This week on home video, our big new releases are upstaged by the smaller indie films and the old classics being reissued. While Leap Year and Nine underperformed both critically and commercially, a couple of smaller films received higher marks. In addition, some of the classic films we’ve come to love, including a couple of iconic romances and a gritty interpretation of World War II, get spiffed up for Blu-Ray versions and one fan-friendly package with some great special bonuses. Not really the week to come looking for recent stuff, but if you take a look at the list, you might just find something appealing nonetheless.
Amy Adams is one of those actresses who exudes a sort of likable charm, and she’s proven her versatility in a variety of roles and smart acting choices. Even in critically panned films like the Night at the Museum sequel, she usually seems able to elevate herself beyond the material. Leap Year serves as an example of this, as critics largely dismissed the film but also noted that Adams was as lovable as ever. The story revolves around a woman (Adams) who flies to Ireland to take advantage of an Irish tradition and propose to her boyfriend on February 29th. When a storm forces her flight to Wales, she pays a gruff innkeeper to drive her to Dublin, and the two discover they have chemistry along the way. Many felt that Leap Year‘s plot contained far too many clichés to offer any surprises, but Adams’s charms may be enough for some to look past the formulaic script. In any case, it’ll be lining your video store shelves this week.
Despite boasting a few big names, The Tooth Fairy failed to impress critics, and just a little over three months past its opening, here it comes on home video. What’s unfortunate is that, like Leap Year, this cast is just so darn likable. We’ve all seen Dwayne Johnson stuffed into that ridiculous fairy costume and sporting that toothy grin on bus stop ads — it may not be pretty, but he still seems like a pretty cool cat. Ashley Judd and Julia Andrews are a couple of Hollywood darlings themselves, and honestly, who doesn’t like Billy Crystal? (Okay, don’t answer that.) Critics simply didn’t feel that the script — about a violent minor-league hockey player sentenced to two weeks as an official tooth fairy — offered any punch, despite the charisma of its actors. It’s a goofy comedy of the lowest order, but if your desired audience is young enough, this will probably make decent entertainment for them for a while.
In 1963, celebrated Italian director Federico Fellini made what many consider to be his masterpiece, a semi-autobiographical film called 8 1/2 about a movie director struggling for inspiration who retreats into his dreams and fantasies. This film went on to inspire many others, and in 1982 it was adapted into a stage play titled Nine. In a rare and unique twist, film and stage musical director Rob Marshall (Chicago) then adapted the 1982 play back into film for 2009’s Nine, featuring an all-star cast that included Daniel Day-Lewis (as the troubled director), Judi Dench, Marion Cotillard, Penelope Cruz, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, Kate Hudson and more. So it was a surprise when the reviews came in and revealed that Nine was uninspired at best, chaotic and clumsy at worst — and it was more often the latter. Sitting at 37% on the Tomatometer, Nine may represent somewhat of a missed opportunity, but those who enjoy the spectacle of Broadway still might find novelty in Rob Marshall’s vision.
Francis Ford Coppola may never be able to duplicate what he accomplished during the 1970s with films like The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, and the first two Godfather installments, but at least he’s back in the director’s chair. After a decade of working as a producer, Coppola stepped behind the camera for 2007’s Youth Without Youth, which performed poorly both from a critical and commercial standpoint. With last year’s Tetro, however, Coppola managed at least to get the critics back on his side. The story about a pair of brothers from an Italian immigrant family living in Argentina earned a 68% on the Tomatometer, and critics especially noted the visual style of the film and its emotional resonance. It may not be The Godfather, but it is Francis Ford Coppola both writing and directing, and it has a decent Tomatometer score, so it’s safe to say it’s probably worth a watch, particularly if you’re a fan.
It can be difficult for a director to break out of a genre if he’s established a reputation for it, and this difficulty can be increased if the genre jump is too far. Regardless of this, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa) flew in the face of expectation and, despite primarily being known for his J-horror flicks like Cure and Pulse, decided it was time for him to try his hands at good old-fashioned comedic drama. Luckily, it seems he knew what he was doing: the story about a family man who is fired from his job, but continues to leave home for work every morning, managed to earn an impressive and Certified Fresh 94% on the Tomatometer, with critics praising its creative portrayal of family dynamics and identity. Unfortunately, this is one of those foreign films that failed to gain a very wide audience here, so there’s a good chance you never got the opportunity to see Tokyo Sonata. In any case, pick it up this week on home video, and you can see what impressed the critics so much.
