HomeVideodrome: 'Tree of Life,' 'Green Lantern,' Jet Li's Oeuvre

Be sure to head go listen to this week’s HomeVideodrome podcast! This week Jim and I discuss Morgan Spurlock’s desperate need for attention, movies about eating, the turd that is Green Lantern, and how rad Jet Li movies are. So head on over and give it a listen!

The week we have one of the best movies of the year coming to Blu-ray, Terrence Malick’s ‘The Tree of Life.’ I was hoping for a Criterion release of this, but I’ll take what I can get (rumor has it a longer cut is on the way). The only special feature to speak of is a making-of that features appreciations of Malick’s work from great filmmakers like David Fincher and Christopher Nolan, which should be worth checking out for that alone. Seeing ‘Tree of Life’ on the big screen was damn near a religious experience, I have a hard time imagining that it has the same effect at home, depending on the set-up you’re watching it on.

‘Tree of Life’ divided audiences; I went to see it twice in the theater, and both times I saw a handful of people walk out, usually during the bit with the dinosaurs. Friends who went to the theater to watch it reported seeing the same thing. Malick has become far less conventional as a filmmaker as his career has progressed, getting more and more abstract with each film. In ‘Life,’ it appears the man has almost abandoned narrative altogether, making for a film that is far less accessible than, say, ‘Badlands.’ Also, having names like Brad Pitt and Sean Penn on the poster may given some people the wrong idea as to what sort of a movie ‘Tree of Life’ is instead of having a cast simply made up of unknowns.

Regardless, it’s audacious filmmaking that hits on massive themes and deals with small, everyday events on the most enormous scale imaginable. The story of the movie has a small coming-of-age tale at its heart, but it places the theme of personal loss in the context of the very miracle of life itself. It’s a film that tugs out deep emotions in the most gentle manner possible, never resorting to cheaply manipulating the audience. If you connect with it, it’s a film that will haunt you long after you see it.

Many critics praised ‘Tree of Life’ with a big asterisk, citing the film’s Christian worldview as a major sticking point, as though Malick is somehow obligated to set aside his Episcopalian beliefs in order to please the intelligentsia. Malick fills ‘Life’ with a tone of complete sincerity that seems like a bold artistic choice in today’s world of cynical, detached hipster irony. If you missed ‘Tree of Life,’ do yourself a favor and check it out now that it’s available, because to me, it is one of the truly great films of 2011.

Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we go from one of the best movies of the year to one of the worst. The idea of a studio doing a monster-budget Green Lantern movie seemed absurd to me from the beginning, given that the property is one that resides in DC Comic’s second tier. However, as Marvel was able to elevate Iron Man from a second- to first-tier character in their roster with their wildly successful Robert Downey, Jr. film series, it seemed Warner Bros. and DC were looking to follow suit. It didn’t work.

‘Green Lantern’ represents a master class in what not to do when attempting to bring a superhero to mainstream audience. Great superhero films like ‘Superman: The Movie,’ ‘Spider-Man,’ and ‘Batman Begins’ do a great job of establishing a comic-book mythology by showing it to us. Bad superhero films, like ‘Green Lantern,’ info-dump you before the opening credits even have a chance to roll, with a British actor doing an austere voice over. Whenever this happens, it’s almost always means the movie you’re about sit through won’t be great because that technique epitomizes lazy storytelling. With Green Lantern, it’s all downhill from there.

It’s nice to see your superhero go through some kind of struggle to become the hero they are, be it via overcoming some sort of trauma or personal tragedy (‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Batman’) or through a serious trial by fire that changes the hero’s outlook on life (‘Iron Man’). Like any good character, they need an arc that comes about through a struggle. In ‘Green Lantern,’ our hero, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), has his powers handed to him by a dying alien, but we never get the idea that the powers bestowed upon him are the life-altering force they clearly should be apart from what we see on the surface.

The movie tries to sell us the idea that Hal’s big struggle is overcoming his “fear,” but this never comes through in Reynolds’ performance, who plays the same wisecracking douchebag he’s played in every other comic book movie he’s been in. Other characters in the film constantly tell the audience that Hal is full of fear, and at some point, he just kind of overcomes it when he needs to beat the bad guy. Big deal. A good film wouldn’t feel the need to constantly remind us of this, because it would be evident in the character and the storytelling, but it’s not with this one, and therefore we are meant to accept this element because the film flat out tells us we should.

‘Green Lantern’ suffers from a laundry list of other problems that I covered in my review when it came out, problems that I doubt the extended cut on the Blu-ray can remedy. The film is also available in a 3D edition which, sadly, doesn’t compensate for the 2D writing and characterization (yeah, that was too easy, but if the movie’s gonna be cheap, then so will I). Apparently, a sequel is happening; I hope for the sake of diehard fans that the new Lantern learns from the mistakes made here.

Also, fun fact: this movie was almost a wacky comedy starring Jack Black. Yep, that almost happened.

Available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, and DVD

Other Noteworthy Releases

Horrible Bosses: Even when I think the film he’s in is completely horrible, I find Jason Bateman to be an extremely enjoyable presence.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Zookeeper: If Happy Madison productions have taught me anything, it’s that Adam Sandler is very, very good to his friends. If only his friends were funny.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead: Joe Cross’s chronicle of his juicefast transformation has gotten a lot of positive buzz, be sure to check out Big Hollywood assistant editor Christian Toto’s review.

Available on DVD

The Four Feathers: Zoltan Korda’s 1939 Technicolor epic about British soldiers in Africa, based on the novel by A. E. W. Mason. Available from Criterion.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Bad Seed: The classic evil-kid movie comes to Blu-ray.

Available on Blu-ray

The Family Man: Just watch It’s a Wonderful Life again instead.

Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo

Maniac Cop: This entertaining eighties slasher flick was written by Larry Cohen and features performances from two B-movie heroes with awesome chins: Bruce Campbell and Robert Z’Dar.

Available on Blu-ray

Jet Li Blu-ray Collection: This three pack of excellent Jet Li films includes The Legend (also known as The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk), Fist of Legend, and Tai Chi Master.

Available on Blu-ray

This post originally appeared over at Parcbench

.