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RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: Shakespearean Gnomes and Alien Refugees

Plus, another Disney musical, a classic '80s toon, and two from Criterion.

by | May 24, 2011 | Comments

This week on home video, there isn’t a whole lot to choose from in the New Releases department; most of the notable stuff includes collections and re-releases. This latter category is comprised of stuff like Platoon, two Ronald F. Maxwell Civil War films (Gettysburg, Gods and Generals), the Steve McQueen prison break film Papillon, and a couple of classic racing flicks (1966’s Grand Prix and 1971’s Le Mans), all on Blu-Ray. The brand new releases, however, consist of a teen-with-powers-on-the-run movie and an animated ode to Shakespeare… with garden gnomes. Check out the new releases below!

Gnomeo and Juliet

55%

Romeo and Juliet is probably Shakespeare’s most famous love story, if not the most famous of all time, and its underlying premise of starcrossed lovers is such a universal theme that storytellers have reinterpreted the tragic play in countless ways. Case in point: Kelly Asbury’s (Shrek 2) Gnomeo and Juliet, which opened earlier this year, relocates the setting to the world of, yes, garden gnomes. Not real ones, mind you, but ones akin to the little fellow you see in those Travelocity ads. But with Asbury’s track record (Shrek 2 was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar), a voice cast that includes, among others, James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Patrick Stewart, and Hulk Hogan, and a soundtrack that boasts both new and classic songs by Elton John, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to assume this would be a winner. Unfortunately, critics found the film to be a little too aware of its own silliness, which detracted from its charm enough to earn it a 55% on the Tomatometer. Still, most say it’s not a bad movie altogether, and if you don’t mind a bit of fudging on the part of the writers, it might not be too terrible an introduction to Shakespeare for the little ones.

I Am Number Four

33%

With its combination of teen romance and super-empowerment, it’s no wonder the young adult novel I Am Number Four spent nineteen weeks on the NY Times Best Seller List (seven of them at #1); the setup is, after all, vaguely something like Harry Potter meets Twilight. With that in mind, it’s also not surprising that a proposed film franchise was hot on its heels, and we got the first big screen installment, I Am Number Four, back in February. Directed by DJ Caruso (Disturbia), the film stars Alex Pettyfer as John Smith, a human-like alien refugee with nascent superpowers who is on the run from another predatory alien race who call themselves Mogadorians. John, along with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant), set up shop in Paradise, Ohio, where John begins attending the local high school and falls in love with a normal human girl named Sarah (Glee‘s Dianna Agron). As John’s powers begin to mature, the Mogadorians discover his location and a confrontation ensues. The film is set up as the first in a franchise, and the second book in the series is set to debut later this year, but critics were harsh on the film, calling it noisy, derivative, and ultimately forgettable. Still, if you’re a fan of the book, you may enjoy this.

Solaris (1976) – Criterion Collection

92%

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris can be seen as a Soviet response to Kubrick’s 2001 — it’s a sci-fi odyssey that uses the darkest recesses of space as a setting to explore the essence of what it is to be human. And like 2001, it’s a heady head-trip (those looking for pulse pounding tension will be disappointed) that weaves an intoxicating, sometimes heartbreaking spell if you surrender to its spare, hypnotic tone. Cosmonaut Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) is dispatched to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, where crew members have reported strange visions; when he arrives, Kelvin discovers that his memories have become reality. A swanky new Criterion set features deleted scenes, audio commentary from Tarkovsky scholars, interviews with cast and crew members, and a doc on Stanislaw Lem, who wrote the source novel. Even if you’ve seen Steven Soderbergh’s underrated remake, you should check out the original, which remains a haunting, singular cinematic masterpiece.

Lemonade Mouth

In the grand tradition of High School Musical comes the next made-for-tv Disney original film, Lemonade Mouth, starring Adam Hicks, Bridgit Mendler, Hayley Kiyoko, Naomi Scott, and Blake Michael. In Breakfast Club style, five very different high school freshmen meet during detention, part of which entails cleaning up the music room. As the kids tidy up the place, they each grab an instrument and begin jamming, only to realize they make a pretty decent band. Next thing you know, they’ve formed an honest-to-goodness band, they’ll be performing at their school’s Halloween Bash, and they learn to put aside their differences and stand up for a common cause. It’s all pretty typical Disney Channel stuff, but it’s hard to argue against making wholesome messages more appealing to kids through pop songs. Whether or not this will spawn another franchise like the aforementioned Zac Efron/Vanessa Hudgens vehicle is anyone’s guess, but if you’re looking for something peppy and harmless to keep your pre-tween occupied for a couple hours, this will do the trick.

The Great Dictator – Criterion Collection

94%

In an era when hundreds of Downfall parodies are available on YouTube, it’s hard to imagine a time when it was risky to make Hitler look like a spastic buffoon. But such was the case when Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator, an incendiary satire of der Führer that made some folks in Hollywood nervous, as the United States had yet to enter World War II. Chaplin played both an amnesiac Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, the dictator of Tomainia and a persecutor of Jews (although his Little Tramp persona and unmatched physical comedy are ever present as well). For Chaplin, The Great Dictator was personal — he was disgusted by Hitler’s systematic anti-Semitism and saber-rattling — and he made the German leader look as foolish as possible, mimicking his hyperventilating style of speech with pidgin German and mocking his boot-licking lackeys. The new Criterion disc presents the film with a new transfer, plus oodles of bonus material, include outtakes, scenes from other films that influenced Chaplin, audio commentary from Chaplin experts, and the 2001 documentary The Tramp and the Dictator, which takes an in-depth look at the lives of both Chaplin and Hitler.

Transformers: The Complete Series

If you, like a few of the RT editors here, grew up watching the old animated Transformers cartoons (not Beast Wars or any of the newfangled reboots) from the early to mid-80s, and you haven’t rewatched any of the episodes since those glory days, give it a shot. We’re going to be honest with you here: they’re not very good. But you know, when you’ve got giant robots shapeshifting into fighter jets and sports cars, who cares? Right? Seemingly timed to generate (or benefit from) some interest leading up to the release of the third live-action Transformers film, the entire series of the classic show arrives on home video this week in the form of a 15-disc DVD set. The set contains all four seasons of the show, plus all the special features found on the previously released 25th Anniversary Editions. That’s 98 remastered episodes, as well as several featurettes, PSAs, concept art, toy commercials, and more. Now, if you already have the 25th Anniversary Matrix of Leadership Edition, you won’t need this, but if you don’t own any of it already, and you’re feeling extra nostalgic, you can pick this up; the special features will be interesting to watch, and you can wax sentimental every time Optimus Prime says, “Autobots! Transform and roll out!”

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