New Blu-rays for November 27, 2012: Tales of the Underworld, the Supernatural, and the Extraterrestrial
Lawless, based on the "true-life story" of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers as told by writer Matt Bondurant in his 2008 historical novel, "The Wettest County in the World," tells of the Prohibition-era activities of his grandfather Jack Bondurant and his grand-uncles Forrest and Howard. It was cinematically legendarised into an epic gangster crime drama by bad-seed-screenwriter, musician, author, actor and composer Nick Cave (The Proposition) and director John Hillcoat (The Road, The Proposition).
In 1931, the three Bondurant boys - Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy), and Howard (Jason Clarke) - were successful entrepreneurs running the most lucrative moonshine bootlegging op in Franklin County, Virginia during the era of the unlikely law called Prohibition (as if the Great Depression wasn't enough!). One fine day, they find themselves having to deal with the authorities manifested in the form of Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) who insists on receiving a tidy piece of their profits for himself. After Forrest tells Rakes to go to hell and offers to arrange the journey, Rakes raids the house of Jack's friend, Cricket Pate (Dane DeHaan) and brutally beats up young Jack to send a message of intimidation to the brothers and other bootleggers in the county. Unlucky Jack then takes a trip with Cricket to sell some booze in Chicago only to be double-crossed by their clients, but he's fortunately rescued by big, bad gangster, Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), whom Jack had previously met while Banner was involved in putting a competitor underground. Banner also provides Jack with the identities and whereabouts of two of Rakes' men who've attacked, Forrest, and raped Jack's older brother's girlfriend, Maggie (Jessica Chastain). This leads Forrest and Howard to track down, torture, and murder the men to send another message right back to Rakes. So it's only a matter of time before the bootleggers and Rakes and his men meet on the fields of battle in all-out war.
Cave scored the film with Warren Ellis.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentary by Hillcoat and author Bondurant, deleted scenes, "The True Story of the Wettest County in the World," "The Story of The Bondurant Family," and "Franklin County, VA: Then and Now," featurettes, "Midnight Run" Willie Nelson music video; DVD and digital copy. Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay.
Luck: Season 1
Created by David Milch (Deadwood, Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) and Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider, Miami Vice, who directed the pilot episode), Luck is a TV sports drama series set in the involving milieu of horse-racing, focusing on the colorful characters and seedy denizens who frequent that world. As Milch, who first started going to Saratoga at age five, is said to have said, "to me, the track is what the river was to Mark Twain."
Chief amongst track habitués is crippled gambler Marcus Becker (Kevin Dunn) and his three confreres - aging Kentuckian trainer/owner Walter Smith (Nick Nolte) who's resting his hopes for the future on the promising young thoroughbred "Gettn'up Morning," his Irish colleen jockey Rosie (Kerry Condon) who dreams of racing greatness, and 70-year-old career criminal Chester "Ace" Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) newly released from three years of jailbirding. While Ace was away doing time, his business associates arranged for his old pal and driver, Gus (Dennis Farina), to become the registered owner of "Pint of Plain," a promising Irish racehorse being worked on at Santa Anita Park by the talented trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz).
Various other intrigues ensue and involve revolving 'round siring, thoroughbreds, and other equine elements and horsey hostilities including the attempted comeback of Ronnie Jenkins (Gary L. Stevens, rider in Seabiscuit and Hall of Fame jockey who has won the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes) and his intention to gallop "Gettn'up Morning" to victory himself. But above all intrigues is Ace's scheme to gain control of the Santa Anita racetrack in order to introduce casino gambling. He does so with the help of his former business associate Nick DiRossi (Alan Rosenberg) but his real purpose is to bring down those he sees as being responsible for his being sent up the river - include DiRossi. Other targets include casino executive Isadore Cohen (Ted Levine) and former business partner Michael Smythe (Michael Gambon) whose hiding of a large quantity of cocaine in Ace's New York apartment led to Ace's stint in stir.
Luck's other co-stars also include Ted Levine, Joan Allen, Richard Kind, Jason Gedrick, Ritchie Coster, Ian Hart, Jill Hennessy, Tom Payne, and Dennis Dun.
After the real-life euthanization of two horses during filming of the pilot and the seventh episode following falls causing severe and inoperable fractures, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) questioned the safety of the working environment, criticizing the production for the beasts' injuries. When a third mount was injured and died, all filming involving horses was suspended while the AHA (The American Humane Association) investigated - the horse's injury hadn't occurred during filming or racing - HBO threw in the horse blanket and canceled the series. This four-disc set contains all the series' nine episodes.
Video: 1.78:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: TBA. Studio: HBO.
This stop-motion 3D animation in 3D from Laika, the Oregon-based stop-motion animation studio that brought us Coraline, tells the spookily comic supernatural story of Norman, a boy with the gift of being able to see and speak with the dead. Mixing creepy humor with striking visuals, and evolving modern animation storytelling while also utilizing old-school animation techniques, director Sam Fell (The Tale of Despereaux) and writer-director Chris Butler (who previously worked in the art department of Coraline and Corpse Bride) have created a delightful mélange that can appeal to adults and kiddies alike with high-minded themes about bullying and discrimination, uplifting messages of compassion and tolerance, all in an entertaining atmosphere filled with a macabre collection of ghosts, witches, and zombies.
