RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Friends with Benefits and 30 Minutes or Less

Plus, hillbillies vs. teens, magical blue Belgians, and Werner Herzog in a Cave.

by | November 29, 2011 | Comments

As you can probably surmise from the subheadline of this week’s column, the new releases on home video cover a wide variety of topics. From a kid flick to a sci-fi drama to a sex comedy, from a Herzog documentary (he’s so good at those, isn’t he?) to a twee indie dramedy to a horror-comedy, from a romantic drama to a crime caper to a feelgood Paul Rudd vehicle, we’ve said it before but we’ll say it again: there’s probably a little something in here for everyone. With the holiday season in full effect, we should start seeing some good releases, so let’s start with this week’s selections.

Friends with Benefits


Some fuss was made earlier this year when the two stars of Darren Aronofsky’s acclaimed Black Swan separately appeared in two films with identical themes and equally obvious titles: first, Natalie Portman (who actually won the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Black Swan) starred in No Strings Attached, and a few months later, Mila Kunis starred in Friends with Benefits. Both explored the inevitable complications that arise in sex-only relationships, but while the former netted a mere 49% on the Tomatometer, Friends with Benefits impressed critics to the tune of 71%. Here, Kunis plays a corporate headhunter who recruits a hotshot art director (Justin Timberlake) from California for a job at GQ magazine in New York. The two immediately hit it off and agree to engage in a (ahem) no-strings-attached relationship of pure sex until they begin to realize they’re both falling for each other. So what made this film so much better than the Natalie Portman flick? Critics say the chemistry between Kunis and Timberlake is natural and immensely effective, almost carrying the movie by itself. You won’t find anything new to the rom-com formula here, but it sort of works anyway.

30 Minutes or Less


Back in 2009, director Ruben Fleischer burst onto the scene with a bona fide hit in Zombieland, an uproarious take on the zombie flick genre that won both critical acclaim and big box office receipts and marked Fleischer as one to keep an eye on. 30 Minutes or Less, Fleischer’s second feature, was therefore something of a disappointment for many. Loosely based on a true story, 30 Minutes or Less was marred by some controversy over the fact that it made light of events that, in reality, ended in tragedy, but that was only part of the reason critics were left a bit unimpressed. Despite a talented cast, the narrative — about a typical pizza delivery guy (Jesse Eisenberg) who’s forced by dimwitted crooks (Danny McBride, Nick Swardson) to rob a bank with a bomb strapped to his chest — is disjointed, and makes the mistake of substituting crude gags for true lowbrow humor; critics therefore awarded it a mere 44% on the Tomatometer. The film is funny in spots, and the actors certainly know how to pull their weight, so you may get some mileage out of the film, but don’t expect anything on the level of Zombieland.

The Smurfs


Throwbacks to bygone eras are nothing new in Hollywood, and for the past few years, it seems the 1980s have been the decade of choice to reference and mimic, with ’80s themes appearing in both live action and animated fare. Enter The Smurfs, based on those lovable little blue creatures who kept children entertained for years on Saturday mornings. In this film adaptation, a handful of Smurfs are chased through a portal by the evil wizard Gargamel (played with relish by Hank Azaria), only to end up in the real world of Manhattan. There, they befriend a sympathetic couple (Neil Patrick Harris and Glee‘s Jayma Mays) who help them find a way back home. Most critics found almost nothing to like about the movie, which makes sense on some level: The Smurfs was clearly crafted to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and by “lowest” we mean “shortest”… you know, kids. With broad, slapsticky humor and “Smurf”-heavy dialogue, this movie probably won’t do anything for you if you’re over the age of 5, but if you want your little ones to learn in the simplest way what “Greedy” and “Vain” mean, you could possibly do worse.

