RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: War Horse and Being Elmo

Plus, a couple of imports, Cameron Crowe's latest, and Chinatown in HD.

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There wasn't a whole lot going on in the world of home video this week, so we've got a shorter list today. If you scour the release lists, you'll find some TV shows, some direct-to-DVD stuff, and a couple of reissues (like Cleopatra), but it won't be long before you start running up against the yoga videos and Guys Gone Wild. So, with that out of the way, let's just move on. This week brings us one of last year's Best Picture nominees, a critically acclaimed documentary, a lukewarm drama from Cameron Crowe, and a Certified Fresh UK import. Then, to close out the set, we've got a Miyazaki Blu-ray import and an HD reissue of a bona fide classic. See below for the full list!

War Horse


Moviegoers of a certain age may always remember Steven Spielberg for the indelible fingerprint he left on the 1980s, both as producer (Gremlins, the Back to the Future trilogy) and director (E.T., the Indiana Jones movies), and many say last year's War Horse recalls some of the best elements of that era. Based on the 1982 children's novel of the same name, which also inspired a stage production, War Horse follows the travails of a spirited horse named Joey during World War I as he is raised by a farmboy, sold off to a soldier, and marched into the middle of battle. Joey endures various hardships but endures through it all, inspiring those around him to greater things. Characterized by polished filmmaking, old-fashioned storytelling, and a certain trademark sentimentality, War Horse won many fans when it opened during the holiday season, earning a Certified Fresh 77% and six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture. Definitely worth a look for anyone hankering for a dash of Spielbergian magic.

We Bought a Zoo


After the 2000s yielded the first Rotten scores of Cameron Crowe's (Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous) career, the writer-director released two films in 2011 to generally positive reviews: the rock doc Pearl Jam Twenty and the family drama We Bought a Zoo, which hits store shelves this week. We Bought a Zoo is based on the memoirs of Benjamin Mee, who, after the death of his wife, purchased a struggling zoo and moved his family onto the property in hopes of reopening the facility to the public. With Crowe behind the camera and working decidedly within his wheelhouse of character-driven drama, as well as a cast that included Matt Damon (as Mee), Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, and more, some thought Zoo might find itself in Oscar contention. Unfortunately, while critics found the performances noteworthy and the film overall pleasant, most also felt it was too predictable and overly sentimental, with sweet spots that weren't entirely earned. It's not the best we've seen from Cameron Crowe, but it might suffice for anyone looking for a safe, harmless little yarn.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey


If you've been with us for a few years now, you know that, without fail, many of the highest rated movies on RT every year are documentaries. That said, one of the true gems of 2011 that few moviegoers got to see was about a puppeteer and the wildly popular character he brought to life. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is about as accurate as a title can be: director Constance Marks profiles one Kevin Clash, the man who grew up crafting his own puppets, dreamt of meeting Jim Henson, eventually landed a gig on Sesame Street, and reinvented a furry red muppet to become one of the most widely beloved of them all. Not surprisingly, critics found the film sweet and charming, not least because Clash himself is such an endearing character, and its upbeat narrative left most feeling a little inspired. At a Certified Fresh 92%, Being Elmo is a fascinating feel-good story about a man who followed his dreams without compromise and almost inadvertently created a cultural icon.



Another small, critically acclaimed film that flashed in and out of theaters quickly (it only earned $22k in US box office receipts) came to us from the UK, where audiences are more familiar with its first-time director (actor Paddy Considine, who also wrote the script) and star (Peter Mullan). Tyrannosaur follows the story of Joseph (Mullan), an unemployed alcoholic with crippling anger issues who decides to turn his life around after he accidentally kills his dog. As he develops a relationship with a local charity shop employee (Olivia Colman), he finds that her husband has violent tendencies of his own, and confrontation appears inevitable. Based on the same kind of environment Considine observed around him growing up in public housing, Tyrannosaur is brutal and unflinching, but critics found the performances outstanding and the story of redemption rewarding. It's Certified Fresh at 82%, for those of you looking for a bit of hard-hitting drama.

Chinatown - Blu-Ray


Roman Polanski completed one last film on US soil before his legal troubles compelled him to flee to Europe, and that film was 1974's Chinatown, now regarded as one of the best noir mysteries -- and, indeed, one of the best films period -- ever to be made. In one of his most memorable roles, Jack Nicholson plays Jake Gittes, an LA private eye who is hired for a seemingly routine "matrimonial" surveillance job, only to be pulled into a vast conspiracy involving political corruption, incest, and murder, all set against the historically inspired 1930s backdrop of a local water rights conflict. Working from an Oscar-winning script by Robert Towne, Polanski's film benefitted from exceptional performances by Nicholson and co-star Faye Dunaway, earning a whopping eleven Academy Award nominations (alas, Towne's trophy was the only one it took home), and it's currently Certified Fresh at 100%. This week, Paramount releases its first Blu-ray of Chinatown, with special features collected from the previously released Centennial Collection and Special Collector's Edition DVDs. If you own either of those, there won't be much new to see here, but if you'd like to own the film in HD, now's your chance.

Howl's Moving Castle - Blu-Ray


For all you Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli fanatics out there in the US, here's a little heads-up: the Blu-ray disc for the film officially goes on sale in the States tomorrow, but it appears to be the same one already available in a few other countries, selling as an import. That is, the cover design mirrors those of the Japanese, German, and Hong Kong versions, there is little information readily available on what extras it will contain, and its price point is a hefty-even-for-Blu-ray $60. We can't imagine this will do well with anyone but the most diehard fans, but for the uninitiated: Howl's Moving Castle is anime legend Hayao Miyazaki's (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) heartfelt adaptation of British author Diana Wynne Jones's novel of the same name, in which a plucky 18-year-old named Sophie befriends Howl, an eccentric young wizard who lives in a (you guessed it!) moving castle. When a witch's curse transforms Sophie into an old woman, she hides out in Howl's castle and attempts to reverse its effects. If you haven't already gotten your hands on one of the international Blu-rays of the film, it'll be available this week.