In a small New England town a kid called Norman Babcock (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is isolated as an outsider and pariah, derided by his school-kid peers for being different and criticized and ridiculed by his family- mother Sandra (Leslie Mann), father Perry (Jeff Garlin), and teenage cheerleader older sister Courtney Babcock (Anna Kendrick) - for talking to the ghost of his dead Grandma Babcock (Elaine Stritch). Yet it falls upon Norman, with the help of upbeat Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), Neil's older brother (Casey Affleck), and Norman's crazy uncle (John Goodman) to save his town from an ancient witch's zombie curse. Ain't it always the way?
ParaNorman is the second stop motion film to be filmed in 3D (after Coraline). It was shot using sixty Canon EOS 5D Mark II DSLR still cameras over the course of three years with the animating stage of production lasting two years. It is the first ever stop-motion film to utilize full-color 3D printers for replacement animation,
Jon Brion composed the film's score. A 2D release is also available with DVD and Ultraviolet copies.
Video: 2.39:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: directors' commentary by Fell and Butler; preliminary animatic sequences with commentary from Fell and Butler, "Peering Through the Veil" 40- minute making-of featurette, seven short featurette segments; Blu-ray, DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Universal.
Men in Black 3 3D
In the third cinematic installment of the sci-fi action comedy based on Lowell Cunningham's "The Men in Black" comic book series directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, the life of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) is threatened by an evil alien from outer space and out of the past. And, of course, so is the planet. For Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement), who's seeking revenge for K costing him an arm and slamming him up in LunarMax pokey, has escaped and gone back in time to kill K, in the process changing the future. When Agent J (Will Smith) finds that K, his apartment, and all traces of him disappear overnight, his new chief, Agent O (Emma Thompson), deduces from J's knowledgeable insistence on the existence of K when no-one else remembers him, that a fracture has occurred in the space-time continuum and allowed Boris to have gone back and killed K. So now J must time-travel back a little earlier in1969 and team up with a younger version of K (Josh Brolin) in order to save him and therefore prevent a future Boglodite invasion of Earth, now vulnerable due to the absence of the protective ArcNet which K would have installed in 1969. Natch.
Once there, J must deal with racism, Andy Warhol, and the suspicion of young K, while locating the alien Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) who possesses the ArcNet and who informs them that it must be placed onto the Apollo 11 lunar rocket, launching in less than six hours in Cape Canaveral, Florida. On top of all that there's the two Borises to deal with - the elder who has just arrived from the future and his younger, handsomer self - who have teamed up to play out their evil plans. Can Griffin be saved? Can K? Can they prevent the two Borises from capturing the ArcNet and prevent the Boglodite invasion? Well, one clue is that MIBIII worldwide-grossed over $624 million so everyone got what they expected. And so therewill be another sequel.
A 2D release is also available with DVD and Ultraviolet copies.
Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: "Spot the Alien" game, interactive 3D models of MIB technology, "Converting to 3D," "The Making of Men In Black 3," "Men In Black: 1960s vs. Today," "Creating the Visual Effects," and "Scene Investigation" featurettes, Progression Reels special effects deconstructions, and "Back In Time" music video by Pitbull; DVD, and UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Sony.
Sparkle is a remake of the 1976 film of the same name that was based upon the experiences of The Supremes, telling of three talented teenage sisters from Harlem who form a girl group in the late 1950s. The remake, set in Detroit, Michigan in the 1960s during the city's Motown era, includes songs from the original film written by soul musician Curtis Mayfield as well as new compositions by R&B artist R. Kelly. It was the film debut of American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and simultaneously Whitney Houston's final feature film before her death on February 11, 2012, three months after filming ended.
Houston plays Emma Anderson, a failed professional singer and the protective mother of three girl singers - Sparkle, Sister and Dee. Oldest sister Tammy "Sister" Anderson (Carmen Ejogo) takes her first steps towards fame performing in a nightclub singing a song nineteen-year-old Sparkle Anderson (Jordin Sparks) has written and who's backstage to encourage her before she goes on. Meanwhile, the nightclub MC, Red (Terrence J), introduces local singer Black (Cee Lo Green) who performs while aspiring record-label exec Stix (Derek Luke) looks on.
The next morning while Sister, Dee (Tika Sumpter), and Sparkle are sitting in the choir at church, they're noticed by Stix, along with his older cousin, Levi (Omari Hardwick), who tells him about the group, piquing Stix's interest, particularly where Sparkle's concerned.
Later that night at a Bible study Emma's hosting at her home that both Levi and Stix attend, Levi makes a date with Sister and Stix secretly stays behind after everyone leaves to listen to Sparkle playing on the piano an original song she'd written and encourages Sparkle to pursue a music career by forming a group with her sisters. Sparkle persuades her sisters to do so and they perform the moving songs Sparkle pens, winning a talent contest with a new, sexier style of performing and they gradually become a popular act in clubs throughout Detroit, are invited to open for Aretha Franklin on a television show, and sign a contract with Columbia Records. But as their fame grows, it leads to the wrath of Emma - who has experienced the pitfalls of the life and pursuance of the dream - and exposure to jealousies, violence, self-doubt, and to temptation of the drugs offered to cope with it all.
Video: 2.40:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: commentary by director Salim Akil, "A Tribute to Whitney Houston," "A Dream Come True," "A Sparkling Performance," and "Sparkle and Shine" featurettes, "Hooked On Your Love" extended performance, "Celebrate" music video by Houston and Jordin Sparks; UltraViolet digital copy for streaming/downloading. Studio: Sony.