Top 10 Best DVD Movies August 2012
Jesse Stone’s involuntary retirement ends when the young sheriff who replaced him is blown up in the town police car. The loyal staffers who worked for Jesse have abandoned the department and Jesse must try to solve the case on his own.
It’s a big crime, and startling, coming in the film’s first moments amid some mindless chatter between two police officers. Stone isn’t one of them; as the story begins, he is in reluctant exile – “retirement” doesn’t seem like the right word for this fellow – with just his dog for company. But the crime leaves Paradise police chief-less, and the town string pullers ask Stone to put on the chief’s badge again to work the case. Stars Tom Selleck, Kathy Baker, Robert Carradine and William Devane
Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law returns as his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room… until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large – Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) – and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may give him an advantage over the renowned detective. Around the globe, headlines break the news: a scandal takes down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies of an apparent overdose; bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna; the death of an American steel magnate… No one sees the connective thread between these seemingly random events – no one, that is, except the great Sherlock Holmes, who has discerned a deliberate web of death and destruction. At its center sits a singularly sinister spider: Moriarty. Holmes’ investigation into Moriarty’s plot becomes more dangerous as it leads him and Watson out of London to France, Germany and finally Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead, and moving perilously close to completing his ominous plan. If he succeeds, it will not only bring him immense wealth and power but alter the course of history.
Batman Begins discards the previous four films in the series and recasts the Caped Crusader as a fearsome avenging angel. That’s good news, because the series, which had gotten off to a rousing start under Tim Burton, had gradually dissolved into self-parody by 1997’s Batman & Robin. As the title implies, Batman Beginstells the story anew, when Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) flees Western civilization following the murder of his parents. He is taken in by a mysterious instructor named Ducard (Liam Neeson in another mentor role) and urged to become a ninja in the League of Shadows, but he instead returns to his native Gotham City resolved to end the mob rule that is strangling it. But are there forces even more sinister at hand?
Cowritten by the team of David S. Goyer (a veteran comic book writer) and director Christopher Nolan (Memento), Batman Begins is a welcome return to the grim and gritty version of the Dark Knight, owing a great debt to the graphic novels that preceded it. It doesn’t have the razzle dazzle, or the mass appeal, of Spider-Man 2 (though the Batmobile is cool), and retelling the origin means it starts slowly, like most “first” superhero movies. But it’s certainly the best Bat-film since Burton’s original, and one of the best superhero movies of its time. Bale cuts a good figure as Batman, intense and dangerous but with some of the lightheartedness Michael Keaton brought to the character. Michael Caine provides much of the film’s humor as the family butler, Alfred, and as the love interest, Katie Holmes (Dawson’s Creek) is surprisingly believable in her first adult role. Also featuring Gary Oldman as the young police officer Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as a Q-like gadgets expert, and Cillian Murphy as the vile Jonathan Crane.
The Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the film all Harry Potter fans have waited 10 years to see, and the good news is that it’s worth the hype–visually stunning, action packed, faithful to the book, and mature not just in its themes and emotion but in the acting by its cast, some of whom had spent half their lives making Harry Potter movies. Part 2 cuts right to the chase: Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has stolen the Elder Wand, one of the three objects required to give someone power over death (a.k.a. the Deathly Hallows), with the intent to hunt and kill Harry. Meanwhile, Harry’s quest to destroy the rest of the Horcruxes (each containing a bit of Voldemort’s soul) leads him first to a thrilling (and hilarious–love that Polyjuice Potion!) trip to Gringotts Bank, then back to Hogwarts, where a spectacular battle pitting the young students and professors (a showcase of the British thesps who have stolen every scene of the series: Maggie Smith’s McGonagall, Jim Broadbent’s Slughorn, David Thewlis’s Lupin) against a dark army of Dementors, ogres, and Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter, with far less crazy eyes to make this round). As predicted all throughout the saga, Harry also has his final showdown with Voldemort–neither can live while the other survives–though the physics of that predicament might need a set of crib notes to explain. But while each installment has become progressively grimmer, this finale is the most balanced between light and dark (the dark is quite dark–several familiar characters die, with one significant death particularly grisly); the humor is sprinkled in at the most welcome times, thanks to the deft adaptation by Steve Kloves (who scribed all but one of the films from J.K. Rowling’s books) and direction by four-time Potter director David Yates. The climactic kiss between Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), capping off a decade of romantic tension, is perfectly tuned to their idiosyncratic relationship, and Daniel Radcliffe has, over the last decade, certainly proven he was the right kid for the job all along. As Prof. Snape, the most perfect of casting choices in the best-cast franchise of all time, Alan Rickman breaks your heart. Only the epilogue (and the lack of chemistry between Harry and love Ginny Weasley, barely present here) stand a little shaky, but no matter: the most lucrative franchise in movie history to date has just reached its conclusion, and it’s done so without losing its soul.
Though it’s a reboot of a classic slapstick series, The Three Stooges fits right into Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s filmography. Throughout their comedies, especially Dumb and Dumber, they’ve always championed the clueless and clumsy, and that describes this trio perfectly: Moe, Larry, and Curly (Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, and Will Sasso, taking over from Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn, and Jim Carrey). In the prologue or first “episode” (two more will follow), an unseen character drops three babies off at a Catholic orphanage. At first, the nuns (Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, and Larry David–yes, Larry David) take delight in the spirited infants with the strange hairstyles, but 10 years later, their antics have worn thin. A well-heeled couple (Stephen Collins and Carly Craig) considers adoption, but things don’t work out, so 25 more years pass, during which they become the orphanage’s bumbling handymen, which necessitates further head-bonks, nyuk-nyuk-nyuks, and woo-woo-woos. When the threat of closure comes to the only home they’ve ever known, the boys set out to save the day. This leads them to a wealthy woman (Sofía Vergara), her lover (Craig Bierko), and her father-in-law (Collins), encounters that bring them to the attention of MTV’s Jersey Shore, which provides a solution to their dilemma. The Farrellys may have their hearts in the right place, but The Three Stooges ranks as their weakest effort to date. The cast does what they can, but the script is terminally unfunny, and the frenetic direction only drives the point home.
