Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s lyrical adventure about a young idealist on a cross-country trek, leads new DVDs this week. A controversial child artist (My Kid Could Paint That) and Halle Berry’s latest drama (Things We Lost in the Fire) round out the fresh releases, but it just goes downhill from there (Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium).
For those of us who’ve ever thought about just picking up and leaving the world behind, there is the real-life story about 24-year-old Christopher McCandless, who in 1990 donated his life savings to charity and set off on a cross-country odyssey to find himself. If you’ve read Jon Krakauer’s best-selling non-fiction book of the same name, then you know how it all turned out for McCandless, but here director Sean Penn crafts an epic, time-jumping adventure set against some of the most stunning landscapes in America. Emile Hirsch captures the hero’s restless spirit well as he tumbles in and out of the lives of strangers (including Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn, and Hal Holbrook in an Oscar-nominated performance); Eddie Vedder provides original songs, including the Golden Globe-winning “Guaranteed.”
Art is always subjective, but especially so when it’s abstract — so how difficult is it to evaluate the random splatterings of a 4-year-old Picasso? Such is the debate within this acclaimed (and controversial) documentary by Amir Bar Lev, who gains intimate access with child prodigy Marla Olmstead and her family as Marla’s first works are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Were Marla’s celebrated paintings true pieces of art? Did she even paint them herself? A commentary track and featurette appear in the bonus menu, but the highlight may be a 35-minute documentary on the notorious falling out between the Olmsteads and filmmaker Lev following the release of the film itself.
When her husband is killed, a woman (Halle Berry) invites his drug-addled best friend (Benicio del Toro) to stay with her family in this English-language debut from Danish director Suzanne Bier. The Oscar-nominated filmmaker, trained in the experimental school of the Dogme95 clan, injects a European sensibility into her story of loss; don’t let shaky camera and jump-cuts dissuade you from taking in a pair of brave performances by the two leads.
Despite the star power of its two leads, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, about a 243-year-old toy shop owner (Dustin Hoffman) passing the reins over to his doubtful assistant (Natalie Portman), failed to charm most critics. While perhaps a visually whimsical treat suitable for children, adults unfortunate enough to sit through director Zach Helm‘s flight of fancy might find themselves longing for other, better toy story fare. A spattering of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a paper airplane tutorial DVD-ROM round out the release.
Until next week, happy renting!