It’s not a bad month on the ‘New to Video’ shelves

By Gary Clift

Just in time for gift-giving, the Hollywood studios are going to release a generous dollop of recent movies on DVD. There will be Family movies—”Despicable Me 2” and “The Smurfs 2”—for example. And there will be at least one new comic-book super-hero movie—”The Wolverine”—on the “New to Video” shelves.

And, then, there will be all sorts of films intended for teens, and even a few aimed at adults. One problematic one is “Fast and Furious 6.” The recent death of one of its stars, Paul Walker, in a car wreck may make some of us queasy about picking up the movie, as it is about characters including Walker’s who drive cars really, really fast. As usual, they are trying to stop a big crime. The movie isn’t any worse than its forerunners.

Also set in a world without magic is “Battle of the Year,” a dance competition movie that treats organized movement the way the “Step Up” films did. But at heart it is really “Rocky” all over again, as a hard-trained team American of break and nightclub dancers try to unseat the world champion Koreans. Say what?

“Kick-Ass 2” brings back several attractive characters who want to be super-heroes, including ones played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (a.k.a. McLovin) and Chloe Grace Moretz. But the filmmakers haven’t been able to decide if they wanted to make a goofy comedy or a gory, profanity-heavy adventure film. See the original movie instead of the sequel.

It is possible that writer, director, and star Joseph Gordon-Leavitt wasn’t trying to re-make “Saturday Night Fever.” But his “Don Jon” is too much like that famous film for us to avoid comparisons. And, despite a terrific turn by Julianne Moore in a part that would be called “The College Widow” in a Marx Brothers film, “DJ” is not finally funny enough or smart enough to entertain.

Another veteran actress whose performance is the best thing in a new movie is Michelle Pfeifer in “The Family.” Dianna Argon is good, too, in a movie about a mobster (Robert DeNiro) and his family, living in witness protection in a small French town. The comedy doesn’t work much, but the film has pace and some good action. A lot of adults will find it amusing.

Horror fans will have only “Insidious 2” to snatch off the new shelf. And there isn’t anything scary in it. You know how dull it is when concept movies begin explaining themselves? Well, this movie is almost all explanation. And there’s plenty to explain, including four different Joshes, a dozen murdered brides under dust cloths, and I think three different Victorian homes, despite the contemporary setting.

“The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” requires a lot of explaining that I didn’t think the movie ever managed to do. Nevertheless this young teen movie, about a girl born to a secret world of witches which exists parallel to ours, was fun to watch. Lily Collins has a good outting as the girl, whose prospective coming-of-age is setting off tremors in both worlds, though I never knew why.

Neill Blomkamp established his huge tethered space ship hovering over Earth schtick in “District Nine.” When he uses it again in “Elysium,” the evil rich are up in the ship, keeping the poor from getting health care. Honest. Political arguments make lousy movies, and this is one such.

TV’s Nathan Fillion makes an appearance in the second Percy Jackson movie, “Sea of Monsters.” Here the parallel world belongs to classical Greek gods and the kid heroes are at a special school for the Olympian off-spring. Percy and his best buddies go to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which has been taken off into the Bermuda Triangle.

Disney supposedly spent loads and loads of money on its film version of “The Lone Ranger” and then couldn’t sell enough tickets to recoup. Director Gore Verbinski actually wastes more time than money here, but the movie is interesting, active, good-humored, and involving except during its third quarter lull and its indefensible frame.

Probably the best movie to appear for the first time in December as a DVD is “Prisoners.” It stars Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, and Terrance Howard in a story about the search for two little girls who have been kidnapped. The ending may satisfy us, but it is at odds with the anti-gun, anti-Christianity, anti-traditionalism impulse that the movie keeps coming back to. Ruthlessly efficient and sometimes so tense it is difficult to take, “Prisoners” is a terrific movie despite its obvious failings.

And that pretty much describes the video month: the new releases are imperfect but still successful—except for “Insidious 2,” “Battle of the Year,” and “Elysium.” We’ve seen much weaker months.

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