Top 10 Best DVD Movies

Top 10 Best DVD Movies

1. Skyfall 6. Tyler Perry’s Madea Gets a Job The Play
2. Pitch Perfect 7. Alex Cross DVD +
3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower 8. The Dark Knight Rises
4. Flight 9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
5. Taken 2 10. Marvel’s The Avengers


1. Skyfall

Skyfall Starring Daniel Craig Judi Dench Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes 2013List Price: $29.98
Price: $16.99
You Save: $12.99 (43%)

Daniel Craig is back as James Bond 007 in SKYFALL, the 23rd installment of the longest-running film franchise in history. In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past returns to haunt her. 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. When Bond’s latest assignment goes gravely wrong and agents around the world are exposed, MI6 is attacked forcing M to relocate the agency. These events cause her authority and position to be challenged by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. With MI6 now compromised from both inside and out, M is left with one ally she can trust: Bond. 007 takes to the shadows – aided only by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) – following a trail to the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem), whose lethal and hidden motives have yet to reveal themselves.

2. Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect Starring Anna Kendrick Brittany Snow Anna Camp and Rebel Wilson 2012List Price: $29.98
Price: $19.96
You Save: $10.02 (33%)

Everyone loves musical smackdowns–and Pitch Perfect is full of great ones. Pitch Perfect is like Bring It On crossed with the Step Up movies, flavored with a heavy dose of TV’s Glee and the Straight No Chaser boys. All of this is set appealingly on a college campus, with charming actors and a very funny script that will entertain fans, truly, from 10 to 90. The plot in Pitch Perfect follows the character of college freshman Beca (a delightful Anna Kendrick) as she decides to join her school’s a cappella women’s singing group. (Unlike on Glee, where the glee club is populated with outcasts, college a cappella groups are prestigious–and hard to get into.) Fellow singers include Brittany Snow as Chloe and Alexis Knapp as Stacie, a student who’s hilariously slutty and innocent at the same time. The faculty coordinator is Anna Camp, so memorable in The Help, and here both earnest and a bit naive. There’s also a potential love story between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of the male group at the same school. And the script, by sometime 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, is witty, wry, and just silly enough. The rest of the time, the singing and music and routines take center stage, as everyone wants them to. Pitch Perfect is a surprisingly fresh and smart take on young adulthood, with a soundtrack that will have you cheering.

3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower Starring Emma Watson Logan Lerman Ezra Miller and Kate Walsh 2013List Price: $19.98
Price: $12.99
You Save: $6.99 (35%)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower maintains the fine tradition of movies like Running with Scissors and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in its savvy, sensitive telling of high schoolers coming of age and coming to terms. Though it enters some dark emotional territory as freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) connects with a clique of older students, the smart sense of humor threaded throughout is as charming as the heavy stuff is powerful. Charlie enters high school with some serious yet indeterminate psychological problems that have clearly devilled him since childhood. We don’t get to know about the extent of his difficulties until the movie’s final scenes, but they’ve made it hard for him to find friends. A device that comes and goes is Charlie’s voice-over of letters he’s writing to an unknown and unnamed friend that describe the hard shell he’s kept closed around himself. It all starts to change for Charlie–mostly for the better–when he hooks up with the eccentric, iconoclastic senior Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his popular step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). The energetic duo bring Charlie into their fold of friends and introduce him to a world outside himself that is probably exactly what he wanted, even though it’s a place of loyalty, trust, and understanding that had previously been unimaginable in the small confines of his tortured head space. As with all friendships, there are rivalries, boundaries, rifts, and betrayals that ebb and flow as the school year unfolds. Charlie’s inevitable breakdown and the healing that he experiences from having been exposed to such acceptance comes full circle in a neat little package at the end. But there’s plenty of honesty, wit, and genuinely moving emotion expressed along the way. All the young actors commit fully to their well-drawn parts, especially the three leads. This may be the post-Potter role that breaks Watson free to revel in her talent, and Miller is a natural as a grown-up teenager who may have most of it figured out, even though the internal confusion he’s tried so hard to bury still rears its head now and again. Set in the early ’90s, the movie is tinged with peripheral period details that never overpower or insert themselves awkwardly into the action. Music is a big part of the characters’ lives and is equally so in the spirit of the story. The writer-director is Stephen Chbosky, who adapted his own semiautobiographical young adult novel. He does right by his audience in presenting a movie that’s fully adult and gets the little things right for anyone who is or ever was an angsty teenager embroiled in that horrible/wonderful search for self.

4. Flight

Flight Starring Denzel Washington Don Cheadle John Goodman 2013List Price: $29.99
Price: $14.99
You Save: $15.00 (50%)

Few directors can meld high-tech whiz-bang with solid narrative values like Robert Zemeckis, a filmmaker whose best work (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Back to the Future trilogy, Cast Away) stands tall among the blockbusters. Although there have been times when Zemeckis’s insistence on pushing the special effects envelope can end up overshadowing the story being told (as in his animated version of A Christmas Carol), his innate gifts persist: when he’s in the groove, he can show you something you’ve never seen before, as well as a reason to care about it. Flight, the director’s first wholly live-action film in over a decade, serves as a reminder of just how good he can be, featuring both an exquisitely terrifying crash sequence and a fearless central performance from Denzel Washington. John Gatins’s script serves as a bizarro inversion of the Sully Sullenberger tale: when a routine flight over Atlanta goes terrifyingly wrong, the aircraft’s pilot (Washington) saves his passengers with a near-miraculous display of skill. As the investigation into the disaster begins, however, it becomes apparent that its hero’s impromptu bravery hides a multitude of bad habits. Washington does a brilliant job as a man who is all too aware of his feet of clay, subverting his innate nobility to shattering effect. (As in the earlier Training Day, when he goes to the dark side, the shock ripples the screen.) The strength of his central performance is only amplified by some outstanding supporting work from Kelly Reilly (as a recovering heroin addict), Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and a scene-stealing John Goodman, who gets a few lines crass enough to remind you that yes, Zemeckis is the same person who once made the low-taste classic Used Cars. Impressive as the cast is, though, it’s unlikely that things would work nearly as well without the director’s grasp of the material, which shifts between horror, black comedy, and uplifting pathos without missing a beat. In his hands, this potential sap story makes for a smart, worldly addiction saga that blessedly refuses to stay within the usual melodramatic lines. Just don’t ever, ever expect to see it as the in-flight entertainment.

5. Taken 2

Taken 2 Starring Liam Neeson Maggie Grace Famke Janssen and Leland Orser 2013List Price: $29.98
Price: $14.99
You Save: $14.99 (50%)

Coming at a time when the action genre was dominated by shaky-cam Bourne editing shenanigans, 2008’s Taken registered as a pleasantly streamlined surprise: a straight-ahead thriller where the clean, clear style both matched and accentuated Liam Neeson’s ruthless-blunt-object force. Strangely, the sequel feels much more in line with producer Luc (The Transporter, Colombiana) Besson’s other franchises–noisy, chaotically slammed together, and in dazed thrall to its own flash. (If there’s an opportunity for a swooping helicopter shot or a fruit-cart collision, this sucker’s going to go for two.) However, even if it can’t match the impact of its predecessor, the sight of Neeson in righteous revenge mode still carries some considerably addictive juice. Set several years after the events of the first installment, the story finds Neeson’s black-ops professional losing ground with his beloved daughter (Maggie Grace), while forming a tentative rapprochement with his ex-wife (the always welcome Famke Janssen). During a working vacation in Istanbul, their family ties are sorely testing by the appearance of an army of villains with a particular score to settle. Director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3) digresses wildly from previous director Pierre Morel’s no-nonsense approach, choosing instead to revel in over-the-top implausibilities; some pleasantly goofy (two words: grenade cartography), and others just sort of baffling (the reprisal of the first film’s famous phone call comes in the middle of a fight scene, while a bunch of armed goons stand around obligingly). Still, even if the narrative rarely makes sense, Neeson keeps things from wandering too far off track, via sheer movie star presence. Craggier and somehow taller than ever, he makes for an ideal Family Man of Action: intriguingly self-contained, tender in repose, and absolutely ferocious when provoked. When he gets going, prepare to feel a little sorry for the bad guys.

6. Tyler Perry’s Madea Gets a Job: The Play

Tyler Perrys Madea Gets a Job The Play Starring Tyler Perry 2013List Price: $19.98
Price: $12.99
You Save: $6.99 (35%)

Tyler Perry’s new musical stage play starring the infamous Mabel Simmons or “Madea” as her fans know her. When a judge orders Madea to do 20 hours of community service at a local retirement home the residents and staff are not ready for Madea’s brand of “the truth”, but all is well that ends well when Madea helps the residence of Easy Rest Retirement Home realize the importance of family, love and forgiveness.

7. Alex Cross [DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet]

Alex Cross DVD Digital Copy UltraViolet Starring Tyler Perry Matthew Fox Rachel Nichols and Jean Reno 2013List Price: $29.95
Price: $14.86
You Save: $15.09 (50%)

Having cornered the market on his signature brand of inspirational comedy, Tyler Perry makes a bid for action-movie supremacy with this grisly adaptation of author James Patterson’s most popular character. Loosely based on the 12th novel in the series (2007’s Cross), the plot follows the early days of the title character, a genius police detective/psychologist trying to clean up the mean streets of Detroit while keeping his family out of the line of fire. As he mulls over accepting a job with the FBI, he and his team are forced to match wits with a psychotic contract killer (Matthew Fox), who displays a disturbing commitment towards seeing his job through. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the FuriousXXX) knows this turf well, delivering an effective mix of creeping thriller sequences and go-for-broke action scenes. (Parents should be warned that the crime scenes glimpsed here push the PG-13 rating to the urpy limits and beyond.) Faced with the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Morgan Freeman (who played the character in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider), Perry does a credible job in portraying both the tender and vengeful aspects of his character, even if the script often falls into the trap of having other characters exclaiming how brilliant Cross is, rather than letting the viewers see the deductive process for themselves. Based on his first attempt, any future entries in the franchise appear to be in good hands. Ultimately, however, the other elements of Alex Cross pale in comparison to Fox, who goes all out–and then some–in giving the audience someone to hiss at. He’s shorn down to what appears to be a negative body-fat ratio, and occasionally literally froths at the mouth–and his dedication to creating a villain for the ages quickly overpowers the material. Once this freaky beanpole starts chewing the scenery, you’ll be glad that the filmmakers decided against shooting in 3-D.

8. The Dark Knight Rises (+Ultraviolet Digital Copy)

The Dark Knight Rises Ultraviolet Digital Copy Starring Christian Bale Michael Caine Gary Oldman 2012List Price: $28.98
Price: $9.99
You Save: $18.99 (66%)

Set eight years after the events of The Dark KnightTDK Rises finds Bruce Wayne broken in spirit and body from his moral and physical battle with the Joker. Gotham City is at peace primarily because Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s murder, allowing the former district attorney’s memory to remain as a crime-fighting hero rather than the lunatic destructor he became as Two-Face. But that meant Batman’s cape and cowl wound up in cold storage–perhaps for good–with only police commissioner Jim Gordon in possession of the truth. The threat that faces Gotham now is by no means new; as deployed by the intricate script that weaves themes first explored in Batman Begins, fundamental conflicts that predate his own origins are at the heart of the ultimate struggle that will leave Batman and his city either triumphant or in ashes. It is one of the movie’s greatest achievements that we really don’t know which way it will end up until its final exhilarating moments. Intricate may be an understatement in the construction of the script by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. The multilayered story includes a battle for control of Wayne Industries and the decimation of Bruce Wayne’s personal wealth; a destructive yet potentially earth-saving clean energy source; a desolate prison colony on the other side of the globe; terrorist attacks against people, property, and the world’s economic foundation; the redistribution of wealth to the 99 percent; and a virtuoso jewel thief who is identified in every way except name as Catwoman. Played with saucy fun and sexy danger by Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle is sort of the catalyst (!) for all the plot threads, especially when she whispers into Bruce’s ear at a charity ball some prescient words about a coming storm that will tear Gotham asunder. As unpredictable as it is sometimes hard to follow, the winds of this storm blow in a raft of diverse and extremely compelling new characters (including Selina Kyle) who are all part of a dance that ends with the ballet of a cataclysmic denouement. Among the new faces are Marion Cotillard as a green-energy advocate and Wayne Industries board member and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a devoted Gotham cop who may lead Nolan into a new comic book franchise. The hulking monster Bane, played by Tom Hardy with powerful confidence even under a clawlike mask, is so much more than a villain (and the toughest match yet for Batman’s prowess). Though he ends up being less important to the movie’s moral themes and can’t really match Heath Ledger’s maniacal turn as Joker, his mesmerizing swagger and presence as demonic force personified are an affecting counterpoint to the moral battle that rages within Batman himself. Christian Bale gives his most dynamic performance yet as the tortured hero, and Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Gordon), and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) all return with more gravitas and emotional weight than ever before. Then there’s the action. Punctuated by three or four magnificent set pieces, TDKR deftly mixes the cinematic process of providing information with punches of pow throughout (an airplane-to-airplane kidnap/rescue, an institutional terrorist assault and subsequent chase, and the choreographed crippling of an entire city are the above-mentioned highlights). The added impact of the movie’s extensive Imax footage ups the wow factor, all of it kinetically controlled by Nolan and his top lieutenants Wally Pfister (cinematography), Hans Zimmer (composer), Lee Smith (editor), and Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh (production designers). The best recommendation TDKR carries is that it does not leave one wanting for more. At 164 minutes, there’s plenty of nonstop dramatic enthrallment for a single sitting. More important, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction that The Dark Knight Rises leaves as the fulfilling conclusion to an absorbing saga that remains relevant, resonant, and above all thoroughly entertaining.

9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel Starring Judi Dench and Bill Nighy 2012List Price: $29.98
Price: $10.00
You Save: $19.98 (67%)

Some of the finest actors in England lend their formidable talents to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a charming fish-out-of-water yarn. The Brits, who include Evelyn (Judi Dench), Muriel (Maggie Smith), Douglas (Bill Nighy), and Graham (Tom Wilkinson), are planning retirement in a less expensive country. After “thorough research on the Internet,” the group chooses what looks to be a grand, peaceful retreat, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It turns out that the bloom is off this marigold–it’s shabby, antiquated, and as chaotic as the city in India, Jaipur, where it is set. Who can adapt to this very different retirement experience, and who founders? That question lies at the heart of the plot ofThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The cast is uniformly superb, as the retirees bond and bicker and fall out and then try to encourage one another. And Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) shines as Sonny, the barely-holding-it-together Marigold Hotel manager. Patel and Tena Desae, who plays Sunaina, his girlfriend, are charming yet face adaptation struggles of their own, in a modern-day India still tied strongly to its traditions but rapidly charging into the future. And the young Indians also seem to represent the energetic future, as the Brits represent the old world that’s fast falling. At its heart, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, deftly directed by John Madden, is an uplifting journey, allowing the viewer to feel what the retirees are discovering on the screen. When Evelyn sighs, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected,” Muriel crisply replies, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is most definitely the good stuff.

10. Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvels The Avengers Starring Robert Downey Jr Chris Evans Mark Ruffalo 2012List Price: $29.99
Price: $19.96
You Save: $10.03 (33%)

Blasphemy? Perhaps. But the best thing about what may be the most rousing and well-crafted superhero movie since The Dark Knight is not the boffo action scenes that culminate in a New York City-destroying finale that rivals Michael Bay’s obliteration of the Chicago skyline in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. No, the real appeal of The Avengers comes from the quiet moments among a group of decidedly unquiet humans, extra-humans, mutants, and demigods. In no particular order those are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), S.H.I.E.L.D. world-government commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and indispensable functionary Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). That’s a superstar lineup both in and out of character, and The Avengers brilliantly integrates the cast of ensemble egos into a story that snaps and crackles–not to mention smashes, trashes, and destroys–at breakneck pace, never sacrificing visual dazzle or hard-earned story dynamics. Writer-director Joss Whedon is no slouch when it comes to being a comic geek and he handles the heavy duty reins with efficient panache. The effects are of course spectacular. They include a monstrous flying aircraft carrier that is home base to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury’s Avenger Initiative; Tony Stark’s gleaming skyscraper in midtown Manhattan; off-world scenes of malignant evil; as well as blindingly apocalyptic fights and the above-mentioned showdown that leaves New York a virtual ruin. Yet it’s the deeply personal conversations and confrontations among the very reluctant team of Avengers that makes the movie pop. Full of humor, snappy dialogue, and little asides that include inside jokes, eye rolls, and personal grudge matches, the script makes these superhumans real beings with sincere passion or feelings of disillusionment. The conviction of the actors as they fully commit to their clever lines gives credibility to what comes off as more than simple banter, even during the more incredible moments among them (of which are many). The plot involves the appearance of Loki, disgraced villain and brother of Thor, who was also a key player in his eponymous movie. Loki has come to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract, a blue-glowing energy cube that is valuable beyond compare to forces good and evil throughout the universe. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston is supremely, yea gloriously appealing as the brilliantly wicked regal charmer who captures minds from S.H.I.E.L.D. and attempts to conquer Earth with the hideous army at his command. To say he is foiled is an understatement. His face-off with the Hulk is one of the giddiest moments in a movie filled with lightheaded mayhem, and is a perfect example of Whedon’s throwaway approach to translating the mythic mystique of the Marvel comics universe. Though at times deadly serious (as deadly serious as an outrageous superhero destructo/fight-fest movie can be, that is), The Avengers is best when it lightens up and lets the fun fly alongside the powerhouse punches. By the way, a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerhouse punch is another moment that makes Hulk the most loveable underdog of a smashing green rage monster ever. That spirit of fun and pure adventure makes The Avengers the greatest kind of escapist Hollywood fantasy $250 million can buy. A blockbuster in the most literal sense.

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Copyright David Masters 2013

 

Top 10 Best DVD Movies December 2012

Top 10 Best DVD Movies December 2012

1. Ted 6. Harry Potter: Complete 8-Film Collection
2. The Dark Knight Trilogy 7. Men in Black 3
3. The Hunger Games 2-Disc DVD 8. The Amazing Spider-Man
4. Marvel’s The Avengers 9. Magic Mike
5. The Bourne Legacy 10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


1. Ted

Ted Starring Mila Kunis and Mark Wahlberg 2012List Price: $29.98
Price: $16.99
You Save: $12.99 (43%)

Anyone who’s watched Family Guy knows that its creator Seth MacFarlane has a lot of hang-ups. As outrageous as many of them are in their animated TV show forum, they get a real rundown in Ted, MacFarlane’s multi-hyphenate debut in feature films. As the director, producer, cowriter, and voice artist behind the title character, MacFarlane riffs on pop culture, drug culture, religion, sex, bodily functions, and all things ’80s with the kind of abandon that borders on offensive to pretty much anyone–if only it all weren’t so spot-on funny. Ted is an utterly believable CGI teddy bear who comes to life in the arms of a friendless 8-year-old boy named John, who quickly grows up to be Mark Wahlberg. John has made a wish that the pudgy plush be a friend for forever, a deal that they both hold on to with genuine poignancy as the years roll by. Ted grows right along with John in voice, manner, attitude, and bad habits until they’re both unmotivated layabouts who would rather do nothing more than swill beer, smoke dope, and watch the absurdly iconic ’80s movie Flash Gordon over and over again to the exclusion of most everything else in life. John has managed to pick up a girlfriend named Lori (Mila Kunis), who somehow tolerates the pair of them–at least for a little while. Eventually she’s annoyed enough with John for not putting away his childish things, thoughts, and behaviors that she demands Ted move out and let them move on as adults. Among all the conceits that Ted embraces is the fact that this fully anthropomorphized stuffed bear started life as a global celebrity sensation before everyone forgot about him. Now he’s just a blue-collar Boston nobody who sucks on a bong, chases women, and makes dirty jokes at every opportunity while nobody pays attention. This could have been a generic lowbrow buddy movie in the Judd Apatow mold, which might have been a little funny with a human slob in the Ted role. But MacFarlane brings to the remarkably expressive CGI creation an astonishing and often shocking dynamic with his voice characterization and the consistently clever situations, which whiz by in a structure that’s pretty similar to an episode of Family Guy. There are frequent non sequitur digressions and offhanded one-liners that MacFarlane could never get away with on TV. But in the raunchy, anything-goes world of Ted it’s all fair game. In addition to farts, drugs, bodily functions, and all manner of sexual
vulgarity, it’s the slams or homages to the 1980s that are the butt of many of the best zingers or recurring jokes. There are several cameo appearances that may make for delighted double takes. And Sam Jones, the star of the ill-fated Flash Gordon, plays a version of himself that makes a running gag all the more ingenious and demonstrates how far MacFarlane will go to bring comedy down to his level of hilarity. Mark Wahlberg should be commended for being game enough to participate and absolutely shows the comedy chops to make his scenes with Ted come alive. Technically the movie is a wonder as the two-foot Ted blends into the real world with complete believability even as he spouts some of
the most outrageous dialogue this side of The Hangover. Ted may be an acquired taste for those who have a dislike for MacFarlane’s comic sensibility–and there are a lot of people who do. But as a laughable lowbrow adventure that delivers virtually nonstop unexpected laughs with a little heart to back it up, Ted is a surprising comic novelty that may even win over some of the most vituperative MacFarlane haters.

2. The Dark Knight Trilogy (Batman Begins / The Dark Knight / The Dark Knight Rises)

The Dark Knight Trilogy Batman Begins The Dark Knight The Dark Knight Rises Starring Christian Bale Michael Caine Gary Oldman 2012List Price: $38.99
Price: $17.96
You Save: $21.03 (54%)

  • Bonus content from all three films.

Batman Begins:

Batman Begins explores the origins of the Batman legend and the Dark Knight’s emergence as a force for good in Gotham. In the wake of his parents’ murder, disillusioned industrial heir Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world seeking the means to fight injustice and turn fear against those who prey on the fearful. He returns to Gotham and unveils his alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses his strength, intellect and an array of high tech deceptions to fight the sinister forces that threaten the city.

The Dark Knight:

The follow-up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight reunites director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale, who reprises the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne in his continuing war on crime. With the help of Lt. Jim Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent, Batman sets out to destroy organized crime in Gotham for good. The triumvirate proves effective, but soon find themselves prey to a rising criminal mastermind known as The Joker, who thrusts Gotham into anarchy and forces Batman closer to crossing the fine line between hero and vigilante. Heath Ledger stars as archvillain The Joker, and Aaron Eckhart plays Dent. Maggie Gyllenhaal joins the cast as Rachel Dawes. Returning from Batman Begins are Gary Oldman as Gordon, Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox.

The Dark Knight Rises:

It has been eight years since Batman vanished into the night, turning, in that instant, from hero to fugitive. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good. For a time the lie worked, as criminal activity in Gotham City was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. But everything will change with the arrival of a cunning cat burglar with a mysterious agenda. Far more dangerous, however, is the emergence of Bane, a masked terrorist whose ruthless plans for Gotham drive Bruce out of his self-imposed exile. But even if he dons the cape and cowl again, Batman may be no match for Bane.

3. The Hunger Games [2-Disc DVD + Ultra-Violet Digital Copy]

The Hunger Games 2 Disc DVD Ultra Violet Digital Copy Starring Jennifer Lawrence Josh Hutcherson Liam Hemsworth 2012List Price: $30.98
Price: $9.99
You Save: $20.99 (68%)

Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross’s action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins’s young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest–but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be “dangerous.” Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they’re adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win. For those who haven’t read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It’s an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it’s hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor, Lost, and the collected works of George Orwell.

4. Marvel’s The Avengers

Marvels The Avengers Starring Robert Downey Jr Chris Evans Mark Ruffalo 2012List Price: $29.99
Price: $19.96
You Save: $10.03 (33%)

Blasphemy? Perhaps. But the best thing about what may be the most rousing and well-crafted superhero movie since The Dark Knight is not the boffo action scenes that culminate in a New York City-destroying finale that rivals Michael Bay’s obliteration of the Chicago skyline in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. No, the real appeal of The Avengers comes from the quiet moments among a group of decidedly unquiet humans, extra-humans, mutants, and demigods. In no particular order those are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), S.H.I.E.L.D. world-government commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and indispensable functionary Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). That’s a superstar lineup both in and out of character, and The Avengers brilliantly integrates the cast of ensemble egos into a story that snaps and crackles–not to mention smashes, trashes, and destroys–at breakneck pace, never sacrificing visual dazzle or hard-earned story dynamics. Writer-director Joss Whedon is no slouch when it comes to being a comic geek and he handles the heavy duty reins with efficient panache. The effects are of course spectacular. They include a monstrous flying aircraft carrier that is home base to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury’s Avenger Initiative; Tony Stark’s gleaming skyscraper in midtown Manhattan; off-world scenes of malignant evil; as well as blindingly apocalyptic fights and the above-mentioned showdown that leaves New York a virtual ruin. Yet it’s the deeply personal conversations and confrontations among the very reluctant team of Avengers that makes the movie pop. Full of humor, snappy dialogue, and little asides that include inside jokes, eye rolls, and personal grudge matches, the script makes these superhumans real beings with sincere passion or feelings of disillusionment. The conviction of the actors as they fully commit to their clever lines gives credibility to what comes off as more than simple banter, even during the more incredible moments among them (of which are many). The plot involves the appearance of Loki, disgraced villain and brother of Thor, who was also a key player in his eponymous movie. Loki has come to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract, a blue-glowing energy cube that is valuable beyond compare to forces good and evil throughout the universe. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston is supremely, yea gloriously appealing as the brilliantly wicked regal charmer who captures minds from S.H.I.E.L.D. and attempts to conquer Earth with the hideous army at his command. To say he is foiled is an understatement. His face-off with the Hulk is one of the giddiest moments in a movie filled with lightheaded mayhem, and is a perfect example of Whedon’s throwaway approach to translating the mythic mystique of the Marvel comics universe. Though at times deadly serious (as deadly serious as an outrageous superhero destructo/fight-fest movie can be, that is), The Avengers is best when it lightens up and lets the fun fly alongside the powerhouse punches. By the way, a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerhouse punch is another moment that makes Hulk the most loveable underdog of a smashing green rage monster ever. That spirit of fun and pure adventure makes The Avengers the greatest kind of escapist Hollywood fantasy $250 million can buy. A blockbuster in the most literal sense.

5. The Bourne Legacy

The Bourne Legacy Starring Jeremy Renner Rachel Weisz Edward Norton Joan Allen 2012List Price: $29.98
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Sort of a sequel, not quite a reboot–The Bourne Legacy is not easy to peg as a follow-up to the original Matt Damon trilogy. Except for this: it’s a heckuva satisfying spy picture, an ingenious expansion on the Bourne universe that also meets the expectations of a multiplex title circa 2012. (Plenty of action to go with the espionage talk, in other words.) Jeremy Renner takes center stage as Aaron Cross, an agent groomed by the government program that also unleashed Jason Bourne, but with a few new wrinkles. Cross is busy training in Alaska when he’s caught in a tsunami of hurt, thus beginning a frantic search for answers that leads to a mad motorcycle chase through the streets of Manila. He picks up a partner in government doctor Marta Shearing, who is mighty confused herself after nearly being caught in a madman’s bloody rampage. She’s played by Rachel Weisz; like Renner, she lifts her character above the usual genre expectations. Kudos to writer-director Tony Gilroy, who scripted the other Bourne installments–he brings his knack for crafting intelligent, complicated stories and zingy dialogue to good use, while simultaneously announcing himself as a potential James Bond director. Two caveats: the movie’s timeline makes it slightly confusing to sort things out with the ending of The Bourne Ultimatum–at least on first viewing–and the ending itself sneaks up on us a little abruptly. But the movie’s a humdinger anyway: not exactly Bourne again, but something distinct to itself.

