Beasts of the Southern Wild — Director Benh Zeitlin belts out a harrowing tale of extreme poverty and parental neglet in the Deep South. Quvenzhane Wallis plays a 6-year-old girl who is pretty much forced to care for herself in her isolated bayou community. Her father (Dwight Henry) is ailing and pops in and out of her life with increasing rarity. The girl goes off on a journey to find help, confronting the outside world, and in a touch of magical realism, confronts mythical creatures. A fascinating peek into a hidden world that flourishes in the cracks of society, the film's emotionally devastating moments stick with you. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo features audition footage, deleted scenes with Zeitlin's commentary and a making-of featurette
The Dark Knight Rises — Director Christopher Nolan wraps up his Batman trilogy with a thud, coming up with a never-ending slog with an unintelligible masked villain (Tom Hardy) and a Batman (Christian Bale) who's not all that interested in being Batman anymore. Board meetings, prison pep talks and silly romantic interest Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) join the crazy train, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt pops up as a determined cop who quickly becomes Batman's best bud. A convoluted mess that fails to replicate the insight and depth of Batman Begins or The Dark Knight, this movie is hailed by many as not only one of the greatest movies of the year, but of all time. I attribute the love as misplaced affection for the first two movies in the series. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo includes a slate of extras far more thrilling than the movie, including 17 making-of featurettes, and heartfelt documentaries about Nolan's efforts to close out the trilogy and the evolution of the Batmobile.
Eastbound and Down: Season 3 — An unhinged Danny McBride wraps up his career as burned-out former baseball star Kenny Powers, who inches closer to his Major League comeback while toiling in the minors. The HBO comedy pokes fun at redneck stereotypes, allowing McBride to romp as a ludicrous caricature. Steve Little, as Kenny's hapless doormat of a sidekick, is an apt complement to Kenny's unearned bombast. Extras in the set include deleted scenes, outtakes and commentaries on each episode.
Finding Nemo Blu-ray — Outside of the Toy Story movies, Pixar's 2003 undersea adventure has proven to be the pinnacle of what the groundbreaking studio can accomplish. The adorable little clownfish finally wriggles his way into HD, and the animation takes on a stunning look that makes the movie well worth watching again, even if you're seeing it for the 400th time and your kids know every line. Albert Brooks delivers one of his best performances as Nemo's dad, who is determined to find his lost son, and Ellen DeGeneres plays fantastically off of him as his flighty sidekick, Dory. The Blu-ray/DVD combo overflows with extras, including deleted scenes, filmmaker interviews, the short film Knick Knack.
Hope Springs — This story of a spoiled marriage is pretty much the polar opposite of The Notebook. An elderly couple (Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones) who have long since given up on romance decide to shake things up by attending a marital counseling retreat. Steve Carell sheds his wacky typecast to play their calm, measured therapist, who serves as a referee to the couple's emotional outbursts. The reason the story hits so hard emotionally is the chemistry between Streep and Jones, who seem to palpably resent each other while still harboring a flash of attraction. Filmmaker commentary, a gag reel and a closer look at the performances of the two leads highlight the Blu-ray/digital copy combo.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green — The dull, uninspired family drama stars Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton as a couple whose wish to become parents comes true in the form of Timothy (CJ Adams), a boy who sprouts up overnight in their backyard garden. Seriously. The sudden new addition to their family causes all sorts of uninteresting problems, and director Peter Hedges' film deals with them in painfully boring ways. The Blu-ray/DVD combo includes Hedges'c ommentary, a making-of documentary and a look at Glen Hansard's creative process behind the making of his end credits song.
The Simpsons: Season 15 — I've come to like Fox's routine of releasing The Simpsons seasons on Blu-ray nearly a decade after the shows air. It avoids franchise fatigue for an impossibly long-running show and gives viewers a chance to go back and give fresh viewings to episodes to see how they've held up over time. The 2003-2004 season had a bunch of episodes that remain funny with age, including My Big Fat Geek Wedding, Smart and Smarter and Today I am a Clown. Each episode gets a commentary track, and there are also deleted scenes and sketch galleries.
Step Up Revolution — My favorite entry so far in the underappreciated series shifts the setting to Miami, where a flash mob headed up by resort waiters tries to win a YouTube contest while halting the plans of a mean 'ol land developer. The no-name cast was obviously chosen for its dancing ability rather than acting proclivity, but that's OK because the dopey plot is just an excuse to thread together the dance numbers, each one more insane than the last. Example: One show-stopper ends with dancer-welders having spontaneously constructed a giant robot statue outside a business plaza. The movie is a delicious flavor of crazy that I couldn't get enough of. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo includes deleted scenes, choreography breakdowns, music videos and spotlights on the cast.
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