There’s something for everyone this week on DVD, starting with an Oscar-nominated animated documentary (Waltz with Bashir), a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced chick flick (Confessions of a Shopaholic), and a disappointing adaptation of a bestselling family fantasy (Inkheart, starring Brendan Fraser). Foreign film fanatics have a well-received import to watch (Alice’s House, from Brazil), while an international cast can’t save Steve Martin’s latest slapstick (The Pink Panther 2). Criterion releases a French New Wave classic conundrum (Last Year at Marienbad on Blu-ray), Elle Fanning gets a star vehicle (Phoebe in Wonderland), we get twice the Crispin Glover than usual (Simon Says, in which he plays twin psychos), and Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman team up to show that “direct-to-DVD” doesn’t always equal terrible (The Code, directed by Mimi Leder).
This celebrated animated documentary earned award season raves — and, notably, an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film — for its dreamlike depiction of one man’s struggle to remember his involvement in controversial events during the 1982 Lebanon War. Director Ari Folman illuminates his own hazy recollections as a young Israeli soldier with striking, gorgeous animation as his on-screen alter ego revisits old colleagues and a psychologist in order to understand why he has only fleeting memories of the war. An English language version is available on DVD and Blu-ray, along with a making-of featurette, director commentary, and more behind the scenes features.
Next: Jerry Bruckheimer does chick flick in Confessions of a Shopaholic
Under the guidance of producer Jerry Bruckheimer — maestro of the blockbuster — Disney churned out this appropriately glitzy, yet mildly inappropriate, ode to shopping and female consumption adapted from Sophie Kinsella’s bestselling Shopaholic series. And who knows? Maybe in more buoyant economic times audiences could have latched on better to its designer clothes-fetishizing, credit card-maxing heroine, Rebecca Bloomwood (the charismatic and talented Isla Fisher), an aspiring fashion writer who lands a job writing about fiscal responsibility while hiding her own huge personal debts. Critics, however, spared no expense in dressing down this overly glossy, stereotype-enforcing chick flick (though it does make use of some fabulous costuming by Patricia Field). Deleted scenes and a blooper reel (entertaining itself, thanks to Fisher’s comic sensibility) are included on DVD. (Read Jerry Bruckheimer’s Five Favorite Films here!)
Next: Brendan Fraser reads books in his latest fantasy clunker, Inkheart
Star Brendan Fraser chalks up yet another family fantasy clunker with Inkheart, based on the international best-seller by Cornelia Funke. Fraser plays Mo, a man who shares the gift of the “Silvertongue” with his 12-year-old daughter, Meggie (Eliza Bennett), meaning they can both bring characters to life from reading aloud from books. When Mo and Meggie become drawn to one book in particular, a colorful cast of characters pop up to help — and hinder — the pair, including Paul Bettany, Andy Serkis, Jim Broadbent, and Helen Mirren. It’s a shame, then, that this fantasy tale wound up woefully short on, well, magic. A handful of featurettes on writing and reading accompany the disc.
Next: The acclaimed Brazilian drama, Alice’s House
Chances are you haven’t heard of this acclaimed Brazilian drama, so what better time than now to check it out on DVD? Director Chico Teixeira unfolds a chamber piece about secrets, love, and betrayal among family members who share a cramped home in Sao Paolo. Teixeria, a former documentarian, uses his experience with nonfiction subjects to lend the film naturalism and the kind of complex characters only found in real life, following 40-year-old manicurist Alice (Carla Ribas) as she tries in vain to balance her dysfunctional sons, her aging mother, and her philandering husband.
Next: Who really wanted a sequel to The Pink Panther?
