Complex ‘Inception’ delights; some Disney magic
Owls Head — Inception (Warner, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 148 min.). Writer/director Christopher Nolan (“Momento”) plunges the viewer right in the middle of the story as Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt are trying to learn the secret in a safe from businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe). We quickly learn that this is happening in a dream -- possibly a dream within a dream -- as U.S. Army-developed Dream-Share techniques are being used for industrial espionage. However, the caper proves to be a test run for a businessman who wants to hire Cobb to implant an idea into the mind of the heir of a rival company (Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer) that he break up his father’s business when he inherits it. Cobb eventually comes up with a plan that requires three levels.
The film’s eye-opening fun is that the architect of the dreams can do anything physically in the space, such as fold up the horizon in place of the sky. Also, events in one dream level effect events in the others and, while the first level may last only a week compared to nine hours actual time, on the third level that is the equivalent of 10 years. Thus, when the warning comes that the dream is ending, there are different amounts of time to get prepared. Ellen Page plays Ariadne, the team’s new architect, who is the only one to catch on that Cobb is dealing with memories of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) in the dream world and mal, therefore, can negatively impact his missions.
It is a rich, multi-layered tale of the type Nolan does so well, but visually it is both a feast and a delight as well, bringing back imagination to movie watching. Just consider the fight scene Arthur has while a van spinning down a hill on the first level makes his level’s hotel walls, ceiling and floor rotate as well. It is the type of film that Blu-ray can showcase. Much of the effects are explained in the Blu-ray’s Extraction Mode. A second disc has Gordon-Levitt host a discussion by leading scientists on dream research, and an animation prologue to the film. Via Blu-ray live, one can access files about the inception of the Dream-Share technology. The expanded pack includes a standard DVD version and a digital copy as well. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3 stars
Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it
The Expendables (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 103 min.). Directed and co-written by star Sylvester Stallone (apparently with the latest “Rambo” film still fresh in his mind), the film is a loud action ride for nearly every one of its minutes. The fun comes in the large cast of familiar names, including a surprise cameo that evokes the line, “He wants to become president.”
Stallone plays Barney Ross, who leads a team of skilled combat veterans turned mercenaries. When there is trouble in the island country of Vilena, they are asked to help by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) of the CIA because an ex-CIA operative (Eric Roberts as James Munroe) is behind the new brutal regime of Gen. Garza (David Zayas). Ross and Lee Christmas (Jason Statham) fly down to investigate only to run into immediate trouble and have to rescue the general’s daughter (Giselle Itie as Sandra), who opposes her father. After extensive shootouts -- including a smartly done attack on the pier -- they escape, but Sandra elects to stay behind, which, of course, means they have to go back and rescue her. Others of the crew are played by Jet Li, Terry Crews and Randy Couture. Mickey Rourke, the tattooist, stays behind. Another action highlight is a shootout during a well-executed car chase.
The Blu-ray version includes a bonus viewing mode, audio commentary by Stallone, a making-of documentary, a post-production documentary, one deleted scene, a gag reel, an appearance at a Comic-Con 2010 panel and a marketing archive. The expanded pack includes a standard DVD version and a digital copy. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 3.5 stars
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 109 min.). Inspired by, and including a homage to, the Sorcerer’s Apprentice episode in “Fantasia,” the one in which Mickey Mouse gets the mops moving all out of his control, this is a live-action apprentice film. For pre-teen boys, it will be an uber-cool action movie, filled with dragons and flinging energy bolts, but adults will see a bit of hollowness beneath all the flash.
It is a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film, and that really says all you need to know. It is almost all non-stop action, including the mandatory car chase, with character development that suddenly goes from A to B to Z. But first one has to get to the dry, overly-complicated initial spoken prologue. Nicolas Cage is perfect as Balthazar Blake, one of three wizards trained by Merlin to be his successors. However, one of the three -- Alfred Molina as Horvath -- betrayed the others, causing Merlin’s death. Still, the evil Morgana Le Fay was imprisoned in the Grimhold, which looks like one of those Russian wooden dolls within increasingly larger doll shells. Each shell represents another evil wizard and Horvath, after being imprisoned for 10 years, wants to set all three. Thrown into this is 9-year-old Dave Stutler, who sees an epic battle between Balthazar and Horvath, but is not believed by anyone.
