November Arrival Edition Disney's TOY STORY 3 Hits the Mark Plus: THE GOONIES, ELM STREET and
Every bit as ingenious and
entertaining as its critical acclaim and widespread commercial appeal
suggests, Disney’s TOY STORY 3
(***½, 103 mins., 2010, G) arrives in stores this week
and is sure to become a favorite of kids for years to come – and very
likely adults as well, since this third entry in Pixar’s irresistible
series is just as charming as its predecessors.
Woody, Buzz and the rest of the toys are back, having
been understandably banished to a chest in the room of their owner, a
now college-bound Andy. The group hopes for a nice retirement in the
family attic, until the day when Andy’s own kids might play with them,
but an inevitable mix-up sends Buzz and most of the toys to Sunnyside
Daycare, where toys are played with, mashed with, and ripped apart all
day long! Woody soon plots a spirited rescue, despite having
accidentally fallen in with a young girl named Bonnie, whose love for
her toys resembles his actual owner’s.
In addition to a thoroughly charming, inventive and funny screenplay
(credited to Michael Arndt from a story by John Lasseter, Andrew
Stanton and director Lee Unkrich), it’s amazing to see how far CGI has
come in “Toy Story 3,” particularly compared to its predecessors.
Candy-coated colors and unbelievable detail grace every frame of the
picture, making it obvious that the extended time Pixar took to produce
this sequel showed in every element of its final product. From its
tightly-constructed script to a nice mix of merriment and emotion, “Toy
Story 3" truly is great fun for all ages, and one imagines that it will
be rewarded come Oscar time, particularly given the dearth of “award
worthy” live-action dramas we’ve seen so far this year.
Disney brings “Toy Story 3" to DVD and Blu-Ray this week in a four-disc
combo package. The all-digital AVC encoded transfer is glorious, a
sure-fire demo title, and Randy Newman’s score gets a nice boost from
the superbly-engineered DTS Master Audio sound.
Extras, as you might anticipate, are copious. The main Blu-Ray disc
includes the cute short “Night & Day,” scored by Michael Giacchino,
which preceded “Toy Story 3" in theaters, along with “Buzz Lightyear
Mission Logs,” but the bulk of the extras are housed on Disc 2,
including a picture-in-picture commentary on the movie by the
filmmakers, a separate audio commentary with Pixar crew, numerous
featurettes, a full publicity gallery, other goodies, plus a DVD copy
and a digital copy disc added in for good measure. A terrific package
for one of 2010's best movies! New From Warner
Warner Home Video has several gift-sized Special Edition Blu-Rays lined
up this month, offering the requisite bells-and-whistles on the BD side
and extra paraphernalia that fans of these respective films might
Released on Blu-Ray overseas some time ago, Warner finally brings fans
their long overdue HD edition of THE GOONIES
(**½, 114 mins., 1985, PG), the “Steven Spielberg
Presents” adventure which entertained many a young viewer in the summer
of ‘85 and for many years afterwards on the small-screen.
I was nearly 11 when “The Goonies” was originally released, but for
some odd reason the picture never really captivated me the way, say,
“Gremlins” had the year before. Richard Donner’s movie, scripted by
“Gremlins” scribe Chris Columbus, manages to incorporate some laughs
and a sense of adventure as its young cast tries to find the long-lost
treasure of One Eyed Willy in order to save their Oregon homes from an
expanding country club. Run-ins with the Fratellis, a group of
mobsters, and their deformed brother Sloth make for a picture that’s
fun in spots but Donner’s annoying habit of having the kids talk on top
of one another proves grating to a degree, especially for older
Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “The Goonies” is the same disc that’s been
released in numerous overseas territories, offering an HD reprise of
its 2001 DVD with a nice VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and Dolby TrueHD
soundtrack, the latter sporting a robust Dave Grusin score. Extras are
carried over from prior releases, including its Donner/cast commentary,
retrospective featurette, deleted scenes, trailer and music video of
Cyndi Lauper’s memorable theme song.
Additional goodies exclusive to this 25th Anniversary Collector’s
Edition include a board-game (for 2-4 players), 10 storyboard cards,
and best of all, a 64-page reproduction of the “Goonies” 1985 souvenir
magazine and a reprint of Empire Magazine’s “Where Are They Now?” cast
Also new are a pair of BD Ultimate Editions for the third and fourth
Harry Potter films.
AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (***, 142 mins., 2004, PG) had
Alfonso Cuaron ("A Little Princess") taking over the directorial reigns
from Chris Columbus, and many critics who subscribed to the auteur
theory instantly bestowed kudos for his work in "The Prisoner of
Azkaban." This is, after all, the same filmmaker who made the art-house
smash "Y Tu Mama Tambien" -- not the director of mainstream
blockbusters like "Home Alone" -- and more than a few critics seemed to
go out of their way to praise this movie for doing things right that
Columbus's preceding two films didn't.
Unfortunately, as much as I admired "A Little Princess," Cuaron's
directorial stamp in this film was all too obvious. Sure, the movie may
be "darker" and "edgier," but it also lacks the magic of the previous
two films, starting with Cauron’s decision to give the film a
supposedly more "realistic" look which clashes with its prior entries.
He throws in the same fade-in and fade-out transitions he used in "A
Little Princess," but they're ultimately over-used (and I still can’t
get over the horrid freeze-frame of a final shot Cuaron got away with).
There's also a certain warmth and humanity inherent in the earlier
Potter adventures that's notably lacking here – in its place, there's a
lot of story, some delightful moments, but also a certain dramatic
flat-line to the drama. The performances of the now-growing youthful
cast are all on the mark, David Thewlis and Gary Oldman are excellent
(though I wish Oldman had more screen time), and I certainly was
entertained for the most part. When it was all over, though, the film
left me a bit cold.
Some of Cuaron’s artistic touches, though, are what the sequel’s fans
enjoy about the picture, though I’ve only warmed to it a few times
since its release, and that carries over to John Williams’ relatively
subdued score, which offers little reprieves for his prior series
I realize I'm focusing on the negatives of "The Prisoner of Azkaban,"
yet there are certainly some wonderful moments in the movie, and fans
may want to check out this oversize-packaged Ultimate Edition of the
sequel on Blu-Ray. The set offers four hours of new-to-Blu extras (some
of which were previously released on the HD-DVD version) including
Creature Shop segments and countless behind-the-scenes featurettes,
along with a 48-page photo book, a lenticular card, glossy booklet and
character cards. Technically, the three-disc set also includes a DTS
Master Audio soundtrack (replacing the prior BD’s PCM lossless track)
and VC-1 encoded transfer of the film that seems identical to its prior
Also now available from Warner is a three-disc edition of HARRY POTTER AND THE
GOBLET OF FIRE (***, 157 mins., 2005, PG-13), the more
workmanlike fourth installment that’s not as magical as the first two
Potter films, and not as stylized as the third, yet still offers an
efficient, entertaining continuation of J.K. Rowling’s saga.
In “Year Four,” Harry’s name is entered into the prestigious Triwizard
Tournament, despite young Potter not being old enough to officially
participate. More than just your typical Quidditch tournament, the
Triwizard tourney involves terrifying tasks including dragons, ethereal
water sprites, labyrinthine hedges, and the distinct possibility that
something far more sinister is at play for our young wizard.
Director Mike Newell stages some lovely scenes and keeps the picture
moving rolling, despite its lengthy 157 minute running time. Unlike his
“Azkaban” predecessor Alfonso Cuaron, Newell doesn’t have any pretense
about stamping “The Goblet of Fire” with his own artistic agenda and,
consequently, the movie retains the fantastical feel of Chris Columbus’
initial installments, even if the picture ultimately feels more
workmanlike than visionary. Technically the movie still boasts
top-flight talent across the board: Roger Pratt’s cinematography is
moody and the effects as accomplished as those in the preceding
pictures (I especially loved the aquatic demons Harry encounters),
though from a musical standpoint, I can’t say I’m fond of Patrick
Doyle’s work in this sequel.
In addition to an excellent VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master
Audio soundtrack (again, the transfer appears identical to its prior BD
release, while the DTS-MA track takes over for the prior BD’s PCM mix),
Warner’s three-disc “Ultimate” Goblet of Fire includes numerous
supplements, including an examination of John Williams’ original
themes, Patrick Doyle’s score for this installment and how music and
sound effects function together in the series; more material culled
from the HD-DVD release of the film; a 44-page hardback book, another
lenticular and several character cards.
Finally, Warner has one last Collector’s package on tap,
in plenty of time for the holidays: a deluxe (!) edition of ELF (**½, 95
mins., 2003, PG, New Line/Warner), the cute, appealing but
somewhat under-developed vehicle for Will Ferrell, who stars as the
North Pole's only human elf, "Buddy." Wanting to meet his real dad (an
under-written role for James Caan), Buddy ventures to the big city
where he tries to spread Christmas cheer and falls for cute department
store clerk Zooey Deschanel.
