Well, what can we say? Now that the cinematic cycle is slowly moving into that short limbo between the typically robust Summer movie season and the Oscar-friendly late Fall movie season, it looks like the home video releases are following suit; there are precious few notable titles to spotlight this week, and even a couple of the notable ones aren’t so hot to begin with. But with that said, have a quick look at what’s available in our short list this week, and who knows? Maybe you’ll find something you were just dying to get.
It’s savvy that this film, Sparks’ first “crossover” into screenwriting (he adapted his own novel), is also Miley Cyrus’ first crossover from the sanctified Disney hothouse into the wild, almost-real world. About grumpy teen Ronnie (Miley Cyrus, Hannah Montana) who’s stuck in Georgia with her composer father (Greg Kinnear) and little brother (Bobby Coleman) for reasons unknown to her, Cyrus sulks through her summer on the Southern shore until she meets hottie Will (Liam Hemsworth). As her parents’ divorce was rough on her, she’s gone out of her way to make bonding impossible, so all this prodigious piano playing she used to do is off the table, even if Julliard (presumably the only music college in existence as far as Hollywood is concerned) is knocking at her door with a scholarship she doesn’t want. The highpoint here is Will, (played by Chris Hemsworth’s – a.k.a. Thor‘s – little brother), he’s cute enough to protect us from splitting a side at the fact Kinnear’s father character is a piano player named “Steve Miller” (fail). Besides being eye candy his character has the added benefit of bleaching the misplaced angst out of Ronnie and making her someone less… teethgritting. DVD extras in the 2 disk set are mighty; longer scenes (a crucial Church fire and alternate endings) look like the highlights with music videos thrown in for variation. Commentary by star and director included.
Despite a couple of turns in serious movies, Brendan Fraser has made a career out of starring in toothless family fare, often with disappointing results (Monkeybone, anyone? No? Dudley Do-Right, then? Or George of the Jungle?). This year brought us another of his kid-friendly endeavors, and again, it received middling reviews, to be generous. Registering at just 8% on the Tomatometer, this slapsticky romp saw Fraser playing Dan Sanders, a real estate developer and family man who is charged with transforming a forest into a housing community. The wild animals who call the forest home naturally won’t leave quietly, and they do their best to inflict every kind of abuse on poor Dan to let him know exactly what they think of his company’s plans for the forest. Sadly, critics didn’t feel that Furry Vengeance had enough going for it to overcome its inherent flaw, namely squeezing every last drop of potential from its premise and stretching it thin over the course of an hour and a half. Still, if you want some goofy pratfalls to keep your kids occupied for a little while, feel free to pick this up, pop it in your DVD player, and do some household chores with headphones on.
Back in 2003, South Korean director Ji-Woon Kim achieved something of an international cult hit with his mindbending psychological horror film, A Tale of Two Sisters. Last year, he followed in the footsteps of Japanese director Takashi Miike, who helmed 2007’s Sukiyaki Western Django, by turning his talents upon the genre western and putting a decidedly Asian spin on it with The Good, the Bad, and The Weird. If you’re thinking, “Hey, that sounds an awful lot like a certain Clint Eastwood movie from way back when,” it’s for good reason; The Good, the Bad, and the Weird borrows more than just its title from the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western. The story revolves around a bounty hunter (the “good”), a bandit for hire (the “bad”), and a thief (the “weird”) in Japanese-occupied 1930s Manchuria whose lives all become intertwined in a grand chase revolving around a stolen map. Overall, at a Certified Fresh 82% on the Tomatometer, critics felt that the film was rollicking fun, never taking itself too seriously, and managed to demonstrate the director’s fondness for the genre and films it mimics while still retaining an original feel of its own. The action is fast-paced, and the film moves fast, so if you missed this foreign gem when it hit theaters in very limited release earlier this year, then now’s your chance to check it out on home video.
Not to be confused as an installment in the horror franchise of a similar title, The City of Your Final Destination is an adaptation of a 2002 novel by Peter Cameron about a grad student who attempts to convince the family of a deceased South American writer to allow him to pen the writer’s biography. Directed by James Ivory (A Room with a View, Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day), who is no stranger to the Academy Awards, and starring the likes of Laura Linney, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Anthony Hopkins, the film probably expected to achieve the level of success familiar to those involved. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the stellar cast and the typically beautiful direction on the part of Ivory, critics felt the film lacked an emotional punch or dramatic heft, and it only managed a mediocre 40% on the Tomatometer. It’s difficult to say whether it was the source material or the adaptation itself, but whatever the case, no one seemed to be fooled by the flat dialogue and regrettably dull storyline. Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Ivory or any of the principal actors, this might still be worth a watch, just to see them working at their craft.
French director Maurice Pialat is best known for films like Loulou and A nos amours, but this week, Criterion has seen fit to honor his feature film debut with a brand new edition. L’enfance nue focuses on the life of young 10-year-old Francois (Michel Terrazon), who is placed into foster custody by his mother and who then is moved from family to family, acting out and growing increasingly troubled. Pialat has earned a reputation for presenting his subjects in a realistic light, and falling in line with this, L’enfance nue refuses to look upon Francois with a sentimental eye, choosing instead to focus on the child’s stark worldview and his struggles to come to terms with his mother’s abandonment. The film is a little-seen gem, to be sure, but thanks to Criterion, it’s now widely available, and it comes with the label’s typically fantastic set of extras, including one of Pialat’s short films, a documentary on L’enfance nue, and excerpts from a 1973 TV interview with Pialat. This would make a good pickup for fans of classic French cinema.
French musicals come from a tradition of casual song; street music is a big part, and though street music is a typically working class affair (insofar as street musicians are usually struggling artists) this sense that music is woven into the fabric of a life is at the heart of the genre. A French film made in Brazil, Black Orpheus retells the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in the favelas of Rio de Janiero during Carnivale. The villains lurk behind every corner, which isn’t to say our hero and heroine are “good” in the traditional sense. The world they inhabit is so various and brightly colored and the depravation and glamour are ever-present, heightened, and just a little romantic. But the music… that’s the sweetness of this one. Orpheus is as aesthetically lush as anything to come out of the Hollywood but in its heart it’s a French musical about a place where music, like myth, is so deeply woven into each day that there’s no distinguishing song from speech, story from fact. The Criterion Blu-Ray includes archival interviews with director Marcel Camus and actress Marpessa Dawn and video interviews with Brazilian film scholar Robert Stam, jazz historical Gary Giddins and Brazilian author Ruy Castro, along with a feature long doc about the roots of the story and its resonance in Brazil today and a booklet with an essay by Michael Atkinson.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Sara Vizcarrondo