New week, new releases. Last week, hordes of Pixar fans (and their children) were delighted with the release of Toy Story 3; this week, we have another fan favorite, albeit a niche choice that didn’t do as well in the theaters. Then we’ve got another decent kid flick, the latest Adam Sandler comedy, and a “serious” Zac Efron movie. Then we’ve got complete collections for two staples of ’80s reruns (both with unique packaging), a psychological thriller that shocked and confused a lot of people, and a definitive film collection for a legendary director. If anything, we’ve got variety this week, so keep an eye out for the ones you’ve been waiting for.
Director Edgar Wright developed something of a following after the success of his two feature films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, both of which were cleverly absurd love letters to the Horror and Action genres, and a pop culture-laden BBC television series he helmed called Spaced. No wonder, then, that those familiar with the indie comic series Scott Pilgrim were excited to hear Wright would be directing the film adaptation of the graphic novels about a 23-year-old slacker who falls in love with a girl, only to discover that he must defeat her “seven evil exes” before he can date her. The acclaimed Japanese manga-styled black-and-white comic was chock full of fantasy and humor, so it was right up Wright’s alley. Unfortunately, despite its loyal fanbase, the popularity of Wright’s previous films, and its widespread critical acclaim (Certified Fresh at 80% on the Tomatometer), Scott Pilgrim vs. The World proved to be a bit of a box office disappointment, and it disappeared quietly after a brief run. Well, those of you who have been waiting to own it for yourselves may rejoice, because it’s available this week on home video, where it will likely catch a second wind and be one of those “sleeper hits” people talk about in the future.
If you read books as a child (a phenomenon that seems to be growing rarer by the day), chances are you read one thing or another by celebrated author Beverly Cleary. And if you read Beverly Cleary, then you’ve probably come across her series of books about an imaginative, accident-prone young girl named Ramona Quimby and her oft-frustrated older sister Beezus. Earlier this year, Fox released a film adaptation of the book series, Ramona and Beezus, starring Joey King (Ramona) and Selena Gomez (Beezus). Those familiar with the books will recognize some of the mishaps Ramona experiences, but the film is an original story simply based on the characters Cleary so lovingly crafted. While Beezus is busy trying to get the attention of a boy, Ramona busies herself with what she does best: getting into trouble. Meanwhile, the family is in jeopardy of losing their home, and it’s Ramona to the rescue! It’s a children’s film based on children’s books, and critics say that while the film doesn’t quite capture the essence of its source material, it’s still sweet and wholesome, and, Certified Fresh at 71% on the Tomatometer, it should make for good family entertainment. You can pick it up on DVD or Blu-Ray this week.
Adam Sandler’s movies are what we like to call “critic-proof,” which is to say that it doesn’t matter what the critics think of his movies; they still perform rather well at the box office. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be too surprising that his latest farce, Grown Ups, registered just a 9% on the Tomatometer, but still earned a worldwide gross of around $270 million. Now, the amount of talent involved in the movie would make anyone do a double take, but history has proven that being a great stand-up comic doesn’t always translate to making good movies. Besides Sandler, other notable SNL alums in the cast include David Spade, Chris Rock, and Rob Schneider, with Maya Rudolph, Norm MacDonald, and Colin Quinn in smaller roles. Then you have Salma Hayek, Kevin James, Maria Bello, and even Steve “Boardwalk Empire” Buscemi thrown into the mix. It’s as if Sandler simply wanted to make a movie set someplace picturesque so he and all his buddies could hang out and goof around for a month. The story here revolves around five childhood friends (Sandler, Spade, Rock, Schneider, and James) who reunite after thirty years for their junior high basketball coach’s funeral; all bring some extra “baggage” with them, and throughout the trip, they help each other work through their problems. It’s here that I’ll reiterate the movie only got a 9% on the Tomatometer, but chances are, if you’ve liked many of Sandler’s other goofy movies, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Watch it with four of your junior high buddies for maximum catharsis.
Young actor Zac Efron got his big break when he starred in the Disney Channel’s High School Musical in 2006; since then, he’s become the “poster boy for tweenyboppers,” according to Rolling Stone. What all this disregards is that Efron actually had a number of roles before HSM that required him to do more than sing, dance, and look pretty for the camera, including one as an autistic boy for which he was nominated for a Young Artist Award. Together with his turn in Me and Orson Welles last year, Charlie St. Cloud marks a return to more dramatic fare for the actor; unfortunately, critics just weren’t feeling it. Based on the novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, the film adaptation stars Efron as the titular character, who gets into a car accident that kills his younger brother and subsequently develops the ability to communicate with ghosts. Charlie begins meeting with the spirit of his late brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) regularly to make up for lost time, and simultaneously begins a romantic relationship with a woman from town named Tess (Amanda Crew). Eventually, Charlie must choose between Tess and his brother, and discovers something surprising about Tess in the process. Critics were impressed by Efron’s acting chops here, but most found the script schmaltzy and overwrought to the tune of a 27% Tomatometer rating. You may like the film if you liked the book, but by most accounts, there’s not much to see here except a sad Zac Efron.
