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'MONSTERS UNIVERSITY'   3stars

This prequel to the 2001 smash introduces us to the green, one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) as a little monster at Frighton Elementary School and, later, arriving at Monsters University in hopes of opening doors to Monsters, Inc.

That is the power company, which sends scary employees through closet doors around the world to trigger screams. They serve as an energy source for Monstropolis.

Mike is a Scaring major, just like his lizard-like roomie (Steve Buscemi) and another freshman who is everything the diminutive dynamo is not. Sulley (John Goodman) is a big blue furry lug who is the son of a famous scarer and so naturally gifted that he never cracks a book.

When Mike and Sulley get into a tussle that gets them kicked out of the Scare program they end up joining a fraternity to compete in the campus Scare Games. It's go big or go home for the pair, who join the misfits of the Oozma Kappa or OK frat.

The G-rated prequel is not as delightful or novel as the original but it's populated with many more monsters, thanks to advances in animation. It adds Helen Mirren, who speaks for Dean Hardscrabble, an Amazonian giant centipede with dragon wings that pop out like Batman's cape.

It's not at the top of the Disney-Pixar class, but it's certainly pleasant and a good excuse to revisit two memorable characters and put them on Crayola-colored campus.

Extras include commentary and animated short "The Blue Umbrella." The Blu-ray also offers a featurette from the characters' point of view; "Story School" making-of featurette; "Music Appreciation" piece on Randy Newman; deleted scenes; and more.

-- Post-Gazette

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'R.I.P.D.'  2.5stars

Jeff Bridges jumps off the screen in "R.I.P.D.," a supernatural action comedy in which he plays Roy Pulsifer, a marshal in the 1800s who met a grisly demise and dissection and now is part of the Rest in Peace Department.

He tracks monstrous souls disguised as ordinary people, although, like poker players, these Deados have "tells," including a distinct reaction to Indian spices.

Roy is paired with a new arrival, Boston police detective Nick Walker (Ryan Reynolds) who made some missteps before his death. The mismatched partners are returned to familiar territory, but no one recognizes them; instead they're represented by avatars, a knockout blonde for Roy and an elderly Asian man for Nick.

"R.I.P.D." has some nifty details, as when time literally stops or a Steely Dan tune is piped into the Boston R.I.P.D. to relax the newly dead. And the leads are joined by Kevin Bacon as Nick's police partner, Stephanie Szostak as Nick's widow and Mary-Louise Parker as a R.I.P.D. bureau chief.

But the movie is marred by an underdeveloped screenplay and villains who seem cartoonishly dated in their digital design.

PG-13 for violence, sci-fi/fantasy action, some sensuality, and language including sex references. Extras include deleted and alternate scenes, gag reel and making-of featurette.

-- Post-Gazette

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'Byzantium'

The human-vampire romance at the center of "Byzantium" has less in common with emotional roller-coaster "Twilight" than with the sweet but creepy relationship in "Let the Right One In."

Like that 2008 Swedish film, "Byzantium" is about the friendship between a gawky human boy and a preternaturally poised teenage vampire girl. Saoirse Ronan plays Eleanor, the undead adolescent bloodsucker whose narration guides the stylish film by Neil Jordan.

For two centuries, Eleanor has been forced to move from town to town, accompanied by her mother, Clara (Gemma Arterton), whenever too many dead bodies start piling up. Still, Eleanor doesn't cruelly murder humans; she gets their permission before drinking their blood, seeking out mainly the elderly and the infirm.

The mother-and-daughter relationship is just as interesting as the one between Eleanor and Frank (Caleb Landry Jones), the sickly teen who befriends Eleanor when she and her mom turn up at a British seaside resort.

Rated R for violence, blood and gore, obscenity and sex. Extras include cast and crew interviews.

-- Washington Post

ALSO THIS WEEK: 

•   “The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts: Complete Collection”: Among the 54 celebrities roasted are Frank Sinatra, Wilt Chamberlin and Ronald Reagan.

•   “Family Tree: The Complete First Season”: Christopher Guest series about how our families define us.

   “Damages: The Complete Series”: The 15-disc set includes every episode of the drama starring Glenn Close.

•   “Home Alone: The Holiday Heist”: Finn gets left alone in the family’s new home in Maine.

•   “Bounty Killer”: It’s been 20 years since the corporations took over the world’s governments and the Council of Nine issues death warrants for all white-collar criminals.

   “Margarita”: Cash-strapped yuppies set off a chain of events when they fire their teen-aged daughter’s lesbian Mexican nanny.

•   “Coming Home for Christmas”: A sister is determined to reunite her family for Christmas at their old family home.

•   “Secret World of Santa Claus”: Includes “Elves in Toyland” and “A Present for Santa.”

   “Line of Duty Series 1”: BBC thriller starring Lennie James (“The Walking Dead”).

   “Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series 9”: Four feature-length mysteries starring David Suchet.

   “American Experience: War of the Worlds”: Film director and cinema historian Peter Bogdanovich, Orsen Welles’ daughter Chris Welles Feder, and other authors and experts talk about the radio show that scared the country.

   “Little Brother, Big Trouble — A Christmas Adventure”: A reindeer goes on a mission to save his family and Christmas.

   “The Beauty and the Devil”: Rene Clair’s 1950 retelling of the Faust legend.

•   “The Show Queen”: Patrick Stewart is featured in this production based on the writings of Hans Christian Andersen.

— Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers


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