Lisa Miller

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January 27, 2012
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THE BIG YEAR [1/31]

(2011)

* * * (B)

Directed by David Frankel

Starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black, Steve Martin, Jim Parsons, Rashida Jones, Anjelica Huston, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Brian Dennehy, Rosamund Pike, Tim Blake Nelson

Fox//Rated PG//Comedy//100 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Author Mark Obmascik became interested in the Big Year, a 365-day bird-watching marathon, because it sends birders crisscrossing North America to sight the highest possible number of avian species. Each birder spends a small fortune, and is often pegged as looney by impatient spouses, friends and bosses. The winner receives no money, endorsements, trophy, nor media attention beyond a listing atop the "Big Year" list, published in "Bird Watcher's Digest." Birders are known for sharing their information, however in 1998 the gentlemanly aspect of this avocation was changed by three birders locked in a tight race to win the Big Year. New Jersey roofing contractor Kenn Bostick (Owen Wilson), was determined to protect his previous record -- sighting 730 species -- regardless of personal or monetary cost. His competition consisted of newly retired CEO, Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), pursuing a lifelong dream, and of chubby Brad Harris (Jack Black), a 36-year-old software engineer still living with his parents. Due to Obmascik's diligence in recording the competitor's stories, several well-known birding bloggers note that the film gets their "sport," and its spirit of competition, right. The presence of three comedians in the leads, may perplex those expecting a raucous comedy, but "The Big Year" wows us with unexpected events and with the strength of its characters' drive. One character's loved one admonishes, "Sight something rare for me," precisely what viewers of this film are bound to do. DVD features: Extended Feature Film, Theatrical trailer. Blu-ray features same plus: The Big Migration, Deleted Scenes, Roger Tory Peterson, Bird Behavior, Stu Late for Boat, Bird Puns with Brad & Ellie, Stu Gets Bostick's Autograph, Longer Boat End, Dock, Pretzels & Skippy Nozzle Theft and Other Newscasters, Longer Cars to HI, Cereal Rat with Talk, Lanky Birder Makes Time with Ellie, Stu's Summer Montage with Fire Island Fauna, Bostick Returns Home, Long Pelagic, Bostick Goes to China, Gag Reel.

DRIVE [1/31]

(2011)

* * * * (A)

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Kaden Leos

Sony//Rated R//Action//100 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Despite limited dialog, the 100-minute "Drive" navigates a broad range of emotions and delivers characters we understand fully. Ryan Gosling plays "Driver," bachelor by choice because the lifestyle allows him to live by a strict code. Expert in both driving and tweaking cars, by day he works as a mechanic and Hollywood stunt driver, by night, he works as a getaway driver where he makes all the rules. His getaways depend little on speed, rather relying on his knowledge and timing. The robbers adhere to his schedule -- period. The opening getaway sequence tells us most of what we need to know about Driver -- his capabilities and what he is and isn't willing to do -- and it's riveting. Yet, Driver doesn't operate in a vacuum. His legit jobs funnel through Shannon (Bryan Cranston), a big-dreaming garage-owner hoping to regain his former racing glory, through Driver. Shannon puts everything on the line when he strikes a bargain with crime lords Bernie Rose (Albert Brooks) and Bernie's partner Nino (Ron Perlman), to purchase a race car Driver will pilot. Meanwhile, Driver has moved to a new apartment where he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), and her young son Benicio. Over the course of two weeks, Driver develops strong feelings for the mother and son -- changing everything. The film, accompanied by a score that enhances its mood, is an emotional journey to a mysterious destination. The viewer teeters in thrilling limbo, reveling in every moment of wonder, sweating every moment of dread. Adapted from a book by James Sallis, the tone and mood of Driver recalls other great movies that pit an isolated, imperfect protagonist, against dark forces. It engages us intellectually, yet draws most of its power from hooking into our fondly held hopes and deepest fears. DVD or Blu-ray features: 4 featurettes: I Drive: the Driver, Driver and Irene: the relationship, Under the hood: story, Cut to the chase: stunts, Drive without a driver: interview with Nicholas Winding Refn documentary, Blu-ray features same plus: Nicolas Winding Refn documentary.

DREAM HOUSE [1/31]

(2011)

* * (C)

Directed by Jim Sheridan

Starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, Rachel Weisz, Marton Csokas, Elias Koteas, Jane Alexander

Universal//Rated PG-13//Horror//92 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

Seeking to improve the quality of their lives, Will Atenton (Craig), his wife (Weisz), and their two young children relocate to a quaint, small-town New England home. Soon after moving in, apparitions and strange noises begin to frighten the kids and spook Atenton's wife. The family is shocked to learn that a woman and her two children were murdered in the residence by the woman's husband who remains at large. Hoping to better understand the spirits haunting them, Will seeks answers from their pretty neighbor (Watts). While the predictable plot lacks the requisite scares, it's difficult to miss the chemistry between British actors, Craig (43) and Weisz (41) for whom romance blossomed on this set, leading to wedding bells last June. DVD features: featurettes: Burning Down The House, The Dream Cast, Building The Dream House, A Look Inside. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features same plus: Digital Copy of Dream House (expires 6/27/2012), UltraViolet (download/redeem by 6/27/2012).

