This week, we’ve got a slew of new releases, and for a change, a decent number of them are Certified Fresh! First up, we’ve got an animated film that surprised critics and audiences, as well as a big budget blockbuster that disappointed most. Then we’ve got Ben Affleck’s latest directorial effort, Zack Snyder’s first animated effort, and another collaboration between Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. Then we’ve got a highly entertaining documentary, the return of an ugly nanny, an indie hit, and collection of American films from Criterion. All in all, it’s not a bad week for home video, so check them out!
With the advent of increasingly more sophisticated technology, there has been an influx over the past several years of computer-animated films. Pixar, of course, rules the bunch, but other studios have done their part to add to the mix, so it’s difficult nowadays to know whether a new animated film will be worth watching. Though they didn’t have many projects under their belt, Universal netted the voice talents of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, and a host of other TV stars for Despicable Me, a story about a suburb-dwelling supervillain named Gru (Carell) whose plan to steal the moon goes awry, which compels him to adopt three orphan girls for nefarious purposes. When the girls turn out to be a handful and end up taking to Gru, he finds a new role as a father figure. Despicable Me was a surprise hit, both with audiences and with critics, who gave it a Certified Fresh 82% on the Tomatometer. You can pick it up in DVD or Blu-Ray, and unlike many first-edition releases, there are actually quite a few extras to be found, including commentary tracks that include Gru’s minions, three mini-movies starring the minions, and a couple of other special features.
Don’t you love it when a plan comes together? Yeah, we all do. So it’s a shame that the big-budget adaptation of NBC’s 1980s TV hit only partially cohered. Some critics liked its cartoonish, devil-may-care approach to action set pieces, while many others found it to be noisy, incoherently edited, and almost entirely devoid of plotting. Starring Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Jessica Biel, The A-Team is the tale of a group of Iraq War vets who are trying to clear their names after being accused of a crime they didn’t commit; mayhem, sarcastic one-liners, and implausibilities ensue. The DVD includes several making-of featurettes, a gag reel, a demonstration of how the special effects were crafted, and a few scenes not in the theatrical version of the film.
It looks like Ben Affleck is a director to be reckoned with. After finding critical success with his first effort, the twisty, missing-child mystery Gone Baby Gone in 2007, some wondered if he would prove to be a one-hit wonder. And by most accounts, he’s not. The Town, based on a novel by Chuck Hogan, follows a group of bank-robbing friends, one of whom (Affleck) secretly begins a romantic relationship with one of their former hostages (Rebecca Hall) who fails to recognize him, and all despite protests by his closest friend (Jeremy Renner). Critics were impressed by the film, calling it tense, smartly written, and wonderfully cast (supporting roles went to Jon Hamm, Blake Lively, and Chris Cooper, among others), and like Affleck’s first directorial effort, The Town earned a Certified Fresh 94% on the Tomatometer. Whether or not Ben Affleck is a better director than actor is a debate best left to others, but the evidence certainly seems to suggest so.
That magical, loveable British snaggletooth is back in business, proving once again that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. As with its predecessor Nanny McPhee Returns was Certified Fresh, and the critics were charmed by Emma Thompson’s witty performance in the title role. The fact that the McPhee movies harken back to an old-fashioned style of family entertainment bereft of flatulence jokes and pop-culture references didn’t go unnoticed, either. This time out, McPhee is entrusted with a gaggle of hyperactive children whose father is serving in World War II; it goes without saying that her unconventional methods will carry the day, and that life lessons will be learned in a whimsical, pleasant fashion. The DVD features include deleted scenes and a bunch of short making-of clips, including one that documents Thompson’s transformation into character using time-lapse photography.
Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay team up again after Anchorman, Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, this time to feed the American cop movie through their particular absurdist filter. Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are a desk-bound NYPD B-team who decide to put themselves in the spotlight by haplessly going after a white collar criminal (Steve Coogan), while debating intricacies of showdowns between lions and tuna and crooning odes like “Pimps Don’t Cry.” Business as usual, then, for McKay and Ferrell — if you liked those other films you’ll dig this, though the narrative tends to play a little straighter. The DVD/Blu-ray is packed with extras — as fans know, part of the fun of Ferrell/McKay films is seeing what inspired lunacy they’ll bring for the commentary and bonus materials.
