|DVD Reviews For 3/10: "I'm In Love With A Girl And I Am Going To Help Hang Her Father!"
|by Peter Sobczynski
After taking time out for curling, the Oscars and laziness, the column is back. Try to contain your excitement.
NEW AND NOTABLE
12 YEARS A SLAVE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.95): Although another film would go on to win more awards at this year's Oscars--we'll be getting to it soon enough--the top prize went to this adaptation of the memoir of a free black man (Chiwetel Ejiofor) from the pre-Civil War North who is kidnapped, brought down south and is forced into the horrors of slavery for the next 12 years. Many raved about the film and called it a powerful depiction of one of our country's most shameful eras but I have to admit that it pretty much left me cold--director Steve McQueen's overly detached cinematic style made the whole thing feel like a multi-media presentation about slavery than a compelling story in its own right. That said, there are some stirring performances from Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender as an extraordinarily cruel plantation owner and Luptia N'Yongo, who won the Supporting Actress Oscar for her turn as another slave who drives owner Fassbender to exceptionally psychotic distraction.
AUSTENLAND (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Keri Russell stars in this bizarre romantic comedy in which she plays a woman who plunks down all her money to vacation at a Jane Austen fantasy camp and finds her love life suddenly becoming complicated in the manner of her favorite author. Yeah, it really is as stupid as it sounds and does a great disservice to both Austen and Russell, both of whom deserve much better than this. If you need a Keri Russell fix--and really, who doesn't?--you would be better off checking out the more plausible and certainly more entertaining spy melodrama "The Americans: The Complete First Season" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98).
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (The Criterion Collection. $19.95): My pick for the single best film of 2013 was this extraordinary French drama following a high school student (Adele Exarchopoulos in one of the most striking debuts in years) who falls into a passionate romantic relationship with a slightly older art student (Lea Seydoux). Spanning the course of several years, Abdellatif Kechiche's intimate epic is one of the most powerful and emotional presentation of the agonies and ecstasies of first love that I have ever seen and I hope that the NC-17 rating (which it received for a few extended sex scenes that, for once, are integral to the plot) doesn't scare potential viewers away from a genuine masterpiece. If you are concerned that this release--which includes only a trailer and an essay from film critic B. Ruby Rich--is a little light on the extras, that is because Criterion has already announced that a fully loaded edition will be coming at some point down the road and that this comparatively low-priced edition is meant to fill in the gap until that new one arrives.
DIANA (eOne Entertainment. $24.98): One of the more notorious also-rans in the recently-ended Oscar derby was this misfired biopic about Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) that is set during the last few years of her life and which focuses on a relationship with a noted doctor (Navenn Andrews) that some have claimed to be the last great romance of her life. Although Watts looks surprisingly convincing as one of the world's most recognizable women, the film itself is an empty-headed snoozefest than ranks somewhere between a dull TV movie and a "Vanity Fair" article that you never quite get around to finishing out of sheer boredom.
GAME OF THRONES: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99): I haven't quite gotten through every episode of this elaborately produced fantasy series but I am looking forward to getting caught up before the premiere of the fourth season next month. Besides, I understand that there is a big wedding episode coming up and what can I say, I am a sucker for happy endings. Other TV-related titles now available include "Dallas: The Complete Second Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.95), "Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth" (HBO Home Entertainment. $14.98), "Nurse Jackie: Season 5" (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $39.95), "The Returned" (Music Box Films. $34.95) and "Sherlock: Season Three" (BBC. $29.95).
THE GRANDMASTER (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.95): It is hard to know whether or not to recommend Wong Kar-wai's years-in-the-making biopic of IP Man (Tony Leung), the martial arts master who would become legendary when one of his students turned out to be no less a figure than Bruce Lee. On the one hand, there are at least three different versions of the film floating around and the one available here is generally considered to be the least, a 108 minute cut that is a half-hour shorter than the longest version and which has been somewhat dumbed down for the American market. On the other hand, even a cut-down Wong Kar-wai film tends to contain more cinematic glories than most full-strength films and this one is certainly no exception--the fight scenes are absolutely exhilarating throughout. If you haven't seen it yet, you should probably check this out but if you every get an opportunity to look at one of the other cuts, you should do that as well.
