Alice in Wonderland – Tim Burton’s trippy live-action pseudo-sequel to Lewis Carroll’s classic literature and beloved 1951 animated Disney film hits most of its marks despite awkwardly trying to shoehorn in a Chronicles of Narnia/Harry Potter-like plot into the mayhem. Johnny Depp bugs out as – who else – the Mad Hatter and Mia Wasikowska acquits herself well as a post-adolescent Alice. The blowout Blu-ray is the way to see the movie, which glimmers with impressive special effects. Extras include looks at the making of the stunts, props, food and musical score, as well as DVD and digital copies of the film.
The Wolfman – Benicio Del Toro mumbles his way through a stodgy Victorian period piece about a British hamlet cursed by a werewolf. Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins pop up in supporting roles in the handsome but tiring production, which left me howling longingly for the end credits. The Blu-ray is better crafted than the movie, with alternate endings, a digital copy and the superior, though still mostly awful, 1941 version of the movie on which this one is based.
Peanuts: 1970s Collection: Volume 2 – The timeless Charles Schulz animated series continues to come out on DVD in chunks. This collection is sort of a B-team, including such not-so-special specials as “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown” and “It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown.” The advantage of the set is that you most likely haven’t seen many of these shows if you’re in your 30s or younger. A cool retrospective on the Charlie Brown specials of the era is the most significant extra.
Undisputed III: Redemption – I was a fan of the original Undisputed, a 2002 prison boxing flick and wasn’t aware that there was a sequel, much less a third film before I heard of this direct-to-video film. As you’d expect, the movie is a shadow of the original – there’s a no-star cast and a silly plot involving a secret syndicate that puts together a tough-man competition between violent criminals from around the world – but it still hooked me in that Spike TV sort of way. The Blu-ray boasts a digital copy, which is a welcome surprise for a movie that flew so far under the radar.
War of the Worlds Blu-ray – Steven Spielberg’s 2005 summer blockbuster is good for popcorn thrills and not much else, starring Tom Cruise as a harried dad trying to lug his two kids cross-country amid alien bombardment. Watch it for the first time in half a decade, the movie was better than I remembered it, but still pretty forgettable. But I’d still take the movie over the crop of this year’s weak-sauce summer action flicks. The Blu-ray is a blow-out tribute to the film and the H.G. Wells legacy, and includes interviews with Spielberg and loads of background documentaries, many of which are at least as interesting as the movie.
Wild Things: Foursome – The third straight-to-video sequel in the tired series doesn’t have a high bar to clear, but can’t even live up to the cheeseball entertainment factor of its pseudo soft-core porn forefathers. The lone bright spot in this tale of big-money double-crosses and deceit in the Deep South is up-and-comer Jillian Murray, who takes on a role similar to the one played by Neve Campbell in the original Wild Things and seems to be the only one in the C-level cast who’s actually trying. The disc is deservedly a bare-bones affair.
Life – It was a daunting task for the BBC to follow up the mind-blowing 2006 travelogue Planet Earth, but Life is every bit as gorgeous and illuminating as the landmark nature documentary it follows. Oprah Winfrey narrates the series, which spans every continent to give you shockingly up-close footage of animals, plants and insects doing their thing to get by. The brilliant, life-affirming though rarely corny tour de force is a must-own for just about any movie collector, and especially those with kids. The Blu-ray version is leaps and bounds above the DVD in visual quality and boasts a fascinating making-of doc.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available on Amazon.