6. Harry Potter: The Complete 8-Film Collection

Harry Potter The Complete 8 Film Collection Starring Daniel Radcliffe Rupert Grint Emma Watson 2011List Price: $78.92
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  • The entire Harry Potter series in one collection!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Here’s an event movie that holds up to being an event. This filmed version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, adapted from the wildly popular book by J.K. Rowling, stunningly brings to life Harry Potter’s world of Hogwarts, the school for young witches and wizards. The greatest strength of the film comes from its faithfulness to the novel, and this new cinematic world is filled with all the details of Rowling’s imagination, thanks to exuberant sets, elaborate costumes, clever makeup and visual effects, and a crème de la crème cast, including Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, and more. Especially fine is the interplay between Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his schoolmates Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), as well as his protector, the looming Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane). The second-half adventure–involving the titular sorcerer’s stone–doesn’t translate perfectly from page to screen, ultimately because of the film’s fidelity to the novel; this is a case of making a movie for the book’s fans, as opposed to a transcending film. Writer Steve Kloves and director Chris Columbus keep the spooks in check, making this a true family film, and with its resourceful hero wide-eyed and ready, one can’t wait for Harry’s return. Ages 8 and up.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets First sequels are the true test of an enduring movie franchise, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets passes with flying colors. Expanding upon the lavish sets, special effects, and grand adventure of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry involves a darker, more malevolent tale (parents with younger children beware), beginning with the petrified bodies of several Hogwarts students and magical clues leading Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) to a 50-year-old mystery in the monster-laden Chamber of Secrets. House elves, squealing mandrakes, giant spiders, and venomous serpents populate this loyal adaptation (by Sorcerer’s Stone director Chris Columbus and screenwriter Steve Kloves), and Kenneth Branagh delightfully tops the supreme supporting cast as the vainglorious charlatan Gilderoy Lockhart (be sure to view past the credits for a visual punchline at Lockhart’s expense). At 161 minutes, the film suffers from lack of depth and uneven pacing, and John Williams’ score mostly reprises established themes. The young, fast-growing cast offers ample compensation, however, as does the late Richard Harris in his final screen appearance as Professor Albus Dumbledore. Brimming with cleverness, wonderment, and big-budget splendor, Chamber honors the legacy of J.K. Rowling’s novels.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Some movie-loving wizards must have cast a magic spell on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, because it’s another grand slam for the Harry Potter franchise. Demonstrating remarkable versatility after the arthouse success of Y Tu Mamá También, director Alfonso Cuarón proves a perfect choice to guide Harry, Hermione, and Ron into treacherous puberty as the now 13-year-old students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry face a new and daunting challenge: Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) has escaped from Azkaban prison, and for reasons yet unknown (unless, of course, you’ve read J.K. Rowling’s book, considered by many to be the best in the series), he’s after Harry in a bid for revenge. This dark and dangerous mystery drives the action while Harry (the fast-growing Daniel Radcliffe) and his third-year Hogwarts classmates discover the flying hippogriff Buckbeak (a marvelous CGI creature), the benevolent but enigmatic Professor Lupin (David Thewlis), horrifying black-robed Dementors, sneaky Peter Pettigrew (Timothy Spall), and the wonderful advantage of having a Time-Turner just when you need one. The familiar Hogwarts staff returns in fine form (including the delightful Michael Gambon, replacing the late Richard Harris as Dumbledore, and Emma Thompson as the goggle-eyed Sybil Trelawney), and even Julie Christie joins this prestigious production for a brief but welcome cameo. Technically dazzling, fast-paced, and chock-full of Rowling’s boundless imagination (loyally adapted by ace screenwriter Steve Kloves), The Prisoner of Azkaban is a Potter-movie classic.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire The latest entry in the Harry Potter saga could be retitled Fast Times at Hogwarts, where finding a date to the winter ball is nearly as terrifying as worrying about Lord Voldemort’s return. Thus, the young wizards’ entry into puberty (and discovery of the opposite sex) opens up a rich mining field to balance out the dark content in the fourth movie (and the stories are only going to get darker). Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral) handily takes the directing reins and eases his young cast through awkward growth spurts into true young actors. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe, more sure of himself) has his first girl crush on fellow student Cho Chang (Katie Leung), and has his first big fight with best bud Ron (Rupert Grint). Meanwhile, Ron’s underlying romantic tension with Hermione (Emma Watson) comes to a head over the winter ball, and when she makes one of those girl-into-woman Cinderella entrances, the boys’ reactions indicate they’ve all crossed a threshold. But don’t worry, there’s plenty of wizardry and action in Goblet of Fire. When the deadly Triwizard Tournament is hosted by Hogwarts, Harry finds his name mysteriously submitted (and chosen) to compete against wizards from two neighboring academies, as well as another Hogwarts student. The competition scenes are magnificently shot, with much-improved CGI effects (particularly the underwater challenge). And the climactic confrontation with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes, in a brilliant bit of casting) is the most thrilling yet. Goblet, the first installment to get a PG-13 rating, contains some violence as well as disturbing images for kids and some barely shrouded references at sexual awakening (Harry’s bath scene in particular). The 2 1/2-hour film, lean considering it came from a 734-page book, trims out subplots about house-elves (they’re not missed) and gives little screen time to the standard crew of the other Potter films, but adds in more of Britain’s finest actors to the cast, such as Brendan Gleeson as Mad-Eye Moody and Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter. Michael Gambon, in his second round as Professor Dumbledore, still hasn’t brought audiences around to his interpretation of the role he took over after Richard Harris died, but it’s a small smudge in an otherwise spotless adaptation.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Alas! The fifth Harry Potter film has arrived. The time is long past that this can be considered a simple “children’s” series–though children and adults alike will enjoy it immensely. Starting off from the dark and tragic ending of the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix begins in a somber and angst-filled tone that carries through the entire 138 minutes (the shortest of any HP movie despite being adapted from the longest book). Hopes of winning the Quidditch Cup have been replaced by woes like government corruption, distorted media spin, and the casualties of war. As the themes have matured, so have the primary characters’ acting abilities. Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), and especially Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) are more convincing than ever–in roles that are more demanding. Harry is deeply traumatized from having witnessed Cedric Diggory’s murder, but he will soon find that this was just another chapter in the continuing loss he will endure. Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned and, in an attempt to conceal this catastrophe from the wizarding public, the Ministry of Magic has teamed up with the wizard newspaper The Daily Prophet to smear young Potter and wise Dumbledore (Michael Gambon)–seemingly the only two people in the public eye who believe the Dark Lord has returned. With no one else to stand against the wicked Death Eaters, the Hogwarts headmaster is forced to revive his secret anti-Voldemort society, the Order of the Phoenix. This welcomes back characters like Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson), kind Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), fatherly Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), and insidious Severus Snape (Alan Rickman), and introduces a short list of intriguing new faces. In the meantime, a semi-psychotic bureaucrat from the Ministry (brilliantly portrayed by Imelda Staunton) has seized power at Hogwarts, and Harry is forced to form a secret society of his own–lest the other young wizards at his school be left ill-equipped to defend themselves in the looming war between good and evil. In addition, Harry is filled with an inexplicable rage that only his Godfather Sirius seems to be able to understand. This film, though not as frightening as its predecessor, earns its PG-13 rating mostly because of the ever-darkening tone. As always, the loyal fans of J.K. Rowling’s books will suffer huge cuts from the original plot and character developments, but make no mistake: this is a good movie.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince The sixth installment of the Harry Potter series begins right where The Order of the Phoenix left off. The wizarding world is rocked by the news that “He Who Must Not Be Named” has truly returned, and the audience finally knows that Harry is “the Chosen One”–the only wizard who can defeat Lord Voldemort in the end. Dark forces loom around every corner, and now regularly attempt to penetrate the protected walls of Hogwarts School. This is no longer the fun and fascinating world of magic from the first few books—it’s dark, dangerous, and scary. Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) suspects Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) to be a new Death Eater recruit on a special mission for the Dark Lord. In the meantime, Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) seems to have finally removed the shroud of secrecy from Harry about the dark path that lies ahead, and instead provides private lessons to get him prepared. It’s in these intriguing scenes that the dark past of Tom Riddle (a.k.a. Voldemort) is finally revealed. The actors cast as the different young versions of Riddle (Hero Fiennes-Tiffin and Frank Dillane) do an eerily fantastic job of portraying the villain as a child. While the previous movies’ many new characters could be slightly overwhelming, only one new key character is introduced this time: Professor Horace Slughorn (with a spot-on performance by Jim Broadbent). Within his mind he holds a key secret in the battle to defeat the Dark Lord, and Harry is tasked by Dumbledore to uncover a memory about Voldemort’s darkest weapon–the Horcrux. Despite the long list of distractions, Harry, Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emma Watson) still try to focus on being teenagers, and audiences will enjoy the budding awkward romances. All of the actors have developed nicely, giving their most convincing performances to date. More dramatic and significant things go down in this movie than any of its predecessors, and the stakes are higher than ever. The creators have been tasked with a practically impossible challenge, as fans of the beloved J.K. Rowling book series desperately want the movies to capture the magic of the books as closely as possible. Alas, the point at which one accepts that these two mediums are very different is the point at which one can truly enjoy these brilliant adaptations. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is no exception: it may be the best film yet. For those who have not read the book, nail-biting entertainment is guaranteed. For those who have, the movie does it justice. The key dramatic scenes, including the cave and the shocking twist in the final chapter, are executed very well. It does a perfect job of setting up the two-part grand finale that is to follow.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I is a brooding, slower-paced film than its predecessors, the result of being just one half of the final story (the last book in the series was split into two movies, released in theaters eight months apart). Because the penultimate film is all buildup before the final showdown between the teen wizard and the evil Voldemort (which does not occur until The Deathly Hallows, Part II), Part I is a road-trip movie, a heist film, a lot of exposition, and more weight on its three young leads, who up until now were sufficiently supported by a revolving door of British thesps throughout the series. Now that all the action takes place outside Hogwarts–no more Potions classes, Gryffindor scarves, or Quidditch matches–Daniel Radcliffe (Harry), Emma Watson (Hermione), and Rupert Grint (Ron) shoulder the film almost entirely on their own. After a near-fatal ambush by Voldemort’s Death Eaters, the three embark on a quest to find and destroy the remaining five horcruxes (objects that store pieces of Voldemort’s soul). Fortunately, as the story gets more grave–and parents should be warned, there are some scenes too frightening or adult for young children–so does the intensity. David Yates, who directed the Harry Potter films Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince, drags the second half a little, but right along with some of the slower moments are some touching surprises (Harry leading Hermione in a dance, the return of Dobby in a totally non-annoying way). Deathly Hallows, Part I will be the most confusing for those not familiar with the Potter lore, particularly in the shorthand way characters and terminology weave in and out. For the rest of us, though, watching these characters over the last decade and saying farewell to a few faces makes it all bittersweet that the end is near (indeed, an early scene in which Hermione casts a spell that makes her Muggle parents forget her existence, in case she doesn’t return, is particularly emotional). Despite its challenges, Deathly Hallows, Part I succeeds in what it’s most meant to do: whet your appetite for the grand conclusion to the Harry Potter series.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II 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.

7. Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 Starring Will Smith Josh Brolin Tommy Lee Jones 2012List Price: $30.99
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In Men in BlackT 3, Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back… in time. J has seen some inexplicable things in his 15 years with the Men in Black, but nothing, not even aliens, perplexes him as much as his wry, reticent partner. But when K’s life and the fate of the planet are put at stake, Agent J will have to travel back in time to put things right. J discovers that there are secrets to the universe that K never told him — secrets that will reveal themselves as he teams up with the young Agent K (Josh Brolin) to save his partner, the agency, and the future of humankind.

8. The Amazing Spider-Man (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

The Amazing Spider Man UltraViolet Digital Copy Starring Andrew Garfield Emma Stone Rhys Ifans Denis Leary 2012List Price: $30.99
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The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father’s former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.

9. Magic Mike (DVD+UltraViolet Digital Copy)

Magic Mike DVD UltraViolet Digital Copy Starring Channing Tatum Alex Pettyfer Matthew McConaughey 2012List Price: $28.98
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Academy Awardr-winning director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) unveils the story of Mike (Channing Tatum), an entrepreneur with many talents and loads of charm. Mike spends his days pursuing the American Dream, from roofing houses and detailing cars to designing furniture at his Tampa beach condo. But at night.he’s just magic. The hot headliner in an all-male revue, Magic Mike has been rocking the stage at Club Xquisite for years with his original style and over-the-top dance moves. Magic Mike features the hottest cast of the year: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Cody Horn and Olivia Munn

10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes A Game of Shadows Starring Robert Downey Jr Jude Law Noomi Rapace Jared Harris 2012List Price: $19.94
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The good news is, Dr. Watson does get married. The bad news is, Sherlock Holmes throws his bride off a moving train. Actually, there’s even worse news than that–but all will be explained in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, the sequel to Guy Ritchie’s 2009 hit. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return to their roles as Holmes and Watson, as the duo take on the world’s greatest criminal mind, Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris), a man whose latest scheme has global implications. Sherlockians who prefer their consulting detective to remain in a traditional mode had best look the other way, for the sequel continues Ritchie’s vision of Holmes as a hard-punching action hero hurtling through a barrage of special effects sequences. If you can go with that, A Game of Shadows actually improves on the first film: the story makes a little more sense (or possibly the whole thing moves so smoothly you don’t notice the illogic), Harris is a delicious villain, and new cast members Noomi Rapace (from the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series) and Stephen Fry (playing Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, who calls his sibling “Sherlie”) add appeal. It’s all frivolous and superficial, but the film’s playful attitude and breathless forward motion are skillfully managed–and the final note adds just the right punctuation.

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Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 Best DVD Movies November 2012

Top 10 Best DVD Movies November 2012

1. Brave 6. The Hunger Games 2-Disc DVD
2. Secret of the Wings 7. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
3. The Amazing Spider-Man 8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I
4. Marvel’s The Avengers 9. Hatfields & McCoys
5. Magic Mike 10. Moonrise Kingdom


1. Brave

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Is fate really predetermined, or can people change their destiny? Scottish princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) certainly believes that a teenager should have control over her own life. She has little patience with the conservative ideas her mother (Emma Thompson) holds about proper etiquette for girls, and even less tolerance for her kingdom’s traditions regarding the marriage of a princess. An impulsive young woman with impressive archery skills and a no-nonsense attitude, Merida throws her realm into chaos when she disregards the customary procedure for finding a suitor and then disappears into the forest in defiance of her mother’s unbending ways. In the forest, will-o’-the-wisps appear and, since Scottish legend suggests that these unearthly spirits might lead one to his or her destiny, Merida follows them to the house of a strange witch (Julie Walters) who grants her wish to change her mother. The witch’s spell takes a most unexpected form, one that promises to test not only the bond between mother and daughter, but the bonds and bravery of the entire family and kingdom. What eventually becomes clear is that fate lies within, if only one is brave enough to see it. This collaborative Pixar-Disney film features stunning animation, an engaging story, plenty of laughs, effective music, and a one-of-a-kind princess. At times, the film feels almost Ghibli-esque, especially with its floating wisps, frightening creatures, and the stark conflict between the mystical and traditional. Brave is frightening (probably too frightening for those under 10 years), fascinating, and quite compelling.

2. Secret of the Wings

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The Tinker fairies are gearing up for a new season. Ever the inquisitive fairy, Tinker Bell can’t resist a quick peek at the world of winter, even though there are strict rules against warm fairies crossing the border into the winter woods. What Tinker Bell doesn’t know is just how dangerous that crossing is for a warm fairy. Her quick visit almost costs her a broken wing, for which there is no known cure. Tinker Bell’s fascination with the strange glow that came over her wings during her winter visit causes her to plot a visit to the Keeper of all fairy knowledge for answers–never mind that he just happens to live right in the middle of the winter woods. What she discovers on her quest will change everything for Tinker Bell, not to mention threaten the entire fairy world and be an unexpected source of new wisdom for the Keeper, Queen Clarion, and the fairies on both sides of the border. As in Disney’s other Tinker Bell adventures, the animated world of Secret of the Wings is absolutely gorgeous, whether you’re watching it in 3-D or not, and Tinker Bell’s quirky mix of curiosity, innocence, and headstrong stubbornness is always entertaining. Lucy Hale, Timothy Dalton, Matt Lanter, and Debby Ryan join the star-studded voice cast as new winter fairies Periwinkle, Lord Milori, Sled, and Spike.

3. The Amazing Spider-Man (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $30.99
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The Amazing Spider-Man is the story of Peter Parker (Garfield), an outcast high schooler who was abandoned by his parents as a boy, leaving him to be raised by his Uncle Ben (Sheen) and Aunt May (Field). Like most teenagers, Peter is trying to figure out who he is and how he got to be the person he is today. Peter is also finding his way with his first high school crush, Gwen Stacy (Stone), and together, they struggle with love, commitment, and secrets. As Peter discovers a mysterious briefcase that belonged to his father, he begins a quest to understand his parents’ disappearance – leading him directly to Oscorp and the lab of Dr. Curt Connors (Ifans), his father’s former partner. As Spider-Man is set on a collision course with Connors’ alter-ego, The Lizard, Peter will make life-altering choices to use his powers and shape his destiny to become a hero.

4. Marvel’s The Avengers

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Blasphemy? Perhaps. But the best thing about what may be the most rousing and well-crafted superhero movie since The Dark Knight is not the boffo action scenes that culminate in a New York City-destroying finale that rivals Michael Bay’s obliteration of the Chicago skyline in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. No, the real appeal of The Avengers comes from the quiet moments among a group of decidedly unquiet humans, extra-humans, mutants, and demigods. In no particular order those are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), S.H.I.E.L.D. world-government commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and indispensable functionary Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). That’s a superstar lineup both in and out of character, and The Avengers brilliantly integrates the cast of ensemble egos into a story that snaps and crackles–not to mention smashes, trashes, and destroys–at breakneck pace, never sacrificing visual dazzle or hard-earned story dynamics. Writer-director Joss Whedon is no slouch when it comes to being a comic geek and he handles the heavy duty reins with efficient panache. The effects are of course spectacular. They include a monstrous flying aircraft carrier that is home base to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury’s Avenger Initiative; Tony Stark’s gleaming skyscraper in midtown Manhattan; off-world scenes of malignant evil; as well as blindingly apocalyptic fights and the above-mentioned showdown that leaves New York a virtual ruin. Yet it’s the deeply personal conversations and confrontations among the very reluctant team of Avengers that makes the movie pop. Full of humor, snappy dialogue, and little asides that include inside jokes, eye rolls, and personal grudge matches, the script makes these superhumans real beings with sincere passion or feelings of disillusionment. The conviction of the actors as they fully commit to their clever lines gives credibility to what comes off as more than simple banter, even during the more incredible moments among them (of which are many). The plot involves the appearance of Loki, disgraced villain and brother of Thor, who was also a key player in his eponymous movie. Loki has come to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract, a blue-glowing energy cube that is valuable beyond compare to forces good and evil throughout the universe. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston is supremely, yea gloriously appealing as the brilliantly wicked regal charmer who captures minds from S.H.I.E.L.D. and attempts to conquer Earth with the hideous army at his command. To say he is foiled is an understatement. His face-off with the Hulk is one of the giddiest moments in a movie filled with lightheaded mayhem, and is a perfect example of Whedon’s throwaway approach to translating the mythic mystique of the Marvel comics universe. Though at times deadly serious (as deadly serious as an outrageous superhero destructo/fight-fest movie can be, that is), The Avengers is best when it lightens up and lets the fun fly alongside the powerhouse punches. By the way, a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerhouse punch is another moment that makes Hulk the most loveable underdog of a smashing green rage monster ever. That spirit of fun and pure adventure makes The Avengers the greatest kind of escapist Hollywood fantasy $250 million can buy. A blockbuster in the most literal sense.

5. Magic Mike (DVD+UltraViolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $28.98
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Academy Awardr-winning director Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic”) unveils the story of Mike (Channing Tatum), an entrepreneur with many talents and loads of charm. Mike spends his days pursuing the American Dream, from roofing houses and detailing cars to designing furniture at his Tampa beach condo. But at night.he’s just magic. The hot headliner in an all-male revue, Magic Mike has been rocking the stage at Club Xquisite for years with his original style and over-the-top dance moves. Magic Mike features the hottest cast of the year: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Matthew McConaughey, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Cody Horn and Olivia Munn

6. The Hunger Games [2-Disc DVD + Ultra-Violet Digital Copy]

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Price: $9.99
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Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross’s action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins’s young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest–but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be “dangerous.” Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they’re adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win. For those who haven’t read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It’s an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it’s hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor, Lost, and the collected works of George Orwell.

7. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax

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An animated rendition of Dr. Seuss’s classic book about the threat of industrialization to nature, The Lorax opens in Thneedville–a town never depicted in the original book. Thneedville is an artificial place, made primarily from plastic. It sports inflatable trees, fast cars, and air quality so poor that the residents are forced to purchase bottled fresh air. In another new twist to the story, 12-year-old Ted (Zac Efron) discovers that his crush Audrey (Taylor Swift) wants nothing more than to see a long-extinct Truffula Tree, so he sets out to impress her by finding one. Since there are no real trees in Thneedville, Ted acts on the crazy stories of his grandmother (Betty White), venturing beyond the city’s walls into the desolate wasteland to locate a mysterious creature called the Once-ler (Ed Helms). Here the story and animation begin to more closely follow the book. Ted discovers the grumpy recluse, who reluctantly begins to tell him a tale about a once-perfect landscape filled with beautiful Truffula Trees and cute frolicking animals–a landscape now decimated by one greedy young man’s insatiable appetite for profit. The beauty and wonder of the Truffula forest and its creatures are right out of Dr. Seuss’s illustrations. While the forest creatures may not be directly referred to as Brown Bar-ba-loots, Swomee-Swans, and Humming-Fish, the cute little bears, funny-looking ducks, and especially charming trio of singing fish are instantly recognizable. They serve, as they do in Dr. Seuss’s book, to add just the right amount of humor and levity to what would otherwise be a pretty heavy-handed message from the Lorax (Danny DeVito) about environmental preservation. Ted’s hormonal instincts to impress Audrey slowly begin to take a back seat to the plight of the lost trees and animals, and the Once-ler’s assertion that “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better” rings true by the end of the film. The abundance of original music is a nice and unexpected addition to the story, though why neither Efron nor Swift actually gets to sing is perplexing.

8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I (Two-Disc Special Edition)

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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 delivers strongly for the rabid fan base who have catapulted the young adult novel series and subsequent movie adaptations to the worldwide phenomenon that it’s become, but it alienates a broader audience with a lack of any real action. Similar to the tone of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the first film of the two-part Twilight conclusion is heavy on romance, love, and turmoil but light on fight scenes and gruesome battles. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to the goods and opens with Bella and Edward’s much-hyped wedding scene. It works–the vows are efficient and first-time franchise director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) moves the party along quickly and amusingly with a well-edited toast scene and some surprisingly moving moments between Bella and her father, cast standout Billy Burke. The honeymoon plays as a slightly awkward soft-focus made-for-TV movie, with a lot of long moments spent staring in the mirror and some love scenes that feel at once overly intimate and completely passionless. It’s a relief when Bella retches on a bite of chicken she’s cooked herself and quickly concludes she’s pregnant with a potentially demonic baby. From bliss to horror, the Cullens return to Forks, where Bella spends the second half of the movie wasting away and Edward and Jacob are aligned in their anger and frustration over her decision. Throw in some over-the-top scenes with Jacob and his pack–including a strange showdown where the wolves communicate in their canine form by having a passionate nonverbal fight in their minds (a plot point that works much better in print, it’s portrayed in the film via aggressive voice-over)–and the film overshoots intensity and goes straight to silly. The birth scene is horrific, but not as gruesome as in the book, and by the end, Bella has of course survived, though is much altered. The final scene features a delightfully campy Michael Sheen as Volturi leader Aro and makes it clear that the action and fun in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is ready to start. Fans will just have to wait until Part 2 to get it.

9. Hatfields & McCoys

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The legendary 19th-century battle between two West Virginia clans that came to define the term feud gets a lengthy and frequently dramatic retelling in Hatfields & McCoys, a six-hour miniseries driven by leads Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton as the warring family patriarchs. Both actors lend considerable gravitas to the sprawling story, which begins with Costner’s Devil Anse Hatfield going AWOL during the Civil War, setting in motion a growing animosity with former friend Randolph McCoy (Paxton) that blossoms into full-blown violence over a property dispute between the families. Bloodshed begets bloodshed, due in part to a series of miscommunications, long-simmering grievances, and acts of outright foolishness, several of which are the work of hot-blooded Hatfield relative Jim Vance (Tom Berenger). What emerges from the final work is a portrait of generational murder as a sort of Biblical virus, with the sins of the fathers wreaking untold havoc on their children, including a pair of young Hatfield-McCoy lovers (Lindsay Pulsipher and Matt Barr) whose romance considerably exacerbates tensions. The latter subplot is probably the sole weak element in the miniseries, detracting from the tragic forward momentum of the familial conflict and solid turns by all concerned, including Powers Boothe as Costner’s sage older brother and Jena Malone and the always-welcome Mare Winningham as women on the McCoy side. A major ratings hit and multiple Emmy nominee for The History Channel, which made its dramatic project debut with the miniseries, Hatfields & McCoys is a compelling historical drama for both Western fans and non-genre followers alike. The DVD includes a modest, electronic press kit-style making-of featurette as well as a music video for the song “I Know These Hills,” sung by Costner and his band, Modern West.

10. Moonrise Kingdom

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Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the story of two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing off-shore – and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in every which way. Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff, Captain Sharp. Edward Norton is a Khaki Scout troop leader, Scout Master Ward. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand portray the young girl’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban; and introduces Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy, the boy and girl.

Click Here for More Top Movies

Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 Best DVD Movies October 2012

Top 10 Best DVD Movies October 2012

1. Marvel’s The Avengers 6. Battleship
2. Dark Shadows 7. The Lucky One
3. The Hunger Games 2-Disc DVD 8. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt
4. Snow White and the Huntsman 9. Monumental: America’s National Treasure
5. The Cabin In The Woods 10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


1. Marvel’s The Avengers

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Blasphemy? Perhaps. But the best thing about what may be the most rousing and well-crafted superhero movie since The Dark Knight is not the boffo action scenes that culminate in a New York City-destroying finale that rivals Michael Bay’s obliteration of the Chicago skyline in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. No, the real appeal of The Avengers comes from the quiet moments among a group of decidedly unquiet humans, extra-humans, mutants, and demigods. In no particular order those are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), S.H.I.E.L.D. world-government commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and indispensable functionary Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). That’s a superstar lineup both in and out of character, and The Avengers brilliantly integrates the cast of ensemble egos into a story that snaps and crackles–not to mention smashes, trashes, and destroys–at breakneck pace, never sacrificing visual dazzle or hard-earned story dynamics. Writer-director Joss Whedon is no slouch when it comes to being a comic geek and he handles the heavy duty reins with efficient panache. The effects are of course spectacular. They include a monstrous flying aircraft carrier that is home base to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury’s Avenger Initiative; Tony Stark’s gleaming skyscraper in midtown Manhattan; off-world scenes of malignant evil; as well as blindingly apocalyptic fights and the above-mentioned showdown that leaves New York a virtual ruin. Yet it’s the deeply personal conversations and confrontations among the very reluctant team of Avengers that makes the movie pop. Full of humor, snappy dialogue, and little asides that include inside jokes, eye rolls, and personal grudge matches, the script makes these superhumans real beings with sincere passion or feelings of disillusionment. The conviction of the actors as they fully commit to their clever lines gives credibility to what comes off as more than simple banter, even during the more incredible moments among them (of which are many). The plot involves the appearance of Loki, disgraced villain and brother of Thor, who was also a key player in his eponymous movie. Loki has come to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract, a blue-glowing energy cube that is valuable beyond compare to forces good and evil throughout the universe. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston is supremely, yea gloriously appealing as the brilliantly wicked regal charmer who captures minds from S.H.I.E.L.D. and attempts to conquer Earth with the hideous army at his command. To say he is foiled is an understatement. His face-off with the Hulk is one of the giddiest moments in a movie filled with lightheaded mayhem, and is a perfect example of Whedon’s throwaway approach to translating the mythic mystique of the Marvel comics universe. Though at times deadly serious (as deadly serious as an outrageous superhero destructo/fight-fest movie can be, that is), The Avengers is best when it lightens up and lets the fun fly alongside the powerhouse punches. By the way, a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerhouse punch is another moment that makes Hulk the most loveable underdog of a smashing green rage monster ever. That spirit of fun and pure adventure makes The Avengers the greatest kind of escapist Hollywood fantasy $250 million can buy. A blockbuster in the most literal sense.

2. Dark Shadows (DVD + Ultraviolet Digital Copy)

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The Collinses: Every Family Has Its Demons

From the wonderfully warped imagination of Tim Burton comes the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a dashing aristocrat who is turned into a vampire by a jilted lover and entombed for two centuries. Emerging from his coffin into the world of 1972, he returns to his once-majestic home, only to the few dysfunctional descendants of the Collins family who remain. Determined to return his family name to its former glory, Barnabas is thwarted at every turn by his former lover – the seductive witch Angelique (Eva Green) – in this wildly imaginative” (Sam Hallenbeck, NBC-TV adventure).

3. The Hunger Games [2-Disc DVD + Ultra-Violet Digital Copy]

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Price: $19.96
You Save: $11.02 (36%)

Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross’s action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins’s young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest–but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be “dangerous.” Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they’re adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win. For those who haven’t read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It’s an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it’s hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor, Lost, and the collected works of George Orwell.

4. Snow White and the Huntsman (Extended Edition)

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Definitely not your average retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is a dark, action-fantasy film that’s based more on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale than the well-known Disney version of the story. It features intriguing concepts, impressive special effects, and some disappointingly lackluster acting. The essence of the “Snow White” story is preserved in this recounting: the queen’s beautiful daughter Snow White, who is heir to the throne, is displaced and persecuted by an evil stepmother after her mother dies. Here, the evil stepmother Ravenna possesses a disturbing power to maintain her own perpetual youth by stealing youthfulness from the hearts of the young and beautiful, but her magic mirror warns that Snow White’s innocence and purity as she comes of age will destroy Ravenna’s chance at immortality. When Snow White escapes from the castle prison, Ravenna hires a downtrodden Huntsman to bring her back so that Ravenna can steal her youth and achieve personal immortality. But Snow White runs into a dark and sinister forest where mushrooms disperse hallucinogenic spores, trees come to life, flocks of bats spring from inanimate objects, and dwarves lurk in the shadows. The roles of the seven dwarves and the Huntsman in this version of the story prove to be quite different from the original, but what remain steadfast are Snow White’s inner strength and absolute goodness, and her stepmother’s innate evilness. This film is full of fascinating imagery that’s brought to life through powerful special effects, great costuming, and captivating cinematography–the scenes in the dark forest and the fairy-filled wilderness beyond are reason enough to see it. Unfortunately, the story moves a bit slowly and the acting by Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth (Huntsman) is rather stoical and passionless and lacks chemistry, though Charlize Theron does stand out as a particularly disturbing Ravenna.

5. The Cabin In The Woods [DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy]

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A rambunctious group of five college friends steal away for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures in a night of endless terror and bloodshed. Sound familiar? Just wait. As the teens begin to exhibit standard horror movie behavior, a group of technicians in a control room are scrutinizing, and sometimes even controlling, every move the terrified kids make! With their efforts continually thwarted by the all powerful eye in the sky, do they have any chance of escape?

6. Battleship

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Following the success of Transformers and G.I. Joe, Hasbro brings another of its beloved properties to the big screen, with explosive and cheerfully improbable results. The situation: Aliens splash down outside Hawaii, surrounding the islands with an impenetrable force field and wreaking havoc on the captive population. While the world outside watches helplessly, a skeleton crew of naval officers and civilians (led by Taylor Kitsch’s cocky washout and Rihanna’s weapons expert) must figure out a way to save the planet while being seriously outgunned. Director Peter Berg, whose previous films The Rundown and Hancock displayed a playful tweaking of genre conventions, keeps things surprisingly high and tight here, depicting military tactics and the chain of command with an honest respect, including casting actual combat veterans in pivotal supporting roles. While such a reverent approach is certainly admirable, it coexists uneasily with the inherent goofiness of the premise, particularly during the climactic scene where the heroes sit down in front of a grid and, yes, fire a missile at B7. (Note: Nobody actually gets to say “You sunk my battleship,” but Liam Neeson, in an extended cameo as an admiral, sure looks like he wants to.) However, while the narrative might be missing a few pieces, Berg’s film undeniably delivers the action-movie goods, staging a number of all-out combat scenes with verve and ingenuity. (Special kudos to whoever designed the main weapon of the aliens, a razor-toothed sphere of gears that chews up the scenery with a tangible sense of delight.) Audiences looking for coherence may need to keep on looking, but Battleship definitely sports the maximum number of bangs for the summer-movie buck. Bring on Kerplunk: The Motion Picture.

7. The Lucky One (DVD+UltraViolet)

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As a tourism advertisement for Louisiana, where filming took place, The Lucky One makes the most of a scenic state. As an opportunity for Zac Efron (High School Musical) to prove his acting mettle, it’s less successful. On his third tour of duty in Iraq, Efron’s Sgt. Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a pretty blonde that reads “keep safe” on the back. After a series of close scrapes, he credits his survival to the memento. Upon his release, Logan retrieves his German shepherd and sets out for North Carolina (it’s never clear how he figures that out as a destination). When he finds Beth (Taylor Schilling), who runs a kennel with her grandmother (Blythe Danner), he doesn’t know how to tell her about the picture, so he takes a job working with the dogs, and befriends her son (Riley Thomas Stewart), a chess prodigy, while inspiring jealousy in her hotheaded ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, who looks more like a marine than Efron). The climactic storm at the end provides the opportunity for Logan to come clean and for Keith to prove he isn’t a complete loser, allowing romance to bloom between the central couple. In drawing from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, Shine‘s Scott Hicks offers a picture-postcard romance that feels too much like a Lifetime movie. Though Efron, who made a stronger impression in Me and Orson Welles, never overacts, his recessive performance renders Logan more opaque than necessary.

8. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt

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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

9. Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure

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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.

10. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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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.

Click Here for More Top Movies

Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 Best DVD Movies September 2012

Top 10 Best DVD Movies September 2012

1. The Hunger Games 6. Bernie
2. Battleship 7. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
3. The Lucky One 8. Monumental In Search of America’s National Treasure
4. Think Like a Man 9. The Dictator – BANNED & UNRATED Version
5. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt 10. The Expendables


1. The Hunger Games [2-Disc DVD + Ultra-Violet Digital Copy]

List Price: $30.98
Price: $19.96
You Save: $11.02 (36%)

Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross’s action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins’s young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest–but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be “dangerous.” Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they’re adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win. For those who haven’t read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It’s an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it’s hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor, Lost, and the collected works of George Orwell.

2. Battleship

List Price: $29.98
Price: $19.96
You Save: $10.02 (33%)

Following the success of Transformers and G.I. Joe, Hasbro brings another of its beloved properties to the big screen, with explosive and cheerfully improbable results. The situation: Aliens splash down outside Hawaii, surrounding the islands with an impenetrable force field and wreaking havoc on the captive population. While the world outside watches helplessly, a skeleton crew of naval officers and civilians (led by Taylor Kitsch’s cocky washout and Rihanna’s weapons expert) must figure out a way to save the planet while being seriously outgunned. Director Peter Berg, whose previous films The Rundown and Hancock displayed a playful tweaking of genre conventions, keeps things surprisingly high and tight here, depicting military tactics and the chain of command with an honest respect, including casting actual combat veterans in pivotal supporting roles. While such a reverent approach is certainly admirable, it coexists uneasily with the inherent goofiness of the premise, particularly during the climactic scene where the heroes sit down in front of a grid and, yes, fire a missile at B7. (Note: Nobody actually gets to say “You sunk my battleship,” but Liam Neeson, in an extended cameo as an admiral, sure looks like he wants to.) However, while the narrative might be missing a few pieces, Berg’s film undeniably delivers the action-movie goods, staging a number of all-out combat scenes with verve and ingenuity. (Special kudos to whoever designed the main weapon of the aliens, a razor-toothed sphere of gears that chews up the scenery with a tangible sense of delight.) Audiences looking for coherence may need to keep on looking, but Battleship definitely sports the maximum number of bangs for the summer-movie buck. Bring on Kerplunk: The Motion Picture.

