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RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Plus, a couple of female-centric comedies, a couple of Certified Fresh docs, and Kevin Smith's horror movie.

by | October 18, 2011 | Comments

The home video release trend as of late has been such that the majority of noteworthy titles have been rereleases of older films, with just a few brand new ones worth even mentioning at all. This week, the trend shifts a bit, with only a handful of notable old films (a Criterion edition of Kaneto Shindo’s Kuroneko, new but not particularly special Blu-rays of The Goonies and Cape Fear) and some decent new films. The biggest one, of course, is the latest installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, followed up by the Cameron Diaz/Justin Timberlake school comedy, and a fantasy vacation featuring three young starlets. Then we’ve got three solid documentaries – one about the newspaper business, one about a hip hop supergroup, and one about a legendary rock band – and Kevin Smith’s foray into horror. Read on to see if anything will make it to your shelf this week.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

33%

Disney has gotten a whole lot of mileage out of the Pirates franchise, considering it’s based on one of its amusement park rides, and this fourth installment would test the true star power of not only its lead actor, Johnny Depp, but the saucy, wisecracking Jack Sparrow. How so? Well, with On Stranger Tides, Depp would have to make a go of it without three-time co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, as well as director Gore Verbinski, who had also helmed all three previous films. No, this time around, Jack Sparrow would have to contend with Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a woman from his past who may be out to con him, and the fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane) in a Rob Marshall-directed quest to discover the Fountain of Youth. As it turns out, On Stranger Tides received the lowest Tomatometer rating of all the Pirates films at 33%, and it made the least amount of money at the box office, but when you consider the performance of the first three installments, which all had diminishing box office returns and progressively lower Tomatometer scores, it’s not quite so bad. Despite its jumbled plot and overabundance of noisy action sequences, Pirates 4 still earned a worldwide sum of over $1 billion, so if all you needed was a little more Jack Sparrow, this will suit you just fine.

Bad Teacher

45%

If you’re going to make your central protagonist a relatively unlikeable character, you still have to infuse that character with something audiences will sympathize with. A troubled past, maybe, that might explain the character’s current state of misanthropy, or an ailing parental figure to lend some humanity to said protagonist. When the inevitable redemption comes at the end of a comedy, in other words, you have to make your audience believe it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with Bad Teacher, which featured Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey, a negligent, gold-digging middle school teacher who, in search of a meal ticket and a boob job, attempts to woo fellow teacher Scott (former Diaz beau Justin Timberlake), an attractive substitute who hails from a wealthy family. Despite a solid supporting cast of comic veterans that included Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, and John Michael Higgins, critics simply found Diaz, playing outside her type, beyond redemption, largely wasting a premise with potential and earning a 45% on the Tomatometer. There are some laughs to be had, and Diaz certainly seems surprisingly comfortable in the role, but Bad Teacher is not likely to be one of the more memorable comedies to come out of this past summer.

Monte Carlo

40%

Monte Carlo is very obviously targeted for a specific demographic. It’s a travel movie about three young girls who plan a dream trip to Paris, only to be whisked away in glitz and glamour to Monte Carlo when one of them is mistaken for a wealthy heiress, and it stars Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester, and Katie Cassidy. It should, therefore, surprise no one that the film was predictably sweet and charming in parts, and completely riddled with formulaic clichés in most others. What we have here is a piece of fantasy fiction for young girls who dream of being princesses – or, at the very least, treated like princesses – so you can take that for what it’s worth and decide if it’s right for you. What we can tell you is that critics weren’t so impressed by it, saddling the film with a 41% Tomatometer score, but let’s be honest for a minute here: are the girls who will watch this really going to care what the critics had to say about it?

