DVD Picks: The Social Network, Alpha and Omega, Dances with Wolves

January 27, 2011

DVD Picks – January 14, 2011
Raleigh News & Observer

Glenn McDonald

The Social Network

Drama; rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug and alcohol use and language; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Director David Fincher (“Fight Club”) teams with writer Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing”) to detail the creation of Facebook, maybe the most influential (insidious?) social phenomenon of a generation.

The Lowdown: One of the year’s Oscar frontrunners, “The Social Network” is a marvel of modern movie-making. A fictionalized account of the creation of Facebook, the film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Mark Zuckerberg, the brilliant and damaged Harvard student who more or less invented social networking as we now know it.

Sorkin’s screenplay features his patented brand of impossibly eloquent dialogue, and director Fincher keeps everything moving along at the pace of a contemporary thriller. The movie is most interesting, however, in its ideas and implications. “The Social Network” might appear to be another morality play about ambition and greed, but what it’s really concerned with is the dramatic flux of modern communication in the digital age.

After all the noisy interpersonal drama plays out, you’re left feeling a strange unease. Fincher has threaded his themes of deception and authenticity throughout, and these are the anxieties that linger.

The Extras: Two separate commentary tracks with all the major players, plus five more mini-docs on technical aspects of the film.

The Bottom Line: A very intelligent drama with a lot on its mind, “Network” also works as a fast and furious thriller.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Actress Rooney Mara has been cast as Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming remake of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

 

Alpha and Omega

Kids’ animation; rated PG for rude humor and some mild action; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Alpha wolf Kate (voiced by Hayden Panettiere) and goofball pack wolf Humphrey (Justin Long) must work together when they’re relocated by park rangers as part of a preservation effort.

The Lowdown: Energetic, eager-to-please and just this side of terminally bland, “Alpha and Omega” is an OK kids movie for younger children or parents looking for a harmless diversionary rental. It’s hard to argue with the movie’s core ideals of loyalty and love, but it’s also hard to find any genuine laughs in the color-by-numbers plotting and animation.

This is decidedly second-tier kids animation, bereft of any recognizable inspiration. But it was a big hit at our recent gathering of seven-year-old cartoon veterans, and that’s really the relevant information, isn’t it?

The Extras: Deleted scenes, a couple of interactive games for kids and the usual selection of mini-docs with behind-the-scenes production details.

The Bottom Line: Flavorless, digestible, moderately nutritious – like everything else my kids consume, come to think of it.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: This was Dennis Hopper’s last movie.

Dances with Wolves

Adventure drama; rated PG-13 for violence, nudity, sexual situations and language; Blu-ray only re-release

The Gist: Civil War soldier John Dunbar (director and star Kevin Costner) abandons his frontier post to join with a group of Sioux Indians.

The Lowdown: It’s been 20 years since “Dances With Wolves” won Best Picture and six more Academy Awards, and the film has become such a cultural touchstone it can be easy to forget how good it really is. (Director James Cameron’s “Avatar” is often mocked as “Dances With Aliens” since it more or less transposes the storyline to outer space.)

Watching it again, I was amazed at how beautiful it looks – it won the Best Cinematography Oscar – but also at how successful Costner is both in front of and behind the camera. As director, he gives us an epic saga on a grand scale; as actor, he provides a believable hero with intelligence, humor and heart. Once upon a time, Costner was the undisputed king of this sort of movie-star maneuver. What happened to that guy?

The Extras: It’s all about the extras with the Blu-ray exclusive re-issue: The extended cut adds 50 minutes of new material to go with two commentary tracks, interactive historical trivia, and several previously-released making-of features, photo galleries and TV spots.

The Bottom Line: A sturdy American Western that’s well worth revisiting.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: “Wolves” predates modern CGI, so those buffalo stampede shots are just as dangerous as they look.

Quick Picks: We long-suffering Giants fans have been waiting for this: A&E and MLB’s “The San Francisco Giants 2010 World Series Collector’s Edition DVD” features all the relevant games, selected season highlights, and a ton of delightful extras across seven discs. A good way to pass these cruel days of winter.

 

Also New This Week: Carrie-Anne Moss, Jenna Elfman and Janeane Garafalo in the indie rom-com “Love Hurts,” the irrepressible Sally Hawkins in the Irish comedy “Happy Ever Afters,” and a school of mean fish in the camped-up remake “Piranha 3D,” which I’m told is not bad at all.

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