GRAVITY (Warner Home Entertainment. $28.98): After too many would-be blockbusters that failed to inspire much enthusiasm, moviegoers were starving for something that reminded them of the genuine sense of magic that the cinema could inspire in the right hands and they got it with Alfonso Cuaron's visually stunning and emotionally gripping thriller about a space mission that goes horribly wrong and leaves two astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) floating in the cosmos with little chance of returning to Earth. From a technical standpoint, the film is one for the ages but what was even more surprising was how effective it was from a dramatic standpoint as well, thanks in no small part to the career-best work from Bullock and the deft use of Clooney's glib star quality to help orient viewers for what might have otherwise been an off-putting experience). Even better, its worldwide commercial and critical success (it won seven Oscars, including a near-sweep of the technical awards and Cuaron's a double winner for direction and editing) demonstrated that an ambitious and original work can be just as popular with the mainstream audience as just another remake or comic-book adaptation. Alas, not even the most elaborate home video system can replicate the experience of seeing it on the big screen and in 3D (one of the few intelligent uses of the format), but even in a reduced form, this is still an absolute must-see.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): Although this adaptation of the second novel in the enormously popular series (I am going to assume that you know the basic premise by now) is not quite as good as the previous installment--partly because the surprise of it being better than expected has worn off and partly because it suffers from the narrative water-treading that is part and parcel with most middle stories in sagas of this type--it is still above average compared to other YA adaptations such as the "Twilight" series and that "Mortal Instruments" nonsense. This is partly due to the obvious intent by the filmmakers to create something that will satisfy all moviegoers instead of just the fan base from the books and partly because of the fiercely compelling central performance by Jennifer Lawrence, whose turn as heroine Katniss Everdeen is as strong and convincing as anything that she has done to date in her fairly brilliant career.
NEBRASKA (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): In the latest work from Alexander Payne, an elderly man (Bruce Dern) who may be in the early stages of dementia and his adult son (Will Forte) set off on a road trip to claim an alleged sweepstakes prize that is almost certainly bogus and find themselves connecting for perhaps the first time in their lives. Although I was not quite as over the moon about this one as other critics were--the fine line between satire and condescension that has always been a part of Payne's work has never been thinner that it is here--I can still recommend it highly due to the extraordinary performances by the Oscar-nominated Dern (who deserved to win Best Actor for the career-high work he turns in here) and June Squibb (as his cranky but ultimately loving wife) and the Oscar-snubbed Forte (who provides a surprisingly solid center to the story) and the gorgeous black-and-white photography from Phedon Papamichael.
OLDBOY (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): After years of false starts and casting rumors, an Americanized version of Park Chan-wook's hyper-violent South Korean revenge saga about a man who is mysteriously kidnapped and held prisoner for 15 years, only to be just as suddenly freed and given five days to figure out who held him prisoner and why finally got made under the aegis of Spike Lee but the end result is so dire that most people will come away wondering why they bothered in the first place. While not all of the blame can presumably be laid solely at Lee's feet--there were apparently big squabbles between him and the studio that led to huge chunks of the film being dropped at the last second (and you can pretty much tell that there is a lot missing and not just because of the relatively brief final running time) and Lee all but disowning the end product--one can blame him for doing little more than replicating what had already been done before without putting anything in the way of a new spin on the material other than relocating it to New Orleans. Lee did recruit a good cast that includes Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Sharlto Copely and Samuel L. Jackson but their efforts are pretty much wasted as well. Maybe not the worst remake you will ever seen but still pretty much a top-to-bottom botch and those that haven't seen the original are advised to check that one out and give this mess the widest berth possible.
TWICE BORN (eOne Entertainment. $24.98): In this drama from Sergio Castellitto, an Italian woman (Penelope Cruz) decides to spend the summer showing her son the land where she met and fell in love with his father. Alas, the land in question is Sarajevo and her arrival only leads to the revelation of a number of long-buried secrets and horrors. I am always down for a Penelope Cruz performance, especially one that finds her trying to break out of the sexpot mold, but as good as she is here--and her work is pretty strong--it fails to make up for the fact that the rest of the film is a grim, turgid and barely plausible slog through cliches and cruelties in equal measure.
THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99
ALL IS LOST (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98)
THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL (Cohen Media. $29.95)
BOB DYLAN: THE 30th ANNIVERSARY CONCERT CELEBRATION (Sony Legacy. $24.98)
CHICAGO (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)
THE COUNSELLOR (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.99)
DARKMAN: COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Shout! Factory. $29.93)
ENDER'S GAME (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $39.99)
FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
HAIRSPRAY (Warner Home Video. $14.97)
HAUNTER (IFC Films. $29.98)
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
THE JUNGLE BOOK (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)
ROCKY: THE HEAVYWEIGHT COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $59.95)
THE SHADOW: COLLECTOR'S EDITION (Shout! Factory. $29.93)
THOR: THE DARK WORLD (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)
WICKED BLOOD (eOne Entertainment. $29.98)
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originally posted: 03/10/14 09:15:02