What to make of Exit Through the Gift Shop? The debut film from the legendary — and equally mysterious — British street artist Banksy purports to be a documentary on the art movement, the result of footage shot by one of his acolytes, would-be filmmaker Thierry Guetta. That’s just the tip of the magic marker, however: having spent time filming Banksy and other enigmas of the genre, Guetta decides to style himself after his heroes as street artist “Mr. Brainwash,” and the movie shifts gears to focus on his suddenly successful art career as he’s feted by the American glitterati. Is Brainwash for real, or could he be an(other) elaborate Banksy hoax? True to form, Exit offers no definitive answer, proving as mystifying as it is entertaining. If you’ve ever seen Orson Welles’ F for Fake, you’ll know something of what you’re in for here. One note: while the DVD debuts tomorrow, the Blu-Ray won’t be available until March.
If you’re into all-caps QUIRK then this is the film for you. Jean-Pierre Jeunet — best known for his globe-spanning manic pixie dreamgirl hit Amelie — returns from a lengthy hiatus to deliver this tale of an oddball video store guy (Danny Boon) who joins a circus troupe to battle an nefarious arms dealer. The director’s trademarks are in full flight here, with exaggerated angles, slapstick action and ker-azy characters running amok in a movie that seems to barely pause for breath. Those in the mood for the darker Jeunet and Caro worlds of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children should probably look elsewhere, but for whimsical capering, this is the title to have this week.
Just this past weekend, Fox Searchlight’s Black Swan became just the second film in the past two years to crack the box office top ten while playing in less than 100 theaters, a pretty remarkable feat. The first film to do that? Cyrus, which was also distributed by Fox Searchlight. Starring a slightly out-of-character Jonah Hill as the titular character, the film focuses on the peculiarly close relationship between a grown son (Hill) and his mother Molly(Marisa Tomei), particularly when a divorcee (John C. Reilly) enters their lives and begins a romance with her. This was destined to be a small indie movie, but word of mouth helped it to gain some mainstream exposure. Directors Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) have been known for these sorts of downplayed, “mumblecore” dramedies, but they proved to critics that they could handle a bigger budget and bigger stars just as easily. Cyrus netted a Certified Fresh 81% on the Tomatometer, and while it’s no popcorn movie, it’ll probably provide a suitably pleasant evening in.
Perhaps inspired by the success of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies, both of whose first installments debuted in 2001, studios have been searching for the next big teen/young adult fantasy novel series to bring to the big screen. In the past decade, franchise films such as the Chronicles of Narnia series, the Twilight films, The Golden Compass, and several others have had a go at it, some more successful than others. Earlier this year, director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen) decided to tackle the Australian novel series Guardians of Ga’Hoole, which follows the epic adventures of a young barn owl named Soren. The result was the computer animated Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, which covers the first three books of the series, when Soren (Jim Sturgess) and his brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten) are captured by the evil Pure Ones and must escape to unite with the titular Guardians. Unfortunately, while the film exhibited much of Zack Snyder’s typical visual flair, critics found the story to be a bit lacking, and thus awarded it just a 50% on the Tomatometer. Still, it may work as a visual treat for the kids.
Back in November, we profiled a number of gifts on the RT wish list. This was one of them. Why? Easy Rider. Five Easy Pieces. The Last Picture Show. Iconic films that represent the shifting tastes and efforts of filmmaking in the late ’60s/early ’70s. But did you know it was all a concentrated effort by one studio? Discover the story of BBS Productions, a group of risk-takers who plastered the counterculture on the silver screen through seven releases: the three aforementioned movies; The King of Marvin Gardens; Head; Drive, He Said; and A Safe Place. Find them all in box set America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, released by The Criterion Collection.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Luke Goodsell, and Tim Ryan