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The Amazing Spider-Man (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

I consider this one of the year's bigger disappointments—not only because we got this instead of a fourth film directed by Sam Raimi (he quit when the producers tried to force a villain for the pic on him, as they did with Venom in Spider-Man 3), but also because I dislike the goofiness director Marc Webb brought to the universe.

He apparently thinks everything needs to be explained. He must show us Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) making mechanical web devices to show how smart Peter is, for example. Well, I don't need all of the physics of Spider-Man explained. And I certainly don't need another Spidey origin story so soon after Raimi's version. It's also a little weird to watch a man in his late 20s playing a high school student. What is this, Grease?

The villain this time out, the Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans, is a bust. I've never been a big fan of Ifans, and I would've liked to have seen a multitude of different actors play the baddie. However, the film does receive high marks for casting the likes of Martin Sheen, Sally Field and Denis Leary.

I understood that Raimi's reign was going to end someday, but a fourth try (and a shot at redemption after Spider-Man 3) would've offered a better finish. His Spidey films, even the overstuffed third movie, were better than this one.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A commentary from Webb and crew is OK, but you'll struggle to take in the whole thing. There are lots of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and you can download an app for your iPad and have the "Second Screen Experience": Your tablet synchs with the movie and offers myriad interviews and behind-the-scenes extras while you watch.

Empire of the Sun (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This gem might be Steven Spielberg's most-underrated film. Starring a very young Christian Bale, Spielberg's World War II story as told through the eyes of a young boy becoming a man is nothing short of magnificent.

On the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded something called the International Settlement in Shanghai, where European diplomats were living luxurious lives. Bale plays Jim, the son of an English businessman who is left behind during the chaos and must fend for his life in series of precarious situations, including an internment camp.

I love everything about this movie, from the Bale performance (perhaps the greatest child performance of all time) to the lush cinematography to the excellent supporting performance of John Malkovich as Basie, a conniving American prisoner who mentors and/or exploits Jim. Look closely, and you will see Ben Stiller in one of his first big-screen roles as a fellow prisoner.

The true reason to see this is the Bale performance, one of the best that Spielberg has ever pulled out of an actor. He starts as a spoiled rich kid wearing his school uniform and winds up a hardened, somewhat haggard kid who his parents don't even recognize when they are reunited. Bale's last moment in the film is a thing of beauty, and one of the best shots Spielberg has ever achieved.

On Blu-ray, it's every bit as fantastic as anything in Spielberg's film history; 2012 continues to be a fantastic year for Spielberg fans who like their Blu-rays.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A couple of documentaries: one narrated by Martin Sheen about the making of the film, and the other narrated by Spielberg and exploring Warner Bros.' classic war movies. You also get a book. I wanted more.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This hasn't aged to perfection. The "circuits of time" special effects look dated; the music sucks; and the '80s ... well, the decade is scary to look at.

Still, Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter made for a winning duo as the title characters, who are about to fail their final history exam in San Dimas, Calif., when a helpful messenger from the future (George Carlin) shows up with a time-traveling phone booth.

There are some great moments to be had, my favorite being Socrates and Billy the Kid playing Nerf football in old-timey England while Bill and Ted discuss their predicament in the foreground. It's one of those things you thought you would never see.

Reeves and Winter have been fueling the rumor mill about a possible third adventure. (It's been two decades since the first sequel, Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey.) This proposed movie would be at the top of my "Sequels I Want to See" list.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's an interview with the film's writers, an "air guitar" tutorial and an episode of the animated series that actually featured the voices of Reeves and Winter. There's nothing new and exciting—which is a shame, since they are trying to get a third movie off the ground.

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