' This Is the End'
3 stars = Good
Vancouver pals and writing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg ("Superbad," "Pineapple Express") make their directing debut with "This Is the End," exploring the idea of six famous people in a barricaded house and whether any of them deserve to be saved.
Even with reports of a 9.7 earthquake, people falling into sinkholes to the center of the Earth and Los Angeles in flames, Jonah Hill figures rescuers will get the stars such as George Clooney, Sandra Bullock and himself out of harm's way.
But those Oscar winners are nowhere in sight, and no one's coming as he tries to ride out the apocalypse at James Franco's house with Mr. Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. They're holed up, trying to split food, booze, water, drugs, one porn magazine and a single Milky Way bar. They're also trying to figure out if Mr. Baruchel is right about seeing signs of the rapture and thinking Judgment Day is at hand.
The actors all play exaggerated versions of themselves and lots of famous faces -- such as Emma Watson, Rihanna, Jason Segel, Mindy Kaling and, caught literally with his pants down, Michael Cera -- pop up before the Book of Revelation is invoked.
"This Is the End" manages to be outrageously original and to draw on familiar motifs as when a character becomes possessed by a demon in "Exorcist" fashion. The fun comes as the men show their true colors, or what audiences think are their true colors, or fissures in their friendships although the action turns increasingly serious and then downright silly.
Extras include commentary, "Directing Your Friends" featurette and four cast "confessionals." Blu-ray adds deleted scenes; gag reel; "Meta-Apocalypse" featurette of cast discussing challenges of playing versions of themselves; "Let's Get Technical" looks at the visual effects; a behind-the-scenes look at the party scene at Franco's house; and more.
Rated R for crude and sexual content throughout, brief graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence.
' The Croods'
3 stars = Good
Grug may be a caveman but the double negative is intentional. "Never not be afraid" is his favorite bit of advice for his family. In other words, be afraid, be very afraid.
The Crood family live in prehistoric times and dress like "The Flintstones," but most of their time is spent in their cave as danger lurks in the form of wild animals.
"Fear keeps us alive," Grug (voice of Nicolas Cage) reminds his wife, rebellious teenage daughter, thick-skulled 9-year-old son, wild toddler girl and the mother-in-law he could live without.
Everything changes when daughter Eep (Emma Stone) sneaks out and discovers the boy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds), who has an ability to make fire, a sense of fearlessness, belief in ideas and even jokes, and sweet attraction to Eep. When the Croods' cave is destroyed, they have to strike out into uncharted territories where the overly protective dad loses his alpha male gig to the forward-thinking outsider but is given the chance to save the day, or at least his family.
While "The Croods" makes excellent use of Mr. Cage's distinctive voice along with those of Ms. Stone, Mr. Reynolds, Catherine Keener as Grug's wife and Cloris Leachman as the cranky grandma, it doesn't rise to the level of an animated classic.
Watching it is like being hopped up on sugar, with oddball critters such as a macawnivore (body of an enormous tiger, oversize head, colors of a macaw parrot) or crocopup (part canine, part crocodile), flytrap-style flowers, crumbling cliffs and other environmental disasters at every turn.
In its quieter moments, though, it makes a bid for adventure, not living in a prison of fear and even remembering to tell parents or children you love them. It skews young and doesn't rival last year's sophisticated, stellar string of animated movies, but it hits its mark.
Extras include deleted scenes, "Belt's Cave Journal" and "World of DreamWorks Animation" featurette.
Rated PG for some scary action.
' A Fierce Green Fire'
A sweeping history of the environmental movement, "A Fierce Green Fire: The Battle for a Living Planet" is both a cautionary tale and a triumphant one. The documentary focuses on the individuals who halted deforestation and saved baby seals, but filmmaker Mark Kitchell also delineates the imminent dangers of climate change.
Unfortunately, the sprawling documentary's lack of focus tempers the overall force of the individual stories, some of which are truly riveting. The film is divided into five chapters, each with a different narrator. Robert Redford, Ashley Judd, Isabel Allende, Van Jones and Meryl Streep fill in the gaps on narratives that range from the founding of the Sierra Club to Love Canal and Greenpeace's war on whaling to the Kyoto Protocol.
The film's title comes from the story of Aldo Leopold, a man who shot a wolf and saw in the dying animal's eyes "a fierce green fire." The act, immediately regretted, was a catalyst that transformed Leopold into a conservationist. Many other subjects in the film are spurred by one incident to community-altering action.
Contains images of violence against animals. Extras include resource guide, timeline and a biography.
-- The Washington Post
ALSO THIS WEEK:
• "The Little Mermaid": The animated tale of a mermaid who longs to leave the water is being released for the first time on Blu-ray. The film is a magical mix of engaging story, wonderful characters and a soundtrack that features some of the best tunes in the history of Disney animation.
• "Glee: The Complete Fourth Season": It's a season of big changes as Rachel and Kurt move to New York.
• "Beauty & The Beast -- The First Season": Kristin Kreuk and Jay Ryan star in the CW series.
• "Jack Irish: Set 1": A private investigator (Guy Pearce) realizes he can't outrun or outdrink his past.
• "China Beach: The Complete Season One": Dana Delany stars in this TV drama set during the Vietnam War.
• "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Ultimate Showdown": The Turtles face new and old enemies.
• "Doctor Who: The Doctors Revisited: Fifth-Eighth": Features Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann as The Doctor.
• "Nikita: The Complete Third Season": Maggie Q stars in the CW action series.
• "North America": Discovery Channel natural history series narrated by Tom Selleck.
• "Dead Before Dawn": Teens fight zombies while trying to break the curse that brought them to life.
• "From Here to Eternity": The Oscar-winning film is available on Blu-ray.
• "The Frozen Ground": An Alaskan State Trooper sets out to end the murderous rampage of a serial killer.
• "1984 Detroit Tigers World Series Collector's Edition": A look at the teams drive to win the championship.
"House of Wax": Remastered version of the 1953 horror film.
• "Awkward": Includes the first two seasons of the MTV comedy.
• "Teen Mom: The Complete First Season": Series about teens dealing with motherhood.
• "The Wizard of Oz": Remastered version of the film is being released to mark the 75th anniversary.
-- Rick Bentley, McClatchy Newspapers