Female leads ‘Brave’ boldly

By Rich HeldenfelsBeacon Journal popular culture writer

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Merida in a scene from Disney/Pixar's "Brave".

The shelves of your favorite video retailer are already feeling the weight of potential holiday items, as Tuesday brings an array of new titles and specialty items.

Among the new titles, make note of Brave, the Disney-Pixar animated film about a bold girl in ancient Scotland. The red-haired heroine was the first female to lead a Pixar film, and a fiery one, battling the restrictions on women in her time. It’s a funny film, and one that embraces strong women. As I said when it was in theaters, the visuals are especially good, in a style that includes historical imagery as well as vintage cartoon style. Find the earlier animated The Secret of Kells and have a vivid double feature.

That said, Brave has problems sustaining its story. In comparison with previous Pixar efforts, it falls a bit short — although the Pixar bar is very high. The 3-D version did not justify the extra cost, but the movie itself was still a pleasure.

The movie is being offered in several configurations: a single DVD ($29.99); a three-disc combo ($39.99) with the movie on DVD and Blu-ray and a Blu-ray of bonus features; and a five-disc combo ($49.99) adding the 3-D Blu-ray and a digital copy. Extras vary based on the package but include the Pixar short La Luna, which was shown in theaters along with Brave; an alternate opening, various making-of segments, extended scenes and audio commentary.

New box sets arriving Tuesday include the impressive Friends: The Complete Series (Warner, 236 episodes, $279.98), which brings the long-running comedy in a remastered Blu-ray edition, which looks splendid. The set adds new extras to archival ones from previous releases (among them an earlier complete-series set on standard DVD), spread across 21 discs in a good-sized box that also includes a 36-page episode guide. This is definitely going to replace my earlier accumulation of Friends DVDs.

Also among big boxes is The Irresistible Mel Brooks (Shout! Factory, $89.93), five DVDs and a CD of Brooksiana other than his movies: commercials he wrote and directed, TV specials like Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again, Brooks talking about the making of his films, appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and other tidbits.

While Brooks’ humor is far from consistent, the box has many gems; Brooks delighted on Carson, for example, and I will always remember his commercials for the Bic Banana pen, which are also here. It’s the kind of set where, in a deleted segment from the Cavett special, a fan asks about radio commercials Brooks and Cavett did for a brand of peanuts — and there, on the CD, are the ads. Also included are several essays about Brooks.

I’ll be writing a longer column about big box sets as we get closer to the holidays.

Getting back to movies, Tuesday also brings Savages (Universal, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray/DVD combo), director Oliver Stone’s attempt to adapt Don Winslow’s fine novel about a Butch-and-Sundance-like duo of dope dealers dragged into battle with a Mexican cartel. The book is terrific, but much of its appeal lies in a literary style that Stone cannot translate (and an ending that Stone messes with). He also miscasts at least two of the main roles.

The video release includes the theatrical version of the movie as well as an unrated cut that runs 11 minutes longer and is no more satisfying, Other extras include a making-of piece and deleted scenes.

Then there’s The Watch (Fox, $29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray), the Ben Stiller-Vince Vaughn misfire about a neighborhood-watch unit. The premise had good comic possibilities but they fade as the movie gets more and more involved in an alien-invasion plot.

On the other hand, I strongly recommend the new Blu-ray release of Lawrence of Arabia, marking its 50th anniversary and reminding people of when the great actor Peter O’Toole was young and beautiful. There is also an engaging extra, a “picture-in-graphic track” which reduces the movie’s image to a small portion of the screen in order to show text, pictures and other material related to the making of the movie. It’s not the way to watch the movie for the first time, of course, but it’s enjoyable on a later foray into the film.

Sony is offering the movie in two packages. One is a deluxe, four-disc gift set ($95.99) with the film; a second disc of featurettes including a making-of piece; a third disc with a deleted scene that has not been released before, an interview with Martin Scorsese about the movie, and other segments; and a fourth disc, a CD of the movie’s soundtrack. Also included is a book about the film. A two-disc Blu-ray set ($26.99) has the film and a disc of extras.

Down video road: Francis Ford Coppola’s underappreciated One From the Heart will make its Blu-ray debut in a five-disc Coppola set arriving on Dec. 4; it also includes Apocalypse Now, Apocalypse Now Redux, Tetro and The Conversation. The same date brings the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray, and Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy will be on Blu-ray on Dec. 11.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including in the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.

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