DVD releases include 'Transformers,' 'Planet Terror'
It's become an occurring theme with director Michael Bay: little plot, lots of special effects. That theme holds true again with Bay's latest, "Transformers." Based on the popular animated show from the 1980s, Bay, with the help of executive producer Steven Spielberg, brings the "robots in disguise" to the big screen for the first time as a live-action production. The special effects are mind-blowing, and the Transformers overshadow the actors. The CGI is tremendous, but there are some problems below the shiny surface. The script is lazy, and the plot is, to put it simply, very plain. And, oh yeah -- it's entirely predictable. Folks don't expect award-winning screenplays when they watch Bay films, though. Co-starring with the robots are Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro, Jon Voight and Tyrese Gibson. Skip the one-disc DVD package for the two-disc special edition, by far the better buy. The special edition has features that pick the brains of Spielberg, Bay and Hasbro designers, and a look at how the military and automaker Ford contributed to the film. An in-depth featurette spotlighting the Transformers' designers is the best of the extras; the detail they devoted to the production is just incredible. There also is commentary and additional featurettes. A special HD package has a couple of options the two-disc edition doesn't include. PG-13, 2007. Rating: 2.5 Stars.
Rent It: Because this will put your state-of-the-art entertainment system to the test.
-- Garrett Conti/Tribune-Review
Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" is over the top and out of sight. The director's film is a magnificent tribute to the Grindhouse genre, with its sexploitation, gore and luridness. Rodriguez's film credits exhibit a proclivity for violence and sex -- "Sin City" and "From Dusk Till Dawn" -- and this, so far, is his successful career's crowning achievement. "Planet Terror" definitely delivers the goods, although it requires a strong stomach and sense of humor. Rodriguez's film focuses on a group of folks trying to escape a town ravaged by zombies. Sure, it sounds like any other zombie flick, but this one goes above and beyond. The mere fact that the main character (played by Rose McGowan) is a stripper whose prosthetic leg is a semiautomatic weapon is proof enough that "Planet Terror" is in a realm of its own. A two-disc special edition is available with loads of extras. Featurettes on the characters and stunts extend the fun, and commentary by the Rodriguez is definitely worth your time. Unrated, 2007. Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Buy It: Because gory days are here again.
Clifford Irving, the lead character in "The Hoax," just might be the role Richard Gere was born to play. Sure, there's "Pretty Women" and "An Officer and a Gentleman," but Gere's latest film uses his charm for evil purposes. It's when Mike Wallace of "60 Minutes" is interviewed in the bonus features that it all clicks. Wallace makes reference to the real-life Irving and his charm and confidence. Exactly! There's more to like about "The Hoax" than Gere, though. It's a splendid movie with a story that hasn't been told to a lot of young folks. Irving, who wrote a made-up autobiography about the recluse Howard Hughes, makes Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass look like amateurs. The film doesn't falter with any lulls or plot holes, and the story keeps moving with an intelligent script and ingenious satire. However, the bonus features are lackluster. A making-of featurette asks the cast and crew their opinions in regard to Irving's hoax, but who really cares what they have to say• The key extra is Wallace's reflection on Irving. R, 2007. Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Buy It: Because this is one hoax you want to get caught up in.
'A Mighty Heart'
With all the press that Angelina Jolie gets, it's hard to get behind a film where she plays the leading role. You won't hate yourself in the morning, though, if you take a chance on "A Mighty Heart." Jolie is exceptional in the role of Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. What makes her character so believable is that the film doesn't live and die with her. Sure, she gets a lot of camera time, but it's not Angelina overkill. Her appearances are very tender, which is a great reflection on Mariane, who is, in reality, very unselfish. The film gets stuck in neutral every so often, but it ends with a rich payoff, so it's worth sticking it out. Director Michael Winterbottom also does a fine job of weaving in flashbacks with Daniel and Mariane, which makes the reporter's death at the hands of terrorists all the more brutal. The bonus features are decent, but not spectacular. A PSA for the Pearl Foundation is available with a short featurette on the Committee to Protect Journalists. The best extra is the making-of featurette, which gives another look at Mariane's struggle. R, 2007. Rating: 2.5 Stars.
Rent It: Because it's an honest look into a surreal situation.
"The Reaping" : Not even a heavy dose of prayer can save "The Reaping," a supernatural horror flick with religious undertones. While it looks good with its hellacious special effects, this Stephen Hopkins-directed flick is plagued with plot holes and genre cliches. Hilary Swank is decent in her role as an out-of-town savior, but she can only do so much to rescue this film about a small Louisiana town suddenly consumed by plagues. Extras include an interesting documentary on the history of plagues, a making-of featurette and a couple more odds and ends. R, 2007. Rating: 1.5 Stars.
"The Jazz Singer: 80th Anniversary Collection" : Al Jolson in blackface makes "The Jazz Singer," the first full-length feature with dialogue, a controversial piece of work. It's a slice of early American history that shouldn't be celebrated, but forgotten entirely. A piece of history nonetheless, this 1927 film holds up well for its age. The comprehensive three-disc package includes plenty of bonus features that pay homage to Jolson, the addition of dialogue to early film and the many greats of Vaudeville. There are hours and hours of extras that should be especially attractive to film buffs. Unrated, 2007. Rating: 3 Stars.
"Crazy Love" : This story about the tumultuous relationship between Burt and Linda Pugach succeeds where so many other documentaries have failed. "Crazy Love," directed by Dan Klores, manages to frustrate to the full extent. While it is frustrating to watch, "Crazy Love" is still entertaining, and like a car crash on the side of the road, it's almost impossible to look away. An unbelievable romance is covered here, and you won't believe what some folks will do for love. Extras include a photo gallery of Linda's paintings, a collection of prison letters from Burt and much more. PG-13, 2007. Rating: 3.5 Stars.
"MGM Holiday Collection" : Three classics hit stores in one holiday package this week, as MGM releases its annual Holiday Collection. "The Bishop's Wife" (1947; Cary Grant), "March of the Wooden Soldiers" (1934; Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy) and "Frank Capra's Pocketful of Miracles" (1961; Bette Davis) are available in the set. Unrated, 2007. Rating: 3 Stars.
"Casshern" : It's like Dr. Frankenstein brought a dystopian sci-fi anime to life, with a visual orgy of special effects and violence that fluctuates from brutally concise to fantastically out-of-this-world. A young man from a wealthy family goes off to fight a war against his father's wishes. Dad, meanwhile, throws himself into his work to create Neo Cells, which can grow replacement limbs and organs. Things for both stubborn men go terribly wrong as the horrors of war escalate, and a new threat emerges -- a race of super-strength neo-humans leading a robot army -- that threatens to wipe out the human race. The live-action flick is distinctly Japanese, a la "Akira" or "Neon Genesis Evangelion." It's sometimes hard to follow, but it's a treat for the eyes. Unrated, 2007. Rating: 3 Stars.
-- Jessica Severs/Tribune-Review