This week on home video, we’ve got four new releases that are Certified Fresh, including one multiple Oscar-winner, one animated adventure, a music doc, and an indie drama about alcoholism. On top of that, there’s also the relatively well-received biopic about Alfred Hitchcock and the making of Psycho and a quirky Sean Penn-powered road trip drama. Lastly, we have a feature adaptation of the famed Cirque du Soleil troupe’s performances, as well as a handful of notable reissues. See below for the full list!



Life of Pi

86%

Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi was a worldwide success, so it’s not surprising that development of a film adaptation began as early as 2003. Many considered the book “unfilmable,” however, so we didn’t get the movie until Ang Lee took up the helm (after several others dropped out) and felt technology was up to snuff to tell the story. The fantasy adventure revolves around Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), an Indian teen whose parents own a struggling zoo and decide to sell all their animals to a buyer in Canada, where the family will settle. En route to Winnipeg, their freighter encounters a massive storm that wrecks the ship and leaves Pi stranded alone on a lifeboat with a few animals, including a fearsome Bengal tiger. Like its source novel, Life of Pi was met with both critical and commercial success, and was nominated for eleven Academy Awards; it won four Oscars, including Best Director for Ang Lee. Certified Fresh at 88%, it’s a trasportive, beautifully shot, technically impressive film, even if its underlying message may not resonate with everyone.



Rise of the Guardians

75%

Another film based on a book (or series of books, rather, authored by William Joyce), Rise of the Guardians reimagines mythical childhood figures like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and Jack Frost as warrior-like protectors of the world’s children — in addition to their regular duties delivering presents and hiding Easter eggs, that is. Voiced by Chris Pine, Jack Frost is a bit of a mischief maker, starting snowball fights and conjuring blizzards, until he’s recruited by the existing guardians to help defeat Pitch (Jude Law), a dark spirit intent on taking over the world. In the process, Jack discovers both his true worth as a guardian and the secrets of his past life. Though critics felt the story itself could have been a little more focused, they also liked the clever premise of the film, as well as its lush animation and brisk pacing. Certified Fresh at 74%, Rise of the Guardians is a fresh take on some familiar characters that most will be able to appreciate.



Hitchcock

60%

Screenwriter Sacha Gervasi’s directorial debut, 2007’s Anvil! The Story of Anvil, earned heaps of praise, so hopes were high for his film about Alfred Hitchcock, especially considering Anthony Hopkins would be filling in the role of the great director and Helen Mirren would be playing his wife and collaborative partner, Alma Reville. Hitchcock specifically chronicles the director’s efforts to finance and produce Psycho and the tumultuous relationship that resulted between him and Reville during the making of the film. Although critics would have liked to see a bit more subtlety and insight, most found the film stylishly directed and worth watching, even if only for the inspired performances from Hopkins and Mirren. At 63% on the Tomatometer, Hitchcock isn’t the be all and end all of biopics on The Master of Suspense, but it’s a well-acted glimpse into his life and old Hollywood.



Sound City

100%

Last year, musician Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) purchased a vintage Neve 8028 mixing console from Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California, where he had taken part in recording the seminal Nirvana album Nevermind in 1991. The purchase inspired him to direct a documentary recounting the history of the influential studio, which oversaw the recording of several rock legends and musical icons ranging from Neil Young, Elton John, and Grateful Dead to Barry Manilow, Weezer, Metallica, and many more before it closed in 2011. Peppered with interviews and performances by many of those artists, Sound City weaves together the complete story of the studio and culminates in the purchase that inspired the film in the first place. The film, which opened in limited release just a month ago, has so far earned a 100% Tomatometer, with critics calling it an affectionately crafted passion project that’s thrilling, nostalgic, and a must-see for music fans.



Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

45%

Cirque du Soleil has been an expanding Las Vegas mainstay for several years now, but they’ve been a touring troupe for even longer, their television specials have won awards, and they’ve adapted their shows into films before. This latest venture, Worlds Away, is unique in that it also offers a 3D perspective for the first time, and what’s more? It’s James Cameron-approved 3D. Though it is, in fact, just another showcase for the talents of its performers, there is a narrative framing device: a young woman named Mia (Erica Linz) visits the local circus and falls into a dreamlike world with an aerialist; in order for the two to reunite, they must traverse the various tents of the circus and navigate through their performances. Critics were fairly split here; while some thought the film incoherently plotted and most conceded it was inferior to its live equivalent, others felt it was still beautiful to look at and entertaining enough. At 46%, Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away won’t compare to the real thing, but it’s not too bad if you can’t make it to one of the live shows.



