Quite a few new movies have come to home video this week, led by Robert Redford in “All Is Lost,” Utahn Jerusha Hess’ “Austenland” and “Ender’s Game,” based on Orson Scott Card’s award-winning sci-fi novel.
“All Is Lost” (Lionsgate, 2013, PG-13, $26.98, DVD and digital versions, audio commentary, featurettes). Robert Redford is virtually a one-man show, delivering a commanding, compelling and very physical performance at age 77 in this riveting tale of a yachtsman lost at sea.
The film takes on an almost biblical tone as Redford’s character is tested by the elements with one disaster after another challenging his resolve. Alone and adrift in the middle of the ocean, his boat is damaged by a floating storage container and he finds himself scrambling to patch it up, only to encounter a terrifying storm. His character is resourceful but up against overwhelming odds. Will he survive?
This is a tricky film, one that deserves kudos for its writer-director J.C. Chandor, as well as editor Pete Beaudreau and his many assistants. Spending an hour and 45 minutes with one nearly silent character could have been really boring in the wrong hands, but this one is gripping all the way. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.99)
“Austenland” (Sony/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, $35.99, audio commentary, featurette). This “chick-flick” comedy has a lot of Utah/Mormon ties, as it’s co-written and directed by Jerusha Hess (co-writer of husband Jared Hess’ “Napoleon Dynamite,” among others); co-written by Shannon Hale and based on her novel; and one of the producers is Stephenie Meyer, author of the “Twilight” novels. And star Keri Russell has Mormon roots.
The central conceit here is a good one, with Russell as a “Pride and Prejudice” fanatic — particularly obsessed with Mr. Darcy as played by Colin Firth — who travels to England to stay at the title theme park, dedicated to the writings of Jane Austen (and run by Jane Seymour). There she meets a number of wacky characters, the wackiest played by Jennifer Coolidge, who seems to have been allowed to ad-lib a bit too much. And that’s the film’s biggest problem: It’s terribly undisciplined and ragged. But in fairness, I confess that when I saw this in a theater, it was filled with women laughing uproariously. (Also on DVD, $30.99)
“Ender’s Game” (Summit/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, two discs, $39.99; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; deleted/extended scenes, audio commentaries, featurettes). In 2086, after an attack on Earth by a hostile alien race, young Ender Wiggin (although not as young as in the book) is among children recruited for special training in Battle School. There, he proves his worth during increasingly difficult war games and is pegged as the next savior of the human race. Pretty good sci-fi, though not as satisfying as the book. A first-rate cast helps, led by Asa Butterfield as Ender, with support from Harrison Ford, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin. (Also on DVD, $29.95)
“Grace Unplugged” (Lionsgate, 2013, PG, $19.98, deleted scenes, featurette, bloopers). Above-average faith film follows a teenage musician (AJ Michalka) dreaming of stardom who feels stifled by church performances with her father (James Denton). But he’s a former rock star who knows the pitfalls of show business. So she runs off and signs a recording contract with dad’s former manager (Kevin Pollak) to test the waters for herself. The story is nothing new but it’s handled well with engaging performers and a strong faith-promoting message for youths. (Also on Blu-ray, $24.99)
“Wadjda” (Sony Classics/Blu-ray, 2013, PG, two discs, $40.99, audio commentary, featurettes). Wonderful little film about a 10-year-old Saudi girl who wants a new bicycle to race a boy in her neighborhood, but her mother says no, as bikes are frowned upon for girls. So she tries to raise the money on her own. Touching, laced with humor, this is the first movie filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first directed by a Saudi woman, Haifaa al-Mansour.
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