New on DVD and Blu-ray:

“PONYO,” animated with the voices of Cate Blanchett and Noah Lindsey Cyrus. Maybe the most accessible introduction to the genius of animator Hayao Miyazaki yet, “Ponyo” concerns the engagingly surreal adventures of the title character (voiced by Cyrus, who is, you guessed it, Hannah Montana’s little sister). Ponyo is an energetic goldfish whose curiosity about the human world leads her to leave her oceanic world behind, to the consternation of her parents (voiced by Blanchett and Liam Neeson), but to the delight of her new human friend Sosuke (Frankie Jonas of, you guessed it again, the Jonas Brothers family). The plot is little more than a takeoff on “The Little Mermaid,” but the staggering visuals and beautiful animation throughout make up for any storytelling lapses. It’s a 2D marvel that puts many lesser CGI projects completely to shame. Special features include an interactive look at the “World of Ghibli” and a storyboard presentation of the film. Rated G. Running time: 1:41.

Suggested retail price: DVD $29.99; Blu-ray $39.99.

“2012,” starring John Cusack and Amanda Peet. The megabudget cinematic monstrosities of director Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day”) may lack substance (to be kind), but they retain a sense of B-movie wonder that is sorely lacking in the work of fellow blockbuster masterminds such as Michael Bay (“Transformers”). “2012” is an end-of-the-world FX extravaganza that finds divorcee Cusack and his kids attempting to outmaneuver a series of impressively created natural disasters, while President Danny Glover struggles to maintain control and excitable DJ Woody Harrelson brays increasingly less crazed conspiracy theories over the airwaves. Few, if any, lessons are learned, but the world blows up real good. Special features include deleted scenes and a commentary from Emmerich and co-writer Harald Kloser (“10,000 B.C.”). Rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequences and some language. Running time: 2:38.

Suggested retail price: DVD $28.96; Blu-ray $39.95.

“WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE,” starring Max Records and Catherine Keener. This controversial but rewarding adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic children’s books will likely be of more interest to parents, with its relentlessly dark undercurrent and refusal to sterilize the more painful elements of childhood. Here, young Max (a brilliant debut by Records) is a troubled tween who flees an unhappy home with his distracted mother (Keener, excellent as always) and discovers a world of monsters (voiced by James Gandolfini, Catherine O’Hara and Lauren Ambrose, among others) eager to accept him into their alternately menacing and loving community. Families looking for another “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie need not apply, but viewers who grew up loving Sendak’s singular creations will find that this film bridges the gap between the different but equally confusing worlds of childhood and adulthood almost perfectly. Special features include several making-of featurettes. Rated PG for mild thematic elements, some adventure action and brief language. Running time: 1:41.

Suggested retail price: DVD $28.98; Blu-ray $35.99.

“ALICE,” starring Caterina Scorsone and Andrew Lee Potts. Just in case you’re not sick of “Alice in Wonderland” remakes, here comes another one from the Syfy channel, which applies something of an urban punk aesthetic to Carroll’s oft-updated classic. It is impressive by Syfy standards, but will likely appear pedestrian when compared to what Tim Burton will no doubt pull off in his upcoming take or, for that matter, to the still-great Disney version. Not rated, contains mild language and some frightening moments. Running time: 6:00.

Suggested retail price: DVD $19.98; Blu-ray $29.99.

“GENTLEMEN BRONCOS,” starring Michael Angarano and Jemaine Clement. Fans of director Jared Hess (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and his self-conscious brand of thrift store quirk will find him at his most indulgent in “Broncos,” which finds awkward sci-fi writer wannabe Angarano (“Snow Angels”) attending a writing camp for the chance to receive feedback from his literary idol, the hilariously pompous Ronald Chevalier (scene-stealer Clement of “Flight of the Conchords”), who promptly purloins his story ideas. Not nearly as widely embraced as “Dynamite,” “Broncos” is either a new high or new low in Hess’ career, depending on your point of view, but its dedication to its own deadpan weirdness should be recognized. Special features include outtakes and deleted scenes. Rated PG-13 for some crude humor. Running time: 1:30.

Suggested retail price: DVD $27.98; Blu-ray $39.99.