Our Idiot Brother


There aren’t many actors out there more inherently likable than Paul Rudd, it seems; he might come across a little smug from time to time, but just try to resist that adorable, guileless smile of his. Our Idiot Brother makes the most of this likability by casting Rudd in a role that requires him to be perpetually happy, unflinchingly credulous, and, therefore, more than a little naïve. Ned (Rudd) is a simple farmer who believes strongly in the honest goodness of others; when an unlucky run-in with a cop gets him booted off the farm, he takes turns living with his three sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel), who all think he is, well, an idiot. Over time, the sisters, whose routine lives are stressful in their own right, begin to see that Ned’s outlook on life isn’t so idiotic after all. Critics enjoyed Our Idiot Brother well enough, citing Rudd’s innocent charm in the title role as a big plus, even in the midst of the film’s uneven tone, and saw fit to give a 68% on the Tomatometer. It might be a little too cute and coy for some, but it also just might make you go, “Awww, well isn?t that nice?”

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil


Horror-comedies are difficult to pull off effectively; these days, the go-to example of a good one is Shaun of the Dead, which was constantly hilarious, but also managed to get in a few decent thrills. As it turns out, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil does a pretty darn good job of it too, to the tune of an impressive Certified Fresh 86% on the Tomatometer. Accomplished character actor Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Dodgeball) and Tyler Labine (A Good Old Fashioned Orgy) are Tucker and Dale, respectively, a couple of everyday hillbillies who are on vacation in the woods. When they rescue an attractive teen (30 Rock‘s Katrina Bowden) from drowning and take her back to their cabin to nurse her back to health, her group of friends believe they’ve kidnapped her for nefarious purposes, and a hilarious tragedy of misunderstandings ensues. Critics found Tucker & Dale an effective mix of scares, laughs, and (surprisingly enough) heart, and though the movie’s central joke is replayed to death, most say it actually works. Tucker & Dale has actually been available through On Demand for a while now, but if you want a physical copy, now’s the time to pick one up.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams


The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave in southern France contains the oldest known cave paintings — works of remarkable beauty and detail that are all the more amazing for being more than 30,000 years old. Since access to the cave is highly restricted, Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D is the next best thing to being there, and what a delightful, awe-inspiring tour it is. The 3D is used to terrific effect here — you can practically smell the dankness of the caves, and you’ll constantly feel the urge to duck stalactites — and the paintings are gobsmackingly beautiful and haunting — “the birth of the modern human soul,” as Herzog describes it. If you don’t have a 3D TV, the Cave Blu-ray/3D Blu-ray combo still allows you to check out the movie, but be aware: this is one movie that really does look better in all three dimensions.

One Day


Blossoming superstar Anne Hathaway put on her sometimes iffy British accent once again for this romantic drama based on the bestselling David Nicholls novel of the same name. The film follows friends Emma (Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess) over the course of 20 years, beginning with the day they meet (their University of Edinburgh graduation) and checking in on the same date every year. As the years pass, the pair naturally come to realize they may have been perfect for each other all along. Despite a solid cast, good source material to draw from, some interesting narrative elements, and the fact that director Lone Scherfig’s last effort was the multiple Oscar-nominated An Education, One Day failed to resonate with critics, who simply felt the film lacked the emotion, depth, and insight that made the book such a hit. At 37% on the Tomatometer, this is a risky venture, possibly suitable only for the most diehard of romantics.

Another Earth


You probably won’t be in the middle on Another Earth; either you’ll find it to be a hypnotic meditation on fate and circumstance or a pretentious, self-serious snoozer. Regardless, few would call it conventional. It’s the tale of an aspiring astrophysicist whose carelessness changes the life of a brilliant composer forever; now that a new planet exactly like ours has been discovered, can our heroine get a second chance to make everything right? Brit Marling stars and co-wrote the screenplay for Another Earth, and the film offers proof of her unique talent — just don’t expect a typical sci-fi story. A two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo also features a digital copy of the film, plus seven deleted scenes, short docs about the making of (and the science behind) the movie, and music video from the band Fall On Your Sword.

The Future


You probably won’t be in the middle on The Future; either you’ll find it to be a hypnotic meditation on fate and circumstance or a pretentious, self-conscious cutefest. Regardless, few would call it conventional. It’s the tale of an eccentric young woman whose relationship with her boyfriend is on the rocks; now that stray cat has been adopted, can our heroine get a second chance to make everything right? Miranda July directed and stars in The Future, and the film offers (continuing) proof of her unique talent — just don’t expect a typical indie dramedy. The DVD features audio commentary with July, plus a deleted scene, and a making-of featurette.

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