RT on DVD

RT on DVD: Funny People, Pelham 123, The Soloist

Plus, don't miss John Woo's return to form with Red Cliff

by | January 7, 2010 | Comments


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Funny People

When Judd Apatow grew up he made Funny People. This is certainly his most mature comedy to date, if not his most successful.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a narcissistic, superstar comedian who is diagnosed with a terminal disease. The only treatment available to him is highly experimental and he is plunged into deep misery as he contemplates his mortality and the superficiality of his life. He shares his introspective ponderings on stage at the comedy club where he started out and meets new-comer Ira (Seth Rogen).

There are some genuinely hilarious moments, most of which come from Ira’s housemates played by Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill, but at almost two and a half hours, the movie does drag in parts. The humour is lewd, over-the-top and at times down-right offensive but if that sort of thing worries you then you have no business picking up an Apatow DVD.

The plot has a jack knife twist which makes the film as a whole feel somewhat disjointed and some of the analysis of comedy as art and the nature of the artist borders on self-indulgent but at least all the scat and holocaust jokes save it from slipping into schmaltzy sentimentality.

Definitely plunder the special features on this one because the commentary with Apatow, Sandler and Rogen is very funny. There are also gag reels, deleted, extended and alternate scenes and featurettes including snippets from Judd’s High School Radio Show.


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Push

This highly stylised sci-fi thriller looks super slick and has an edgy feel that is well complimented by the Hong Kong setting. It has striking colours, gorgeous lighting and uses every trick in the editor’s handbook. There is only one problem…it is absolutely incomprehensible.

The basic premise is that the Nazi’s carried out a series of experiments on a gang of psychics in an effort to build a race of paranormal soldiers. Their work was picked up by a secret government agency called the Division and now the world is inhabited by rogue souped-up psychics. There are pushers who can force any idea into their victims’ heads, movers who are telekinetic, watchers who see the future, bleeders who appear to cause massive internal bleeding with a single scream and bloodhounds who can sniff them all out. There is also some serum, a suitcase and an ever-moving future. Don’t sweat the details because the details don’t make a whole lot of sense. Just enjoy it like you are flicking through a very hot comic and you will have fun.

The good news is that the special features contain a featurette that is meant to capture the science behind the film. I am not sure if it does that but it is a fascinating look into psychic conspiracy theories. You will also find deleted scenes and an audio commentary with director, Paul McGuigan, and stars Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning.


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The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

John Travolta stars as an evil hijacker who takes a New York subway and threatens to start killing off the passengers unless a massive ransom is paid in one hour. Denzel Washington is his nemesis, the subway dispatcher who draws on his intricate knowledge of the subway system in his race to thwart the criminals and save the day.

The stars in this do a good job. Both Travolta and Washington bring a great energy to the screen and James Gandolfini plays an excellent Mayor. In fact, this is a perfectly adequate, if predicable, remake of an outstanding original film. The techniques are flashier, the score bigger, the crashes are more explosive and computer generated and everything is slightly more frenetic. In short, it is a modern day thriller. However, all the flash in the world can’t replace strong characterisation and a good build of the story and sadly, both of those elements are missing in this version.

By all means watch it, enjoy it and then walk down to the dusty end of the video store and hire the 1974 original. You won’t be disappointed.

The special features include an audio commentary from director, Tony Scott as well as handful of featurettes including an interesting ‘making-of’ piece.


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The Soloist

Robert Downey Jr. plays real-life newspaper columnist, Steve Lopez, who develops a friendship with an extraordinarily talented violinist, Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a schizophrenic living on the streets.

This true story is a very moving portrayal of friendship and acceptance. It is less successful in its analysis homelessness and mental illness, in part because tends to resort to a ‘midday movie’ style earnestness with its hand-wringing representations of welfare options and flashbacks.

What works exceptionally well is that the characters themselves are never romanticised. There is no traditional happy ending. There is no shining knight. This honesty redeems the film from all other failings. And this success lies in the work of Robert Downey Jr and Jamie Foxx. Sure, you can tell they were playing for the Oscar, but beyond that, they both deliver truly magnificent performances.

There are two interesting featurettes to be found amongst the special features, one is about Julliard, the famed music school where Ayers started his study before his mental illness made it unbearable for him to continue and the other is a making-of feature called ‘An Unlikely friendship’. There is also an audio commentary from director, Joe Wright, and some deleted scenes.


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The Girlfriend Experience

Real-life adult movie star Sasha Grey plays a high-class New York call-girl who offers her client the ‘girlfriend experience’ within a very structured code. Away from work she has a boyfriend who is accepting of her career choice, contingent on her compartmentalising her girlfriend experience offering.

This is a small film from director Steven Soderbergh. He even shot it himself, under a pseudonym, on HD video. It is set in the lead up to the last US election and is less about sex and the life of a call-girl as it is an analogy of the global financial crisis and an economy where even sex and love become a commodity.

Those looking for the emotional complexity of Soderbergh’s break-through film, Sex, Lies and Videotape, won’t find it here. The Girlfriend Experience is surprisingly cold and non-sexual but is still a fascinating little film.


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Beautiful Kate

Rachel Ward’s directorial debut is an emotionally charged portrayal of a family in ruin. When Ned (Ben Mendelsohn) returns home for the first time in 20 years to see his sister, played with great warmth by Rachel Griffith and his cruel, overbearing father, Bruce (Bryan Brown), he is confronted by haunting memories.

All of the performances in this film are exceptional. Each character, though largely unlikable, feels rounded and complete; with the possible exception of the title character, beautiful Kate. Bryan Brown is particularly harrowing as the dying old man who has lost none of his spit and venom with age.

The family’s story is revealed largely though flashbacks which gives the film a dreamlike quality to it. Ward makes excellent use of the South Australian bush and manages to take the original American novel and invest it with a strong Australian feel. There are moments in this film that are shot so beautifully, with such simplicity, that you can almost smell the dark, country night air.

The storyline is very confronting, for some maybe too much so. This is not a film that shies away from taboos but rather strides right through them, regardless of the consequences.

As well as containing deleted scenes and an audio commentary, the special features also offer a couple of Rachel Ward’s short films including The Big House and Martha’s New Coat.


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Fighting

Played by G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra’s Channing Tatum, Shawn is a street-hustler who finds himself lured into the underground world of bare-knuckle fighting in New York City.

This is a fairly predictable story that follows the well-trod formula of the underdog boxer or fighter film. It distinguishes itself from the dross, however, by its absolute grit. The fight scenes feel downright dirty and realistic. And the sleazy fight manager, Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) is an example of how a fine performance can elevate even the most pedestrian film.

If it is a world that interests you, this film produces the best it possibly can with a slightly tired script.


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Red Cliff

Based on one of the most legendary battles in China’s history, John Woo’s The Battle of Red Cliff is a tale of heroism and warfare on an epic scale. It is nothing short of spectacular and makes some of the battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings trilogy look like playtime. It is the most expensive Chinese-language film ever made and you can tell.

There are two versions of this film available. In Asia, it was released in two parts and ran for over four hours in total. In Australia the theatrical release was a highly edited one-film version running at a little over two hours.

Editing this film was a travesty. It still contains many of the magnificent battle scenes but an epic of this quality deserves to be savoured in full.

There are two versions of this film on DVD. There is the one-disc theatrical release and the two-disc Director’s Edition which contains part 1 and 2. Both are available on DVD and Blu-ray. Look out for the extended version and where possible watch it on Blu-ray.

None of the DVD or Blu-ray releases are heavy on the special features, though there is an interesting interview with John Woo and some behind the scenes coverage.

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