By Forrest Hartman
A holiday movie and a new take on the comic book hero Spider-Man lead this week’s home video releases.
The Amazing Spider-Man
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence
Available now on digital download. Available Nov. 9 on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D.
It’s only been 5 years since director Sam Raimi wrapped his take on the Spider-Man comic book character. Still, Sony decided that was long enough to merit a complete franchise reboot.
“The Amazing Spider-Man,” directed by Marc Webb, returns to the origins of the character, explaining how an average kid named Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) acquired remarkable, spider-like powers. The film also gives Peter a new love interest, the beautiful Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), daughter of New York City police captain
George Stacy (Denis Leary).
Although much of the plotting in “The Amazing Spider-Man” is recycled, Sony apparently decided it would be too much to revisit the villains from Raimi’s films. Therefore, Webb has his hero facing off against the Lizard, a massive half-human, half-reptile behemoth that goes on a rampage through New York City. As is standard in the best superhero movies, viewers also learn how the Lizard came to be, and that gives the character a sense of nuance.
There’s a lot to like about “The Amazing Spider-Man,” including the fact that Webb’s version of the character stays true to the comic book series, something Raimi didn’t always aspire to. Also, the special effects are fantastic, and the new cast is outstanding.
In fact, the only problem with this movie is that it follows so closely on the heels of Raimi’s films. There are differences between Webb’s and Raimi’s readings of the characters, but they aren’t as significant as one would hope. We’re still dealing with the story of an awkward teenager who gains incredible powers after being bitten by a genetically mutated spider. And, we’re forced to watch all of this play out again, despite the fact that much of the target audience knows the story by heart.
If fans really want a reinvention of Spider-Man, they’ll have to wait for the next movie, when Webb is allowed to break free from the origin story and jump into new territory.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a filmmaker’s commentary, a production art gallery and a bit on the stunt rehearsals.
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D
“Arthur Christmas” made its way through theaters almost a year ago, meaning fans have waited a long time for the video release. The delay makes sense, of course, because there’s more demand for Christmas-themed movies this time of year, and “Arthur” is as Christmas-y as they get.
The animated movie – written by Peter Baynham and co-director Sarah Smith – supposes that the position of Santa Claus is handled like royalty, with a retiring Santa passing the job to his eldest son. The action is set in the present day, with the current Santa (voiced by Jim Broadbent) nearing the end of his career. It’s a foregone conclusion that Santa’s oldest son, Steve (Hugh Laurie), will take the helm. After all, Steve is a strapping young man, and he handles mission control for all of Santa’s high-tech Christmas deliveries.
Santa’s youngest boy, Arthur (James McAvoy), is Steve’s opposite. Although jolly enough, he’s gangly, clumsy and has a tendency to get in the way of important holiday business. Still, Arthur is completely dedicated to Christmas, a fact that sends him into a panic when he learns that one little girl was missed during Santa’s worldwide delivery run. Knowing the youngster will be devastated, Arthur insists on saving the day, even though Steve and Santa tell him there’s no way to deliver a present on time.
“Arthur Christmas” is a sweet story that’s exceptionally well executed by Smith and fellow director Barry Cook. The animation is gorgeous, and all the characters come to life on screen, creating a holiday fable that families can enjoy for years to come.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an elf recruitment video and progression reels showing how filmmakers created key characters and scenes.
Your Sister’s Sister
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
With “Your Sister’s Sister,” writer-director Lynn Shelton (“Humpday”) has crafted an honest, earthy dramatic comedy that asks viewers to consider a bizarre yet plausible situation. The film tells the story of Jack (Mark Duplass), a thirty-something man struggling to cope with the death of his beloved brother and his feelings for Iris (Emily Blunt), one of his brother’s former girlfriends.
Noticing that Jack’s life is spiraling out of control, Iris suggests that he visit her family’s remote cabin and gather his thoughts. Jack agrees, but after arriving, learns that Iris’ sister, Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), had a similar idea. Since it’s obvious neither one of them will get the alone time they expected, they open a bottle of tequila and end up sharing a life-changing experience.
“Your Sister’s Sister” is a simple film that relies almost entirely on the three primary cast members, each of whom was allowed to improvise a substantial amount of dialogue. With a lesser group, that might have been a recipe for disaster, but Duplass, Blunt and DeWitt use it to their advantage, crafting scenes that feel surprisingly true to life.
Shelton did some heavy lifting of her own, carefully stitching each scene together to create a pleasant balance of character development and narrative advancement. The film is a reminder that there are all sorts of human relationships, and none are more important than or “superior” to another. The movie is also an honest, intelligent drama that allows a group of talented filmmakers to step outside the mainstream and tell an affecting tale.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include two commentary tracks by the filmmakers and crew.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Fire With Fire”: Direct-to-video drama about a firefighter (Josh Duhamel) forced into the Witness Protection Program after catching a crime lord (Vincent D’Onofrio) committing murder. Bruce Willis and Rosario Dawson also star.
“Entourage” – The Complete Series: This show, about a young, A-list actor and the buddies who stick with him as he learns the ins and outs of Hollywood, ran for eight seasons on HBO. For fans, it’s tough to imagine a better Christmas gift than this impressive set, which is available on Blu-ray and DVD. It not only contains every episode, it’s packed with bonus features, including audio commentaries, interviews with the cast and crew and other making-of features.
“Rashomon”: Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 drama, which recounts a horrible crime from four different points of view, is one of the most important movies in cinema history. That makes the Criterion Collection’s new, digital restoration particularly noteworthy. The release is available on both DVD and Blu-ray, and the film is supplemented by substantial extras, including an audio commentary by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
“Sunset Boulevard”: Blu-ray debut of director Billy Wilder’s remarkable, 1950 movie about a screenwriter (Joe Gillis) who develops a questionable relationship with a former silent movie star (Gloria Swanson). The film, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, features freshly restored audio and video.
Holiday releases from Disney: The Mouse House is hoping to get youngsters in the Christmas spirit with the 20th anniversary release of “The Muppet Christmas Carol” and a new, two-movie set including both of its “Prep & Landing” animated films.
“Regular Show – The Best DVD in the World* At This Moment In Time”: Sixteen episodes from the second and third seasons of Cartoon Network’s hit “Regular Show.” The series focuses on a raccoon and bluebird who have an unusual knack for finding adventure.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at [email protected]