Every once in a while, we have weeks of RT on DVD that offer a little something for everyone. This might be considered one of those weeks, despite the prevalence of edgy foreign flicks that might only be of interest to a select few. For starters, we’ve got an inspirational family flick from Disney, a quirky actioner starring older actors, and the latest (and last) entry in a horror franchise. Then there’s also the final installment in the saga of Lisbeth Salander, a psychedelic French mind-trip set in Japan, a John Lennon biopic, and a Greek tale about a twisted family. Lastly, there are two more Criterion releases to look for. So check out what’s new this week, and hopefully one or two will fit right on your shelf.
As far as inspirational sports dramas produced by Disney are concerned, Secretariat is probably exactly what you would expect it to be: predictable and traditional, but heartwarming and uplifting. In other words, you won’t find many surprises here, but what you will find should be enough to elicit a smile and a hug. The story revolves around Diane Lane as Penny Chenery, the woman who took over her father’s stables and helped train Secretariat, the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. Chenery doesn’t know the first thing about raising prize-winning horses, so she enlists the help of eccentric veteran trainer Lucien Laurin (John Malkovich) and makes waves in a sport dominated by men. Critics found the film to be pleasant enough, giving it a 63% Tomatometer score, and it’ll probably make for a nice family night in, but don’t expect Secretariat to shine as an example of stellar cinema. It serves its purpose just well enough.
In a year that was positively filled to the brim with over-the-top action movies, it would take something extraordinary or unusual to stand out from the rest. What Red offered was a decidedly different take on the genre, employing the old school charms of Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, and action veteran Bruce Willis in a film about retired CIA superstar agents who have been targeted for extermination and must “get the band back together” in order to discover who’s stalking them and why. If the sight of Helen Mirren wielding a machine-gun alone doesn’t pique your interest, then part of the film’s novelty might be lost on you, but critics found Red to be a witty, stylish addition to the year’s action fare, awarding it a Certified Fresh 70% on the Tomatometer. And with a supporting cast that includes Ernest Borgnine, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, and an up-and-coming Karl Urban, this might just be one quirky shoot-em-up that’ll be worth your time.
Who knew when Saw opened in 2004 that it would become a cultural phenomenon big enough to spawn six sequels? Horror films do seem to operate somewhat outside of the film criticism universe, often succeeding despite being panned by the critical community, and the Saw series, which has never received anything higher than the first installment’s 48% Tomatometer score, is a prime example of this. In this, the alleged “Final Chapter,” which continues Jigsaw’s legacy of gruesomely imposed morality, a man becomes famous for claiming to be a Jigsaw survivor and writing a book about it, while Jigsaw’s ex-wife Jill Tuck (Betsy Russell) implicates Detective Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) as the new Jigsaw killer. Saw 3D holds the dubious honor of earning the lowest Tomatometer score of the franchise with an 11% rating, but that didn’t stop it from taking in almost $46 million in box office receipts. Bottom line: if you’ve been following the Saw storyline, then have at it; if not, then you’ll be just fine passing this up.
Although the film adaptations of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy novels have earned gradually lower Tomatometer scores with each installment, leaving the final chapter, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest with a 52% Tomatometer, those who have followed the exploits of Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) until now will want to close out the story. This is particularly true following The Girl Who Played with Fire, which culminated, as many “part twos” of planned trilogies do, in an open ending leading directly to its conclusion. After several plot twists and a confrontation that leaves Lisbeth in the hospital, Hornet’s Nest picks up right where Played with Fire leaves off, with Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nyqvist) working to prove Lisbeth’s innocence as she recovers from her injuries and awaits trial for the three murders she’s been accused of committing. Critics found the final chapter to be slower than its predecessors and largely lacking the chemistry previously exhibited by its two leads, making Hornet’s Nest somewhat an uneven conclusion to the saga. Nevertheless, fans (particularly those who haven’t read the books) may still want to find out what happens, so it’s out this week for the curious.
