DVD Reviews: The Hunger Games & More

By August 23, 2012
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To a film lover, there’s nothing like settling in at a local cinema and enjoying an excellent movie in great surroundings with excellent audio/video presentation and respectful audience members.

But since that rarely happens, I like to watch most of my movies at home. Here are this week’s biggest and best options.

The Hunger Games (2012. 142 minutes. Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland. Director: Gary Ross)

Put aside the first third of the film, which mishandles science fiction and frequently approaches dullness, and this is actually a pretty cool adventure story about a very likable girl and her desire to stay alive during a futuristic death game. Although clearly inspired by a wide array of established stories (yes, Battle Royale is a big one), The Hunger Games eventually finds its own feet and presents a slick, smart action movie with a heroine worth admiring. If the movie seems sort of like a set-up for a franchise, well, that’s because it is. Part 2 is scheduled for release late next year.

The Lionsgate release offers a solid handful of supplemental goodies: numerous featurettes on the book, the production, and the cultural impact of The Hunger Games in general; the full “propaganda video” that plays early in the film; a piece involving film critic Elvis Mitchell; and a bunch of posters, trailers, TV spots, etc. One wishes that director Gary Ross, author Suzanne Collins, or leading lady Jennifer Lawrence had been invited to contribute an audio commentary, but perhaps Lionsgate is saving some idea for the inevitable “trilogy set,” which should be due some time in 2015. (That’s a guess.)

Similar options: Battle Royale, The Running Man, The Most Dangerous Game

 

The Dictator (2012. 83 -or- 98 minutes. Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, Ben Kingsley. Director: Larry Charles)

After delivering a pair of shockingly funny and subversive comedies (Borat and Bruno), Sacha Baron Cohen goes for a more conventional narrative delivery, but while he has lots of broad and ostensibly brazen moments of bad taste to his political farce, the sad truth is that The Dictator feels more like an Adam Sandler movie than any sort of trenchant or helpful satire. Still, there are a few moments of legitimately funny weirdness … most of which arrive as weird diversions or stream-of-consciousness weirdness that has nothing to do with the plot. A man this funny shouldn’t deliver so few laughs over 98 minutes. Perhaps I should have stuck with the theatrical version. The blu-ray version runs 15 minutes longer than the theatrical version, plus it offers a handful of additional footage on top of that.

Similar options: Don’t Mess with the Zohan, which is much worse than The Dictator, or Four Lions, which is considerably better.

The Aristocats (1970), The Rescuers (1977), The Rescuers Down Under (1990), and Pocahontas (1995) — Four of Disney’s theatrical features get the blu-ray treatment (alongside some lesser efforts like Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp’s Revenge, ugh), which gives the purists and the collectors a chance to fill some holes in their collection.

Similar options: the blu-ray editions of *any* feature-length Disney animated feature is worth owning. Especially Sleeping Beauty.

 

New to blu-ray: WarGames (1983), Mallrats (1995), Thinner (1996), Halloween 4 (1988) and Halloween 5 (1989),

Weird & Random: Robert De Niro, Forest Whitaker & 50 Cent in Freelancers; Cuba Gooding Jr. & Dolph Lundgren in One in the Chamber

Solid VOD options: Bridesmaids is really funny; The Tall Man is odd but compelling; The Good Doctor is dry but creepy; and [REC] 3 is a gory-ass wedding bash.

Last words: The Raid is one of the most amazing action movies you’ll ever see. Trust me. Also a very dark British import called Kill List. It’s harsh stuff but it’s also a fantastic head-trip of a horror flick.

What are your recommendations?

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Scott Weinberg
Writer. Movie critic. Producer. Semi-actor. Wise-ass. Film advocate. Horror geek. Cat fan. Twitter junkie. Follow me at @scotteweinberg.