OnVideo: APRIL's Top Movies
Avatar"Avatar" takes us to a spectacular world beyond imagination, where a reluctant hero embarks on a journey of redemption and discovery as he leads an epic battle to save a civilization. James Cameron, the Oscar-winning director of "Titanic," first conceived the film years ago, when the means to realize his vision didn't exist. Now, after four years of actual production work, "Avatar" delivers a fully immersive cinematic experience of a new kind, where the revolutionary technology invented to make the film disappears into the emotion of the characters and the sweep of the story.
The story's hero is Jake Sully, a former Marine confined to a wheelchair. Bitter and disillusioned, he's still a warrior at heart. All Jake ever wanted was something worth fighting for, and he finds it in the place he least expected: on a distant world. Jake has been recruited to join an expedition to the moon Pandora, which corporate interests are strip-mining for a mineral worth $20 billion per kilogram on Earth. To facilitate their work, the humans use a link system that projects a person's consciousness into a hybrid of humans and Pandora's indigenous humanoids, the Na'vi. This human-Na'vi hybrid -- a fully living, breathing body that resembles the Na'vi but possesses the individual human's thoughts, feelings and personality -- is known as an "avatar."
In his new avatar form, Jake can once again walk. His mission is to interact with and infiltrate the Na'vi with the hope of enlisting their help -- or at least their acquiescence --in mining the ore. A beautiful Na'vi female, Neytiri, saves Jake's life, albeit reluctantly, because even in his avatar body, Jake represents to her the human encroachment on the Na'vi's unspoiled world. As Jake's relationship with Neytiri deepens, along with his respect for the Na'vi, he faces the ultimate test when the greed of the corporate interests -- coupled with the firepower of it's U.S-led soldiers -- threatens to destroy the Na'vi homeland -- and anyone who stands in their way. Jake's dilemma: Does he support the troops and destroy the Na'vi or does he turn traitor and go with his heart?
This is mythmaking (or myth-copying) at its best. And need we say that "Avatar" is the highest grossing film of all time?
Director: James Cameron. Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore, CCH Pounder, Peter Mensah, Laz Alonso, Wes Studi, Stephen Lang, Matt Gerald. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 162 min., Science Fiction, Box office gross: $740.000 million, Fox. Available: 4/22.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New OrleansIn Werner Herzog's take on Abel Ferrara's 1992 "The Bad Lieutenant," Nicolas Cage plays Terence McDonagh, a rogue detective who is as devoted to his job as he is at scoring drugs -- while playing fast and loose with the law. During the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina, McDonagh saves the life of a prisoner from a flooded cell but injures his back, and the pain killers he now takes has made him a high-functioning addict. In the storm's aftermath, the deeply intuitive, fearless detective reigns over the beautiful ruins of New Orleans with authority and abandon. He wields his badge as often as he wields his gun in order to get his way ... and manipulates the law in order to get the bad guys -- and his drugs. Complicating his tumultuous life is the prostitute he loves (Eva Mendes). Together they descend into their own world marked by desire, compulsion, and conscience. The result is a singular masterpiece of filmmaking: equally sad and maniacally humorous. The film -- sorely overlooked by critics and film organizations at awards time -- features an amazingly tour-de-force performance by Cage.
Director: Werner Herzog. Stars: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Coolidge, Vondie Curtis Hall, Shawn Hatosy, Denzel Whitaker, Xzibit, Katie Chonacas, Brad Dourif. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: R, 122 min., Thriller, Box office gross: $1.367 million, First Look. Available: 4/6.
Collector, TheA handyman and ex-con aims to repay his debt to his ex-wife by robbing his new employer's country home. Inside the house lies a jeweler's safe, and inside the safe is a gem -- his only hope for keeping what's left of his family intact. Unfortunately, inside the house is also a box containing the latest addition to a collection catalogued in blood, bone and tears. As the seconds tick down to midnight, the handyman becomes a reluctant hero trapped by a masked "Collector" in a maze of lethal invention -- the Spanish Inquisition as imagined by Rube Goldberg -- while trying to rescue the very family he came to rob.
Director: Marcus Dunstan. Stars: Josh Stewart, Karley Scott Collins, Juan Fernandez, Jabari Thomas, Colvin Roberson, Michael Reilly Burke. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: R, 90 min., thriller, Box office gross: $7.706 million, Genius Products/Vivendi Entertainment. Available: 4/6.
Crazy HeartBad Blake (Jeff Bridges) is a broken-down, hard-living country music singer who's had way too many marriages, far too many years on the road and one too many drinks way too many times. And yet, Blake can't help but reach for salvation with the help of Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist who discovers the real man behind the musician. As he struggles down the road of redemption, Blake learns the hard way just how tough life can be on one man's crazy heart. Bridges won an Oscar for Best Actor.
Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, TheDirector Terry Gilliam's fantastical morality tale follows the traveling show of the mysterious Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer) -- a man who once won a bet with the Devil himself, and possesses the unique ability to guide the imagination of others. Many centuries ago, Dr. Parnassus won immortality in a bet that found the malevolent Mr. Nick (Tom Waits) coming up short. While few would be foolish enough to try their luck against the powers of darkness a second time, Dr. Parnassus did precisely that -- this time trading his mortality for youth on the understanding that his firstborn would become the property of Mr. Nick when the child reaches his or her 16th birthday. Flash-forward to the present day, and Dr. Parnassus' daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), is about to celebrate her sweet sixteen. Dr. Parnassus is desperate to save his little girl from her fiery fate, and when Mr. Nick arrives to collect, the good doctor presents the Prince of Darkness with a wager too enticing to refuse: Dr. Parnassus and Mr. Nick will each compete to seduce five souls, with possession of Valentina going to whomever manages to complete the task first. As the competition begins to heat up, Dr. Parnassus promises his daughter's hand in marriage to any man who can help him successfully navigate the surreal obstacle course that lies ahead and finally help him undo the many mistakes of his past.