The original films aside, did the world really need another Pink Panther movie? According to the critics, the answer would be a resounding “no,” since the rebooted films keep falling further and further down the Tomatometer. (The previous Pink Panther landed at 24 percent.) Steve Martin, who we’d swear used to be funny, returns as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau, charged this time around with catching a thief who is targeting the world’s most prized historical treasures. As if we didn’t feel bad enough for Martin, a passel of respectable actors find themselves stuck with him in this lame slapstick sequel, including Lily Tomlin, Andy Garcia, Jean Reno, Emily Mortimer, John Cleese, and Aishwarya Rai. The upside: the 2-disc DVD and 3-disc Blu-ray come with 27 original Pink Panther cartoons, which you can watch instead.
Next: Simon Says double the Crispin Glover, double the fun!
Sometimes when it rains actors, it pours. In the little-seen Simon Says, which opened quietly back in 2007 and made the rounds at genre festivals, actor and cult figure Crispin Glover plays not one, but two psycho-killer brothers. What’s more, the comic horror pic stars not one, not two, but four members of the Lively family of actors (Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively, her sisters Lori and Robyn, and dad Ernie)! Oh yeah, the plot… five teenagers on spring break encounter demented twins (both played by Glover) while camping in the woods. Gory kills and wacky Glover-isms ensue! What more do you need?
Next: Elle Fanning takes center stage in Phoebe in Wonderland
Eleven-year-old Elle Fanning is fast stepping out of her sister Dakota’s shadow, thanks to notable roles in films like The Door in the Floor, Babel, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; Phoebe in Wonderland, her first role carrying a film, should further the younger Fanning’s rep, even if critics were mixed on the film overall. Fanning plays Phoebe, a youngster with inattentive parents (Felicity Huffman and Bill Pullman) and a penchant for flights of fancy who may actually be suffering from serious mental illness; Patricia Clarkson co-stars as Fanning’s encouraging drama teacher, who, like the filmmakers, means well but can’t quite save Phoebe. Unfortunately, no extra material is included.
Next: Criterion Blu-rays Last Year at Marienbad
Movie lovers who like a challenge should make note of Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Last Year at Marienbad, the oft-discussed and enigmatic 1961 film of French New Wave auteur Alain Resnais. Set within a gathering at an upper-class chateau, Marienbad offers dreamlike and fractured pieces of a puzzle that suggest that a man named X (Giorgio Albertazzi) and a woman called A (Delphine Seyrig) met a year prior and made plans to run away together. Or did they? An interview with Resnais, an essay on the film, a making-of feature and an interview with Resnais scholar Ginette Vincendeau highlight the extra features.
Next: Rachel Leigh Cook in Bob Funk
Alcoholic, politically incorrect slacker Bob Funk (Michael Leydon Campbell) is a misanthrope whose own mother fires him from the family business in this misfire of a workplace comedy, adapted from a play by writer-director Craig Carlisle. As Bob tries to slime his way through life and ladies (including The Office‘s Amy Ryan), he must learn to make a change in earnest in order to win the heart of a new love interest (Rachel Leigh Cook). Sadly, critics agree that for a comedy, Bob Funk has too few laughs (and worse, zero bonus features).
Next: Antonio Banderas buddies up with Morgan Freeman in the direct-to-DVD thriller,The Code
Sometimes films go direct to DVD for a reason. (Ok, most of the time that reason is they’re just plain terrible.) Increasingly, however, we see films go direct to DVD because the current moviemaking climate simply can’t accommodate independent films with theatrical releases, no matter the talent or material involved. Case in point: The Code (formerly Thick as Thieves), a jaunty buddy-thief thriller starring Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman, directed by Mimi Leder; it’s a flick that could have opened decently in theaters, say, a decade ago. In fact, there’s a distinctly ’90s feel to The Code, which introduces the 48-year-old Banderas as a young upstart taken under the wing of Freeman’s seasoned criminal and proceeds to follow the traditional heist movie formula note by note, including cheeky banter, double-crosses, damsels in distress and, yes, a roomful of lasers. For a direct-to-DVD title, you can’t get much better than this. Watch an exclusive clip below.
Until next week, happy renting!