-ray version of the film, as the package is loaded with extras. Standard DVDs are scaled down. A handful of good featurettes can be found on Blu-ray, and they explore the authenticity of the film and its effect in Hollywood. 3.5 Stars.
“Anna Karenina” (2012, R, 129 min., $29.98). Director Joe Wright and actress Keira Knightley seem to have a handle on the period piece. This is their third such collaboration — “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement” came first — and it's a quality work. Of course, the film is adapted from Leo Tolstoy's 1877 classic novel of the same name, a book that has been brought to the silver screen more than 10 times. Set in 19th-century Russia, the Tolstoy story, more or less, tracks the romances of Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley), a socialite married to a Russian politician named Karenin (Jude Law). When she decides to leave him for the younger Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), her life undergoes a dramatic series of ups and downs. “Anna Karenina” is a very lush presentation, and it is incredibly theatrical, as most of the film was shot on a single soundstage. It doesn't carry the same narrative substance as the two prior features between Knightley and Wright, but the film carries solid performances — Law and Knightley, specifically — and remarkable style in sets and costumes. A decent collection of extras can be found on standard and Blu-ray sets, and they include top-notch featurettes about the novel adaptation, the sets and the costumes. 2.5 Stars.
“Undefeated” (2011, PG-13, 113 min., $19.98). There are plenty of sports documentaries out there, but few carry as much inspiration as “Undefeated.” Winner of the Academy Award for best documentary in 2012, the pic takes a look at the struggling Manassas High School football team and its motivational coach Bill Courtney, as the team members try to stay above the incredible poverty that has eaten away their hometown of Memphis. Directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin, “Undefeated” spends one season with the Tigers, capturing every break — good or bad — for a group of players dealing with plenty of problems off the field. The main spotlight is on Courtney, a volunteer coach who's been at the school for more than five years. Courtney puts much of his own money into the team, and ventures outside his job description by trying to keep kids on the right path. Lindsay and Martin do a fine job of keeping the viewer inside the Tigers' locker room. Although not as good as Steve James' 1994 doc “Hoop Dreams,” “Undefeated” is definitely in the same neighborhood. Unfortunately, special features are below average. A making-of featurette holds a couple of interesting interviews with Courtney and some of the filmmakers, but commentary from Lindsay and Martin is probably the best of the extras. 3 Stars.
“Sinister” (2012, R, 110 min., $29.95). Ethan Hawke jumps into the lead role for one of the more horrifying films of 2012. Hawke is a once-successful true crime writer looking for his next big book. To gain some inspiration, he moves into a mysterious house that puts himself and his family in a lot of danger.
“The Sessions” (2012, R, 95 min., $22.98). John Hawkes and Helen Hunt provide two of the braver performances of the year, as they square off in this intimate dramedy about a man paralyzed and confined to an iron lung who's looking to lose his virginity with the help of an attractive therapist.
“The Factory” (2012, R, 108 min., $28.98). An obsessed Buffalo cop puts it all on the line to catch a serial killer who's abducting and killing women. Most of the victims are runaways and prostitutes, so their deaths are only a priority to Detective Mike Fletcher (John Cusack). Jennifer Carpenter and Mae Whitman also star.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part II” (2012, PG-13, 112 min., $22.98). Filmmaker John Putch picks up where Paul Johansson left off for the second part of this adaptation of Ayn Rand's groundbreaking novel “Atlas Shrugged.” An answer to the mounting energy crisis and a crippled economy come into focus in this fast-paced sequel to Part I.
“Special Forces” (2012, R, 109 min., $19.98). A talented cast — Diane Kruger and Djimon Hounsou star — leads the way in this film from Stephane Rybojad about a war correspondent who is taken hostage by the Taliban and faces execution in Afghanistan.
“Fun Size” (2012, PG-13, 86 min., $30.99). Set in Cleveland, this film from director Josh Schwartz follows a teen girl torn between meeting up with her crush on Halloween or keeping an eye on her younger brother, as ordered to by her mother. Chelsea Handler, Jane Levy and Victoria Justice make up a talented cast for this Nickelodeon pic.
“The Package” (2012, R, 95 min., $26.98). Second-rate action stars Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin play the leads in director Jesse V. Johnson's picture about a nightclub bouncer (Austin) instructed to deliver a package to an international crime boss (Lundgren) in order to pay off his brother's debt.
“Puppy Love” (2012, NR, 83 min., $14.93). The Hallmark Channel's highest-rated original movie premiere of 2012 — pulling in more than two million viewers — “Puppy Love” tells the warm and fuzzy story of an unruly puppy from the city pound that brings two strangers together. Candace Cameron Bure and Victor Webster star in the film.
“The Cyclist” (2012, NR, 89 min., $27.97). One of the more motivational films of 2012, director John Lawrence's inspirational picture follows a bike messenger who's coasting along in life, and finally loses his job. Phillipe (K.C. Clyde) eventually realizes it's time for him to accomplish some life goals. He'll get help from an unlikely place.
NEW ON BLU-RAY
“Best in Show” (Eugene Levy and Christopher Guest, 2000, PG-13, 90 min., $19.98)
“The Thief of Bagdad” (Douglas Fairbanks and Julanne Johnston, 1924, NR, 140 min., $29.98)
TV ON DVD
“Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season” (Peter Dinklage and Michelle Fairley, five discs, 10 episodes, $59.99)
“Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome” (Luke Pasqualino and Ben Cotton, one disc, 10 episodes, $29.98)
“Naked City: 20 Star-Filled Episodes” (Gene Hackman and Robert Redford, five discs, 20 episodes, $24.98)
“Swamp People: Season 3” (reality series, six discs, 22 episodes, $24.98)
“Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake” (animated series, one disc, 16 episodes, $19.82)