3. The Lucky One (DVD+UltraViolet)

List Price: $28.98
Price: $14.96
You Save: $14.02 (48%)

As a tourism advertisement for Louisiana, where filming took place, The Lucky One makes the most of a scenic state. As an opportunity for Zac Efron (High School Musical) to prove his acting mettle, it’s less successful. On his third tour of duty in Iraq, Efron’s Sgt. Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a pretty blonde that reads “keep safe” on the back. After a series of close scrapes, he credits his survival to the memento. Upon his release, Logan retrieves his German shepherd and sets out for North Carolina (it’s never clear how he figures that out as a destination). When he finds Beth (Taylor Schilling), who runs a kennel with her grandmother (Blythe Danner), he doesn’t know how to tell her about the picture, so he takes a job working with the dogs, and befriends her son (Riley Thomas Stewart), a chess prodigy, while inspiring jealousy in her hotheaded ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, who looks more like a marine than Efron). The climactic storm at the end provides the opportunity for Logan to come clean and for Keith to prove he isn’t a complete loser, allowing romance to bloom between the central couple. In drawing from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, Shine‘s Scott Hicks offers a picture-postcard romance that feels too much like a Lifetime movie. Though Efron, who made a stronger impression in Me and Orson Welles, never overacts, his recessive performance renders Logan more opaque than necessary.

4. Think Like a Man

List Price: $30.99
Price: $17.96
You Save: $13.03 (42%)

Fans of Steve Harvey’s wildly popular relationship self-help book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man–and even people unfamiliar with the book but interested in love, lust, and related topics–will enjoy the fictionalized film based on it, Think Like a Man. Harvey’s book’s tenets involve letting a woman’s softer side show more, and understanding that men have different sexual needs. The book has been polarizing, but Think Like a Man, the film, gives women more of an even playing field, and handles the topics with a lighter touch. The stars are uniformly excellent and believable, including Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, and Kevin Hart. They help make up four couples in which the women have decided to take the advice in Harvey’s book and use the recommendations to get their men on track. When the men discover this, they in turn try to turn the tables on their women. While one wishes so much manipulation weren’t necessary in personal relationships, both Harvey’s advice and Think Like a Man‘s softer point of view have merit. The struggles of the couples are believable, and the viewer secretly hopes there will at least be a few happy endings (it’s not a spoiler to say there are). Crisply directed by Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four), Think Like a Man is a funny, moving chick flick that will appeal to guys too.

5. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt

List Price: $26.99
Price: $17.86
You Save: $9.13 (34%)

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

6. Bernie

List Price: $28.99
Price: $11.85
You Save: $17.14 (59%)

The first of many enchanting title cards that show up as loose chapter markers in Richard Linklater’s sweet little movie about murder in a small Texas town reads, “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.” It sets the perfect down-home tone for the charming, if occasionally gruesome story of an East Texas funeral director named Bernie Tiede, whose sociable selflessness, empathetic demeanor, and guileless personality won him the friendship of the whole town of Carthage, especially the little old ladies. He even captivated the good graces of the meanest and richest old lady of them all, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), eventually becoming her business manager and constant companion. But even with the patience of Job and the compassion of Jesus, eventually Bernie couldn’t take it anymore and in a fit of pique shot her in the back four times then dumped her body in a freezer. That synopsis hardly seems the stuff of a lighthearted comedy that energizes a large ensemble of endearing characters. But in the hands of director Richard Linklater (who cowrote the script with Skip Hollandsworth, who originally reported the story for Texas Monthly magazine), the tale is simultaneously knee-slappingly funny and head-shakingly poignant. Jack Black stays dead-on and in character, with nary a trademark Black-ian wink to his audience. He is genuinely sympathetic as the adorable and unfailingly affable closeted gay man who devotes any spare moment not spent artistically fawning over the recently deceased to countless community service activities, like directing school musicals, coaching little league, helping roughnecks with their taxes, and making earnest googly eyes with Carthage’s blue-haired biddies. But the movie’s biggest success springs from its stylistic device of using ersatz interviews with characters and several non-actors who knew the real Bernie. These offbeat and articulate throwaways provide exposition about the man and his crime, which both remain entirely credible. It would play like incredible real life even without the bit of jailhouse vérité video that rolls under the credits, showing Jack Black interviewing the real Bernie Tiede. MacLaine’s appearance is relatively fleeting, but she embodies with delectable aplomb a mean, cranky old bag who’s too insufferable even for over-tolerant Bernie. Also adding to the wacky, pseudo-realistic charm is Matthew McConaughey as a quintessential Texas prosecutor. McConaughey’s dilemma is how to win the conviction of a confessed cold-blooded murderer the townspeople believe should go scot-free because he’s such a sweet man and his victim only got what she deserved. The mixture of interview segments and dramedic reenactments tiptoe gently but sometimes set off comedy booby traps in a very well-configured minefield of sweetness and dark. Though it’s a small and gentle film, Bernie packs a great deal of formal flair in breaking new ground. It’s understated and unremarkable, but there’s really never been anything quite like it. It’s also an unassuming career highlight for Black, McConaughey, MacLaine, and Linklater all around.

7. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

List Price: $28.98
Price: $9.99
You Save: $18.99 (66%)

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.

8. Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure

List Price: $19.95
Price: $14.99
You Save: $4.96 (25%)

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.

9. The Dictator – BANNED & UNRATED Version

List Price: $29.98
Price: $14.73
You Save: $15.25 (51%)

The Dictator wants to inspire outrage and hilarity in equal measures. Sacha Baron Cohen rose to fame through Borat, a sort of Candid Camera movie that let real people reveal their prejudices in response to an outrageously conceived character. Here, Cohen acts in a scripted story about an equally outrageous character, a brutal dictator named Aladeen, ruler of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. While in New York to protest United Nations sanctions against him, Aladeen is kidnapped by a scheming underling (Ben Kingsley) and stripped of his beard, rendering him unrecognizable. A vegan co-op manager (Anna Faris, pretty unrecognizable herself in a black wig) takes him under her wing, leading to a change of heart… sort of. Cohen’s lowbrow humor is oddly intellectual. He’s a student of comedy, analyzing the current boundaries so he can push at them, seeking something that will still shock. The result? Jokes about rape–lots and lots of jokes about rape–along with an anthology of gags about body functions and racism. The effect is more calculated than comical. Cohen’s deeply cynical perspective suggests that, in a world where everyone has a price (one of the movie’s running themes), the audience will cheer on a murdering megalomaniac because at least his narcissism is pure. But The Dictator seems like a movie only a murdering megalomaniac could really love.

10. The Expendables

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Price: $8.49
You Save: $6.49 (43%)

They might be expendable, but they sure are durable: The Expendables is crammed with well-traveled action heroes, called to a summit meeting here to capture some of that good old ultraviolent ’80s-movie feel. Star-director Sylvester Stallone rides herd as the leader of this mercenary band, which includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Stallone’s old Rocky V nemesis Dolph Lundgren. Mickey Rourke, looking like a car wreck on Highway 61, plays the tattoo artist who communicates the gang’s assignments to Stallone; throw in Terry Crews and Ultimate Fighting champ Randy Couture, and you’ve got a badass crew indeed. The specifics here involve a Latin American island where US interests have mucked up the local politics beyond repair–but when Sly’s eye is caught by the feisty daughter (Giselle Itie) of the local military jefe, a simple job gets complicated. Adding to the B-movie flavor of the enterprise, we’ve got Eric Roberts and Steve Austin bouncing around as badder-than-the-bad guys, plus Bruce Willis popping in for a one-scene bit, and… well, perhaps another unbilled cameo. The violence doesn’t reach the frantic pace of Stallone’s last Rambo picture, but it builds to a pretty crazy crescendo in the final reels, during which each cast member gets to show his stuff. Although Stallone’s face looks younger than it did in the first Rocky movie, his line delivery is more sluggish than ever, and what lines! The dialogue is stuck in the ’80s, too. Although it’s pretty ham-handed throughout, The Expendables is likely critic-proof: the audience that wants to see this kind of body-slamming throwdown isn’t going to care about the niceties. Let the knife throwing begin.

Click Here for More Top Movies

Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 Best DVD Movies August 2012

Top 10 Best DVD Movies August 2012

1. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt 6. 21 Jump Street + UltraViolet Digital Copy
2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 7. Mirror Mirror
3. Batman Begins (Single-Disc Widescreen Edition) 8. Monumental In Search of America’s National Treasure
4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 9. American Reunion (Unrated)
5. The Three Stooges: The Movie 10. Wrath of the Titans


1. Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt

List Price: $26.99
Price: $17.86
You Save: $9.13 (34%)

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

2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

List Price: $28.98
Price: $9.99
You Save: $18.99 (66%)

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.

3. Batman Begins (Single-Disc Widescreen Edition)

List Price: $12.97
Price: $5.99
You Save: $6.98 (54%)

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.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $28.98
Price: $21.73
You Save: $7.25 (25%)

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.

5. The Three Stooges: The Movie

List Price: $29.98
Price: $17.67
You Save: $12.31 (41%)

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.

6. 21 Jump Street (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $30.99
Price: $17.96
You Save: $13.03 (42%)

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.

7. Mirror Mirror

List Price: $29.98
Price: $18.96
You Save: $11.02 (37%)

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.

8. Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure

List Price: $19.95
Price: $14.99
You Save: $4.96 (25%)

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.

9. American Reunion (Unrated)

List Price: $29.98
Price: $17.00
You Save: $12.98 (43%)

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.

10. Wrath of the Titans

List Price: $28.98
Price: $14.96
You Save: $14.02 (48%)

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.

Click Here for More Top Movies

Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 DVD Movies for July 2012

Top 10 DVD Movies for July 2012

1. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 6. John Carter
2. 21 Jump Street (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy) 7. Courageous
3. Wrath of the Titans 8. Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol
4. Mirror Mirror 9. Safe House
5. Act of Valor 10. The Vow (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)


1. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

List Price: $28.98
Price: $9.99
You Save: $18.99 (66%)

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.

2. 21 Jump Street (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $30.99
Price: $17.96
You Save: $13.03 (42%)

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.

3. Wrath of the Titans

List Price: $28.98
Price: $14.96
You Save: $14.02 (48%)

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.

4. Mirror Mirror

List Price: $29.98
Price: $18.96
You Save: $11.02 (37%)

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.

5. Act of Valor

List Price: $29.98
Price: $19.96
You Save: $10.02 (33%)

Act of Valor aims to capture the experience of Navy SEALs as they combat the schemes of a Chechnyan jihadist who wants to send suicide bombers into American stadiums and shopping malls. Their efforts take them all over the world, from Costa Rica to Somalia to the South Pacific. For added authenticity, eight real Navy SEALs have been cast in the lead roles. In terms of tactics and equipment, Act of Valor is rigorously authentic. What marks this as fantasy is the perfection of the missions (there are no civilian casualties; every sniper takes out his target in a single head shot–there are a lot of exploding heads in this movie) and absolute moral clarity (the wild-eyed jihadist and drug cartel foot soldiers are unquestionably evil; one of the main characters carries his grandfather’s folded flag from World War II). The performances of the SEALs, though well intentioned, make you appreciate the complexities of Arnold Schwarzenegger. What’s smart about Act of Valor is that it doesn’t waste much time with setups or dialogue, but heads straight into the missions. However, much of these missions are filmed like a first-person-shooter video game, which lends a sense of immediacy but undercuts the sense of reality. Still, all in all, Act of Valor is a sincere attempt to express admiration for the men and women risking their lives in the military.

6. John Carter

List Price: $29.99
Price: $17.99
You Save: $12.00 (40%)

Disney’s megabudget foray into a new CGI franchise of epic sci-fi mythology arrives with a massive marketing push and an interesting pulp pedigree that will probably inspire as many fans as it will naysayers. This impressively crafted piece of escapist fantasy is based on a character and series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs that is runner-up to his primary creation, Tarzan, and the 20-plus volumes he wrote about that iconic ape-raised jungle adventurer. Burroughs churned out books in both series concurrently for roughly his entire adult life in the first half of the 20th century. John Carter is a former Confederate Civil War captain and fortune-hunting ne’er-do-well who through a weird incident of astral projection is plopped down on the red planet, where he becomes a passionate warrior against beasts and humanoids for the security of a home world known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. John Carter presents this origin setup in a clever prologue that finds the cranky Carter on the run from frontier military authorities as well as a band of marauding Indians. Carter is played by Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch with great bravado. His character undergoes radical change when confronted with something he can finally care about. It doesn’t hurt that an exotic princess of Mars is part of the prize package that comes from his battle against evil and ultimately doing the right thing. John Carter is a visual feast (especially in well-conceived 3-D) with an array of digital and motion-capture techniques that create an eye-popping world of strange creatures, astounding architectural vistas, aerial panoramas, and luminous landscapes. All the extraordinary detail is not surprising considering that Pixar superstar Andrew Stanton is at the helm (he also directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E). There’s a lot going on in the script, and it sometimes feels as though too much work was done in the editing suite to streamline a story that is often overly complicated. Barsoom is ruled by three species, all with their own political and social agendas. There are the humans whose city-state cultures are threatened by civil war and the aggression of Tharks, a race of giant green-skinned, four-armed warriors with horrific tusks and a deeply bellicose intellect. Separate from both are the mythic Therns, a cultlike sect of über-beings who seek to manipulate all of Barsoom into their own submission. Added to the mix are a variety of outrageous animal creatures both vicious and sublime that make for an extremely motley ensemble of beasties. The huge cast of characters, species, and names becomes a bit confusing to keep straight in all the rapid-fire exposition. Fortunately the movie doesn’t ever stop long enough to allow much time for thinking; there’s something new and exciting to look at in virtually every scene. Because of some fantastical leaps of physics and gravity, Carter’s Martian body possesses super strength and the ability to make single bounds over huge distances. His powers not only make him a godlike presence to the natives of Barsoom, they also provide for some dizzying feats of movie magic. The most bravura element of the conceptual design is a fleet of massive solar-powered flying machines that recall something out of H.G. Wells or a steampunk fantasy. These colorful, insectlike machines soar and float in the gold-hued Martian atmosphere with thrilling precision. Even though the multitude of beings, names, and alliances may sometimes elicit a glassy-eyed response, there’s plenty of attention-grabbing exactitude to behold in John Carter. There’s also a good chance that the fans will make it worth Disney’s while to shell out another hundred million to keep the saga going.

7. Courageous

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What is the true mark of a man? The male stars of the moving sleeper hit Courageous are all sheriff’s deputies in a small Georgia town, putting their lives on the line every day. Yet as Courageous deftly shows, the true measure of a man’s courage and heart lies in the daily choices he makes, especially as a husband and father. Courageous is a film that examines faith, commitment, and the preciousness of life. If that sounds simplistic, Courageous, made by the same filmmakers who made the Christian film Fireproof and others, is in fact mostly nuanced, sophisticated, and very well acted. Directed by Alex Kendrick, who also cowrote the screenplay with his brother Stephen, and who costars as well, Courageous blends believable action scenes and drama with just enough comedy to keep things from being ponderous. The opening sequence, in fact, is one of the best car-chase scenes in recent film memory–and the “reveal” at its conclusion will bring tears to viewers’ eyes. In fact, Courageous is a weeper of a film, but only because its message is so true and deeply felt. Each of the four deputies–played by Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel, Kevin Downes, and Ben Davies–wrestles with choices big and small, and finds his faith tested in the darkest of times. Courageous is an excellent faith-based film suitable for teens and older (there’s a death in the film that may be disturbing to very young viewers, though it’s handled off-screen). The Blu-ray disc contains lots of extras, including a thoughtful commentary with Alex and Stephen Kendrick, a making-of featurette that’s as inspiring as the film, outtakes, and a hilarious short called “Courageous in 60 Seconds” that underscores that the filmmakers have an all-important sense of humor. Anyone seeking a quality faith-based film experience will be enormously moved by the heart of Courageous.

8. Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol

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The second half of the first decade of the 21st century has been kind of tough for Tom Cruise. That’s tough in a way over and above the hardship of living the legacy of one of history’s top movie stars–a job more demanding than any mere mortal could imagine. But after two fruitful collaborations with Steven Spielberg (Minority Report and War of the Worlds), his stature took a beating from the one-two hits of those wacky PR gaffes and that string of relative box-office disappointments (Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie, Knight and Day), which seemed to start with the third installment of his Mission: Impossible franchise in 2006. It’s hard to say with a straight face that taking in only $398 million worldwide is a disappointment, but it was a low for the series, which some later saw as a prelude to his potentially dimming stardom. But on the cusp of turning 50, it looks like Tom Cruise has put the licking behind him and entered a new phase of self-conception with an upcoming array of roles, starting with a more maturely controlled version of superspy Ethan Hunt in the sleek and supercharged Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The things Cruise has done right in M: I part four include toning down his youthful, arrogant preening and letting his castmates share more of the spotlight (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg all have some terrifically shiny moments). He also lets the unique creative vision of director Brad Bird shine through in a first live-action outing for the acclaimed helmer of Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Still looking much younger than his years (that hair! those pecs! those abs!), Cruise is playing more age-appropriately, letting a little wisdom and grace seep into his charisma so the wattage of his mere presence smolders a little deeper. It’s a nice nod to a graying generation that says you can get older and still be cool. All that is not to say he doesn’t play up his action-star chops to the max. In a mostly inconsequential narrative arc that has something to do with purloined nuclear launch codes, an important metal briefcase, satellite uplinks, and global annihilation that leaps from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, Cruise is as dangerously nimble as he has ever been. He dangles one-handed from the tallest building in the world, bounds off ledges, springs out of speeding vehicles, tumbles and careens up and down the levels of an automated parking garage, and generally sprints and jumps his way across the movie with only a scratch or bruise to show for it. Also on the outlandish upside is a happily stereotypical villain straight out of Connery-era Bond and as many bleeding-edge gadgets as the art department techno-geeks could dream up. A running gag is that many of these electronic fantasy tools fail at just the wrong moment, which is part of a larger wink acknowledging how utterly preposterous yet ingeniously conceived this behemoth of a movie really is. The gadgetry is not limited just to the miraculous props. Ghost Protocol employs CGI fakery of the highest order from the sub-industry of effects contractors that ratchet up the standard of computing power and software design, one-upping each successive action-adventure extravaganza. The loving detail that goes into blowing up the Kremlin or rendering a photo-realistic sandstorm erupting across the enhanced skyline of an Oz-like desert city is nothing short of miraculous. What’s more astonishing is that Tom Cruise closes the deal with a selling power that’s as new and improved as the laminates on his multi-million-dollar teeth.

9. Safe House

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The first hint that Safe House will be a notch above the typical thriller comes from the list of supporting actors: Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades–that’s a smart cast. Then the movie starts quietly: Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) holding his girlfriend’s hand, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) having a drink with an old friend… then that friend gives Frost a microchip and Safe House takes off, accelerating with every scene as legendary rogue agent Frost ends up in the hands of newbie Weston, who’s just supposed to watch the safe house where prisoners are held for interrogation. But now Weston is racing across Cape Town and Johannesburg, pursued by ruthless killers, his loyalties tested and manipulated by the infinitely charming Frost. Director Daniel Espinosa skillfully orchestrates jolting action sequences and distills quieter scenes down to their mesmerizing essence. Washington and Reynolds both give their characters emotional complexity and a sense of actual thought going on behind their charismatic movie-star eyes. The plot has its clichés (legendary rogue agent, crucial microchip, CIA corruption and whatnot), but this cast and director make Safe House a genuinely gripping thriller.

10. The Vow (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

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Can true love really conquer all? That is the question hovering over the genuinely touching, affecting drama The Vow. Based on a true story (which itself might have made a great documentary), The Vow is a showcase for the splendid acting talent of Rachel McAdams and a breakthrough role for Channing Tatum, under the deft direction of Michael Sucsy (the feature version of Grey Gardens). The story is deceptively simple: Happy young married couple Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum) are, well, happy. Then a car accident puts Paige into a life-threatening coma, and upon awakening, she finds she has lost the previous five years of memories–including of being married to, or ever in love with, her beloved Leo. With lesser actors or with a more heavy-handed director, The Vow might have been predictable, melodramatic, or flat–and yet, the talents of the two stars, and the crisp, light-handed direction, make The Vow an enjoyable, deeply affecting love story. McAdams is as winning as always, reminiscent of her early work in The Notebook, and here, as a brunette, channeling a young Jennifer Garner. But it’s Tatum on whose shoulders The Vow must succeed, and he is a revelation. His persona as a tough guy’s guy is perfect here, as a “softer” actor would have led The Vow straight into Lifetime Movie Network territory. The viewer relates to Leo, including his obvious frustration, discomfort, and even moments of terror. Sam Neill and Jessica Lange (who glowed in Sucsy’s Grey Gardens) make memorable supporting appearances. But it’s McAdams and especially Tatum who make The Vow the believable, delicate, and loving journey it is.

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Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 DVD Movies for June 2012

Top 10 DVD Movies for June 2012

1. Act of Valor 6. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies
2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows 7. Thor
3. John Carter 8. This Means War
4. Safe House 9. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I
5. Red Tails 10. Captain America: The First Avenger


1. Act of Valor

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Act of Valor aims to capture the experience of Navy SEALs as they combat the schemes of a Chechnyan jihadist who wants to send suicide bombers into American stadiums and shopping malls. Their efforts take them all over the world, from Costa Rica to Somalia to the South Pacific. For added authenticity, eight real Navy SEALs have been cast in the lead roles. In terms of tactics and equipment, Act of Valor is rigorously authentic. What marks this as fantasy is the perfection of the missions (there are no civilian casualties; every sniper takes out his target in a single head shot–there are a lot of exploding heads in this movie) and absolute moral clarity (the wild-eyed jihadist and drug cartel foot soldiers are unquestionably evil; one of the main characters carries his grandfather’s folded flag from World War II). The performances of the SEALs, though well intentioned, make you appreciate the complexities of Arnold Schwarzenegger. What’s smart about Act of Valor is that it doesn’t waste much time with setups or dialogue, but heads straight into the missions. However, much of these missions are filmed like a first-person-shooter video game, which lends a sense of immediacy but undercuts the sense of reality. Still, all in all, Act of Valor is a sincere attempt to express admiration for the men and women risking their lives in the military.

2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (+ Ultraviolet Digital Copy)

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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.

3. John Carter

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Price: $16.99
You Save: $13.00 (43%)

Disney’s megabudget foray into a new CGI franchise of epic sci-fi mythology arrives with a massive marketing push and an interesting pulp pedigree that will probably inspire as many fans as it will naysayers. This impressively crafted piece of escapist fantasy is based on a character and series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs that is runner-up to his primary creation, Tarzan, and the 20-plus volumes he wrote about that iconic ape-raised jungle adventurer. Burroughs churned out books in both series concurrently for roughly his entire adult life in the first half of the 20th century. John Carter is a former Confederate Civil War captain and fortune-hunting ne’er-do-well who through a weird incident of astral projection is plopped down on the red planet, where he becomes a passionate warrior against beasts and humanoids for the security of a home world known to its inhabitants as Barsoom. John Carter presents this origin setup in a clever prologue that finds the cranky Carter on the run from frontier military authorities as well as a band of marauding Indians. Carter is played by Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch with great bravado. His character undergoes radical change when confronted with something he can finally care about. It doesn’t hurt that an exotic princess of Mars is part of the prize package that comes from his battle against evil and ultimately doing the right thing. John Carter is a visual feast (especially in well-conceived 3-D) with an array of digital and motion-capture techniques that create an eye-popping world of strange creatures, astounding architectural vistas, aerial panoramas, and luminous landscapes. All the extraordinary detail is not surprising considering that Pixar superstar Andrew Stanton is at the helm (he also directed Finding Nemo and WALL-E). There’s a lot going on in the script, and it sometimes feels as though too much work was done in the editing suite to streamline a story that is often overly complicated. Barsoom is ruled by three species, all with their own political and social agendas. There are the humans whose city-state cultures are threatened by civil war and the aggression of Tharks, a race of giant green-skinned, four-armed warriors with horrific tusks and a deeply bellicose intellect. Separate from both are the mythic Therns, a cultlike sect of über-beings who seek to manipulate all of Barsoom into their own submission. Added to the mix are a variety of outrageous animal creatures both vicious and sublime that make for an extremely motley ensemble of beasties. The huge cast of characters, species, and names becomes a bit confusing to keep straight in all the rapid-fire exposition. Fortunately the movie doesn’t ever stop long enough to allow much time for thinking; there’s something new and exciting to look at in virtually every scene. Because of some fantastical leaps of physics and gravity, Carter’s Martian body possesses super strength and the ability to make single bounds over huge distances. His powers not only make him a godlike presence to the natives of Barsoom, they also provide for some dizzying feats of movie magic. The most bravura element of the conceptual design is a fleet of massive solar-powered flying machines that recall something out of H.G. Wells or a steampunk fantasy. These colorful, insectlike machines soar and float in the gold-hued Martian atmosphere with thrilling precision. Even though the multitude of beings, names, and alliances may sometimes elicit a glassy-eyed response, there’s plenty of attention-grabbing exactitude to behold in John Carter. There’s also a good chance that the fans will make it worth Disney’s while to shell out another hundred million to keep the saga going.

4. Safe House

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Price: $16.99
You Save: $12.99 (43%)

The first hint that Safe House will be a notch above the typical thriller comes from the list of supporting actors: Brendan Gleeson, Vera Farmiga, Sam Shepard, Rubén Blades–that’s a smart cast. Then the movie starts quietly: Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds) holding his girlfriend’s hand, Tobin Frost (Denzel Washington) having a drink with an old friend… then that friend gives Frost a microchip and Safe House takes off, accelerating with every scene as legendary rogue agent Frost ends up in the hands of newbie Weston, who’s just supposed to watch the safe house where prisoners are held for interrogation. But now Weston is racing across Cape Town and Johannesburg, pursued by ruthless killers, his loyalties tested and manipulated by the infinitely charming Frost. Director Daniel Espinosa skillfully orchestrates jolting action sequences and distills quieter scenes down to their mesmerizing essence. Washington and Reynolds both give their characters emotional complexity and a sense of actual thought going on behind their charismatic movie-star eyes. The plot has its clichés (legendary rogue agent, crucial microchip, CIA corruption and whatnot), but this cast and director make Safe House a genuinely gripping thriller.

5. Red Tails

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Aerial spectacle gives this World War II drama a lift. Based on the true adventures of the Tuskegee Airmen, who battled Nazis in the air and racism on the ground, Red Tails is built around four pilots, each with a character-type-appropriate nickname: the daredevil is named Lightning (David Oyelowo), the likable boozer is Easy (Nate Parker), the kid trying to prove himself is Junior (Tristan Wilds), and the joker is called, uhm, Joker (Elijah Kelley). While these four chafe at their lousy assignments at the front, Colonel Bullard (Terrence Howard, applying his steely rasp to fervent, inspirational speeches) fights back in Washington to give these men a chance to prove themselves… and when they get that chance, prove themselves they do. This is a crucial bit of history–racial integration in the military was a key step leading to the civil rights movement decades later. Regrettably, this powerful material has been reduced to ham-fisted clichés, groaning under the weight of clumsy exposition. Such flimsy hokum is particularly surprising coming from co-screenwriter Aaron McGruder, creator of the sharply satirical The Boondocks; one suspects that the heavy hand of producer George Lucas was a factor. Nonetheless, when Red Tails takes to the air, the movie–like the pilots–shows its mettle. Though the digital effects are inexplicably uneven, the dizzying dogfight choreography will make your nerves tingle.

6. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies

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The year is 1907. It is 10 years after the Phantom’s disappearance from the Paris Opera House. He has escaped to a new life in New York where he lives amongst the screaming joy rides and freak-shows of Coney Island. In this new electrically-charged world, he has finally found a place for his music to soar. All that is missing is his love – Christine Daa‚. Now one of the world’s finest sopranos, Christine is struggling in an ailing marriage to Raoul. So, it is with excitement she accepts an invitation to travel to New York and perform at a renowned opera house. In a final bid to win back her love, the Phantom lures Christine, her husband, and their young son Gustave from Manhattan, to the glittering and glorious world of Coney Island… not knowing what is in store for them.

7. Thor

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Of all the folks in long underwear to be tapped for superhero films, Thor would seem to be the most problematic to properly pull off. (Hypothetical Hollywood conversation: “A guy in a tricked-out, easily merchandisable metal suit? Great! An Asgardian God of Thunder who says stuff like thee and thou? Um, is Moon Knight available?”) Thankfully, the resulting film does its source material rather proud, via a committed cast and an approach that doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top superheroics. When you’re dealing with a flying guy wielding a huge hammer, gritty realism can be overrated, really. Blending elements from the celebrated comic arcs by Walter Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski, the story follows the headstrong Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) as he is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after inadvertently starting a war with a planet of ticked-off Frost Giants. As his traitorous brother Loki (the terrific Tom Hiddleston) schemes in the wings, Thor must redeem himself and save the universe, with the aid of a beautiful scientist (Natalie Portman). Although director Kenneth Branagh certainly doesn’t skimp on the in-jokes and fan-pleasing continuity references (be prepared to stick around after the credits, Marvel fans), his film distinguishes itself by adopting a larger-than-life cosmic Shakespearean air that sets itself apart from both the cerebral, grounded style made fashionable by The Dark Knight and the loose-limbed Rat Packish vibe of the Iron Man series. Glorying in the absolute unreality of its premise, Branagh’s film is a swooping, Jack Kirby-inspired saga that brings the big-budget grins on a consistent basis, as well as tying in with the superhero battle royale The Avengers.

8. This Means War

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Spy flick meets romantic comedy in this surprisingly entertaining film about two CIA agents who find themselves in competition for the affections of the same beautiful woman. Agents FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy) are accustomed to using whatever means necessary to complete a mission–and that mentality has a tendency to bleed over into their personal lives. The two agents are also close friends, so when they discover they’re both dating Lauren (Reese Witherspoon), they enter into a gentleman’s agreement that stipulates they not interfere with one other, allow Lauren to choose the best man for her, and walk away from Lauren if seeing her begins to affect the men’s friendship. The agreement quickly degenerates into a pissing contest of epic proportions thanks to the men’s competitive natures and the arsenal of government resources at their disposal. Oblivious to the rivalry and the high-tech circus going on around her, Lauren desperately tries to figure out which of the two men is right for her. Her married friend Trish (Chelsea Handler) offers plenty of advice, assuring Lauren that just because she’s dating two guys at the same time, “You’re not going to hell, but if you are, I’ll be there to pick you up.” What makes this film so good is its perfect blend of high-action spy caper, laugh-aloud humor, and romance–all skillfully delivered by a talented cast.

9. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I (Two-Disc Special Edition)

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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 delivers strongly for the rabid fan base who have catapulted the young adult novel series and subsequent movie adaptations to the worldwide phenomenon that it’s become, but it alienates a broader audience with a lack of any real action. Similar to the tone of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the first film of the two-part Twilight conclusion is heavy on romance, love, and turmoil but light on fight scenes and gruesome battles. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to the goods and opens with Bella and Edward’s much-hyped wedding scene. It works–the vows are efficient and first-time franchise director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) moves the party along quickly and amusingly with a well-edited toast scene and some surprisingly moving moments between Bella and her father, cast standout Billy Burke. The honeymoon plays as a slightly awkward soft-focus made-for-TV movie, with a lot of long moments spent staring in the mirror and some love scenes that feel at once overly intimate and completely passionless. It’s a relief when Bella retches on a bite of chicken she’s cooked herself and quickly concludes she’s pregnant with a potentially demonic baby. From bliss to horror, the Cullens return to Forks, where Bella spends the second half of the movie wasting away and Edward and Jacob are aligned in their anger and frustration over her decision. Throw in some over-the-top scenes with Jacob and his pack–including a strange showdown where the wolves communicate in their canine form by having a passionate nonverbal fight in their minds (a plot point that works much better in print, it’s portrayed in the film via aggressive voice-over)–and the film overshoots intensity and goes straight to silly. The birth scene is horrific, but not as gruesome as in the book, and by the end, Bella has of course survived, though is much altered. The final scene features a delightfully campy Michael Sheen as Volturi leader Aro and makes it clear that the action and fun in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is ready to start. Fans will just have to wait until Part 2 to get it.

