Blu-ray/DVD Review-a-Palooza: One Column. Eleven Reviews.
The links in the titles will take you to where each individual film can be purchased at Amazon.com.
Happy Feet Two (2011) -- Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / UltraViolet Digital Copy
For some reason, I received two copies of this and gave one to my next door neighbors with a note that suggested that, because of the political subtext, they give it a look before unleashing it on the kids. I don't know the politics of my neighbors, so that's as far as it went, but unless they’re environmentalist hippies and in favor of same-sex marriage, my guess is that their kids will never see it.
Almost every scene is about how the environment is doomed due to Global Warming and Big Oil, and after a while this simply gets oppressive. But what's worse is the lack of a cohesive story. Most of the time I had no idea what was going on. The original "Happy Feet" was political, as well, but at least it had its charms as a piece of musical storytelling. Like the "Babe" sequel, this one crashes and burns in the exact same confusing, dull, and beautifully produced way.
The Muppets (2011) - Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy + Soundtrack Download Card
The Tex Richman anti-oil stuff is the least of this reboot's problems. What it's really missing is the heart the legendary Jim Henson infused into everything.
All the parts are there to bring the Muppets back -- the Muppets themselves, songs, gags, and a loose-fitting story that clips along at a pretty good pace. But for some reason it feels cold, and star/screenwriter's Jason Segel on-screen presence certainly doesn't help. Quite intentionally, everything about his and co-star Amy Adams' performance mocks the kind of earnestness we usually see in children's films. He plays it earnest, but it's so purposefully over-the-top that you can see his tongue in his cheek. In other words, he's mocking earnestness and that kind of above-it-allery is the antithesis of heart.
To his credit, Segel had a lot to do with bringing his beloved Muppets back to the big screen, but he's apparently too cool for them and that just doesn't compute.
For die-hards, the film has its moments, most especially during the first act, but it's not something I would watch again.
The Adventures of Tintin (2011) -- Three-Disc Combo: Blu-ray 3D / Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy
Other than the obvious, like the story being completely different, you could pretty much insert my "Hugo" review here. "Tintin" is just another beautifully crafted, lovely-to-look at wannabe blockbuster brought to us by a genius director with a lifelong affection for the material. Unfortunately, the story is criminally dull. It's not that the pace is slow -- in fact the pace is overwhelmingly frantic at times --it's just that the narrative never draws you in and so you’re forced to just sit there and watch stuff happen you have no emotional investment in.
The kids might love it in the same way they love anything with a lot of color and action, but I couldn’t wait for it to end. Truth be told, it was only out of respect for the kind people who sent me the screener that I bothered to finish it at all.
Other than a few exciting scenes and a number of conservative themes about what it means to be a man, free will, and why liberty is something worth fighting and dying for, "Immortals" is an overall disappointment with a story that never really feels as though it kicks in and a number of confusing points where you're never quite sure where you are or who is doing what to whom.
The performances are good, the special effects are what you would expect from the producers of "300," and there's no shortage of eye candy for men and woman, but the script just isn't there. The movie closes with the promise of a sequel (this did make money so that's a real possibility), so let's just hope more work goes into telling a compelling story in the second go-round.
Like "G.I. Joe" and the recent "Clash of the Titans" remake, "Immortals" feels like one of those franchises where the second part will be an improvement over the original. Let's hope I'm right on all three accounts.
The Three Musketeers (2011) - Special Edition
Before popping this into the player, I was aware that both critics and audience's had rejected this latest retelling of the Alexandre Dumas classic, but as a fan of the "Resident Evil" franchise, I was expecting the married team of director Paul W. S. Anderson and star Milla Jovovich to at least pull off a kind of B-level good time. Unfortunately, they didn’t even come close to achieving that.
Anderson is a genius at staging action scenes. Few directors working today are as skilled as he is at making sure the audience understands the choreography and geography of action. And to his credit, that's still the case in "Three Musketeers." The problem isn't even story, the problem is the individual scenes within the story. There's no rhythm to the dialogue, no chemistry between the five principal stars (the four musketeers and Jovovich's Milady de Winter), and the tone feels forced and awkward.
The kids will probably enjoy the action, production design, and special effects, but I was left cold with disappointment thanks to a story that never takes off.
Is the movie as bad as that DVD cover art? No, but it's close.
Reindeer Games -The Director's Cut (2000)
Director John Frankenheimer's final theatrical film has always gotten a bad rap. Twelve years ago, in the heat of his high-profile coupling with Jennifer Lopez, the knives were out for star Ben Affleck, and a number of the casualties along the way were a few legitimately entertaining films, including "Bounce," "Changing Lanes," and this Yuletide-themed actioner about an ex-con caught up in a casino robbery involving a gorgeous woman (Charlize Theron) and a gang of trucker/gun-runners led by Gary Sinise -- who appears to be having the time of his life bullying everyone in sight.
