This Week in DVD & Blu-ray is a column that compiles all the latest info regarding new DVD and Blu-ray releases, sales, and exclusive deals from stores including Target, Best Buy and Fry’s.

Rent It

(Releases on Thursday, April 22)
Avatar’s crowning achievement is that it could not have been made at any time prior to right now. Put that into perspective: it took over 100 years of film history transpiring to allow for this movie’s existence. And in utilizing that century’s worth of technological progress, James Cameron managed to create one of cinema’s most awe-inspiring spectacles: the world of Pandora. Without Pandora, and without the visual effects that made Pandora possible, Avatar would be nothing. It is by far the most compelling character in the film. While the design of the creatures, botanical life and Na’vi may not be especially unique, it’s the vibrant, gorgeous rendering of these elements that makes the world feel so lush and alive. Avatar is an ‘experience’ movie, more successful at taking you on a journey filled with beauty, excitement and discovery than it is at telling an engrossing story. This is also the reason the film is bound to lose much of its appeal in the transition from IMAX 3D to home video. The plot and characters just aren’t that compelling, seriously lacking in both originality and emotional resonance. Viewers keep fixating on the similarities in plot to Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, Ferngully, The Last Samurai, and so on, but really, the familiarity of the story would not have been a problem had Cameron expanded or added onto the formula in any meaningful way, instead of stripping it down to its bare essence. Characters fare even worse, with central protagonist Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) doing his darndest to earn the title of cinema’s blandest hero, and the supporting cast leaving even less of an impression than him. All of the characters are relegated to embodying the most stereotypical traits of their societal roles, often feeling like a naïve 15-year-olds interpretation of what scientists, the military, and Native Americans act like (having apparently been learned from years of comic books and Saturday morning cartoons). The only two characters that inspire any sort of an emotional response are Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) and Colonel Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang), and that’s due entirely to the engaging performances of the actors playing them, as even they’re not exempt from Cameron’s groan-worthy dialogue and simplistic characterizations. If it weren’t for the film being so damn pretty, I’d probably hate it.
Available on Blu-ray? Yes.
Notable Extras: DVD – None. Blu-ray – Includes a copy of the DVD.

Target Best Buy Fry’s
$15.99 $15.99 $15.97
Amazon – $15.99

Target Best Buy Fry’s
$19.99 $22.99 $19.97
Amazon – $19.99

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TIFF Review: Uncertainty

Uncertainty has a brilliant set-up: After it is discovered that Kate (Lynn Collins) is pregnant, the young couple finds themselves uncertain about their future. With a magical flip of a coin, the story is split into two alternative realities, showing two vastly different directions their immediate future could take ala Sliding Doors. I am certain that the film never lives up to the magical promises of the plot synopsis, and was baffled at the lack of explanation of why both stories differed so greatly.

One of the stories takes the couple to a July 4th barbecue at Kate’s family’s house, where the discover a stray dog. Olivia Thirlby has an extended cameo as Kate’s sister who plans to give up her college scholarship to peruse her acting dreams in Los Angeles. The other story is set-up like a DJ Caruso-style thriller. It begins when Kate’s boyfriend Bobby (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers a lost smart phone in the back of a cab. Rather than turn it in to the driver, he decides to call the last few numbers on the recent call list and leave messages regarding the missing phone. He eventually reaches someone claiming to be the owner of the phone, and arranges a meet up to hand it over. But when the guy arrives is shot and murdered, the couple are forced to go on the run. A blackmail plot is devised which could either make the couple $500,000 richer or dead. You can probably guess which of the two stories is more interesting.

The film is highly improvised, based on an extensive story treatment. The performances are natural, but sometimes feels free of substance. Instead we are watching reactions and conversations. Some people may enjoy that, and I’m guessing those people might enjoy the highly developed character drama of the barbecue story. Bottom line is the film is entertaining but highly uneven.

The one interesting thing about the unique structure is that both have the same exact backstory. This allows one story to reveal the answers to questions posed in the other story. For example, Kate’s brother is brought up at the barbecue, but you don’t find out what happened to him until it is revealed during conversation in the other reality.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10