DVD reviews: '12 Years a Slave;' 'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' and 'Oldboy'
“12 Years a Slave” (2013, R, 134 min., $29.98) British filmmaker Steve McQueen had done good work in the past with “Hunger” and “Shame,” but with “12 Years a Slave,” a powerfully emotional film based on the memoir of the same name, he's become one of the best directors working today. The movie has hauled in plenty of trophies over the awards season, including the Oscar for best picture. It's a powerhouse of a film that doesn't hold back in presenting one of the darker times in the United States. Its honesty in portraying slavery is brutal, and it forces further thought and discussion. An incredible cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong'o, Michael Fassbender and Sarah Paulson, takes its place for this story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who's sold into slavery in the south in the 1800s. His journey leads him to several plantations, including that of Edwin Epps (Fassbender), a man who takes pride in breaking slaves. Northup's spirit won't be easily broken, though. Special features, including on Blu-ray and standard DVD, include a few featurettes that explore the making of this fine feature film. 4 Stars.
“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (2013, PG-13, 146 min., $29.95) If you didn't know there was a big market for films adapted from young-adult books, come out of that cave and join the rest of us. It's a popular genre littered with lots of junk. There are exceptions, though, and with a second entertaining adaptation, Suzanne Collins' “The Hunger Games” series is one of them. A bit better than its predecessor, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” goes deeper in investigating the story's characters and themes. A cast that includes Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Jena Malone, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright and Josh Hutcherson certainly helps, too. The film picks up from the end of the first, and Katniss (Lawrence) has become a symbol of freedom to the people. To end any rebellion, President Snow (Sutherland) wants Katniss dead, so he comes up with a plan to put her down for good. A nice nine-part making-of documentary is exclusive to Blu-ray, along with commentary and deleted scenes. Standard DVDs only hold commentary and deleted scenes, as well as a sneak peak at “Divergent.” 3 Stars.
“Oldboy” (2013, R, 104 min., $30.99) There was plenty of skepticism when it was announced that there would be an American remake of Park Chan-wook's 2003 South Korean thriller “Oldboy.” After all, the revenge-centered film is a cult classic with a unique twist on the thriller genre. However, with a cast of Josh Brolin, Samuel L. Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley, director Spike Lee gave it his best shot. Although the film has its moments, it fails to improve on the work Chan-wook put out over a decade ago. Both films are adapted from a Japanese manga of the same name. Brolin has the lead role in “Oldboy,” playing Joe, an alcoholic being held against his will for reasons he does not understand. When he's released after 20 years, he wants revenge against the man behind his stay. Joe finds help from an old friend (Michael Imperioli) and a nurse (Olsen) he comes across after his release. With their help, he is able to find his captor, but there's another twist that awaits. Blu-ray packages offer a couple of additional features, including a making-of featurette. It's more than viewers will find inside standard DVD packages. 2 Stars.
“The Iran Job” (2012, NR, 90 min., $24.95) Filmmaker Till Schauder's film tracks the movements of professional basketball player Kevin Sheppard, who signs a contract to play for a year in Iran with A.S. Shiraz. Sheppard's experience is one that has him discovering a whole new culture while playing in the up-and-coming Iranian Super League.
“Last Day on Mars” (2013, R, 98 min., $26.98) Visionary Irish filmmaker Ruairi Robinson makes his feature-length directorial debut with this sci-fi thriller about an astronaut crew on Mars that makes an important discovery on the last day of their mission before returning to Earth. Liev Schreiber and Elias Koteas lead a talented cast.
“Cold Comes the Night” (2013, R, 90 min., $26.99) Starring Alice Eve, Logan Marshall-Green and Bryan Cranston, director Tze Chun's film finds a woman in a difficult financial situation trying to find something better for her and her daughter. The tense thriller unfolds when the woman is forced to help a career criminal locate his missing cash.
“Hours” (2013, PG-13, 97 min., $19.98) The late Paul Walker grabs a lead role in this drama about a man arriving at a New Orleans hospital as Hurricane Katrina is arriving. Nolan (Walker) is with his wife, who's in early labor. When the birth goes bad, Nolan has to find a way to keep his new baby alive, as Katrina beats down the hospital.
“Girl Rising” (2013, PG-13, 101 min., $29.95) Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Salma Hayek, Anne Hathaway, Kerry Washington and Alicia Keys lender their voices to this powerful documentary from Richard Robbins that tells the tales of nine girls from around the world who are using education to strengthen themselves in tough situations.
“Wicked Blood” (2014, NR, 94 min., $19.98) Abigail Breslin, Sean Bean and James Purefoy star in a film set in a Southern underworld filled with drugs and violence. Hannah lives in this world, as her family is a big part of it, and she wants nothing to do with it. As a result, she sets up a plan that could put her out of it once and for all.
“1000 to 1: The Cory Weissman Story” (2014, NR, 97 min., $14.93) Based on actual events, this inspirational film from Michael Levine is about Cory Weissman (David Henrie), an 18-year-old basketball star who suffers a horrifying stroke. Facing a difficult future without the ability to play basketball, Cory takes on the enormous challenge.
NEW ON BLU-RAY
“The Agony and the Ecstasy” (Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison, 1965, NR, 138 min., $24.99)
TV ON DVD
“Rawhide: The Seventh Season, Vols. One and Two” (four discs, 15 episodes, $46.99 each)
“Bible Secrets Revealed” (two discs, six episodes, $14.98)
“Ancient Aliens: Season Five — Volume Two” (three discs, eight episodes, $19.98)