Before he donned a green wetsuit and attempted to fight crime vigilante-style in Kick-Ass, Aaron Johnson took on a decidedly more low-key role as a young John Lennon in Sam Taylor-Wood’s 2009 biopic of the Beatles star, Nowhere Boy. Focusing on Lennon’s teenage years and exploring his first forays into music, Nowhere Boy also keys in on two important relationships Lennon had, specifically with his mother (Anne-Marie Duff) and Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas). Though it isn’t as musically inclined as many might expect a John Lennon biopic to be, critics found a lot to like in Johnson’s portrayal of the musician, as well as the subdued aesthetic of the film, helping it to achieve a Certified Fresh 79% on the Tomatometer. It’s a solid film and an insightful glimpse into the lesser known aspects of the megacelebrity’s life.
French-Argentinian director Gaspar Noe came to many people’s attention with his second feature film, Irreversible, a controversial movie notable for its reverse chronological storytelling, brutal violence (particularly one scene involving a fire extinguisher and one unfortunate man’s face), and graphic depiction of rape. With his latest feature, Noe looks to continue his edgy filmmaking with a supernatural, psychedelic trip into the afterlife… sort of. Set in Tokyo, Enter the Void follows Oscar (newcomer Nathaniel Brown), a junkie and drug dealer who, in a standoff with police at a nightclub, is shot and killed and spends the rest of the film in sort of an out-of-body experience. He begins by reliving his earlier life, providing background and context for the present, and leading to his floating above the city of Tokyo, watching over his sister (Paz de la Huerta) and exploring ideas of reincarnation. It’s a wild ride, and for the most part, critics were on board, citing the impressive camera work and Noe’s lofty ambitions as more “hit” than “miss.” With a 71% Tomatometer rating, Enter the Void might just be a head-trip worth taking, and one like you’ve probably never seen before.
If you haven’t heard of this Cannes award-winner from Greece, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Dogtooth opened in no more than three theaters during its entire run in the US and earned less than $100,000 at the box office. Those who did get a chance to see it were treated to a fairly unique film, disturbing in parts and strange all over, that has had critics talking since last year. The film depicts a family comprised of a mother, father, and three children whom the parents keep confined within the boundaries of the large compound where they live. The parents have raised the now-adult children without ever allowing them to venture into the outside world, and as a result, the family is warped beyond normalcy. When elements from the outside, including a stray cat and a woman the father has hired to help alleviate his son’s sexual needs, begin slowly creeping in, the delicate balance is tipped, leading to a dramatic conclusion. Critics were impressed by Dogtooth to the tune of a Certified Fresh 92%, and though it’s probably too disturbing and outlandish for mainstream audiences, it makes for a thought-provoking experience and might be just right for you, depending on your mood.
The late, great Krzysztof Kieślowski is best known in the states for The Decalogue and his Three Colors trilogy – two epic, profoundly moving masterworks that find mystery and spiritual yearning in the rhythms of everyday life. We can’t recommend those films highly enough, but if you’re pressed for time and you’d still like to wade into Kieślowski’s oeuvre, The Double Life of Veronique should do the trick nicely. Veronique stars the luminous Irene Jacob in a dual role as a Polish soprano and a French music teacher whose lives share remarkable parallels but have never met one another. A new Criterion Blu-Ray features four of Kieślowski’s early shorts, documentaries on the great director, new interviews with cast and crew members, and a booklet filled to the brim with informative essays.
With James L. Brooks’ grammatically-challenged How Do You Know meeting with both barren commercial and critical response recently, it’s a good time to cast your mind back to 1987 when the writer-director was at the very top of his game. A television gun (he co-created The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Taxi, and later, The Simpsons) Brooks had won Best Picture and Director for his first feature, ’83’s Terms of Endearment, and though this follow-up failed to claim those honors (it was nominated), it’s arguably his stone-cold movie masterpiece. Holly Hunter (doubling her dynamic breakout alongside Raising Arizona) plays a TV producer caught between a slick-but-gormless anchorman (William Hurt) and an acidic old school reporter (Albert Brooks), in a comedy-drama revolving around a Washington news room. Morning Glory this most certainly isn’t: Brooks’ dialogue is razor-sharp, his characters compelling, his satire on-point. This Criterion issue (on DVD and Blu-ray) features a restored high-def transfer with a new commentary by Brooks, alternate ending and deleted scenes, plus a new doco and interviews with the director.
Written by Ryan Fujitani, Tim Ryan, and Luke Goodsell