While the sudden death of prominent "Imaginarium" player Heath Ledger in January of 2008 left Gilliam and company scrambling to find a means of salvaging the film -- which was already well into principal photography at the time -- help arrived in the form of Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell, who each served as alternate-dimension versions of the character originally set to be played by Ledger when the character crosses through a paranormal mirror.
Director: Terry Gilliam. Stars: Heath Ledger, Christopher Plummer, Tom Waits, Lily Cole, Andrew Garfield, Verne Troyer, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, Jude Law. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 122 min., Fantasy, Box office gross: $6.406 million, Sony. Available: 4/27.
It's ComplicatedFunny look at marriage, divorce and everything in between. Jane (Meryl Streep) has three grown kids, a thriving Santa Barbara bakery and an amicable relationship with her ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin). But when Jane and Jake find themselves out of town for their son?s college graduation, things start to get complicated. Now, a decade after their divorce, an innocent dinner between Jane and Jake turns into the unimaginable -- an affair. With Jake remarried to the much younger Agness (Lake Bell), Jane is now, of all things, the other woman. Caught in the middle of their rekindled romance is Adam (Steve Martin), a recently divorced architect who starts to fall for Jane. Should Jane and Jake move on with their lives, or is love truly lovelier the second time around?
Director: Nancy Meyers. Stars: Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, Zoe Kazan, Lake Bell, Hunter Parrish, Pat Finn, Rita Wilson. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: R, 121 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $110.709 million, Universal. Available: 4/27.
Lovely Bones, TheAn adaptation of the Alice Sebold best-selling novel, "The Lovely Bones" tells the story of a murdered 14-year-old girl, Susie Salmon, who continues to observe her family from a beautiful in-between world. Although detached from the world she once knew, Susie witnesses the impact of her loss on her loved ones, while her killer skillfully covers his tracks and prepares to murder again. In a tone that is both emotionally truthful, and darkly humorous, Susie tries to balance her desire for vengeance against the love she feels for her family and her need to see them heal; and ultimately comes to understand that the concept of family can encompass both the living and the dead. Eventually she must help her father catch her killer and protect her family before she can finally move on.
Director: Peter Jackson. Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Saoirse Ronan, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: PG-13, 135 min., Thriller, Box office gross: $41.661 million, Paramount. Available: 4/20.
Pirate RadioIn 1966 -- arguably British pop music's finest era -- the BBC played only two hours of rock and roll every week. But pirate radio blasted rock and pop from the high seas 24 hours a day. And 25 million people -- more than half the population of Britain -- listened to these pirates every single day. This is the story of how eight DJs broadcast rock 'n' roll -- illegally --from a boat in the middle of the Northern Atlantic. The songs they played united and defined an entire generation and drove the British government crazy. By playing rock 'n' roll they were standing up against the British government who did everything in their power to shut them down. The film features an unbelievable selection of music including The Beatles, The Stones, Beach Boys, Dusty Springfield, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Smokey Robinson, David Bowie, Otis Redding, Cat Stevens and more.
Director: Richard Curtis. Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Sturridge, Jack Davenport, Ralph Brown, Chris O'Dowd, January Jones. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: R, 135 min., Comedy, Box office gross: $7.994 million, Universal. Available: 4/13.
The Yes Men Fix the WorldA wickedly fun skewering of corporate greed, "The Yes Men Fix the World" is the true story of two conscientious mischief-makers who pose as the representatives of companies they despise. In this wonderfully therapeutic film, Yes Men Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno impose cosmic (and comic) justice by any means necessary. To a television audience of 300 million, Andy (posing as a Dow Chemicals spokesman) announces that Dow will finally compensate the victims of the Bhopal disaster, causing the company's stock to instantly plunge by $2 billion. At an oil industry conference, the Yes Men introduce a wonderful new Exxon miracle fuel made from the bodies of global warming losers. And they go after and expose the people profiting from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Young Victoria, TheIn "The Young Victoria," Emily Blunt plays Queen Victoria in the turbulent first years of her reign and Rupert Friend portrays Prince Albert, the suitor who won her heart and became her partner in one of history's greatest romances. Victoria became queen at 18 in 1837 and married Prince Albert in 1840. She was devastated when he died in 1861 and wore black for the rest of her life, remaining largely secluded.
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee. Stars: Emily Blunt, Rupert Friend, Paul Bettany, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent, Thomas Kretschmann, Mark Strong. 2009, CC, MPAA rating: NR, 104 min., Romance, Box office gross: $8.271 million, Sony. Available: 4/20.
All DVDs and Blu-rays are screened on a reference system consisting of an Oppo BDP-83 Universal Blu-ray Player, a Rotel RSX-972 Surround Sound Receiver, and Phase Technology 1.1 (front), 33.1 (center), and 50 (rear) speakers and Power 10 subwoofer.
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April 1, 2010