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THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (Blu-ray combo)

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FaultinOurStarscoverGrade: A-
Entire family: No
2014, 126 min., Color
Twentieth Century Fox
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexuality, and brief strong language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UV Copy
Bonus features: B
Trailer

Augustus “Gus” Waters wants what most teens do: to make a mark on the world, to be famous, to be somebody the world will mourn when he’s gone. That’s ridiculous, 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster says. The world will end and no one will be around to remember even its most famous people, much less the billions who, despite grand aspirations, never fulfilled their dreams. But both of them fear oblivion, and in a cancer support group they find in each other an unexpected love.

Entertainment Weekly called it “The greatest romance story of this decade,” and I can see why. It’s this generation’s Titanic—only cancer is the iceberg that sinks their boat. Though it’s about teens, narrated by a 16 year old, and based on a young adult novel by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars has a much wider appeal because cancer is not age- or audience-selective. It affects the lives of so many, and this film reassures people that it doesn’t matter if you’re not famous enough to make history (or reality TV, for that matter). In the end, what matters is that your passing is remembered by ONE person—which reinforces that relationships of any kind are more important than accomplishments.   More

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (Blu-ray)

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TheWinterSoldiercoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2014, 136 min., Color
Marvel Entertainment
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence, gunplay, and action throughout
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features: C+
Trailer

Superhero films are the exception to many parents’ rules against too much violence, because even without the “BAM” or “SOCK” graphics we got from TV’s campy Batman episodes, it’s understood that superheroes aren’t real and so neither, by extension, is the violence. It’s why younger children climb onboard to watch a film that, were it a straight action flick, might have been taboo.

But Captain America: The Winter Soldier does something no superhero movie has even attempted: it picks up the superhero and plunks him down right in the middle of a ‘70s conspiracy thriller. That makes sense, actually, because Captain America is probably the most human and normal of all the Marvel superheroes. He’s a regular guy who was made stronger and faster through medical experimentation, the U.S.’s attempt to counter Hitler’s “Master Race.” His only weapon is a shield that he throws like a Frisbee.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely were heavily influenced by espionage thrillers such as Sydney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor, while directors Anthony and Joe Russo wanted to push the superhero movie beyond the simple nemesis-driven plots we typically see. How unusual is it for a superhero NOT to appear in just about every scene of a superhero movie? But of course it isn’t unusual for that to happen in more complex thrillers.

The Winter Soldier takes its title from a Soviet agent that Captain America (Chris Evans) goes up against, but that assassin (Sebastian Stan) is only one piece of the puzzle in a complex plot that twists and turns like Steve Rogers own souped-up DNA.   More

BLENDED (Blu-ray)

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BlendedcoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
2014, 117 min., Color
Warner Bros.
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content and language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UV copy
Bonus features: B-
Trailer

Sometimes you just have to ignore the buzz. Our family had heard that Blended, the latest Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore comedy, wasn’t all that good. But hey, I said, we loved them together in The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates, so let’s give it a chance.

We did, and our whole family was entertained—enough to watch it again in the future. Yes, there were some cheesy spots and a few gags that fell flat, but that’s the nature of comedies—especially those that try to balance humor with warm fuzzy moments.

So I’m going to have to disagree with my colleagues at Rotten Tomatoes that gave this film a crappy 14 percent “rotten” rating—meaning only 14 critics out of 100 liked it. The telltale sign is that 66 percent of the Rotten Tomatoes readers liked it, and audiences aren’t looking to criticize. They’re just looking to have a good time. So were we.

Blended won’t be for everyone, though, because it does try to do the impossible: to make a family movie that’s also adult, insomuch as it’s full of put-downs, sexual innuendo, and slapstick that bounces back and forth between the adult and juvenile realms. Running gags include the girls’ boyish looks, one “blended” couple’s get-a-room antics, a 15-year-old girl’s flat chest, and a boy’s babysitter and dirty magazine fetish. Blended is rated PG-13 for “crude and sexual content and language,” and parents who are uncomfortable letting their children watch films like that will want to take a pass.

But you know what? The juggling of adult and family content is the realistic theme of this film—and the bulk of it takes place at a South African resort specializing in blended families, one which makes no bones about wanting to keep (or rekindle) the flame between the mother and father so that they don’t just think of themselves as 24/7 parents.  More

THE ORIGINALS: SEASON 1 (Blu-ray)

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OriginalscoverGrade: B+
Entire family: No
2013-14, 929 min. (22 episodes), Color
Warner Bros.
Rated TV-14
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UV copy
Bonus features: B
Trailer

The Twilight novels and films opened the floodgates for a vampire resurgence, and in The Originals: Season 1—a spin-off from the popular CW series The Vampire Diaries—we get more vampire drama . . . and violence.

Like The Vampire Diaries, this spin-off is rated TV-14, which means that the ratings board thinks American 14 year olds are cool with seeing heads lopped off, hearts ripped from chests, and vampires biting off fingers and pieces of flesh. It’s an ultraviolent show that will probably still give young teens more than a few nightmares. So don’t let the TV-14 label fool you. While there isn’t nearly as much sex in this first season of The Originals as we saw in the original series that inspired it, it seems as if people (or vampires or werewolves) are constantly being brutally butchered and tortured.

At least it’s not as soapy as The Vampire Diaries. There’s melodrama and stand-and-talk monologues, but the situations aren’t nearly as cheesy—maybe because romantic entanglements are deemphasized.   More