“Monsters Vs. Aliens” DVD, Blu-ray: First, here is what you need to know about what’s happening in the film industry and how it affects you. The following information came directly from an insider with Paramount who spoke to me under the condition of anonymity: In a quiet new marketing strategy that will kneecap their bottom line when film critics start to refuse to cover their titles (it will happen — and there goes their free press), Paramount was willing to release screeners of “Monsters vs. Aliens” only to those critics who gave the movie’s theatrical release a positive review (I and many others didn’t). Their thinking is this — in an effort to increase sales, they want to pound the masses only with hype and good news. Sound fair to you? Sounds like propaganda and an uninformed public to me. And so, given these limitations, let’s revisit the original review and reinforce why you shouldn’t bother buying or renting the movie. All the great animation and swell 3-D effects in the world can’t save a film if it’s sandbagged by an uninspired story line that nods broadly at a wealth of better-known films. That’s the case here and the results are so benign, the movie might as well be called “Puppies vs. Kittens.” From its opening moments, it’s easy to be wowed by the advances in 3-D technology. But like any movie focused purely on fueling such a gimmick, the technology becomes just window-dressing if there isn’t anything there to bolster it up, which is the case here. Five writers wrote the script (with crayons?) and throughout, the cinematic echoes are obvious. The movie’s focus is Susan (voice of Reese Witherspoon), who is struck by a meteorite on her wedding day and starts to grow large. Really large.
Within moments, the government is involved, and they take Susan to a test facility where other monsters are held. Thing is, like Susan, none of these oddities are harmful (cue the “Monsters, Inc.” references!). They’re just misunderstood creatures in a movie that eventually employs them in an effort to save the world when aliens attack the planet. Who do you think wins that battle? If you don’t know, you’re likely 5, can’t read yet, and so this movie might appeal to you. But with the exception of a few clever scenes, “Monsters vs. Aliens” fails to leave the mark its title promises. Rated PG. Grade: C-
“How I Met Your Mother: Season Four” DVD, Blu-ray: A sitcom too far on the fringe to be fully mainstream, which is part of its appeal. The show bills itself as “a love story in reverse,” and it continues to fill a niche left in the wake of “Friends,” which it fills well. The show follows five friends living in New York City, with Ted (Josh Radnor) looking back upon his life and telling his two kids how he met their mother 25 years earlier. That might sound like a sappy premise to some, but for the most part, the show resists it. Fine performances follow from Radnor, Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan, Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders, all of whom make for one of the better ensemble casts on television. Grade: B
“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” Blu-ray: Early in Marcus Nispel’s remake of Tobe Hooper’s low-budget, 1974 cult classic horror film, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” a dazed young woman — beaten, bloody and bruised — sits in the back of a van, mumbling about the horror she has just witnessed to the five sweaty hippies surrounding her. When she stops suddenly to pull out a gun and blow off her head, the camera, seeking inspiration, follows the bullet — and her scattered brains — through the back of her head, through the van’s rear window, and into the heavy open air. This is one of the film’s lighter moments. What ensues turns increasingly harsh, ugly and wearying. It’s an exploitative gorefest, a slasher flick that’s merciless in its bloodletting. Unlike Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” which works because of its sharp jolt of dark humor and because its violence is cartoonish, the only goal of “Chainsaw” seems to be to test one’s limits. It’s a complete misreading of the original, whose blood violence mostly was implied and whose famed, chainsaw-wielding Leatherface was played by Northeast Harbor resident Gunnar Hansen. This film is reduced to sideshow of doughy, dirty hillbillies filling out the film’s periphery and adding surreal interest but no psychological depth. They’re here to be ridiculed, not feared, which is just one of the reasons why this bum remake fails. Rated R. Grade: D
“The Unit: Season Four” DVD, Blu-ray: This strange, off-beat hybrid from David Mamet melds elements of “The Shield” and “24” with flashes of “Desperate Housewives.” For the most part, it works. Dennis Haysbert is Jonas Blane, head of the Army’s Delta Force, a top-secret Special Forces unit that enlists in all sorts of bullet-biting bravery. Scott Foley is Bob Brown, who takes on terrorists while his wife, Kim (Audrey Marie Anderson), takes on a few of her own — the wives of the other Unit members. The dialogue can be very good — it has energy. So do the story lines, which are swift. The problem? Sometimes, those qualities come at the cost of developing the characters, which is a good reason why this series ended with the fourth season. Grade: B-
“The Wizard of Oz: 70th Anniversary Edition” Blu-ray: The limited edition boxed set of the great 1939 movie “The Wizard of Oz,” now available on Blu-ray disc, is the week’s best new release. Warner came to the table to play, knowing that fans would expect nothing less than the best when it came to this film, and they delivered in a major way. The movie — well, you know the movie. You know how great Judy Garland is as Dorothy, how memorable the rest of the cast is, how terrific Victor Fleming’s direction is, and that the film’s themes of the importance of home have helped it to resonate throughout the decades. But beyond the movie, whose transfer into the high-definition format is so clean, you’ve never seen or heard it like this, are the extras that come with the boxed set. Highlights include a limited edition watch, a reproduction of the original 1939 campaign book, a 52-page commemorative book called “Behind the Curtain of Production 1060,” and even a replica of the original movie’s budget. On the four discs that come with the set, you’ll find more than 16 hours of extras, the best of which is the six-hour documentary “MGM: When the Lion Roars” and an insightful documentary on Victor Fleming. Need more? The set also includes a bonus digital copy of the movie, which allows you to download it onto your computer. Grade: A+
Also new on DVD and Blu-ray this week: New and additional titles Paramount tucked away from critics this week include the Blu-ray releases of several films. That studio is hoping you’ll stumble blindly into stores and seek them out. At least the other studios get it — and can take it on the chin if their movie or television show isn’t well-received. What are recommended this week are such titles as the second season of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” (DVD, Blu-ray), which refines and deepens what came before it; the terrific third season of “Ugly Betty,” with America Ferrera continuing to broaden her range; the first season of the detective show “Castle”; as well as the funny second season of “The Big Bang Theory.” Three titles from A&E also are worth a look, such as excellent three seasons of “The Universe” on Blu-ray, as well as the first season of “How the Earth Was Made” and the 20 discs tucked within the creepy “The Haunted Histories Collection.” From the BBC, look for four television series that don’t disappoint, including “People Like Us,” “Clatterford: Complete Season Two,” the first season of the drama “New Tricks,” and the biting comedy “The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle,” which stars Jennifer Saunders (“Absolutely Fabulous”) as a talk show host with zero sense and who apparently knows no bounds. Which is just how we like the actress.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.