An animated box-office hit from early in the year finally comes to DVD and Blu-ray this week.
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” (Fox/Dreamworks/Blu-ray 3-D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014, PG, featurettes, photo gallery, trailers, music videos, 1959 premiere episode of “Rocky and His Friends,” five “Peabody’s Improbable History” segments). Genius talking dog Mr. Peabody takes his adopted boy Sherman to major historical events via his WABAC (pronounced “wayback”) time machine. The plot kicks in when Sherman takes a classmate joy riding in the WABAC machine and then can’t get her to come home. So it’s Mr. Peabody to the rescue.
Clever, funny and visually commanding adaptation of the “Peabody’s Improbable History” segments of the popular 1960s TV series “The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show” (which aired under several titles). It’s ust as wacky as the original and manages to maintain both the TV show’s warmth and its subversive edge. Voice talents include Ty Burell as Mr. Peabody, Stephen Colbert, Allison Janney and Stanley Tucci. Listen for Mel Brooks as Albert Einstein.
“The Good Witch Collection” (Cinedigm/DVD, 2009-12, not rated, two discs, four movies). This collection is comprised of the first four Hallmark cable channel movies in this franchise, each starring Catherine Bell as Cassandra “Cassie” Nightingale. When Cassie inherits a reputedly haunted house in Middleton and opens a gift shop with an occult bent, locals wonder if she’s a witch. Light, amusing family fare. (Two more sequels have already aired with a fourth scheduled for Oct. 26, which is to be followed by a 10-episode series in 2015.)
“Mystery Road” (Well Go/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, not rated, featurettes, trailer). Gripping Australian thriller about an aboriginal police detective (Aaron Pedersen) sent from the city to his rural hometown to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. His white police colleagues look down on him and don’t seem to want the case solved, while the aboriginal locals don’t trust him. He’s also alienated from his teenage daughter, who, he discovers, knew the victim. Pedersen is the righteously indignant Western-movie loner, but the film is also true to its Aussie outback roots. Co-stars include Hugo Weaving (“The Matrix”) and Jack Thompson (“Breaker Morant”).
“The Equation of Life” (Shelter Island/DVD, 2014, not rated, short film: “Day of Silence,” filmmaker introduction, California State Senate appearances). An unusually insightful and unexpectedly forceful narrative treatise on schoolyard bullying (not a documentary) that comes directly from a 12-year-old victim, Gerry Orz, who was knocked around because his parents are a lesbian couple, one of them is foreign-born and he’s Jewish. Orz became the poster child for anti-bullying efforts after he shaped his experiences into a 13-minute video, “Day of Silence,” which became a YouTube sensation two years ago. This 32-minute expanded version pushes the story to tragic consequences while offering up the bully’s back-story.
“Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger” (Magnolia/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, R for language and crime-scene photos, deleted scenes, featurette, trailer). This fascinating, albeit dispiriting, documentary follows the 2013 racketeering/murder trial of gangster “Whitey” Bulger. But it’s also a vehicle for exploring alleged corruption among police and the legal system. (Bulger was the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.”)
“Beneath the Harvest Sky” (Cinedigm/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, not rated, deleted scenes, featurettes). Four troubled high school teens living in a depressed rural town in Maine are desperate to get out, seeing Boston as their redemption, though they have no real plans. This documentary-style film follows the four as they struggle with various difficulties. Then one gets involved with a drug-running scheme and real trouble surfaces.
“Venus in Fur” (Sundance/DVD, 2014, not rated, in French with English subtitles, featurettes, trailer). David Ives’ two-person Broadway play as adapted by filmmaker Roman Polanski explores a growing obsession as art spills over into life. The plot has a frustrated theater director being manipulated into auditioning a young actress for the lead role in a stage version of the 1870 novel, “Venus in Furs.” Polanski cast his wife Emmanuelle Seigner opposite Mathieu Amalric for this acting exercise.
“The Last Supper” (Cinedigm/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, not rated, in Mandarin with English subtitles or dubbed in English). Lavish Chinese historical drama relates the Chu-Han Contention (206-02 B.C.) from the point of view of the first Han emperor, who is on his deathbed as he recalls in flashbacks the final days of the Qin dynasty, as well as the resulting battles, betrayals and fears that now haunt him.
“Tasting Menu” (Magnolia/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, PG-13). A variety of eccentrics prepare to attend the final night of a posh restaurant that is so exclusive reservations for this once-in-a-lifetime event had to be made a year in advance. Light-as-air multiple-character study, with Fionnula Flanagan and Stephen Rea the most recognizable players.
“Level Five” (Icarus/DVD/On Demand, 2014, not rated, in French with English subtitles). Experimental sci-fi yarn (laced with references to classic French cinema) has a grieving woman trying to complete her late lover’s unfinished video game, which is based on the tragic Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Documentary footage about the battle is fascinating, but the dense wraparound story is less so.
“Locked In” (Lionsgate/DVD/Digital, 2014, R for language and sex). An estranged couple and their daughter get together for Christmas but are derailed by a car accident that leaves the child in a coma. The husband (Ben Barnes) tries to make contact with her and flashes back to an affair with a colleague (Eliza Dushku). Oh, and there’s a twist ending. This low-budget thriller has been on the shelf for four years.
“Throwdown” (Lionsgate/DVD/Digital, 2014; R for language, violence, drugs; featurette, trailers). Convoluted crime thriller has an inexperienced defense attorney threatened by a mobster that wants vengeance on one of the lawyer’s clients. Mischa Barton and Danny Trejo are among the cast members.
“Breaking at the Edge” (Cinedigm/DVD, 2014; R for violence, language, sex, nudity). A pregnant woman (Rebecca Da Costa) with a history of psychological problems is haunted by threats to her unborn child that come from the ghost of a young woman reported missing. Is it real or are her old problems recurring? Andie MacDowell co-stars.
“Devil’s Deal” (Lionsgate/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014; R for violence, drugs, nudity; featurette, outtakes). Low-budget Western-horror flick has the devil returning to the lone town of Burning Bush to collect on a deal made years before, but in gathering souls he also begins to terrorize innocents.
“Chemical Peel” (Lionsgate/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014; R for violence, language, sex; audio commentaries, featurette, outtakes). A bachelorette party at a cabin in the woods goes awry for six young women when a nearby train crash unleashes a deadly toxin in the air. Gore galore ensues.