10. Captain America: The First Avenger

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The Marvel Comics superhero Captain America was born of World War II, so if you’re going to do the origin story in a movie you’d better set it in the 1940s. But how, then, to reconcile that hero with the 21st-century mega-blockbuster The Avengers, a 2012 summit meeting of the Marvel giants, where Captain America joins Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk and other super pals? Stick around, and we’ll get to that. In 1943, a sawed-off (but gung-ho) military reject named Steve Rogers is enlisted in a super-secret experiment masterminded by adorable scientist Stanley Tucci and skeptical military bigwig Tommy Lee Jones. Rogers emerges, taller and sporting greatly expanded pectoral muscles, along with a keen ability to bounce back from injury. In both sections Rogers is played by Chris Evans, whose sly humor makes him a good choice for the otherwise stalwart Cap. (Benjamin Button-esque effects create the shrinky Rogers, with Evans’s head attached.) The film comes up with a viable explanation for the red-white-and-blue suit ‘n’ shield–Rogers is initially trotted out as a war bonds fundraiser, in costume–and a rousing first combat mission for our hero, who finally gets fed up with being a poster boy. Director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) makes a lot of pretty pictures along the way, although the war action goes generic for a while and the climax feels a little rushed. Kudos to Hugo Weaving, who makes his Nazi villain a grand adversary (with, if the ear doesn’t lie, an imitation of Werner Herzog’s accent). If most of the movie is enjoyable, the final 15 minutes or so reveals a curious weakness in the overall design: because Captain America needs to pop up in The Avengers, the resolution of the 1943 story line must include a bridge to the 21st century, which makes for some tortured (and unsatisfying) plot developments. Nevertheless: that shield is really cool.

Click Here for More Top Movies

Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 DVD Movies for May 2012

Top 10 DVD Movies for May 2012

1. One For the Money 6. Captain America: The First Avenger
2. The Vow (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy) 7. Chronicle
3. The Grey 8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I
4. Underworld: Awakening (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy) 9. Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol
5. Thor 10. Iron Man 2 (Single-Disc Edition)


1. One For the Money

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A film based on the incredibly popular Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich, One for the Money reveals an unexpectedly versatile Katherine Heigl. This model-turned-actress is best known for her role as Dr. Izzie Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy and for starring in various lighthearted romantic comedies, but here Heigl takes on the meaty role of Plum, a laid-off lingerie buyer who turns bondswoman in a desperate attempt to pay the rent and put food on the table. Heigl is surprisingly believable as a blue-collar working girl who thinks fast on her feet and is not afraid to throw herself into the middle of even the most dangerous situation–especially if it means getting what she wants. Of course, Stephanie’s impulsiveness manages to get her into all sorts of awkward and potentially life-threatening situations. Throw in her desire for payback against an old boyfriend, a sleazy cousin, a gang of ruthless criminals, a couple of most unexpected allies, and a quirky family who can think of little more than setting her up with a good husband, and you’ve got an enticing blend of drama, action, and comedy. Debbie Reynolds is quite funny as Grandma Mazur, Daniel Sunjata makes a great Ranger, and there’s definitely a nice chemistry between Heigl and Jason O’Mara. Bonus features include an 11-minute making-of featurette, a 10-minute look at some real-life “bond girls,” a gag reel, and one deleted scene.

2. The Vow (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

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Can true love really conquer all? That is the question hovering over the genuinely touching, affecting drama The Vow. Based on a true story (which itself might have made a great documentary), The Vow is a showcase for the splendid acting talent of Rachel McAdams and a breakthrough role for Channing Tatum, under the deft direction of Michael Sucsy (the feature version of Grey Gardens). The story is deceptively simple: Happy young married couple Paige (McAdams) and Leo (Tatum) are, well, happy. Then a car accident puts Paige into a life-threatening coma, and upon awakening, she finds she has lost the previous five years of memories–including of being married to, or ever in love with, her beloved Leo. With lesser actors or with a more heavy-handed director, The Vow might have been predictable, melodramatic, or flat–and yet, the talents of the two stars, and the crisp, light-handed direction, make The Vow an enjoyable, deeply affecting love story. McAdams is as winning as always, reminiscent of her early work in The Notebook, and here, as a brunette, channeling a young Jennifer Garner. But it’s Tatum on whose shoulders The Vow must succeed, and he is a revelation. His persona as a tough guy’s guy is perfect here, as a “softer” actor would have led The Vow straight into Lifetime Movie Network territory. The viewer relates to Leo, including his obvious frustration, discomfort, and even moments of terror. Sam Neill and Jessica Lange (who glowed in Sucsy’s Grey Gardens) make memorable supporting appearances. But it’s McAdams and especially Tatum who make The Vow the believable, delicate, and loving journey it is.

3. The Grey

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Price: $16.99
You Save: $12.99 (43%)

The plane crashes (boy, does it crash) in the remote Alaskan nowhere, and the rough-and-tumble oil wildcatters who survive must fight their way to safety. That in itself might be enough from which The Grey could fashion a suspenseful thrill-ride, but the movie has one more ace up its sleeve. Wolves! A pack of them, starving and considerably irritated that these outsiders have blundered into their territory. And while it is true that most real-world wolves are hardly man-eaters, director Joe Carnahan and cowriter Ian Mackenzie Jeffers are really not all that interested in reality. Despite some hair-raising moments and a healthy spattering of gore, The Grey is an existential action picture, and the wolves function only as all-purpose predator (being computer-generated, they never really look real anyway). What’s really at stake are the souls of these men–how they get along together, and how they face death. Yes, there is always something faintly absurd hanging around this movie; it’s like a Jack London story adapted by Luc Besson. But out of its pulpy mash, Carnahan extracts something gutsy. It certainly helps that he’s got the mighty Liam Neeson on board as the most capable of the survivors; Neeson exudes the kind of authority that the average action hero can only play-act. Dallas Roberts and Dermot Mulroney add color, and Frank Grillo jumps off the screen as the most belligerent of the desperate crew. It’s possible for a movie to have an absurd premise yet carve something unexpectedly philosophical out of that: The Incredible Shrinking Man and Rise of the Planet of the Apes come to mind. Add this one to that oddball list.

4. Underworld: Awakening (+ UltraViolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $30.99
Price: $17.96
You Save: $13.03 (42%)

Ultimate Vampire Warrioress Selene (Kate Beckinsale) escapes imprisonment to find herself in a world where humans have discovered the existence of both Vampire and Lycan clans, and are conducting an all-out war to eradicate both immortal species.

5. Thor

List Price: $29.99
Price: $14.96
You Save: $15.03 (50%)

Of all the folks in long underwear to be tapped for superhero films, Thor would seem to be the most problematic to properly pull off. (Hypothetical Hollywood conversation: “A guy in a tricked-out, easily merchandisable metal suit? Great! An Asgardian God of Thunder who says stuff like thee and thou? Um, is Moon Knight available?”) Thankfully, the resulting film does its source material rather proud, via a committed cast and an approach that doesn’t shy away from the over-the-top superheroics. When you’re dealing with a flying guy wielding a huge hammer, gritty realism can be overrated, really. Blending elements from the celebrated comic arcs by Walter Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski, the story follows the headstrong Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) as he is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after inadvertently starting a war with a planet of ticked-off Frost Giants. As his traitorous brother Loki (the terrific Tom Hiddleston) schemes in the wings, Thor must redeem himself and save the universe, with the aid of a beautiful scientist (Natalie Portman). Although director Kenneth Branagh certainly doesn’t skimp on the in-jokes and fan-pleasing continuity references (be prepared to stick around after the credits, Marvel fans), his film distinguishes itself by adopting a larger-than-life cosmic Shakespearean air that sets itself apart from both the cerebral, grounded style made fashionable by The Dark Knight and the loose-limbed Rat Packish vibe of the Iron Man series. Glorying in the absolute unreality of its premise, Branagh’s film is a swooping, Jack Kirby-inspired saga that brings the big-budget grins on a consistent basis, as well as tying in with the superhero battle royale The Avengers.

6. Captain America: The First Avenger

List Price: $29.99
Price: $14.68
You Save: $15.31 (51%)

The Marvel Comics superhero Captain America was born of World War II, so if you’re going to do the origin story in a movie you’d better set it in the 1940s. But how, then, to reconcile that hero with the 21st-century mega-blockbuster The Avengers, a 2012 summit meeting of the Marvel giants, where Captain America joins Iron Man and the Incredible Hulk and other super pals? Stick around, and we’ll get to that. In 1943, a sawed-off (but gung-ho) military reject named Steve Rogers is enlisted in a super-secret experiment masterminded by adorable scientist Stanley Tucci and skeptical military bigwig Tommy Lee Jones. Rogers emerges, taller and sporting greatly expanded pectoral muscles, along with a keen ability to bounce back from injury. In both sections Rogers is played by Chris Evans, whose sly humor makes him a good choice for the otherwise stalwart Cap. (Benjamin Button-esque effects create the shrinky Rogers, with Evans’s head attached.) The film comes up with a viable explanation for the red-white-and-blue suit ‘n’ shield–Rogers is initially trotted out as a war bonds fundraiser, in costume–and a rousing first combat mission for our hero, who finally gets fed up with being a poster boy. Director Joe Johnston (The Wolfman) makes a lot of pretty pictures along the way, although the war action goes generic for a while and the climax feels a little rushed. Kudos to Hugo Weaving, who makes his Nazi villain a grand adversary (with, if the ear doesn’t lie, an imitation of Werner Herzog’s accent). If most of the movie is enjoyable, the final 15 minutes or so reveals a curious weakness in the overall design: because Captain America needs to pop up in The Avengers, the resolution of the 1943 story line must include a bridge to the 21st century, which makes for some tortured (and unsatisfying) plot developments. Nevertheless: that shield is really cool.

7. Chronicle

List Price: $29.98
Price: $14.96
You Save: $15.02 (50%)

If you should come upon a glowing, possibly extraterrestrial object buried in a hole, go ahead and touch the thing–you might just get superpowers. Or so it goes for the three high-school buds in Chronicle, an inventive excursion into the teenage sci-fi world. Once affected by the power, the guys exercise the joys of telekinesis: shuffling cars around in parking lots, moving objects in grocery stores, that kind of thing. Oh yeah–they can fly, too: and here director Josh Trank takes wing, in the movie’s giddiest sequence, as the trio zips around the clouds in a glorious wish-fulfillment. It goes without saying that there will be a shadow side to this gift, and that’s where Chronicle, for all its early cleverness, begins to stumble. Broody misfit Andrew (Dane DeHaan), destined to be voted Least Likely to Handle Superpowers Well by his graduating class, is documenting all this with his video camera, which is driving him even crazier (the movie’s in “found footage” style, so everything we see is from a camcorder or security camera, an approach that gets trippy when Andrew realizes he can levitate his camera without having to hold it). Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of John) seem to lose inspiration when the last act rolls around, so the movie settles for weightless battles around the Space Needle and a smattering of mass destruction. Still, let’s give Chronicle credit for an offbeat angle, and a handful of memorable scenes.

8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I (Two-Disc Special Edition)

List Price: $30.99
Price: $12.59
You Save: $18.40 (59%)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 delivers strongly for the rabid fan base who have catapulted the young adult novel series and subsequent movie adaptations to the worldwide phenomenon that it’s become, but it alienates a broader audience with a lack of any real action. Similar to the tone of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the first film of the two-part Twilight conclusion is heavy on romance, love, and turmoil but light on fight scenes and gruesome battles. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to the goods and opens with Bella and Edward’s much-hyped wedding scene. It works–the vows are efficient and first-time franchise director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) moves the party along quickly and amusingly with a well-edited toast scene and some surprisingly moving moments between Bella and her father, cast standout Billy Burke. The honeymoon plays as a slightly awkward soft-focus made-for-TV movie, with a lot of long moments spent staring in the mirror and some love scenes that feel at once overly intimate and completely passionless. It’s a relief when Bella retches on a bite of chicken she’s cooked herself and quickly concludes she’s pregnant with a potentially demonic baby. From bliss to horror, the Cullens return to Forks, where Bella spends the second half of the movie wasting away and Edward and Jacob are aligned in their anger and frustration over her decision. Throw in some over-the-top scenes with Jacob and his pack–including a strange showdown where the wolves communicate in their canine form by having a passionate nonverbal fight in their minds (a plot point that works much better in print, it’s portrayed in the film via aggressive voice-over)–and the film overshoots intensity and goes straight to silly. The birth scene is horrific, but not as gruesome as in the book, and by the end, Bella has of course survived, though is much altered. The final scene features a delightfully campy Michael Sheen as Volturi leader Aro and makes it clear that the action and fun in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is ready to start. Fans will just have to wait until Part 2 to get it.

9. Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol

List Price: $29.99
Price: $14.50
You Save: $15.49 (52%)

The second half of the first decade of the 21st century has been kind of tough for Tom Cruise. That’s tough in a way over and above the hardship of living the legacy of one of history’s top movie stars–a job more demanding than any mere mortal could imagine. But after two fruitful collaborations with Steven Spielberg (Minority Report and War of the Worlds), his stature took a beating from the one-two hits of those wacky PR gaffes and that string of relative box-office disappointments (Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie, Knight and Day), which seemed to start with the third installment of his Mission: Impossible franchise in 2006. It’s hard to say with a straight face that taking in only $398 million worldwide is a disappointment, but it was a low for the series, which some later saw as a prelude to his potentially dimming stardom. But on the cusp of turning 50, it looks like Tom Cruise has put the licking behind him and entered a new phase of self-conception with an upcoming array of roles, starting with a more maturely controlled version of superspy Ethan Hunt in the sleek and supercharged Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The things Cruise has done right in M: I part four include toning down his youthful, arrogant preening and letting his castmates share more of the spotlight (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg all have some terrifically shiny moments). He also lets the unique creative vision of director Brad Bird shine through in a first live-action outing for the acclaimed helmer of Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Still looking much younger than his years (that hair! those pecs! those abs!), Cruise is playing more age-appropriately, letting a little wisdom and grace seep into his charisma so the wattage of his mere presence smolders a little deeper. It’s a nice nod to a graying generation that says you can get older and still be cool. All that is not to say he doesn’t play up his action-star chops to the max. In a mostly inconsequential narrative arc that has something to do with purloined nuclear launch codes, an important metal briefcase, satellite uplinks, and global annihilation that leaps from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, Cruise is as dangerously nimble as he has ever been. He dangles one-handed from the tallest building in the world, bounds off ledges, springs out of speeding vehicles, tumbles and careens up and down the levels of an automated parking garage, and generally sprints and jumps his way across the movie with only a scratch or bruise to show for it. Also on the outlandish upside is a happily stereotypical villain straight out of Connery-era Bond and as many bleeding-edge gadgets as the art department techno-geeks could dream up. A running gag is that many of these electronic fantasy tools fail at just the wrong moment, which is part of a larger wink acknowledging how utterly preposterous yet ingeniously conceived this behemoth of a movie really is. The gadgetry is not limited just to the miraculous props. Ghost Protocol employs CGI fakery of the highest order from the sub-industry of effects contractors that ratchet up the standard of computing power and software design, one-upping each successive action-adventure extravaganza. The loving detail that goes into blowing up the Kremlin or rendering a photo-realistic sandstorm erupting across the enhanced skyline of an Oz-like desert city is nothing short of miraculous. What’s more astonishing is that Tom Cruise closes the deal with a selling power that’s as new and improved as the laminates on his multi-million-dollar teeth.

