‘Race to Witch Mountain,’ ‘Sling Blade’ top new Blu-ray titles

[4 August 2009]

By Doug Nye

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

A science-fiction adventure thriller, “Race to Witch Mountain” (Walt Disney, 2009, $44.99), and a critically acclaimed drama, “Sling Blade” (Miramax/Walt Disney, 1996, $34.99), lead this week’s releases on the hi-def Blu-ray format.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson turns in a first-rate effort as Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cab driver and ex-con who is trying to go straight. One evening, he picks up Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino), who tells him she is a speaker for the UFO convention at Planet Hollywood. The skeptical Jack rolls his eyes in disbelief.

After he drops her off, Jack drives away in his cab and is startled to see two children sitting in the backseat. Seth (Alexander Ludwig) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) tell Jack they must get to a certain spot and hand him $15,000. Jack doesn’t hesitate to start driving them to the spot, an old rundown cabin deep in the woods.

Even though it takes some convincing, Jack discovers that Seth and Sara are aliens who must get a hidden object that will ensure the future of Earth and their own planet. Along the way, an excited Dr. Freidman joins them. It’s not an easy journey to the cabin because they are being pursued by government agents and an alien “monster” has been sent to stop the two kids from getting the object.

This is a non-stop piece of entertainment that keeps moving at a lightning pace from the opening credits to the finale. The special effects are top-notch for this family-friendly film. Some have said this is a reworking of Disney’s “Escape to Witch Mountain” (1975) and “Return from Witch Mountain” (1978). It looks more like an extension of the two previous films. How else can you explain what they find on Witch Mountain?

Among the extras are deleted scenes, bloopers and the short “Which Mountain?” showing where you can find hidden references to the original movie. The film is packaged with the Blu-ray version, a standard DVD version and a digital copy. Highly recommended.

Billy Bob Thornton did triple duty for “Sling Blade.” He not only stars in it but also directed it and wrote the screenplay. The result is a marvelous and sometimes scary study of a variety of characters.

Karl Childers (Thornton) has been in a mental institution ever since childhood when he killed his mother and her lover. Twenty-five years later, Childers is no longer considered a threat and is allowed to leave the hospital.

He returns to his small Arkansas hometown and ends up staying with a young boy named Frank (Lucas Black) and his mother Linda (Natalie Canerday). It seems like the perfect way to start a new life. Unfortunately, Linda’s boyfriend Doyle (Dwight Yoakam) seems to enjoy mistreating her as well as her friends, including Karl and Vaughn (John Ritter), a gay man who hasn’t found life easy in such a rural setting.

Some of the town’s folks see Karl as slightly retarded but there are moments when he is warm, thoughtful and even smart. But as he watches his friends being mistreated by the vicious Doyle, old fires of rage start flame up inside him. There are plenty of extras including several discussions about the film by those who worked on it. Recommended.

Other Blu-ray releases:

“Big Trouble in Little China” (20th Century Fox,1986, $29.99): John Carpenter directed this action-packed effort starring Kurt Russell as wise-cracking truck driver Jack Burton, who decides to help out a friend in San Francisco’s Chinatown. He soon finds himself drawn into a centuries-old battle complete with kung fu warriors and supernatural beings. There is no social significance here; it’s just a fun and breathless adventure ride. Recommended.

“My Cousin Vinny” (20th Century Fox, 1992, $34.98): Without Joe Pesci, this movie would be pretty routine. Pesci plays fast-talking New York lawyer Vinny Gambini who heads to Alabama to defend his cousins (Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) who are on trial for murder. Only problem is this is Vinny’s first case. Pesci is terrifically funny in the role. Recommended.

“The Waterboy” (Walt Disney, 1998, $39.99): Adam Sandler shines as Bobby Boucher who serves as the water boy for a team of athletes who treat him like trash. Then one day, the coach discovers Bobby has a talent for making thunderous tackles. Suddenly, he finds himself as part of the team. Kathy Bates scores as Bobby’s mom. Also in the cast are Henry Winkler and Jerry Reed. Don’t try to make sense of it. Just sit back and enjoy the laughs. Recommended.

“The Soloist” (DreamWorks, 2008, $39.99): Based on a true story. Jamie Foxx plays Nathaniel Ayers, a gifted musician who suffers from schizophrenia. Robert Downey Jr. plays Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez, who discovers the homeless Ayers and his musical talents. Lopez writes a story about Ayers and tries to help him but finds out that is not an easy task.

“Obsessed” (Sony, 2009, $39.95): Shades of “Fatal Attraction.” Derek Charles (Idris Elba), is a successful manager at his company and his happily married to Sharon (Beyonce Knowles) and devoted to his son. Then Lisa (Ali Larter) comes to work as a temporary employee and Derek is drawn to her. It soon becomes obvious that Lisa wants Derek at any cost.

“Stargate Atlantis: Fans’ Choices” (MGM, $29.98): Obviously from the title, this disc contains episodes that were favorites of the series’ fans. Included is the feature-length pilot which shows how the Stargate group arrived in the ancient city of Atlantis. And you thought it was just a legend.

“Mutant Chronicles” (Magnolia, 2008, $34.98): You think things are tough these days? Wait until you see what it’s like in the 28th century as depicted in this film. Thomas James plays Major Mitch Hunter, who leads the fight against an army of mutants, unleashed by a machine that had been buried on Earth for millions of years.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/109346-race-to-witch-mountain-sling-blade-top-new-blu-ray-titles/