If you threw a party and invited everyone you knew, you would see the biggest gift would be from me. In this case, it would be the Golden Girls: 25th Anniversary Complete Collection, which assembles every episode of the show’s seven-season run. If you’ve ever channel surfed in your life, you’re familiar with the basic premise: four sassy seniors living together in a Miami retirement community. Endless reruns, Betty White’s recent resurgence, and cameos from such Hollywood bigshots as Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney have helped to keep The Golden Girls oddly relevant. The 25th Anniversary Complete Collection set includes a slew of bonus features, including commentaries from the stars, several making-of featurettes, archival video interviews, a fashion commentary, a trivia challenge, and collections of outrageous moments, hilarious clips, and top 10 guest stars from Season 4. On top of all that, it comes packaged in a replica of Sophia’s (Estelle Getty) purse!
Danish director Lars von Trier is no stranger to controversy; many of his films deal with touchy subjects particularly with respect to women, which has gotten him labeled as a misogynist in some circles, and his usage of sexually explicit images even led to his producing more “sophisticated” hardcore porn for the arthouse crowd. Thus, when Antichrist premiered during the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, hardly anyone was surprised by the polarizing effect of the puzzling and often graphic film, which follows an unnamed psychotherapist (Willem Dafoe) who takes his grieving wife (Charlotte Gainsbourg) out to an isolated cabin in the woods for therapy after a tragedy that kills their son. Von Trier was famously suffering from depression both before and during the filming of the movie, and many suspected Antichrist was an evocation of his mental state. As for the critics, well, they were split pretty much right down the middle; the film holds a 48% on the Tomatometer, with some calling it a beautifully shot exploration of pain, while others dismiss it as a self-indulgent, pretentious attempt to shock audiences into submission. While the subject matter may turn some off immediately, those who are willing to brave the graphic sex, genital mutilation, and talking foxes will be rewarded by some fantastically bizarre imagery and a Cannes Best Actress-winning performance by Gainsbourg. Whichever side of the fence you occupy, there’s no denying this is a provocative film, and Criterion is issuing it this week on DVD and Blu-Ray with all the requisite bells and whistles.
There can be little doubt that Elia Kazan changed the course of both cinema and theater – as an early adopter of method acting, he helped usher in a new era of emotional honesty on the stage and screen. In addition, Kazan’s enthusiasm for unknown actors gave such future legends as Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Warren Beatty a chance to shine. However, he remains reviled in some quarters for acting as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; many blame Kazan’s testimony for the blacklisting of several prominent Hollywood screenwriters with alleged Communist ties. Now that the Red Scare is long behind us, we can now look at Kazan’s films with a fresh perspective, and the exhaustive 18-disc box set The Elia Kazan Collection is a great place to start. It contains the man’s most renowned classics, including
Are you being haunted by a malevolent spirit in your barn who, for some reason, refuses to allow you to clean the hayloft? Is there a floating apparition spooking your local museum curator every time he heads down into the basement where old exhibits are being refurbished? Forget about calling any Ghostbusters or Ghost Hunters or paranormal psychics; all you need is a gang of gumptious teens with a talking dog, and before you know it, you’re sure to discover your supernatural shenanigans were perpetrated by greedy old men in search of one treasure or another. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! was a staple of Saturday morning and weekday afternoon children’s viewing for decades, spawning several franchise spinoffs in various mediums, ubiquitous merchandise and paraphernalia, and a few live-action movies. And the Scooby-Doo legacy endures to this day; just last month, the Cartoon Network aired the latest made-for-tv movie. This week, we’ll be treated to a complete collection of the original TV series that started it all, debuting in 1969 and running for three seasons. Though formulaic in nature, the show happily combined clue-finding, adventure, and comedy into tight little 30-minute episodes, making it an appealing format for kids even today. Now, the show may not hold up for adults, but if you have any toddlers in your life, you can pick up this set and help create the same nostalgia you feel for it now. The Complete Series includes all 41 episodes of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! on 7 discs, plus and 8th disc with extras like a featurette on Scooby-Doo fans, a look at the fashion of the show, and even a tutorial on how to draw the characters. Then consider it’s all packed within a miniature version of the Mystery Machine, and it’s a must have for diehard fans.
Written by Ryan Fujitani and Tim Ryan