10. Iron Man 2 (Single-Disc Edition)

List Price: $19.99
Price: $9.96
You Save: $10.03 (50%)

After the high-flying adventures of the first Iron Man picture, the billionaire arms manufacturer and irrepressible bon vivant Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself nursing a hangover. But not like any hangover he’s had before: this one is toxic, a potentially deadly condition resulting from heavy metals (or something) bleeding out of the hardware he’s installed in the middle of his chest. This is the problem Stark needs to solve in Iron Man 2, not to mention the threat from resentful Russian science whiz Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), whose father helped create the Iron Man technology. There’s an even bigger problem for the film: the need to set up a future Marvel Comics movie universe in which a variety of veteran characters will join forces, a requirement that slows down whatever through-line the movie can generate (although fanboys will have a good time digging the clues laid out here). Actually, the main plot is no great shakes: another Iron Man suit is deployed (Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard from the first film, gets to climb inside), Stark continues to bicker with assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and a weaselly business rival (Sam Rockwell) tries to out-do the Iron Man suit with an army of Vanko-designed drones. Mickey Rourke is a letdown, burdened by a wobbly Russian accent and looking skeptical about the genre foolishness around him, and Scarlett Johansson has to wait until the final couple of reels to unleash some butt-kickin’ skills as the future Black Widow. That climax is sufficiently lively, and the initial half-hour, including Stark’s smirky appearance before a Senate committee and a wacky showdown at the Monaco Grand Prix, provides a strong, swift opening. But the lull between these high points is crying for more action and more Downey improv.

Click Here for More Top Movies

Copyright David Masters 2012

 

Top 10 Best Selling DVD Movies April 2012

Top 10 DVD Movies for April 2012

1. War Horse 6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I
2. We Bought a Zoo 7. The Descendants
3. The Muppets 8. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 9. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
5. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close 10. Hugo (2011) Chloe Moretz and Jude Law


1. War Horse

List Price: $29.99
Price: $16.99
You Save: $13.00 (43%)

The sheer physical beauty of the horse and the magnificent landscape of rural Devon, England, makes the first section of War Horse a feast for the eyes, as stalwart young lad Albert (Jeremy Irvine, in his film debut) struggles to channel the high-strung energy of newly bought horse Joey into plowing a rocky field. A destructive rainstorm forces Albert’s father (Peter Mullan, Boy A) to sell Joey to an army captain (Tom Hiddleston, Thor) who takes the horse into the battlefields of World War I. From there, turns of fortune lead Joey into the hands of a German private, a French girl and her grandfather, and then into the cratered no man’s land between the warring armies. War Horse is jarringly uneven. Some moments are over-the-top while others are elegantly understated; the tone ranges from the broad comedy of a mid-1970s Disney live-action flick to the raw majesty of a John Ford western. The episodic storytelling doesn’t help–the characters don’t have time to fully establish themselves in the audience’s hearts, despite some excellent performances. The greatest weakness is that director Steven Spielberg doesn’t connect us to Joey himself; though it’s impossible not to have moments of empathy with the trials of this beautiful animal, at other times the horse is no more than a narrative device, carrying us from one micro-story to another. Still, some episodes are unquestionably compelling (a sequence in which a British and a German soldier collaborate to rescue Joey is particularly good) and, though stylistically all over the place, War Horse is never less than visually stunning.

2. We Bought a Zoo

List Price: $29.98
Price: $16.99
You Save: $12.99 (43%)

Though adapted from a memoir by a British journalist, We Bought a Zoo feels entirely like a Cameron Crowe film, with clear parallels to previous crowd-pleasers like Jerry Maguire. Crowe introduces Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon in a role that recalls his Contagion character) six months after the death of his wife. Since everything reminds him of her, the California columnist decides to make a change, starting with a new location. His realtor (Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s J.B. Smoove), brother (Sideways‘ Thomas Haden Church), and sullen teenage son (Colin Ford) try to talk him out of it, but Mee falls in love with a country manor that comes with a strange stipulation: the tenant must manage the zoo that accompanies the property. With his daughter’s blessing, Mee takes the plunge. Fortunately, he inherits an experienced staff, including MacCready (Angus MacFadyen), Robin (Patrick Fugit), Lily (Elle Fanning), and Kelly (Scarlett Johansson, lovely as ever in her least glamorous role to date). Mee’s road to reinvention offers few surprises, but Damon makes him a sympathetic figure who finds the same kind of support system among the park personnel that Fugit’s Almost Famous writer found in the rock world, except Mee’s relationships have more staying power. If his detractors–a skeptical employee and an unctuous inspector–feel like screenwriter constructs, Zoo represents a return to form for Crowe after a series of missteps, including Elizabethtown. Better yet, the real-life park that Mee acquired continues to lead by example as a humane habitat for endangered species.

3. The Muppets

List Price: $29.99
Price: $13.99
You Save: $16.00 (53%)

Movies attempting to retrieve cherished nuggets of pop culture often stumble, either by appealing solely to the die-hard minutia enthusiasts or clunking up the batter with unnecessary additions to the base material. (Enough with the human love triangles, get to the giant robots fighting.) Thankfully, this revival of Jim Henson’s beloved characters gets the formula delightfully right, providing a googly-eyed nostalgia trip for adults while also retaining the original’s sense of bright (and mildly subversive) wonder. All that’s missing is a cameo from Shields and Yarnell, really. Kicking off with a boffo musical number, the story follows Walter (voice of Peter Linz), a small-town boy with a uniquely personal affection for the long-retired Muppets. (OK, he’s made of felt.) Teaming up with his brother (Jason Segel, who also co-scripted) and the local schoolteacher (Amy Adams), they attempt to get Kermit, Fozzie, and the gang back together in order to save their studio from an evil oil baron (Chris Cooper, going all in). Director James Bobin (Flight of the Conchords) does a marvelous job of updating and honoring his material, weaving sly references to days gone by (the contents of Kermit’s rolodex are a particular delight) into the mix of songs, celebrity cameos, and barn-broad puns that gave the original show its bubbly kick. (Fans of Animal and the Chickens will not go home disappointed.) Even the moments that don’t quite work land with a cornball brio that feels wholly of a piece with Henson’s universe. The result is a true family movie that still brings on the blissful, uncomplicated grins days after viewing. No matter what Statler and/or Waldorf might say, the show goes on.

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

List Price: $30.99
Price: $17.99
You Save: $13.00 (42%)

A murder mystery rife with suspense, scandal, sexual abuse, and some supremely intriguing characters, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an excellently crafted film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s equally fascinating book of the same name. Larsson’s book was also the basis of a 2009 Swedish film (also with the same title), and while the Swedish film was good, this American version is far superior, thanks to fantastic cinematography and livelier pacing that results in a constant, electric tension that drives every second of the movie. The breathtaking footage of a snowy, remote island in Sweden thoroughly exudes bitter cold, and the attention to the smallest details, like the whistling of the wind through a door left ajar, makes the hairs on the back of viewers’ necks absolutely prickle. Like the book, the film is long (158 minutes), there’s an abundance of dialogue that is never awkward and always efficient, and there are plenty of false endings. The suspense and the intricacy of the mystery are stellar, and even viewers who know the story well will find themselves sucked into the riddle being investigated by journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). The casting is great, as are the performances of all the key actors, but by far the best thing about this film is Rooney Mara, who is utterly believable as the incredibly strong, extremely disturbed Lisbeth Salander, Blomkvist’s unlikely assistant. Mara’s performance is chillingly real and completely riveting. Yorick van Wageningen is perfectly despicable as Nils Bjurman (though his scene with Salander is sure to prove highly disturbing to some viewers), Christopher Plummer is an effective Henrik Vanger, and Stellen Skarsgård is eerily frightening as Martin Vanger. Viewers can only hope that director David Fincher, screenplay writer Steven Zaillian, and actors Craig and Mara will continue their collaboration to produce films based on the final two books of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.

5. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (DVD + Ultraviolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $29.98
Price: $14.99
You Save: $13.99 (48%)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close touches the viewer to the very core. In the way that Titanic and The Sweet Hereafter depicted tragedy by pulling back at the pivotal moment, only increasing the heartache portrayed, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close shows the massive losses experienced in New York on September 11, 2001, through the lens of one young boy. Thomas Horn plays Oskar, a boy devoted to his dad (played by Tom Hanks, in flashbacks), who is lost in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The devastation of that day shudders through Oskar’s family, including his mother, Linda (Sandra Bullock, in a subdued and affecting turn). Young Oskar is lost in the broken new world, but suddenly finds a purpose: a key left by his father. As Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close progresses, Oskar focuses on the key as a way to connect to his lost father–but finds, instead, connections in the unlikeliest of places. Horn is a wonder in his leading role, and commands attention even as his emotions are scattered. Hanks and Bullock are excellent, as always, though they are more incidental to the film than the viewer might have hoped. Standing out in the cast is Max von Sydow, a mysterious mute whom Oskar meets on the New York subway, and who becomes the most unlikely of guardian angels. Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling novel, which was able to depict a bit more wry humor to leaven the heartbreak and history lessons, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close nonetheless faces human tragedy straight on, and shows how a broken family can be rebuilt, one small key, one subway ride, one awkward hug at a time.

6. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I (Two-Disc Special Edition)

List Price: $30.99
Price: $16.99
You Save: $13.00 (42%)

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 1 delivers strongly for the rabid fan base who have catapulted the young adult novel series and subsequent movie adaptations to the worldwide phenomenon that it’s become, but it alienates a broader audience with a lack of any real action. Similar to the tone of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, the first film of the two-part Twilight conclusion is heavy on romance, love, and turmoil but light on fight scenes and gruesome battles. The movie doesn’t waste any time getting to the goods and opens with Bella and Edward’s much-hyped wedding scene. It works–the vows are efficient and first-time franchise director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) moves the party along quickly and amusingly with a well-edited toast scene and some surprisingly moving moments between Bella and her father, cast standout Billy Burke. The honeymoon plays as a slightly awkward soft-focus made-for-TV movie, with a lot of long moments spent staring in the mirror and some love scenes that feel at once overly intimate and completely passionless. It’s a relief when Bella retches on a bite of chicken she’s cooked herself and quickly concludes she’s pregnant with a potentially demonic baby. From bliss to horror, the Cullens return to Forks, where Bella spends the second half of the movie wasting away and Edward and Jacob are aligned in their anger and frustration over her decision. Throw in some over-the-top scenes with Jacob and his pack–including a strange showdown where the wolves communicate in their canine form by having a passionate nonverbal fight in their minds (a plot point that works much better in print, it’s portrayed in the film via aggressive voice-over)–and the film overshoots intensity and goes straight to silly. The birth scene is horrific, but not as gruesome as in the book, and by the end, Bella has of course survived, though is much altered. The final scene features a delightfully campy Michael Sheen as Volturi leader Aro and makes it clear that the action and fun in Breaking Dawn, Part 1 is ready to start. Fans will just have to wait until Part 2 to get it.

7. The Descendants

List Price: $29.98
Price: $14.99
You Save: $14.99 (50%)

Only Oscar-winning writer-director Alexander Payne (Sideways) would think to cast the famously handsome George Clooney as a disheveled dad in his outstanding adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’s tragicomic novel. Clooney dials down the glamour to play Matt King, a Hawaii real-estate attorney with a propensity for unflattering shirts and ill-fitting trousers. When Matt’s wife, Elizabeth, ends up in a coma after a water-skiing accident, Matt must learn to balance the parenting of his resentful daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, The Secret Life of the American Teenager), with the sale of a pristine plot of Kauai land that stands to make the King cousins, including scruffy Hugh (Beau Bridges), a fortune. As Elizabeth’s condition worsens, Matt contacts friends and relatives, like her fiercely protective father (Robert Forster), so that they’ll have the chance to say goodbye. In the process, he finds out she was having an affair with realtor Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard, effectively cast against type), so he and the girls, including Alex’s hilariously mellow friend, Sid (Nick Krause), go on an island-hopping trip, ostensibly to add Brian to the mix, but Matt really wants to find out what his wife saw in the guy. His journey from naiveté to knowledge brings out Clooney’s soulful side, creating a believably flawed, deeply sympathetic figure. If Payne leans too heavily on the slack-key soundtrack, his love for his characters, including Judy Greer as Matt’s female counterpart, results in his most emotionally satisfying movie to date.

8. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (+ Ultraviolet Digital Copy)

List Price: $29.98
Price: $17.99
You Save: $10.99 (38%)

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 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.

9. Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

List Price: $29.99
Price: $15.49
You Save: $14.50 (48%)

The second half of the first decade of the 21st century has been kind of tough for Tom Cruise. That’s tough in a way over and above the hardship of living the legacy of one of history’s top movie stars–a job more demanding than any mere mortal could imagine. But after two fruitful collaborations with Steven Spielberg (Minority Report and War of the Worlds), his stature took a beating from the one-two hits of those wacky PR gaffes and that string of relative box-office disappointments (Lions for Lambs, Valkyrie, Knight and Day), which seemed to start with the third installment of his Mission: Impossible franchise in 2006. It’s hard to say with a straight face that taking in only $398 million worldwide is a disappointment, but it was a low for the series, which some later saw as a prelude to his potentially dimming stardom. But on the cusp of turning 50, it looks like Tom Cruise has put the licking behind him and entered a new phase of self-conception with an upcoming array of roles, starting with a more maturely controlled version of superspy Ethan Hunt in the sleek and supercharged Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. The things Cruise has done right in M: I part four include toning down his youthful, arrogant preening and letting his castmates share more of the spotlight (Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, and Simon Pegg all have some terrifically shiny moments). He also lets the unique creative vision of director Brad Bird shine through in a first live-action outing for the acclaimed helmer of Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Still looking much younger than his years (that hair! those pecs! those abs!), Cruise is playing more age-appropriately, letting a little wisdom and grace seep into his charisma so the wattage of his mere presence smolders a little deeper. It’s a nice nod to a graying generation that says you can get older and still be cool. All that is not to say he doesn’t play up his action-star chops to the max. In a mostly inconsequential narrative arc that has something to do with purloined nuclear launch codes, an important metal briefcase, satellite uplinks, and global annihilation that leaps from Moscow to Dubai to Mumbai, Cruise is as dangerously nimble as he has ever been. He dangles one-handed from the tallest building in the world, bounds off ledges, springs out of speeding vehicles, tumbles and careens up and down the levels of an automated parking garage, and generally sprints and jumps his way across the movie with only a scratch or bruise to show for it. Also on the outlandish upside is a happily stereotypical villain straight out of Connery-era Bond and as many bleeding-edge gadgets as the art department techno-geeks could dream up. A running gag is that many of these electronic fantasy tools fail at just the wrong moment, which is part of a larger wink acknowledging how utterly preposterous yet ingeniously conceived this behemoth of a movie really is. The gadgetry is not limited just to the miraculous props. Ghost Protocol employs CGI fakery of the highest order from the sub-industry of effects contractors that ratchet up the standard of computing power and software design, one-upping each successive action-adventure extravaganza. The loving detail that goes into blowing up the Kremlin or rendering a photo-realistic sandstorm erupting across the enhanced skyline of an Oz-like desert city is nothing short of miraculous. What’s more astonishing is that Tom Cruise closes the deal with a selling power that’s as new and improved as the laminates on his multi-million-dollar teeth.

10. Hugo (2011) Chloe Moretz and Jude Law

List Price: $29.99
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In resourceful orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, an Oliver Twist-like charmer), Martin Scorsese finds the perfect vessel for his silver-screen passion: this is a movie about movies (fittingly, the 3-D effects are spectacular). After his clockmaker father (Jude Law) perishes in a museum fire, Hugo goes to live with his Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), a drunkard who maintains the clocks at a Paris train station. When Claude disappears, Hugo carries on his work and fends for himself by stealing food from area merchants. In his free time, he attempts to repair an automaton his father rescued from the museum, while trying to evade the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), a World War I veteran with no sympathy for lawbreakers. When Georges (Ben Kingsley), a toymaker, catches Hugo stealing parts for his mechanical man, he recruits him as an assistant to repay his debt. If Georges is guarded, his open-hearted ward, Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), introduces Hugo to a kindly bookseller (Christopher Lee), who directs them to a motion-picture museum, where they meet film scholar René (Boardwalk Empire‘s Michael Stuhlbarg). In helping unlock the secret of the automaton, they learn about the roots of cinema, starting with the Lumière brothers, and give a forgotten movie pioneer his due, thus illustrating the importance of film preservation, a cause to which the director has dedicated his life. If Scorsese’s adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret isn’t his most autobiographical work, it just may be his most personal.

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Copyright David Masters 2012