Smashed

83%

Aaron Paul has already built up a considerable fanbase from his role in Breaking Bad, but while Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s star is slowly rising, she hadn’t quite landed the starring role that showcases her talents properly… until Smashed came along. In this low key indie, Paul and Winstead play Charlie and Kate, a young married couple who both decide to come to terms with their alcoholism. When Kate, an elementary schoolteacher, vomits in the middle of class, then drunkenly succumbs to smoking crack later that same night, she consequently joins group therapy and resolves to change her life. Critics roundly applauded Winstead’s performance, as well as director James Ponsoldt’s sensitive direction and the film’s melodrama-free script, en route to a Certified Fresh 84% on the Tomatometer. Costarring Nick Offerman, Octavia Spencer, and Mary Kay Place, Smashed failed to generate much heat at the box office, but here’s hoping it leads to more substantial roles for Winstead.



This Must Be the Place

67%

At first glance, This Must Be the Place might seem simply like the latest in a long line of quirky indie comedy-dramas: Sean Penn, looking like a cross between Bono and Edward Scissorhands, is aging former rock star Cheyenne, who travels home to New York from Ireland in order to reconcile with his estranged father as he lies on his deathbed. Though his father dies before he arrives, Cheyenne soon discovers that he was an Auschwitz survivor whose lifelong mission was to track down the man who abused him there; Cheyenne takes up his father’s quest and sets out across the US to find his father’s persecutor. It’s a strange tale, to be sure, but critics mostly found it surprisingly touching, buoyed by Penn’s oddly charismatic performance. At 68%, This Must Be the Place might be a little too off-kilter for some, but if you give it a chance, it might surprise you.

Also available this week:

  • A 25th Anniversary Blu-ray release of Disney’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit (98%), with a collection of extras ported over from previous releases and an in-depth commentary track.
  • Two choices from the Criterion Collection: The original 1958 The Blob (69%), now on Blu-ray; and Fritz Lang’s Ministry of Fear on both DVD and Blu-ray.
  • Some animated Disney films, paired with their direct-to-DVD sequels: Mulan (86%), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (74%), and Brother Bear (38%).
  • Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy flick Willow (46%) on Blu-ray.

This week at the movies, we’ve got a cool cop (Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise and Rosamund Pike); harried marrieds (This is 40, starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann); mother-son bonding (The Guilt Trip, starring Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen); and a fanciful circus (the performance film Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D). What do the critics have to say?



Jack Reacher

63%

Sometimes a relatively generic story can be redeemed by a confident central performance. Case in point: Jack Reacher, which critics say is a solid crime thriller that greatly benefits from Tom Cruise’s movie star charisma. Cruise stars as the title character, a former Army M.P. who’s called in to investigate a mass shooting, and soon discovers that he’s up against a dangerous foe. The pundits say Jack Reacher doesn’t lack for clichés, it’s a competent and tense piece of work, and Cruise is cool and compelling. (Check out this week’s 24 Frames for a pictorial overview of Cruise’s career.)



This Is 40

51%

Judd Apatow‘s films frequently balance laughs and pathos with a deft hand, and while critics say This Is 40 is uneven, it’s thought-provoking and occasionally hilarious. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles from Knocked Up, playing an affluent married couple dealing with the stresses of parenthood, financial insecurity, familial relations, and hard-to-break habits. The pundits say This Is 40 is overlong and sometimes aimless, but it’s buoyed by a terrific cast, a perceptive script, and some very funny moments.



The Guilt Trip

37%

Barbra Streisand is so rarely in films these days that her starring role in The Guilt Trip should be cause for excitement. Unfortunately, the critics say that while she and Seth Rogen share an easy chemistry, it’s largely wasted in a formulaic plot. Rogen stars as an inventor who plans to drive cross-country to pitch his newest product. He invites his overbearing mom along in an attempt to fix her up with an old boyfriend in San Francisco. The pundits say The Guilt Trip is undeniably sweet, and the leads are in fine form, but there are absolutely no surprises to be found in the script.



Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D

45%

If those whimsical acrobats from Cirque Du Soleil aren’t making a tour stop in your town, Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away is a decent overview; critics say this 3D extravaganza offers thrilling evidence of the troupe’s skills, even if it doesn’t quite match the experience of seeing them live. Producer James Cameron and director Andrew Adamson utilize a minimal narrative — a girl visits a circus and is transported into Cirque Du Soleil’s dreamworld — as an excuse to create a best-of package of the company’s various stage shows. The pundits say Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away features plenty of eye-popping imagery, but it may not win over those who don’t already love the group.



Monsters, Inc. 3D

96%

With Monsters University hitting theaters next year, now is as good a time as any to revisit the world of Monsters, Inc. which is getting the rerelease treatment this week in glorious 3D. This tale of a pair of monsters who can’t seem to frighten one tenacious little girl is one of Pixar’s classics; like most of the studio’s output, it’s Certified Fresh.

Also opening this week in limited release:

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