DVD Picks: Paranormal Activity 2, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Middle Men

March 17, 2011

Pick of the Week

Paranormal Activity 2

Supernatural horror; rated R for some language and brief violent material; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Surveillance cameras capture eerie goings-on in the home of the unfortunate Rey family, California suburbanites prone to poor decisions regarding hauntings and child care.

The Lowdown: Sequel to the successful 2008 film, “Paranormal Activity 2” is technically a prequel in terms of story line. The film chronicles the fate of new parents Daniel (Brian Boland) and Kristi (Sprague Grayden), who have just brought home young baby Hunter from the hospital.

After their home is mysteriously trashed by an invisible force, Daniel installs 24-hour security cameras in and around the house. As with the first film, the story is told entirely via the “found footage” of these cameras, and the occasional handheld video recorder.

The movie pretty much delivers what it promises –about two dozen good scares as the surveillance footage captures things going bump in the night. The video camera gimmick isn’t as fresh as in the first film, but it remains an effective method of generating suspense. And because the mysterious entity is going after baby Hunter this time around, the emotional stakes are raised quite a bit. For parents, anyway.

The Extras: An extended and unrated version of the movie, and a reel of additional found footage that essentially amounts to deleted scenes.

The Bottom Line: A hokey ghost story made interesting via creative visual storytelling. It may occur to you that Steven Spielberg already made this movie in 1982. It was called “Poltergeist,” and it was a lot better.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Kristi, the mom in this prequel story, is sisters with Katie, victim of the haunting in the first film. The film’s last few scenes tie the two stories together, and pose some disturbing questions about sibling rivalry.

It’s Kind of a Funny Story

Comedy-drama; rated Rated PG-13 for mature thematic issues, sexual content, drug material and language; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Depressed New York City high-schooler Craig (Keir Gilchrist) checks himself into an adult psychiatric ward, where he makes new friends and new discoveries

The Lowdown: “Funny Story” is a sweet and melancholy movie; a muted coming-of-age story designed to win your empathy with its sad and likeable characters. Based on the book by young adult novelist Ned Vizzini, the film features Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts in supporting roles, as fellow head cases who bond with Craig during his stay.

Probably due to the presence of alt-comic Galifianakis, the movie has been marketed as a wacky comedy, which is really isn’t. So heads up on that going in – “Funny Story” is instead quiet and whimsical, and rather underwhelming in a totally pleasant way.

The Extras: Deleted scenes and a short making-of doc with cast interviews.

The Bottom Line: The Lighter Side of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Fans of TV’s late, lamented “Lost” will enjoy the brief supporting turn by a typically twitchy Jeremy “Daniel Faraday” Davies.

Middle Men

Comedy-drama; rated for strong sexual content, nudity, language, drug use and violence; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: The untold story of the three goofballs who essentially invented Internet commerce by delivering porn to the Web.

The Lowdown: It’s a strange but true fact that pornography was the driving engine behind Internet commerce in early 1990s. The first online porn merchants basically invented Internet credit card transactions as we know them today.

“Middle Men,” inspired by actual events, features Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht as the hedonistic knuckleheads who started it all, mostly by accident. Luke Wilson also stars, and narrates the proceedings, as a straight arrow family man seduced by money, sex and power. Then the Russian mob gets involved, and things really go south.

The Extras: A handful of deleted scenes and outtakes.

The Bottom Line: A kind of Scorcese-light tour of porn, technology, money and sleaze – circa 1995.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: The movie was a spectacular box office failure, earning less than $1 million against its $20 million budget.

Quick Picks: Writer-director Wes Craven’s first solo film in 15 years, the psycho killer freakout “My Soul to Take” is an overly ambitious mess, but horror movie fans will still want to check it out.


Also New This Week: Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel in the rom-com “Life As We Know It,” Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver in the comedy “You Again,” Janet Jackson and Thandie Newton in director Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,” Katie Holmes and Anna Paquin in the relationship drama “The Romantics.”

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