Jon Favreau's movie has its heart in the right place and generates a
few big laughs, but as gentle a fantasy as "Elf" is, the final result
just never really gels. The comedy is hit-or-miss and while there are
some neat references to Rankin-Bass animated specials mixed in (along
with Bob Newhart as the Head Elf and Buddy’s adoptive father), the
picture doesn’t hit on all cylinders when it comes to the “domestic”
drama of our big elf’s human family. Still, at least it’s better than
numerous other holiday misfires (“Fred Klaus,” “Deck the Halls,” etc.)
lurking out there that have already been forgotten.
Warner’s Collector’s set offers the same Blu-Ray disc from a year ago,
sporting commentaries from the filmmakers, a few deleted/alternate
scenes, plenty of Behind the Scenes segments, interactive games for
kids, and a breezy Dolby TrueHD soundtrack sporting a fine John Debney
score. The VC-1 encoded transfer is also just fine.
New extras in the collectible holiday tin include an “Elf” CD
soundtrack sampler, a holiday stocking, gift tags and a magnetic
picture frame. For fans of the movie (and I realize there are a growing
amount of them out there) who might have missed the prior Blu-Ray, this
more elaborately packaged release comes recommended.
Also New On Blu-Ray
Blu-Ray (*½, 102 mins., 2010, PG-13; Sony): Adam Sandler
movies continue to hit the jackpot at the box-office, despite the fact
that none of them recently have been particularly funny.
“Grown Ups” is another case in point: a sitcomy type of vehicle for
Sandler and his buddies (Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob
Schneider) to do their typical shtick as five childhood friends who
reunite for a Fourth of July weekend after their beloved basketball
coach passes away. Utterly predictable shenanigans among the guys
ensue, whether it’s trying to teach their precocious kids how to act
like men or getting along with their ever-suffering significant others
(Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph among them).
I’m not sure audiences still love Sandler’s blend of bathroom humor and
heartwarming pathos, or that there’s simply nothing else being produced
by studios these days to feed comedy-deprived viewers. “Grown Ups” is a
by-the-numbers affair that’s seldom amusing, and seems to have been
produced mainly as an excuse for Sandler and his pals to coast along
and cash a check – either way, it was one of the highest grossing films
of this past summer at the box-office, which ought to tell you
something about the state of movies circa 2010.
Sony’s Blu-Ray serves up an appropriately sunny AVC encoded, 1080p
transfer with DTS Master Audio sound and a number of extras, including
BD-exclusive deleted scenes, a “Riff-o-Rama” featurette, interview with
Dennis Dugan, plus the requisite blooper reel, gag reel and other
making of segments.
A NIGHTMARE ON
ELM STREET Blu-Ray/DVD (*, 95 mins., 2010, R; Warner): Platinum
Dunes’ ransacking of ‘70s and ‘80s horror hits continues with this
dreary re-do of the Robert Englund/Wes Craven 1984 favorite. The
company, spearheaded by Michael Bay, has run hot and (mostly) cold with
their track record of “re-imaginings,” and unlike their wacky and
mostly upbeat “Friday the 13th” remake, the 2010 “Nightmare on Elm
Street” is a wholly depressing, glum and lifeless retread of its
Samuel Bayer’s somnambulant direction, Jackie Earle Haley’s dull,
witless performance as iconic monster-villain Freddy Krueger (with
nearly all of his dialogue dubbed over in post-production), and even
the dream-death sequences are so low-key that it’s surprising how bad
this “Elm Street” is – even by today’s lowering standards. Didn’t
anyone involved in the production go back and examine why the original
series worked? Those pictures didn’t just have a sense of dread and
suspense, but also a fantasy component that, matched with Englund’s
pitch-perfect performance as Freddy, expanded the series beyond its
slasher roots, and enabled directors like Craven, Chuck Russell and
Renny Harlin to bring an interesting visceral component to the material.
There’s no such inspiration on display here, and the film’s fast-fade
at the box-office (grossing under the “Friday” and “Amityville”
remakes) seems to hint that even its intended young audience didn’t
care for it. More over, stripping the humor out of Freddy doesn’t just
make the character less interesting, but also more predictable – just
another stock horror movie bad guy in a stunningly awful film that
seems to get nearly everything wrong.
Warner’s Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of “Elm Street” does include an
effective VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer, though the film is so
relentlessly grim that most of its added detail is lost in a shroud of
darkness. The DTS Master Audio sound is fine, and a decent smattering
of extras includes a “WB Maniacal Movie Mode,” sporting
picture-in-picture segments, plus a number of other featurettes, a
deleted scene, opening and alternate ending, and a digital copy for the
film for portable media players.
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