Red State

61%

There was a bit of a ruckus earlier this year when Kevin Smith suddenly announced that he wouldn’t be auctioning off his new movie, Red State, as planned, and instead would be marketing and distributing it himself. For better or worse, Smith took his show on the road, setting up one-off screenings and making the film available via video on demand back in September. The story centers on a small town with a religious cult that bears a striking resemblance to the Westboro Baptist Church (who, of course, protested the film’s release); when three teens are lured by the promise of sex into a trap set by the film’s fictional Five Points Church, the town’s police and the ATF get involved, resulting in a Waco-style showdown at the church’s compound. Most critics saw familiar elements of Smith’s style and agreed that it was possibly his boldest movie yet, but with too many bits of protracted dialogue and a lack of competent scares or thrills, Red State just missed the Fresh mark at 58%. It might be worth checking out if you’re curious what a Kevin Smith horror film might look like, but by horror standards, the word is that Red State doesn’t quite pull it off.

Page One: Inside the New York Times

79%

In case you haven’t been paying much attention in the past ten years or so, here’s a news flash for you: print media is on its last legs. Director Andrew Rossi’s documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times explores this decline in print journalism from the inside out, with unprecedented access to the Times’ newsroom and interviews with its staffers. The film illustrates both how the prominent organization strives to maintain its relevance in the face of new media and how its frenetic atmosphere continues to produce stories of domestic and global significance at top notch quality. Sure, this film may hold limited interest for those who don’t normally give the newspaper business even a passing thought, but Page One does sport a Certified Fresh 79% Tomatometer, and those who do choose to watch it will be rewarded by a rare and insightful look at a struggling industry during a time of turmoil and massive readjustment; all fascinating stuff.

Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

Back in the days on the boulevard of Linden, A Tribe Called Quest kicked routines that revolutionized hip hop. Along with their fellow travelers in the Native Tongues posse (De La Soul, the Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah), Quest expanded the sonic boundaries of rap music; with their jazz-influenced, lyrically complex records. First-time director Michael Rapaport’s Beats, Rhymes, and Life is an infectious, comprehensive portrait of the group featuring many of rap’s biggest stars, one that should appeal to both hip hop heads and Quest neophytes alike. However, despite Rapaport’s obvious love for the group, Beats doesn’t gloss over Quest’s troubles: Phife’s health struggles and his artistic battles with leader Q-Tip get a full airing here. The Beats, Rhymes, and Life Blu-ray is loaded with bonus features, including featurettes and interviews. Dig this recital.

Pearl Jam Twenty

68%

If we were going to write about a hip hop documentary, it’s only right that we include a rock doc as well, right? Former Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous) applied his rock sensibilities to a film chronicling the career of one of the grunge era’s (and, indeed, contemporary rock’s) most influential bands, Pearl Jam. Known as a very private band, Crowe was given the same sort of insider access that Andrew Rossi was afforded for Page One; Pearl Jam Twenty features never-before-seen footage from various points in the band’s career, edited together with talking head interviews of the musicians and their peers. At 68% on the Tomatometer, the film is a rare glimpse into the lives and inner workings of the band, but according to some critics, it may play more to fans of the band than anyone else, making for more of a concert promotion film with great music than a truly insightful experience. In other words, if you’re a Pearl Jam junkie, you’ll get a hefty fix from Pearl Jam Twenty, but if you’re not, Crowe’s gushing adoration for the rockers in question may come off a bit flat.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray

91%

Before Johnny Depp transformed Roald Dahl’s eccentric chocolatier into an exceedingly creepy Michael Jackson doppelganger, there was Gene Wilder in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Mel Stuart’s adaptation of Dahl’s novel was a surprisingly dark and somewhat perverse vision, one that probably inspired awe in many of you as children while simultaneously dabbling in the stuff of nightmares (psychedelic tunnel scene, anyone?). But Willy Wonka actually received decent reviews upon its release, still reflected today in its 88% Tomatometer, and though it failed to perform very well at the box office, it eventually achieved cult status as a cultural touchstone for those raised in the ’70s and ’80s. This week, Warner Bros. releases a three-disc 40th Anniversary Blu-Ray of the film, which features all the extras found on previous releases but also includes a 144-page book that details the production of the movie, a collection of replica production correspondence, a Wonka Bar tin with four scratch-and-sniff pencils and a chocolate-scented eraser, and a replica of a Wonka Golden Ticket that promises 45 lucky fans will take home a special prize. It’s a great pickup, albeit not necessarily an essential one, for any fan of the film.

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