When 21 Jump Street premiered on Fox in 1987, it offered a cool-kid twist on the cop drama formula. This new-era reinvention keeps the cops, but trades earnest drama for raunchy comedy. At Sagan High, Schmidt (newly scrawny Jonah Hill, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Moneyball) was a brainy guy with no game, while Jenko (ever-brawny Channing Tatum, funnier than expected) was a popular jock with bad grades. Five years later, they reconnect at police academy, where enemies become friends when they pool their resources, but after their first bust goes bad, the deputy chief (Nick Offerman) ships them off to Jump Street, where their youthful looks lead to an undercover sting operation at Sagan (apparently, no staff members recognize the former students). Due to a mix-up, Schmidt ends up with the theater kids and Jenko with the science nerds. Through a production of Peter Pan, Schmidt meets Molly (Brie Larson), who introduces him to her drug dealer boyfriend, Eric (James Franco’s deadpan brother, Dave). Now, they just need to track down Eric’s supplier to shut the whole operation down. Along the way, Schmidt discovers his inner performer and Jenko his inner geek, but these new personas threaten the case, generating several Superbad-style laughs, so it’s too bad the finale devolves into bloodshed more befitting a John Woo crime caper, though the snappy chemistry between Hill and Tatum papers over some of the holes in the script–along with a foul-mouthed Ice Cube and one rather famous original cast member.
Mirror Mirror is another traipse through the fairy tale of Snow White, this time without animation or songs. Oh, there’s a poisoned apple, and a magic mirror, and a houseful of dwarfs living in the woods, not to worry–and of course, there’s a wicked queen, embodied by Julia Roberts in witchy mode. The pure-as-driven-you-know-what heroine is played by Lily Collins, and here poor Snow is expelled as always from the magical castle and left in the forest, where she comes upon the dwarfs. Now here’s easily the best part of the movie: the seven dwarfs are boisterous highwaymen, stealing from passersby while wearing springy stilts (the spirited crew includes Danny Woodburn, from Seinfeld, and Jordan Prentice, from In Bruges). Also giving it a game try is Armie Hammer (The Social Network), as the prince who wanders into the middle of the tug-of-war between queen and princess. Hammer’s charming, and the movie has the superficial visual gloss of director Tarsem Singh’s previous efforts (including The Fall). But the breezy tone and tongue-in-cheek approach are ultimately so facile they leave you with nothing much to care about, and the Disney cartoon classic seems dark and tough-minded by comparison. Dopey, you never looked so good.
Monumental is the story of America’s beginnings. Presented, produced, and starring Kirk Cameron, the 90-minute true story follows this father of six across Europe and the US as he seeks to discover America’s true “national treasure” – the people, places, and principles that made America the freest, most prosperous, and generous nation the world has ever known.
Back in 1999, the first American Pie hit on a winning formula for delivering raunch to the masses, buffering its grosser-than-gross moments with a disarmingly fresh-faced sweetness. The fourth theatrical installment in the series may have some trouble limboing under the bad-taste bar in this post-Jackass era, but the core decency remains. You’ll likely smile more than gag this time around, but that’s far from a bad thing. Set some 13 years after the original, the story finds the gang (Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas) all grown up and stuck in various ruts. Hoping to rekindle their hormonal spark, they meet up again for their high school reunion. No pastries may be defiled this time around, but please observe a moment of silence for a once-innocent ice chest. Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, previously the masterminds behind the increasingly gonzo Harold & Kumar series, leave their surrealist tendencies at home, instead focusing on ways to give their newly mature cast room to stretch (particularly Alyson Hannigan, who knocks her blue material out of the park) and finally figuring out a way to get Christopher Guest veterans Eugene Levy and Jennifer Coolidge to share a scene. MVP honors, however, still go to Seann William Scott, whose character’s utter refusal to grow up has now taken on a strangely honorable quality, culminating in a hysterical finale that feels like a fitting close to the saga. The times may have changed, but Stifler, bless him, remains a force of nature.
Sam Worthington, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson star once again as gods at war in “Wrath of the Titans”, under the direction of Johnathan Liebesman. A decade after his heroic defeat of the monstrous Kaken, Perseus (Worthington) the demigod son of Zeus (Neeson) is attempting to live a quieter life as a village fisherman and the sole parent to his 10-year old son, Helius. Meanwhile, a struggle for supremacy rages between the gods and the Titans. Dangerously weakened by humanity’s lack of devotion, the gods are losing control of the imprisoned Titans and their ferocious leader, Kronos, father of the long-ruling brothers Zeus, Hades (Fiennes) and Poseidon (Danny Huston). The triumvirate had overthrown their powerful father long ago, leaving him to rot in the gloomy abyss of Tartarus, a dungeon that lies deep within the cavernous underworld. Perseus cannot ignore his true calling when Hades, along with Zeus’ godly son, Ares (Edgar Ramrez), switch loyalties and make a deal, with kronos to capture Zeus. The Titans’ strength grows stronger as Zeus’ remaining godly powers are siphoned, and hell is unleashed on earth. Enlisting the help of the warrior Queen Andromeda (Rosamund Pike), Poseidon’s demigod son, Argenor (Toby Kebbell), and fallen gob Hephaestus (Bill Nighy), Perseus bravely embarks on a treacherous quest into the underworld to rescue Zeus, overthrow the Titans and save mankind.
Copyright David Masters 2012