It is now 10 years later and Dave (Jay Baruchel) is in college and just has reconnected with Becky Barnes (Teresa Palmer), his crush of 10 years ago, but as he tries to date her, Balthazar shows up and discovers Dave is the chosen one, aka the Prime Merlinian, the only one who can defeat Morgana. However, first he must learn to become a wizard. The many levels of coolness in the film include the dragon that attacks Dave in Chinatown, the Tesla coils he gets to playing music, the scene in which all the mops go over the top in cleaning and a car chase that features both a mirror world and vehicles that change shape at a wizard’s touch.
The Blu-ray edition comes with looks at filming in New York City, the science of sorcery, the many practical effects used, creation of the Grimhold, wolves, puppies, Encantus book and finding the Rolls Royce Phantom. There also is the look at the fashion of Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), who is Horvath’s apprentice, five deleted scenes and 3:13 of outtakes. The combo set includes the standard DVD, which features a condensed making-of feature. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars
Fantasia/Fantasia 2000 (1940/2000, Disney, 2 Blu-ray + 2 standard DVDs. G, 125/75 min.). This marks the Blu-ray debut of both films, with the 1940 original being one of Walt Disney’s masterpieces, a magical welding of music and visuals that earned two special Academy Awards (it was the first commercial film released in multi-channel sound). The film sets animation pieces to the music of Bach, Tchaikovsky (ice-skimming fairies), Stravinsky, Beethoven, Ponchielli, Mussorgsky and Schubert. The most memorable visual segment is Mickey Mouse as in inept sorcerer’s apprentice. “Fantasia 2000” uses Beethoven, Respighi (flying whales migrate to heaven), Gershwin, Shostakovich (a disfigured toy soldier), Saint-Saens, Elgar and Stravinsky. Both films are delightful.
“Fantasia” features new audio commentary by Disney historian Brian Sibley, a look at the recently rediscovered notebook by effects man Herman Schultheis that breaks down the film from a technical view, an interactive art gallery and the two audio commentaries from the previous DVD release. A special bonus is the 2003, Academy Award-nominated short, “Destino,” which Disney and artist Salvador Dali worked on but never finished. There is an 82-minute documentary on the project. “Fantasia 2000” also has the two audio commentaries from the previous DVD release. The standard DVD versions are included in the 4-disc edition. Grade: overall package 4.5 stars
Disney’s A Christmas Carol (Disney, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG, 96 min.). Created by motion-capture animation, and presented in theaters in 3D, this is a more faithful, and thus darker, take on the Charles Dickens classic. Some scenes are rather intense for children. Jim Carrey provides the voice of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Yet To Come that come to visit him. The scariest though is the ghost of his partner Morley, complete with chains. Others in the voice cast are Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Bob Hoskins and Robin Wright. The film goes with a picture-in-picture mode on the motion-capture process, an interactive calendar, a making-of feature, deleted scenes and a kid’s eye view of being on set. Grade: film 3.75 stars; extras 3.5 stars
Waking Sleeping Beauty (Buena Vista DVD, PG, 86 min.). This is a surprisingly frank look at how Walt Disney Studios, the original leader in animation, fell upon struggling times and then was “reborn.” The second golden era at Disney began with “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” There are interviews with Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney, John Lasseter and others. Extras include deleted scenes, studio tours, a look back at Walt Disney, audio commentary by director Don Hahn and producer Peter Schneider, a lithograph depicting a writer’s meeting and others. Grade: documentary 3.5 stars
