Ron Howard’s adaptation of the true story that inspired “Moby Dick” is on Blu-ray and DVD this week.
“In the Heart of the Sea” (Warner, 2015, PG-13, deleted/extended scenes, featurettes). The whale of a tale at the center of this film — the 1820 voyage of the whaling vessel Essex being attacked by a giant whale that seemed to have revenge on his mind — is compelling all by itself. And the cast is first-rate, led by Chris Hemsworth, with the story unfolding in flashbacks by an aging survivor (Brendan Gleeson), who reluctantly relates it to young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw).
But the script is sketchy, and the characters are underdeveloped. The film is based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s nonfiction book of the same title, and director Howard mounts a lavish production of epic proportions, but then he shoots way too much of it in close-ups and uses computer animation that is so obvious that it lends an air of artifice to the entire project.
The result is entertaining enough on a superficial level, but you can’t help but feel it should have been much more.
“We Come As Friends” (BBC, 2015, not rated). The Austrian documentarian Hubert Sauper attempts to distill the complex — and for the viewer, unsettling — political climate of Africa in this look at its newest country, South Sudan, which split from Sudan in 2011. In addition to locals, Sauper observes Sudanese warlords, Chinese oil workers, American evangelists and United Nations peacekeepers, some of whom are well-intentioned but condescending, while others are merely opportunistic.
“Beyond Beyond” (Lionsgate, 2016, PG, featurettes, “Minuscule” short cartoons, trailers). Young rabbit Jonah embarks on a seafaring adventure to find his mother, who has been kidnapped by the Feather King, which leads to comic encounters with a variety of creatures. It's a cute, beautifully animated Swedish animated feature with American dubbing by Cary Elwes, Emily Deschanel and Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”).
“Open Season: Scared Silly” (Sony, 2016, PG, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers). “Silly” is the operative word. This is the fourth film (the third that has gone straight to video) in the animated franchise about Boog, a cowardly bear, and his pal Elliot, a one-antlered deer. In this entry, Elliot gathers woodland friends to help Boog overcome his fear of camping, which came from hearing the legend of the Wailing Wampus Werewolf. Beware the scatological gags.
“Children of the Stars” (MVD, 2016, deleted scenes). A group of UFO believers testify that science fiction is actually real in this offbeat, semi-comic documentary. It spins off of the story of a 73-year-old self-styled cosmic visionary who purchased 67 acres of land in the mountains east of San Diego as a landing site for emissaries from space. Forty years later, her followers continue to await their arrival.
“Macbeth” (Anchor Bay, 2015, R for violence and sex, featurettes). Michael Fassbender stars in this latest filmed version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, a timely treatise on political ambition gone awry, gradually devolving into murder and madness. Marion Cotillard is fine as Lady Macbeth, but Fassbender is what makes this umpteenth version worth a look for fans of the Bard. It’s unfortunate that the filmmakers felt the need to up the ante with R-rated violence and a prolonged sex scene.
“Punk’s Dead” (Cinedigm, 2016, not rated, audio commentary, outtakes). This unfunny comedy is a belated sequel by James Merendino to his 1998 “SLC Punk!” Michael A. Goorjian reprises his role as Heroin Bob, who is dead as the film opens and narrates the story of his teenage son’s road trip odyssey to a punk concert. It was filmed in Salt Lake City and environs and includes plenty of Mormon references. It has a scant 75-minute running time, including eight minutes of end credits that list every person who donated to this crowdfunded project. The film is not rated but includes constant R-level language. (The title on the film is “Punk’s Dead,” but on the box it’s “Punk’s Dead: SLC Punk 2.”)
“Out of the Inferno” (Lionsgate, 2015, PG-13, in Cantonese with English subtitles or dubbed in English, featurette, trailer). This disaster yarn has two estranged brothers in southern China who are firefighters coming together to battle a blaze in a 125-story skyscraper on the hottest day in 50 years and to rescue one brother’s wife at a doctor’s office in the building.