Two based-on-true-stories war movies lead video releases this week: the World War II saga “The Monuments Men” and “Lone Survivor,” set against the war in Afghanistan.
“The Monuments Men” (Columbia/Fox/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital On Demand, 2014, PG-13, deleted scenes, featurettes). George Clooney directed, co-wrote and stars in this engaging, often funny and unabashedly old-fashioned WWII drama based (loosely) on the true story of a group of middle-aged art curators and historians who, as the war wound down, were tasked with rescuing priceless European art that had been stolen by the Nazis.
The film is episodic in nature, taking on a sort of “Dirty Dozen” vibe as Clooney recruits six experts and then has to put them through some semblance of basic training before they can get to work in the European theater.
And much of the fun is in watching a cast of seasoned pros — Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett — go through the paces while elevating their stereotypical characters. (More bonus features are on the Blu-ray than on the DVD.)
“Lone Survivor” (Universal/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2013, R for violence and language, featurettes). A more recent war is the backdrop for this edgy, nerve-jangling true story of Navy SEALS on a covert mission when they are confronted by an impossible moral decision that leads to an overwhelming firefight in the mountains of Afghanistan. Mark Wahlberg stars, with fine performances by Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch and Eric Bana in support. (More bonus features are on the Blu-ray than the DVD.)
“As High as the Sky” (Cinema Libre/DVD, 2014, not rated, featurettes). This lovely, spare, eccentric low-budget comedy-drama, which is obviously a labor of love for writer-director Nikki Braendlin, has a foreign-film vibe in the story of two sisters reconnecting after spending too much time apart. Margaret (Caroline Fogarty) has severe OCD and has just undergone a breakup when her estranged, blowsy sister Josephine (Bonnie McNeil) drops by for an extended stay with her precocious 10-year-old daughter (Laurel Porter) in tow. It's nicely staged with excellent performances and young Porter is a real scene-stealer.
“In Secret” (Lionsgate/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014, R for sex and violence, deleted scenes, audio commentary). Interesting look at class structure in 1860s Paris through the eyes of a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who is married to her sickly cousin (Tom Felton) and oppressed by his domineering mother (Jessica Lange), eventually falling into an affair with her husband’s friend (Oscar Isaac). Based on Emile Zola’s novel “Therese Raquin.”
“Pompeii” (Tri-Star/3-D/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital, 2014, PG-13, deleted scenes, audio commentary, featurettes). A romance in 79 A.D. Pompeii means Mount Vesuvius will inevitably erupt (via cartoony computer graphics) and wreak havoc on the proceedings. But leading up to that is the story of a slave-turned-gladiator (Kit Harrington) who loves a wealthy merchant’s daughter (Emily Browning) though she is betrothed to an evil Roman Senator (Kiefer Sutherland).
“About Last Night” (Screen Gems/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2014, R for sex and language, featurettes). This is a modern reworking of the 1986 “brat pack” version of David Mamet’s 1970s play “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” This one stars motormouth comic Kevin Hart (who had a surprise hit earlier this year with “Ride Along”) and moves the action from Chicago to Los Angeles.
“Grand Piano” (Magnet/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, R for language, featurettes). A celebrated concert pianist (Elijah Wood) breaks down during a performance due to stage fright, then, years later while attempting a comeback, finds a warning on his sheet music: “Play one wrong note and you die,” left by an anonymous sniper (John Cusack).
“McCanick” (Well Go/Blu-ray/DVD, 2014, R for language and violence, deleted/extended scenes, featurette, trailer). The title character (David Morse) is a narcotics detective who learns that a crook he put away (the late Cory Monteith in one of his last roles), and who has incriminating information, has been released from prison. So McCanick and his partner (Floyd Vogel) hunt him down.
“Raze” (IFC/DVD, 2014, R for violence and language, deleted/extended scenes, audio commentary, featurettes, bloopers, poster gallery, trailers, short film). A woman inexplicably finds herself inside a concrete bunker where she soon learns that she is among 50 women who must fight each other to the death or their own family members will be killed. Zoe Bell and Rachel Nichols star, with Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn in support.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: www.hicksflicks.com