Walt Disney Pictures rolled the dice with producer Robert Zemeckis’ “Mars Needs Moms”, which was trotted out in 3-D to great fanfare earlier this year, and took a critical and commercial beating, to the tune of a meager $39 million worldwide gross. The film — produced by the same team behind “A Christmas Carol” and “The Polar Express” — isn’t quite as much of a stinker as that dismissal might indicate, but neither is it a wonderful romp or, as Boxoffice Magazine’s Pete Hammond claims on the cover, “the perfect family film in every way.”

Mars Needs Moms

The storyline — in which nine-year-old Earthling Milo (Seth Green, but also voiced by another, younger actor) finds out how much he really needs his mother (Joan Cusack) after she’s nabbed by aliens who need her “mom-ness” for their own young, which pop out of the ground every 25 years — is fairly simple and thin, but injected with too much gravity, and the hollow, affectless (and frequently obnoxious) characters and dark action bear the same marks of Zemeckis’ “Polar Express” overreach. The technology of motion-capture can do wonderful things, but it isn’t yet 100 percent, across-the-board effective yet with respect to capturing either emotion or physical nuance, and here it’s rendered with such ham-fisted imprecision as to make one wonder whether it’s time to shelve it for a couple years, until it’s separated from faddish instinct. The end product is actually rather mirthless, even as visuals kind of immerse and wash over one at an increasing clip. At least the comparative depth-of-field found in the 3-D version — available as part of a combo pack for those with HD 3-D televisions and a PlayStation 3 or Blu-ray 3-D player — provides a distraction from the otherwise less than convincing characterizations.

Said combo pack actually comes in an extra-thick Blu-ray case with snap-in tray, and spread out across four discs — one for Blu-ray 3-D, one for regular Blu-ray, one for DVD, and the other for a digital copy of the movie, viewable across various platforms. On Blu-ray, “Mars Needs Moms” sports a nice 1080p transfer, in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with strong detail and color consistency. The audio, in a DTS-HD 7.1 mix, is also clear and free of any hiss or pops. The wide-ranging supplemental material spans three of the discs, and includes alternate and deleted scenes, an extended opening sequence, a featurette on the Martian “language,” another featurette on actors Green and Dan Fogler, and the movie’s trailer. The best add-on, though, is undeniably a look at the motion-capture experience, which allows for a side-by-side, picture-in-picture comparison with the finished product, and comes with an alternate audio commentary track with Green, Fogler and director Simon Wells.

the clinic

In what could scarcely be considered anything less than a 180-degree turn, meanwhile, for horror fans there’s “The Clinic”, new to DVD in an unrated cut. An Australian thriller that again — like its thematic forerunner “Wolf Creek” — claims the handle of being “based on true events,” writer-director James Rabbitts’ film centers on a couple, Cameron and his pregnant fiancee Beth (Andy Whitfield and Tabrett Bethell), who stop for an evening at a desolate hotel, get separated, and endure some very bad things. Beth, you see, wakes up in a tub full of ice in a massive warehouse, her baby having been taken from her womb. Wandering around, though, she finds a handful of other women in the same condition. When she and the other women discover a handful of caged newborns, they undertake an increasingly deadly game to try to sort out whose child is whose, and get to the bottom of this sinister clinic. A cross between “Breakdown”, “The Harvest” and more warped familial horror flicks like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (there’s the seemingly requisite mentally challenged character, who’s required to turn on his mother/master), “The Clinic” is fairly well acted, and convincing in mood. It’s also nicely lensed, by cinematographer Brad Shield, until its final act lingers too long in murky dusk. Unfortunately, the particulars of its plot are fairly ridiculous, and don’t hold up to much scrutiny. It unravels long before the phrase “Russian baby farmers” can escape one’s lips in a questioning tone. “The Clinic” comes to DVD presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Apart from the movie’s trailer and a dozen chapter stops sub-divided from a motion menu main screen, there are unfortunately no supplemental extras.