The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (Disney DVD, PG, 102 min.). Through the end of the first golden age at Walt Disney Studios, a large component of the animated films success was the music of brothers Robetr and Richard Sherman, whose life and work is celebrated here. The brothers won two Academy Awards for their composing for “Mary Poppins,” and received nine nominations. Their first top 10 hit was “Tall Paul,” sung by Mousekateer Judy Harriet, and later covered by Annette Funicello. It led to their being hired bas staff songwriters for Disney. Their work also lifted “The Jungle Book,” “The Happiest Millionaire,” “The Sword in the Stone” and “The Tigger Movie,” among many others. One of their non-Disney successes was “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” Extras include looks at “Mary Poppins” casting, Disney theme parks (where the brothers’ “It’s a Small World (After All)” is played constantly at the ride of that name; it was originally written for the 1964 New York World’s Fair), the sheet music for “Tuppence a Bag” and others. Grade: documentary 3.5 stars
Walt & El Grupo (Disney DVD, PG, 107 min.). Bits of this cultural trip have appeared on DVD before. The documentary here recreates the 1941 trip by Walt Disney and a group of handpicked artists to South America, after the U.S. government asked Disney to be a cultural ambassador. In addition to creating goodwill, the trip inspired the classic Disney films “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.” Extras include audio commentary by director Theodore Thomas and historian J.B. Kaufman, photos from the tour, three scenes from the director’s cut, the original 1943 release of “Saludos Amigos” and an enclosed timeline chart of the trip. Grade: documentary 3.5 stars
Leave It To Beaver: Season Four and Season Five (1960-1962, each Shout! Factory, 6 DVDs, NR, 17 hours). For those who did not get the complete box set last fall, Shout! Factory is continuing to issue the beloved family TV show season by season, with season six, the final one, to follow. Created by Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher, the show was a suburban coming-of-age story with young Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver (Jerry Mathers), his older brother Wally (Tony Dow) and their parents June and Ward (Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont). The show presented an idealized view of life, but that was partially because it was told from Beaver’s point of view (one of the first network shows to do that, by the way).
In season four, Beaver vows to never eat a Brussels sprout, Beaver exaggerates his rescue of a drifting canoe, Beaver tires to remove his freckles due to his new nickname, Beaver wins a sports car but his parents plan to sell it and put the money in his college fund, Wally falls for Margie who is helping June with the housekeeping and Beaver climbs up and falls into a giant cup on a billboard. The sole bonus is an audio interview with Dow. Season five includes a near marriage situation for Wally, Wally buys his first car for $25, Beaver has trouble at the laundromat, an older woman uses Wally to make her boyfriend jealous and Beaver and Wally both invest $25 in the stock market. (I wonder how much that would be worth today?) Again, the sole bonus is a radio show audio interview, this time with Dow, Ken Osmond (he played Eddie Haskell) and Frank Bank. There are 39 episodes in each set. Grade for both: 3.5 stars
V: The Complete First Season (Warner, 2 Blu-ray or standard DVDs, NR, 520 min.). With season two set to start in less than a month, here is a chance to catch up on the first 12 episodes of the re-imagining of the series. Alien ships suddenly appear above 29 of Earth’s major cities, with their leader (Morena Baccarin as Anna) saying, “We are of Peace. Always.” They also offer miraculous medical cures and other improvements. Of course, anyone who has seen the original series knows that is not true and the aliens’ humanoid appearance belies their true reptilian nature. Brought together as skeptics are an FBI agent (Elizabeth Mitchell as Erica Evans), a priest (Joel Gretsch as Father Jack Landry) and an alien who has been imbedded on Earth for years (Morris Chestnut as Ryan Nichols). However, Erica’s son Tyler (Logan Huffman) has become enamored of the aliens and falls for Anna’s daughter Lisa (Laura Vandervoort), a relationship that is being pushed forward by the aliens as part of their plan. Scott Wolf plays TV journalist Chad Decker, who tries to play both sides, but is sucked into Anna’s orbit by promises of exclusives. The show has a good look about it and the storylines have improved after a bit of a rough go after the first couple of episodes. There are more than two hours of extras, including a discussion with the cast about updating the series; a look at the makeup effects; a look at the producers coming up with the new spin on the Visitors idea; a look at the visual effects; audio commentary with executive producers Scott Rosenbaum and Steve Pearlman, bloopers and deleted scenes. Grade: 3 stars