New on DVD:

“ELVIS,” starring Kurt Russell and Shelley Winters. Well-received 1979 made-for-TV biopic finds a pre-superstardom Russell ably embodying the king of rock ‘n’ roll, and also marks his first partnership with director John Carpenter, who would later team up with him again for 1981’s seminal “Escape from New York.” Undeniably a bit sleazy but hugely entertaining, “Elvis” sets the gold standard for ’70s TV movie goodness, and Russell will surprise those unfamiliar with this early and quite impressive performance. Special features include a making-of featurette and production photos. Not rated, contains mild language and drug content. Running time 2:50.

Suggested retail price: $19.99.


New on Blu-ray:

“THE NEVERENDING STORY,” starring Barret Oliver and Noah Hathaway. One of the most fondly remembered family fantasies of the 1980s arrives on Blu-ray this week. The ideal opportunity to introduce a new generation to the still-effective wonders of director Wolfgang Petersen’s (“Troy”) visually inventive ode to the pleasures of reading, “Story” has held up remarkably well over the years. Rated PG for some frightening moments. Running time: 1:42.

Suggested retail price: $28.99.

“THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN,” starring Gordon Liu and Norman Chu. If you’re one of the many who’ve heard kung-fu gurus and Wu-Tang Clan members going on and on about how great “36th Chamber” is, but have never gotten around to watching it, now would be the perfect time to see what all the fuss is about. Director Chia Liang-Liu’s (“The Legend of Drunken Master”) 1978 classic, concerning a young Chinese patriot (Liu, “Legendary Weapons of China”) who undergoes an unthinkably rigorous and brilliantly recreated training regimen to become one of the monks of the Shaolin Temple, lives up to the years of hype and then some. Special features include an interview with Liu. Rated R for violence. Running time: 1:55.

Suggested retail price: $19.97.


Videoport picks: 

“COLD SOULS,” starring Paul Giamatti and Dina Korzun. This debut feature of writer-director Sophie Barthes has been dismissed by some reviewers as “Charlie Kaufman lite,” due to its passing resemblance to that writer’s 1999 mind-bending hit “Being John Malkovich.” That film, if you’ll recall, brought meta to the fore with its plot involving a portal that puts one inside the head of the titular actor, and gave the gloriously hammy performer an all too rare opportunity to play “himself.” Here, schlub-of-all-trades Giamatti (“John Adams”) gets a similar chance, playing “Paul Giamatti,” an actor whose extreme dissatisfaction with his performance in Chekov’s “Uncle Vanya” leads him to seek assistance through a questionable doctor (David Straithairn, “Good Night, and Good Luck”) who promises to extract his soul to alleviate his stress. Wouldn’t you know it, the soul is stolen by a “soul-trafficking mule” (Korzun, “Forty Shades of Blue”) and implanted in a talentless Russian soap opera actor, leaving Giamatti with no choice but to try to track it down. Grounded in the theater in spite of its otherworldly aspirations, “Souls” is an interesting and often quite funny amalgam of imagination and the mundane, as well as an ideal vehicle for Giamatti’s always enjoyable bug-eyed kvetching. Rated PG-13 for nudity and brief strong language. Running time: 1:41.

Suggested retail price: $19.98.

“THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE,” starring Robin Wright Penn and Mike Binder. Writer-director Rebecca Miller is arguably better at conveying a female perspective than anyone else working in film today, with such acclaimed movies as “Angela,” “Personal Velocity” and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose” under her belt. Here, she finds an ideal performer in Penn, who brings considerable life to the potentially depressing story of a woman married to a much older and ailing man (Alan Arkin), and looks back on her tumultuous past while making a connection with a neighbor’s son (Keanu Reeves). Beyond Penn, Arkin and Reeves, “Lives” boasts an excellent supporting cast that includes Mario Bello (“A History of Violence”), Winona Ryder and Julianne Moore. The film is sensitive and uncompromising, like all of Miller’s work, and one of Penn’s best performances to date. Rated R for sexual content, brief nudity, some drug material and language. Running time: 1:38.

Suggested retail price: DVD $27.98; Blu-ray $29.98.


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