By Jay Bobbin Zap2it
(Ratings for each film begin with a "star'' rating -- one star meaning "poor,'' four meaning "excellent'' -- followed by the Motion Picture Association of America rating, and then by a family-viewing guide, the key for which appears below.)
"The Peanuts Movie": Charles M. Schulz's long-popular characters appeared in several theatrical movies years ago, but they get a new, computer-animated look in this tale that again puts Snoopy on the trail of the Red Baron ... while the ever-hapless Charlie Brown pursues a little red-haired girl anew. Schulz's son and grandson had hands in writing the tale, whose voice cast includes Kristin Chenoweth and -- as Snoopy and Woodstock -- Bill Melendez, whose history with the franchise dates back to the earliest television specials. DVD extras: two "making-of'' documentaries; music video ("Better When I'm Dancin' '' by Meghan Trainor); "Snoopy Snippets''; "Learn to Draw'' featurette. *** (G) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"In the Heart of the Sea": Based on the best seller by Nathaniel Philbrick, the Ron Howard-directed drama re-creates the true whaling-ship crisis that inspired Herman Melville to write "Moby Dick.'' Played by Ben Whishaw, alias Q in the current James Bond movies, Melville seeks information from a sailor (portrayed as an older man by Brendan Gleeson, and in younger days by Tom Holland) who was aboard the whaling ship Essex when it ran into major trouble at sea -- and challenged the survivors of an initial encounter with a mammoth mammal to stay alive in the waters. Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy and Jordi Molla also star. DVD extra: "making-of'' documentary. *** (PG-13: AS, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Macbeth": Michael Fassbender portrays Shakespeare's legendary character in this latest of the play's screen adaptations, an excellent version relating the saga of Scotland's duke whose quest to become king -- a destiny projected to him by several witches -- leads him to take drastic action to speed up his ascension. Marion Cotillard plays his conspiratorial spouse Lady Macbeth, with David Thewlis, Paddy Considine and Sean Harris among other notables in the cast ... but of course, the success of any production of this piece falls principally on the title performer, and Fassbender does quite a credible job. DVD extras: "making-of'' documentary; Q&A with Fassbender. **** (R: AS, V) (Also on Blu-ray and On Demand)
"Victor Frankenstein": One of the most legendary stories of all times gets another of many workouts, returning in concept to Mary Shelley's original tale of the title scientist (played by James McAvoy) obsessed with creating a synthetic man. His assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) watches the doctor's relentless determination drive him toward madness, in a script that concentrates more on the relationship between the two men than on monsters -- though it wouldn't be a true "Frankenstein'' story without a sprinkling of those. Andrew Scott ("SPECTRE'') co-stars. DVD extras: "making-of'' documentaries; deleted scenes; art galleries. *** (PG-13: AS, V) (Also on Blu-ray)
Also Releasing this week:
"Grease: Live": A big hit for Fox in its recent telecast, this cleverly staged (by directors Thomas Kall and Alex Rudzinski) production of the nostalgic musical about the romance of vastly different high-schoolers Danny and Sandy features Aaron Tveit ("Graceland'') and "Dancing With the Stars'' staple Julianne Hough ... both of whom admittedly are beyond their teen years, but so were many others who have had those central roles, including a Mr. Travolta and a Ms. Newton-John. Vanessa Hudgens, Keke Palmer ("Scream Queens''), Carlos PenaVega and Carly Rae Jepsen also star -- and there's added fun in seeing Didi Conn and Barry Pearl from the 1978 movie version here, as well as ``Brady Bunch'' veteran Eve Plumb. DVD extras: six "making-of'' documentaries. ***
"Open Season: Scared Silly": Ten years after the original animated tale, this sequel makes the threat of a werewolf the cause of new problems in Timberline National Forest. A hunter (voice of Trevor Devall) wants to track and eliminate the apparent intruder, placing the forest's other animal residents -- including Boog and Elliot (voices of Donny Lucas and Will Townsend) -- in peril. Director David Feiss also was involved in the creation of the first "Open Season.'' DVD extras: audio commentary by Feiss; "Super Speedy Recap.'' *** (Not rated) (Also on Blu-ray)
"Concussion" (March 29): Will Smith stars as a forensic pathologist who links pro football's necessary roughness to dementia in some players. (PG-13: AS, P)
"Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip" (March 15): The trio hits the road for Miami, where they hope to keep pal David Seville (Jason Lee) from making a marriage proposal. (PG: AS)
"Carol" (March 15): The 1950s relationship of two women (played by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) fuels director Todd Haynes' version of a Patricia Highsmith novel. (R: AS, N, P)
"Sisters" (March 15): Tina Fey and Amy Poehler play siblings who decide to stage a massive party at their former home. (R: AS, P)
"Freaks and Geeks: The Complete Series" (March 22): The cult-classic show, about a Detroit high school circa 1980, makes its Blu-ray debut and features Seth Rogen and James Franco. (Not rated: AS, P)
"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2" (March 22): The movie franchise concludes as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) targets her society's leader ... who's also targeting her. (PG-13: AS, P, V)
TOP 10 DVD RENTALS
(Week ending February 21, 2016, courtesy of Rentrak Corp.)
1) "The Martian"
2) "The Intern"
3) "Straight Outta Compton"
5) "The Last Witch Hunter"
6) "Hotel Transylvania 2"
8) "Bridge of Spies"
10) "The Visit"
FAMILY VIEWING GUIDE KEY: AS, adult situations; N, nudity; P, profanity; V, violence; GV, particularly graphic violence