DVD reviews: 'Life of Pi,' 'Smashed' and 'Hitchcock'
“Life of Pi” (2012, PG, 127 min., $29.98). Based on the popular 2001 Yann Martel novel, “Life of Pi” is a film that's visually stimulating, all the while telling a remarkable story of survival. It's no wonder filmmaker Ang Lee won best director at the Academy Awards, and the movie picked up another three statues in the production categories. “Life of Pi” was nominated for 11 Oscars. When it was revealed the book would be made into a movie, it was thought to be an impossibility, but with the perfect blend of CGI, special effects, talented performers and a well-paced screenplay, “Life of Pi” is an especially entertaining film that will run away with your imagination. In the story, a middle-aged man named Pi (Irrfan Khan) tells a writer about a shipwreck he survived as a teen when his family was headed to Canada for a new life. As the only survivor, Pi — played by Suraj Sharma as a teen — has to stay alive, all the while sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. It's a terrifically told story that few will ever forget. The film is available in three packages — standard DVD, Blu-ray and 3D — and consumers would be wise to choose Blu-ray or 3D, not just because of the rich visuals, but also because of the large collection of special features. Standard DVD packages carry little in the way of extras. 3 Stars.
“Smashed” (2012, R, 91 min., $30.99). Alcoholism and its effects on relationships are the focal points for “Smashed,” an emotional picture from James Ponsoldt. The movie takes the viewer inside the marriage of Charlie (Aaron Paul) and Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), both hard drinkers until a few scary missteps force Kate to consider sobriety. A co-worker (Nick Offerman), who has a history of addiction, guides her toward AA. Kate begins moving down the right path, but she soon realizes she may have to distance herself from a destructive husband who has no plans of giving up alcohol. She'll have to lean on that co-worker and her new sponsor (Octavia Spencer). Ponsoldt delivers a stirring portrait of alcoholism with “Smashed,” and he gets great performances from Paul, Offerman, Spencer and, most importantly, Winstead. It's undoubtedly one of the best indies of 2012. Special features are surprisingly good for a tiny film like “Smashed.” In Blu-ray and standard DVD packages, buyers will find a making-of featurette that has behind-the-scenes clips and interviews with members of the cast and crew. Deleted scenes and a Q&A also are good. 3 Stars.
“Hitchcock” (2012, PG-13, 98 min., $29.98). Sacha Gervasi made his directing debut in 2008 with the great rock doc “Anvil: The Story of Anvil.” With “Hitchcock,” he took a more narrative route. Despite a solid cast — Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel and Michael Stuhlbarg — and interesting subject, “Hitchcock” is forgettable. It's fun and has some insight on the Master of Suspense, but doesn't leave a lasting impression. It's unfortunate considering the incredible directing career of Alfred Hitchcock. With Hopkins in the lead role, the film tackles the director's making of “Psycho,” a pic that followed the incredibly popular “North By Northwest.” Hitchcock could have made anything, but he picked a little-known novel loosely based on the exploits of serial killer Ed Gein. Hitchcock faced lots of hurdles in the production, including problems in his marriage to Alma Reville (Mirren) and difficult situations with the cast and crew. Gervasi's film scratches the surface, but the film never delves too deep. For consumers, the movie only appears to be available in a combo pack with Blu-ray and standard DVD editions of the film. Luckily, there are enough special features to make the extra cash worth it. 2 Stars.
“Rise of the Guardians” (2012, PG, 97 min., $30.99). Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine and Jude Law provide some of the voices for one of the more imaginative animated features of the year. The film puts the Guardians — Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, etc. — against the Boogeyman, who's bad news to the children of the world.
“Someday this Pain Will be Useful to You” (2011, NR, 99 min., $24.98). A strong cast, including Ellen Burstyn, Marcia Gay Harden and Lucy Liu, stars in this adaptation of Peter Cameron's 2007 bestseller. The film follows a restlessly lost high school grad (Toby Regbo) who decides to reject the adult world and embrace his feelings of nothingness.
“Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away” (2012, PG, 91 min., $30.99). Director Andrew Adamson goes behind the camera for this colorful presentation that travels across the imaginative landscapes of Cirque Du Soleil. The feature film gives viewers the magical opportunity to experience the acrobatic show.
“You've Been Trumped” (2012, NR, 100 min., $29.95). Celebrity Donald Trump is the target in director Anthony Baxter's film, as a group of Scottish homeowners go after him for trying to build a luxury golf resort. Trump's plan for a course is a threat to Scotland's national heritage, and these angry locals will be heard in this documentary.
“Connected: An Autobiography about Love, Death and Technology.” (2012, NR, 80 min., $29.95). Internet pioneer Tiffany Shlain makes her directorial debut with this fascinating documentary that explores the connections we have to technology. Narrated by Peter Coyote, the film takes a personal turn when Shlain takes a look at her own life.
“Border Run” (2013, R, 96 min., $22.98). Sharon Stone, Billy Zane and Manolo Cardonas star in Gabriela Tagliavini's gritty drama about an American reporter searching relentlessly for her missing brother on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The Phoenix TV reporter delves into a deadly underworld where no one should be trusted.
“Duke” (2012, NR, 86 min., $14.93). Steven Weber, who most folks might remember from the TV show “Wings,” stars in an uplifting film that made its debut on the Hallmark Movie Channel. Weber is a struggling veteran forced to give up his ailing dog to a vet clinic. When the dog gets healthy, the clinic workers try to find the dog's owner.
“The Devil's in the Details” (2013, R, 100 min., $27.97). Ray Liotta is the headliner in a film from director Waymon Boone about a soldier returning home from war to be with his family. When a drug cartel forces the veteran to work for them, the man gets help from an unlikely source in holding off the cartel's top enforcer.
“Samson and Delilah” (1949, NR, 131 min., $24.99). Legendary filmmaker Cecil B. Demille's “Samson and Delilah” finally makes its debut on DVD over 60 years after it initially hit theaters. Starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr, Demille's feature film tackles this timeless story from the Bible. The film was nominated for five Oscars.
“The Flat” (2011, NR, 98 min., $24.98). In this personal documentary from Aaron Goldfinger, the director heads to Tel Aviv to clean out the apartment of his recently deceased grandmother, only to find a shocking surprise dating back to World War II. The director decides to dive further into his family's secret, leading him on a tough journey.
“In Their Skin” (2012, NR, 96 min., $24.98). Joshua Close, Selma Blair and James D'Arcy form a strong cast in Jeremy Power Regimbal's suspenseful horror film about a family retreating to a secluded vacation home after an accident. Unfortunately, their neighbors are there, too, and it leads to an unsettling experience for the family.
“Curandero: Dawn of the Demon” (2005, R, 95 min., $26.98). Talented director Robert Rodriguez wrote the screenplay for this action-packed horror pic about a federal agent and a healer who end up immersed in a satanic cult's battleground. Starring Carlos Gallardo, the film interviews the viewer to the darkest forces of the Mexican underworld.
NEW ON BLU-RAY
“Tristana” (Catherine Deneuve and Fernando Rey, 1970, PG-13, 95 min., $19.98)
“The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Two-Movie Collection” (animated disney features including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II,” G, $39.99)
“Brother Bear: Two-Movie Collection” (animated Disney features including “Brother Bear” and “Brother Bear 2,” G, $39.99)
“Mulan: Two-Movie Collection” (animated Disney features including “Mulan” and “Mulan II,” G, $39.99)
TV ON DVD
“The Mob Doctor: The Complete Series” (Jordano Spiro and William Forsythe, three discs, 13 episodes, $35.99)
“Father Dowling Mysteries: The Final Season” (Tom Bosley and Tracy Nelson, five discs, 22 episodes, $61.99)
“Annoying Orange: Vol. 1, Escape from the Kitchen” (Toby Turner and Tim Curry, one disc, 10 episodes, $14.93)