THE THING [1/31]

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen

Universal//Rated R//Horror//103 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack

This remake positions itself as a prequel to John Carpenter's 1982 film, but the plot of this "Thing" is essentially the same. At a remote research station in Antarctica, the discovery of an alien craft prompts the lead scientist to throw caution to the wind and tangle with a shape-shifting alien capable of impersonating anything it touches. Drawing on Sigourney Weaver's Ripley character from "Alien," grad student Kate Lloyd (Winstead) realizes that containing the monster trumps all other concerns, including her own survival. The "Thing" is, we've seen this plot before and better. DVD features: Commentary with Director Matthijs van Heijningen and Producer Eric Newman, Deleted/Extended Scenes, Behind-the-scenes stories of the film including "The Legacy," "The Inspiration" and "The Evolution," Fire. Join the cast as they train with flame-throwers, battle wild fires on-set and get learn fire's unpredictability. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features: Digital Copy, UltraViolet to put movies and TV shows in the cloud and stream instantly to computers, tablets and smart phones, Access the BD-Live Center through your Internet-connected player to watch the latest trailers, uHear: instantly skip back a few seconds on your Blu-ray disc to turn on the subtitles for the section you couldn't hear, pocket BLU for iPhone, iPod touch, Android, PC and Macintosh, Advanced Remote Control on your Blu-ray player to navigate through menus, playback and BD-Live functions, Video Timeline to instantly access any point in the film, Mobile-To-Go: unlock and save bonus content from a Blu-ray disc to stream from anywhere on a Wi-Fi network.

50/50 [1/24]

(2011)

* *1/2 (B-)

Directed by Jonathan Levine

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston, Serge Houde, Andrew Airlie, Matt Frewer, Philip Baker Hall

Summit Entertainment//Rated R//Comedy//99 minutes

Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Writer Will Reiser draws on his personal battle with a rare form of cancer that left him with a 50/50 chance of beating the illness. Played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Adam's efforts to endure a demanding treatment regimen are made more difficult by his fair-weather girlfriend (Howard), a fear of his mother (Huston), and by his goofy best friend (Rogen). Adam derives some solace from two wisecracking older patients (Frewer and Hall) also undergoing chemotherapy, but he draws strength from the personal interest in his well-being expressed by his young therapist (Kendrick). Though the subject could have been depressing, Reiser presents his story in an upbeat manner that never breaks the surface and therefore, never draws us in. DVD or Blu-ray features: Commentary with Seth Rogen, director Jonathan Levine, and writer Will Reiser, Deleted scenes, The story of 50/50, Life inspires art, Seek and destroy.

REAL STEEL [1/24]

(2011)

* * (C)

Directed by Shawn Levy

Starring Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo, Anthony Mackie, Kevin Durand, Hope Davis, James Rebhorn, Karl Yune, Olga Fonda

DreamWorks//Rated PG-13//Sci-Fi//127 minutes

Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, digital download and on demand

Inspired by Richard Matheson's 1956 short story "Steel," this family movie combines a tale of father-son bonding with that of oversized "Rock 'em, Sock 'em Robots." Hugh Jackman appears as Charlie Kenton, a onetime boxer turned smalltime promoter after human fighters are replaced by machines. With help from his estranged young son Max (Goyo), Charlie rebuilds a discarded sparring bot, then programs it with the moves needed to best its bigger, stronger opposition. The film's special effects enable entertaining robot bouts, that is, whenever the predictable father-son drama gets out of the way. Too violent for youngsters and too simplistic for adults, the popularity of this one rests with the robotic reactions of fanboys. DVD features: Director commentary, Bloopers, Making of Metal Valley, Building the Bots. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features same plus: Deleted & Extended Scenes - With introduction by Director Shawn Levy, Countdown To The Fight: The Charlie Kenton Story, Real Steel Second Screen: Ringside with Director Shawn Levy: exclusive interactive content with your iPad or computer as you watch the movie.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 [1/24]

(2011)

* * (C)

Directed By Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Starring Chris Smith, Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, Lauren Bittner, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown

Paramount//Rated R//Horror//81 minutes

Available on: Blu-ray/DVD combo pack and on demand

Another entry into the "Paranormal" franchise, this prequel introduces sisters Katie and Kristi during their childhood (played by Csengery and Brown). When the girls complain about hearing knocking sounds emanating from their bedroom closet, Dad (Smith) sets out to locate the culprit using video cameras placed throughout their suburban home. Chapter three adheres to the established formula, but it's difficult to build dread when we know how the story ends. As before, the film relies on home video footage to depict both everyday an extraordinary events. Low production costs have made this franchise extremely profitable, but a new story would have been a better investment than this prequel. DVD features: Ultraviolet, Unrated Version of the Film, Digital Copy of Unrated Version that is compatible with iTunes and Windows Media. Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack features same plus: both the theatrical version of the film and an unrated version with footage not seen in theaters, Lost Tapes: more footage not seen in the film.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 27, 2012 03:42PM Published Jan 27, 2012 03:41PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.