New DVD releases range from singing competitions to a sci-fi remake.
Pitch Perfect, Grade B-plus: A college student (Anna Kendrick) finds herself hanging with the wrong crowd.
This movie about college a cappella groups isn't sharp or flat. The script and cast are in such harmony in Pitch Perfect, it is definitely a Glee-ful hit. It would have been very easy to tune out Pitch Perfect after so many seasons of Glee. But from the always dependable acting of Kendrick to the in-sync direction of Jason Moore, this production is a comedy octave higher than any episode of the TV series.
As an added bonus, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks are hilarious as former a cappella singers who now do the announcing and color commentary for the competition telecasts. Banks is particularly funny with a delivery that's so deadpan it masks just how inappropriate her comments are. There hasn't been such a funny commentary team since Best in Show.
Total Recall, Grade B: A man tries to deal with an identity crisis.
Director Len Wiseman, master of the Underworld movies and actress Kate Beckinsale's husband, has shifted the film focus away from the psychological elements for a more physical approach. Once the film starts, it is a white-knuckle thrill ride that doesn't offer too many chances to breathe.
It has its problems, and it can be nitpicked into obscurity. The main woe is the way Wiseman deals with the ambiguity. Fact or fiction? He leans so heavily in one direction that it takes the pop out of the final scenes.
Total Recall isn't unforgettable, but it's the kind of movie you won't be sorry to see.
Trouble With the Curve, Grade C: An aging scout (Clint Eastwood) battles the new computerized baseball world.
This film is a by-the-numbers story of an aging professional baseball scout, played with cantankerous splendor by Clint Eastwood, and the daughter he has kept at a distance, played with perfect perkiness by Amy Adams. The movie thrives on the fastball pitches of aging, parenting, and baseball, but it could have used a few change-ups to make it more interesting.
House of Lies, The First Season, Grade A-minus: The cable series based on the best-selling book by Martin Kihn is a wicked and wonderful behind-the-scenes look at the world of management consultants. Don Cheadle plays the head of the team, a man who can masterfully spin any story.
The second season debuts Jan. 13 on Showtime.
Also new on DVD this week:
Cuban Missile Crisis, Three Men Go to War: A look at how John F. Kennedy, Nikita Khrushchev, and Fidel Castro brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust.
The Good Doctor: Story of what happens when medicine goes wrong. Orlando Bloom stars.
Shameless, The Complete Second Season: William H. Macy stars.
Without a Trace, The Complete Fifth Season: Crime drama starring Anthony LaPaglia.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dog Days: Wimpy kid gets into more trouble.
Can Science Stop Crime?: Nova looks inside the criminal mind with cutting-edge forensic techniques that help investigators.
The Sarah Silverman Program, Season Three: Comedy series featuring Sarah Silverman.
Funny or Die Presents The Complete Second Season: Ben Stiller is featured in the sketch comedy show.
Californication, The Fifth Season: David Duchovny cable series about a sex-crazed writer.
Quincy M.E., Season 4: Jack Klugman plays the mystery-solving coroner.
Army Wives, Season Six, Part Two: Cable series that looks at military life at home.
The Hi-Lo Country: Best friends return from the war to face a battle over cattle ranching.
Sometimes a Great Notion: The Paul Newman film make its Blu-ray debut.