Thanks to a number of legitimately surprising plot turns, energetic performances, and some well-staged action scenes, there's absolutely no reason to buy into all the trash-talk. I've always been a "Reindeer Games" fan and the chance to see it all in high-def was a real treat. It's not only a beautifully shot film, but the winter scenes are actual winter scenes -- which adds much to the story's gritty tone. Moreover, the theme really does come down to enjoying and appreciating the simple things in life.
"Reindeer Games" is kind of a perfect Christmas film, in that "Lethal Weapon" kind of way.
Other than the shots of kids playing in a public park that bookend the story, director Roman Polanski keeps the staging of his adult black comedy confined to a New York apartment and the hallway that leads to it. Based on the stage play "God of Carnage," the film stars Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet, and Christoph Waltz as four over-caffeinated parents whose veneer of civility disappears as they argue and debate over-think over the best way to handle a couple of grade-school age kids who had a fairly typical grade-school-type fight.
The story did hold my attention, and thanks to inventive camera-work the production didn’t always feel like a filmed play. The performances are all first-rate, and in that Woody Allen-ish way, the mockery is all aimed at liberal intellectuals -- their pretensions, phobias, prejudices, and phoniness. The message here seems to be: watch how a little confrontation and a few drinks strip the civil from the civilized.
You'll be entertained, but in the end child rapist Polanski really has nothing new or interesting to say.
A Dangerous Method (2011)
Director David Cronenberg directs this supposedly true-life tale of the troubled relationship between famed psychologist Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender), his mentor Sigmund Freud (a very good Viggo Mortensen), and Sabina Spielrin (Keira Knightley), the patient who becomes Jung's tutor and lover, and eventually creates a wedge between the two men.
Everything about the film is competent, including the performances and most especially the pacing. Things move briskly along over the decades and you are interested in seeing what will happen next and where it will all lead. The problem is, though, you never really come to care about the three main characters or their relationships. You’re not rooting for anyone to find a way to make it work. Freud seems emotionally detached from the world, Jung is cheating on his sweet wife, and Spierlin is the woman he's cheating with.
In the end, what you have here is an interesting story. Unfortunately, the story isn’t about anyone you care about.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) - 2-Disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy
Gary Oldman, one of the great actors of our time and all time, stars as passive-aggressive espionage veteran George Smiley in this dense adaptation of John le Carre's iconic Cold War spy thriller about the hunt to uncover a Soviet mole within the highest ranks of the British Secret Intelligence Service. All of this, of course, is really a pretense for a character piece about the price men pay for living a life of deception and the emotional toll that comes with spycraft.
This is a beautifully filmed and perfectly acted production, but to say the story is confusing would be an understatement. The last time this was filmed was in 1979 as a seven-part BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness. The attempt to fit so much story and character into a feature film simply doesn't work. For long stretches the plot makes little sense and while, in spots, you feel as though you caught up, by the time the credits rolled, I had no idea what I had just watched.
I will, however, give the film another chance. Because of the acting and the intelligence of the individual scenes, I still found the story strangely compelling. Much of the credit for that also has to go to the cinematography and overall tone of the picture, which mesmerizes.
If this nut can be cracked, I'll keep coming back until it is.
Young Adult (2011)
After scoring a critical and box office success with the somewhat overrated "Juno" (which won screenwriter Diablo Cody an Oscar), director Jason Reitman and Cody teamed up again to tell the tale of Mavis Gary (a superb Charlize Theron), a lonely, promiscuous, alcoholic narcissist who decides to reclaim the glory of her past with a trip to her childhood home and a mission to steal an old boyfriend away from his wife and newborn.
The first two-thirds of the story are even better than "Juno." The dialogue is smart and witty, and the situations always insightful and frequently squirm-inducing (but in a good way). Unfortunately, Cody chooses to go the easy, "edgy" route in act three, which makes you wonder what the point of it all was. This is a story and character that deserved better and, frankly, so do we.
The Wonderful Country (1959) DVD Only
For decades, during the Golden Era, all of Hollywood was producing dozens of quality, adult Westerns a year; so many, in fact, that even for someone like myself, who devours every Western he can get his hands on, there are still plenty of gems left to be discovered. "The Wonderful Country" is not only one of them, it's also the film I enjoyed more than any other on this list.
The story is simple, the Technicolor photography beautiful, and the protagonist a complicated gun-runner played by burly Robert Mitchum, a legend so packed with starpower, just watching him amble across the screen is an event. Backing him up is lovely torchsinger/actress Julie London, Gary Merrill, Jack Okie, Albert Dekker and -- get this -- baseball great Leroy "Satchel" Paige.
The story isn't as important as the themes, which cover race, revenge, and loyalty. This is part of MGM's Limited Edition Collection, and the kind of film that must've played perfectly at the drive-in.