Taqwacore

Subcultural curios often make for fascinating documentaries, and that’s certainly the case with a pair of new DVD releases. Inspired by and spun off from the work of author Michael Knight, who converted to Islam in rebellion against his white supremacist father and penned the novel “The Taqwacores” (a term combining the Muslim concept of God consciousness with hardcore punk), “Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam” chronicles the nascent, wild and clashing Muslim punk rock movement in the United States. Not to be confused with the narrative feature of the same name of Knight’s novel (although they’d make a nifty double-feature, the sort of which would probably make Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck crap their pants), director Omar Majeed’s movie is briskly paced and engaging on both an intellectual and aural level, serving up thrashing tunes from Vancouver’s The Secret Trial Five and Pakistani punk outfit The Kominas. Roughly the first part of the movie chronicles a careening road tour through the midwest, with the ultimate destination being the Islamic Society of North America’s annual conference in Chicago. Later, Majeed shifts gears, and shows how some of these musical groups and individuals are looking to change mindsets and cultures back in their native homelands. Presented on a region-free disc in a 16×9 aspect ratio, this unique and briskly structured mash-up of a film is an engaging look at youth’s bristling energy, and how a new generation is eager to shake up the status quo and remake religion more in their image and interest, without completely severing ties with tradition.

Card Subject to Change

The feature-length directorial debut of Tim Disbrow, “Card Subject to Change: Pro Wrestling’s Underground” is basically a documentary look at the sort of professional world that Mickey Rourke’s character from “The Wrestler” inhabited. (Necro Butcher, who was even featured in that film, pops up here as an interview subject.) Taking as its central figure independent wrestling promoter Johnny Falco (a dead ringer for Virginia Tech basketball coach Seth Greenberg, for what it’s worth), the film provides a look at both up-and-comers and grizzled, 50- and 60-something-year-old vets who grind it out in local VFW halls, rented high school gyms and Elks’ lodges, where payouts for unproven talent can dip down to only $10 or $20 a match. At 87 minutes, the movie certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it does exhibit a bit of editorial inexperience, introducing characters at the 40-plus-minute mark, and not getting around to at all mentioning the influence of steroids until more than 50 minutes in. There’s not a naturally defined arc here, in other words, despite the presence of some electrically engaging figures, including Michael “Trent Acid” Verdi, widely considered the best unsigned talent on the indie wrestling circuit, and Lacey Von Erich, a bleach-blonde princess in what would be the equivalent of wrestling’s royal family. Cinema Libre’s DVD treatment of “Card Subject to Change” is a loving and fairly robust one. Split into 13 chapters via a motion menu, the title comes with five minutes of outtakes (in which ice cream trucks and insects alike prove to be interrupting distractions), the movie’s trailer, a gallery of photos and 10 brief promos for the movie from interview subjects and the like. There are also six deleted scenes, which include a special directive to New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman from hardcore wrestler “Lowlife Louie,” and probably some “Transformers” copyright infringement by a guy who goes by the name Shockwave, and sports a hand-crafted suit.

Laying waste to my theory that, in the aftermath of “Starship Troopers”, Patrick Muldoon and Casper Van Dien could not occupy the same room, let alone screen, are not one but “two” new DVD releases, which boggles the mind. When one additionally considers that neither title is directed by Uwe Boll, it’s somehow even more discombobulating. First up is “Turbulent Skies”, a made-for-TV flick whose title unfortunately summons forth memories of that old, craptastic Ray Liotta airborne thriller, “Turbulence”. Eager to show off an unmanned flight system and impress his billionaire father (Brad Dourif), playboy CEO Chuck Devain (Muldoon) pushes forward with a celebratory demonstration flight from Los Angeles to New York, despite the fact that the system’s inventor, Tom Woodward (Van Dien), claims it’s not yet ready. When a computer virus triggers a terrifying chain of events, including a sacked communication system and an adjusted flight path straight into a vicious lightning storm, those stuck up in the air in the 747 jet brace themselves for some bad times. Despite the set-up, there’s actually not at all much interplay between Muldoon and Van Dien, and the rest of this B-movie’s plotting is both pretty generic and almost completely telegraphed, robbing it of either any catharsis or wild, willy-nilly thrills.

