RT on DVD

RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Larry Crowne and Beginners

Plus, an indie curiosity, a couple of hefty Criterions, and a couple of classics in HD.

by | November 15, 2011 | Comments

One might be inclined to think that the fact we’re leading off this week’s column with Larry Crowne is an indication of a fairly dry selection of home video choices, but one would be wrong. Granted, most of the noteworthy choices are older films getting the hi-def treatment, but they’re great choices nonetheless. We didn’t even have time to mention, for example, Blu-ray rereleases of Evil Dead 2 or Metropolis. What we do have this week is a directorial misfire by Tom Hanks (co-starring Julia Roberts), a heartfelt romance starring Ewan McGregor, and a strange indie road film. On top of that, Criterion is releasing new Blu-rays of a Jean Renoir masterpiece and an acclaimed trilogy, and we’ve got new editions of Infernal Affairs, West Side Story, and My Fair Lady. So, overall, not a terrible week at all!

Larry Crowne

37%

Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts were once highly sought-after stars, both of them having won Academy Awards in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories, respectively, but neither of them has earned as much critical recognition lately as they used to. Enter Larry Crowne, a romantic comedy pairing up the Charlie Wilson’s War co-stars, directed and co-written by Hanks. Here, the titular character (Hanks) is a recently downsized retail employee who decides to enroll in community college, where he meets various new friends and falls in love with his Public Speaking instructor (Roberts). Unfortunately, while the film’s two stars are certainly likeable and are able to maintain a relaxed chemistry, critics found the story all too conventional and bland, earning Larry Crowne a mere 34% on the Tomatometer. Fans of both stars may enjoy the film, but as it stands, it’s a missed opportunity for two very capable powerhouse actors.

Beginners

85%

Partially based on writer/director Mike Mills’ own father, Beginners is one of those smaller independent films that critics praised but hardly anyone else saw. Told primarily in various flashbacks, the film stars Ewan McGregor as thirty-something Oliver, whose father Hal (Christopher Plummer) comes out as a homosexual at age 75 after the passing of his wife and proceeds to live a full life as a gay man until his death. Oliver also meets a French actress named Anna, played by Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), who sparks those initial memories of Hal, and attempts to navigate his relationship with her with the same vigor Hal exhibited in his last years. Certified Fresh at 84%, Beginners charmed critics, who appreciated the film’s multi-generational exploration of romance with wit and depth, even if it wore its heart on its sleeve. Though it might be a tad sentimental for some, most generally considered it a thoughtful delight, so if your interest is piqued, you might as well give it a shot.

Bellflower

73%

Here’s another intriguing film that got a lot of people talking earlier in the year when it premiered at Sundance back in January. Written by, directed by, and starring Evan Glodell, Bellflower is that rare beast of a film that seems propelled by its own manic energy and eccentric outrageousness. The story follows two friends who mod old cars, Mad Max style, and build flamethrowers, until one of them falls in love with a girl and they all embark on a dark, nihilistic journey together. A couple things to note here: Glodell, a bit of gearhead himself, not only built and modified the cars featured in the film, he also crafted the flamethrower and pieced together the camera used to film the movie out of vintage camera parts and Russian lenses. Filmed on a tiny budget, Bellflower is one of those very independent films that comes around every once in a while and impresses critics with its ambition and audacity; Certified Fresh at 73%, it might signal the arrival of a unique new talent, and one can only wonder what he might accomplish with a bigger budget.

Three Colors Trilogy – Criterion Collection

The late, great Krzysztof Kieślowski wasn’t a filmmaker lacking in ambition. He’s best known for two lengthy masterworks that tackle big subjects — The Decalogue was a 10-part series that explored the worldly implications of the 10 Commandments, and the Three Colors trilogy examined the complications and coincidences that mark everyday life through the colors of the French flag (Blue, White, and Red = liberty, equality, fraternity). Casual viewers may be initially put off by the trilogy’s length, but once you start, you’ll be hooked: all three films are marked by an intoxicating sense of the beauty and mystery inherent in the human condition, and feature great performances by (among others) Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, and Irene Jacob. The new Criterion set features a heaping helping of features, including interviews with cast and crew members, making-of docs, early shorts by Kieślowski, and other behind-the-scenes miscellany.

Infernal Affairs – Blu-Ray

94%

You’ve heard of it, but maybe you just never got around to seeing the famous Hong Kong hit that was remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed (which, by the way, finally won Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar). If you’ve seen the latter film, then the plot summary for Infernal Affairs will sound familiar: Tony Leung plays a police officer named Chan who is assigned to undercover work as a member of the triads, and Andy Lau (not to be confused with the director, Andrew Lau) is Lau, a member of the triads who is recruited to join the police force and report back to his boss. As both become aware that their respective organizations have been infiltrated, a complex cat-and-mouse game ensues, with each attempting to smoke out the rat before the other. There are about as many crime thrillers about the triads as there are about the yakuza or the mafia, so it takes something special to set any one of them apart; Infernal Affairs has that special something, as indicated by its Certified Fresh 95% on the Tomatometer. The new Blu-ray of the film includes a few extras, like a making-of featurette, an alternate ending, and a couple of official trailers.

The Rules of the Game – Criterion Collection

96%

Just in time for the Occupy Wall Street protests, Criterion has released a pristine new Blu-ray of The Rules of the Game, Jean Renoir’s incendiary comedy of manners. Long cited as one of cinema’s greatest films, The Rules of the Game is also a dark satire on the frivolity of the bourgeoisie; it follows a group of upper crust French folk who, over the course of a wild weekend at an opulent country estate, shoot rabbits, engage in illicit affairs, and generally ignore the coming storm of World War II. The new Criterion Blu-ray features a new digital restoration of the film, and includes an introduction from Jean Renoir, a bunch of documentaries on the great director, an alternate ending, and a featurette on the reconstruction of the film.

My Fair Lady – Blu-Ray

94%

If you’ve ever wondered how Audrey Hepburn earned her global reputation as a Hollywood sweetheart, the place to start would probably be Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but you wouldn?t go wrong if you picked up My Fair Lady, which also happens to be a pretty strong case for the “remakes can be good” argument. Winner of a whopping eight Academy Awards, My Fair Lady is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name, which itself was based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which was in turn made into a previous film of the same name in 1938. Whew! Here, Hepburn plays poor, Cockney-speaking flower girl Eliza Doolittle, who seeks out Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins for lessons in proper speech so as to secure a job at a flower shop. Accepting a wager from a colonel Hugh Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), Higgins sets out to prove that he can transform Eliza into a lady who might pass for a member of aristocratic lineage. This week, a new Blu-ray of the film hits shelves, complete with bonus features that include a making-of featurette, cast and crew interviews, production information, and a look at the Oscar highlights.

West Side Story – 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray

93%

Perhaps the most oft-referenced of modern musicals, West Side Story is also perhaps the greatest homage to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in all of popular culture. The 1961 movie version swept the Oscars, and it’s easy to see why: West Side Story is big, bold, colorful entertainment, filled with great songs (including “Tonight,” “Jet Song,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” “America”) inventive direction from Robert Wise, and, for the time, a certain gritty realism missing from glossy Hollywood musicals (though let’s be honest: the Sharks and the Jets wouldn’t last 30 seconds if they found themselves in The Warriors). The West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition features a sparkling new transfer of the movie and comes packed with extras, including making-of featurettes, docs on the film’s legacy, and commentary from lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and for those hardcore fans, there’s even a separate box set available.

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