Los Angles Lakers 2010 NBA Finals Series Collector’s Edition (Image, 4 Blu-ray DVDs, NR, 13 hours, 30 minutes). Even though the Boston Celtics ran out of steam in the final half of the seventh game, this still is a wonderful gift for any Celtics fan. Two years prior, the Celtics had beaten the Lakers for their 17th world title and it sure seemed they had number 18 lined up. All seven games are included in their entirety. Bonus features include the post-game press conferences and mini-movies. In case you forgot. The Lakers won the first two games in Los Angeles, then Boston swept the three middle games at home. After the Lakers’ blow-out win in game six, it all came down to the wire in the final game, which the Lakers won 83-79. Grade: 3.5 stars
New York Jets Best Games of the 2009 Season (Warner, 3 DVDs, NR, 351 min.). Part of all the hype surrounding the New York Jets this season included the release of this set that includes the 16-9 regular season win over the New England Patriots, the 24-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs and the 17-14 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. I find it amusing that the Patriots game was selected; guess it shows how much they wanted to win. But I bet the 45-3 blowout win by New England last week will not be included in next year’s video (sure hope it is on a New England video though). Grade: 3 stars
The World at War (1973, History, 9 Blu-ray discs, NR, 36 hours, 16 min.). Well, first off, this weighs a lot less than the previously-issued standard DVD version. This 1973 Thames Television effort remains the definitive visual history of World War II, presented in 26 hour-long programs that use newsreel, propaganda and home-movie footage from the archives of 18 nations. Amazingly, it includes color close-ups of Adolf Hitler taken by his mistress. Interviews range from Hitler’s secretary to Alger Hiss to ordinary citizens. It spans the root causes of the war in the 1920s to the 1950s aftermath in the Cold War. There has been some controversy over the decision by Freemantle to reframe this release in 16:9 aspect ratio, rather than the original aspect ratio (the feeling is now it can be sold for TV syndication, I guess). This is most disturbing in the contemporary interviews, where portions of the interviewees heads are missing (overall it is estimated that 95 percent of the time the reframing will not be noticeable). On the plus side, the restoration of the material itself is wonderful. The series won an International Emmy Award, the National Television Critics Award for Best Documentary, and knighthood for its creator, Sir Jeremy Isaacs. It is narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. Extras include documentaries on making the series, secretary to Hitler, the two deaths of Hitler, Hitler’s Germany in two parts, The Final Solution in two parts, a 30th anniversary retrospective and looks at making the series and restoring the series, as well as photos and other extras. Grade: series 4 stars
The Bob Hope Collection (1947-1955, Shout! Factory, 3 DVDs, NR, 8 hours). This set gathers five of the comedian’s movies, remastered from new high-definition transfers. They are “Road To Bali” (1952, 3.25 stars), the only color film in the series, with Hope and Bing Crosby out to rescue Dorothy Lamour from an evil princess and jungle perils; “Road To Rio” (1947, 3.5 stars), with Hope and Crosby rescuing Lamour from a sinister aunt; “The Lemon Drop Kid” (1952, 3 stars), adapted from a Damon Runyon story and an improvement on the 1934 version, this has Hope cast as a racetrack tout who owes money to a gangster (it introduced the song “Silver Bells”); “My Favorite Brunette” (1947, 3 stars), with Hope as a photographer mixed up with gangsters, two of whom are played by Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney; and “The Seven Little Foys” (1955, 3 stars), with Hope as Eddie Foy and James Cagney as George M. Cohan in this biopic. Overall grade: 3.25 stars