Next up is “Born To Ride”, which throws together Muldoon and Van Dien as best pals Alex and Mike, respectively, a couple of recreational motorcyclists who get wrapped up in a plot involving political corruption, blackmail and dirty money. Despite a fetching DVD coverbox, with a midriff-baring babe, this movie is actually a fairly yawn-inducing road chase thriller/politicized “Robin Hood” tale, about a corrupt Congressman (Kurt Andon), with just a bit of motorbike dressing to try to bait the “Sons of Anarchy” crowd into an impulse rental. Laden with leaden and sometimes completely nonsensical flashbacks, it doesn’t work or catch fire even with properly diminished expectations. It’s much more amusing and entertaining, instead, to occupy one’s mind by thinking of this as a potential hypothetical vehicle for David Spade and Chris Farley, in the vein of “Tommy Boy” and “Black Sheep”. Now “that” might have been something.

Both Muldoon/Van Dien flicks come to DVD housed in regular plastic Amaray cases, and presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks, and optional English SDH subtitles (“Born To Ride” throws in Spanish as well). Apart from chapter stops, there are unfortunately no supplemental extras here, leaving one to imagine and/or make up the on-set craft services conversations that Muldoon and Van Dien had, and whether they involved Dina Meyer.

Haunted Summer

Another new manufactured-on-demand title arrives in the form of “Haunted Summer”, which perhaps sounds like a teen horror movie but is actually a period piece centering around romantic poets Lord Byron (Philip Anglim) and Percy Shelley (Eric Stoltz). Part historical drama, part hysterical drama, the movie, from Czech-born director Ivan Passer, unfolds over the course of one summer in Switzerland in 1815, in which opium and conversations are commingled with free-love couplings, some of which involve Percy’s future wife Mary (Alice Krige) and her stepsister Claire (Laura Dern). Lust, philosophy and fantasy all get a nice workout, but it seems a bit of a stretch, imparting this meandering narrative upon the eventual creation of Mary Shelley’s famous novel, “Frankenstein”.

Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, “Haunted Summer” comes to DVD — as other titles of its ilk — on a spartanly packaged DVD-R, and without any supplemental extras. OK, OK, fine… the movie’s the thing, so for out-of-circulation catalogue titles like this one, no one reasonable is going to get their panties in a bunch over the lack of EPK-style interviews, a commentary track or some such add-on (even though Passer “is” still alive). Purchasers should know, however, that if they have a newer DVD or DVD/Blu-ray player, they can expect playback troubles with even the simplest of remote control commands. This is a major-league bummer. A half-dozen times now, on both this disc and a similar M-O-D one, merely trying to rewind the action a bit either froze the screen entirely and left it cycling for a couple minutes, or otherwise temporarily disabled playback, requiring set-up all over again.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Thankfully no such problems exist with the new Blu-ray release of one of the better, sharpest romantic comedies of the 1990s, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”. This enchanting and lighthearted romp is an equal-opportunity pleaser (a friend and I in college immediately pegged it as “the” movie of the year to seal the deal with a lady), superbly scripted by Richard Curtis and directed with aplomb by Mike Newell. Even the presence of Andie MacDowell can’t ruin this Oscar-nominated tale of a serial monogamist’s ultimate surrender to love. Hugh Grant is firing on all charming cylinders, before his bag of tricks had been rendered somewhat cliched, or at least limited, and the film is also noteworthy in that it helped introduce Kristin Scott Thomas to a broader, American audience. The film’s Blu-ray presentation comes by way of an AVC-encoded 50GB dual layer disc, in a 1.85:1 widescreen rendering that preserves the aspect ratio of its original theatrical presentation. The transfer is consistent in its colors, and fairly free of grain. Sound, in a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track, with optional Spanish Dolby surround sound and French 5.1 DTS, is crisp and clear. And best of all, MGM and 20th Century Fox have the good sense to port over the supplemental extras from the previous special edition, which include an audio commentary track with the filmmakers, a clutch of deleted scenes, and a handful of production featurettes.

Written by: Brent Simon

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By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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