Based on the 1957 Russian novel of the same name by Boris Pasternak, David Lean’s Dr. Zhivago is an enduring cinema classic that won five of the ten Academy Awards for which it was nominated. Set against the backdrop of early 20th Century Russia, the film stars Sir Alec Guinness as Yevgraf Zhivago, the half brother of the title character (played by Omar Sharif) who, through a search for Dr. Zhivago’s illegitimate son, uncovers the man’s history in flashbacks. Co-starring the likes of Julie Christie, Rod Steiger, and Tom Courtenay, who received a Best Actor nod for his performance, Dr. Zhivago was a commercial success, despite some initial grumblings from the critical community that discouraged Lean so much he almost quit the business. Now that the film has aged a bit, it has risen in popular opinion, and its influence on culture and cinema cannot be denied. It’s a bona fide classic, and it’s now available on Blu-Ray in a 45th Anniversary Edition, complete with tons of special features, so you can witness the epic romance and its sweeping landscapes in all their high-def glory and learn all about its creation, its inspiration, and its influence in the process.
When Steven Spielberg first unveiled his epic World War II film Saving Private Ryan to the moviegoing public in 1998, it received a good amount of attention for its ultra-realistic portrayal of wartime violence, particularly its opening battle scenes on Omaha Beach. The film went on to net eleven Academy Award nominations, winning five, and marked the first of several modern war films that bore its distinct influence. Saving Private Ryan stars Tom Hanks in the role of Captain John Miller, an army ranger tasked with the recovery of the last surviving son of the Ryan family, who has already lost three of his brothers in the war. With an acclaimed supporting cast that includes Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Edward Burns, Tom Sizemore, Paul Giamatti, Jeremy Davies, Matt Damon, and more, the film earned a Certified Fresh 90% and remains one of the most popular World War II films. This week, it gets the high definition treatment as it arrives on Blu-Ray with over three hours of special features, so be prepared to cover your eyes when the guts and severed limbs show up on your screen in extra crisp detail.
Perhaps prompted by the passing of Patrick Swayze last year, Lions Gate is releasing a newly remastered edition of Dirty Dancing in a Limited Keepsake Edition this week. The film is a staple of 80s romance, telling the story of two star-crossed lovers from different social classes who fall in love through their dancing, and it maintains an iconic status in the careers of all those involved. This new Keepsake Edition not only includes a 52-page hardcover book, but also a $50 gift certificate to stay at the real resort where the movie was filmed (Mountain Lake Hotel in Virginia) and several brand new DVD extras. As a thoughtful touch, the bonuses include a few items dedicated to Patrick Swayze, including a tribute, as well as a copy of Eleanor Bergstein’s script. Know someone who’s a fan? They will love this.
This week at the movies, we’ve got a vampire virus (Daybreakers, starring Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe); a romantic road trip (Leap Year, starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode); and a teenage wasteland (Youth in Revolt, starring Michael Cera and Portia Doubleday). What do the critics have to say?
Given the recent glut of vampire flicks, Daybreakers needs a little something extra to stand out — a healthy dose of dystopia, maybe? Well, critics say the result is a skillful B-movie that should please both horror and action fans. Ethan Hawke stars as a scientist who’s desperately working on a substitute for blood — which is essential, since the world’s human population is dying off and being replaced by O positive-thirsty vampires. He soon joins a group of humans who are forming an underground resistance to the bloodsucking majority. The pundits say Daybreakers is smart, atmospheric, and energetic, and if it doesn’t fully live up to its strong premise, it’s still a better-than-average horror/action picture.
Amy Adams is darned likable. However, critics say her winsome screen presence can only go so far in redeeming the predictable, laugh-deficient romantic comedy Leap Year. Adams stars as Anna, who decides to travel to Dublin to pop the question to her dithering long-term boyfriend. However, after travel problems, she’s forced to make the trek with good-looking but combative Declan (Matthew Goode). Will these crazy kids find love along the way? The pundits say Leap Year wastes the charm of its leads on a bland, unfunny, utterly generic story. Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down Adams’ best-reviewed films.)
Nobody plays a sensitive nebbish quite like Michael Cera. But can he play cool? Smooth? The critics say Youth in Revolt benefits greatly from a strong dual performance from Cera, and the result is a funny, charming comic lark. Cera stars as Nick Twisp, a precocious teenager who becomes enamored with dreamgirl Sheeni (Portia Doubleday). However, she’s more into bad boys, so Twisp concocts a roguish, devil-may-care alter ego, Francois Dillinger, in order to win her. The pundits say Cera shows interesting range, and Doubleday has the potential to be a big star, even if Youth in Revolt occasionally lapses into predictability.
Also opening this week in limited release:
Ten years ago, the only people that knew who Amy Adams was were either members of her family or folks who spent too much time reading the Drop Dead Gorgeous credits. Today? She’s one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars, with a pair of Oscar nominations under her belt and a growing reputation for enlivening even the most pedestrian fare. If you’ve ever seen one of Adams’ movies, the reasons for her speedy ascent should be obvious: With dramatic chops, sharp comic timing, and looks that work equally well for character roles and glamorous leads, she’s a casting director’s dream. And if you haven’t seen any of her films, don’t fret — with her latest, the romantic comedy Leap Year, reaching theaters this weekend, we thought now would be a great time to look back on her filmography, Total Recall style!
Poor Hilary Swank. She slaved over her labor-of-love Amelia Earhart biopic, Amelia, only to find her carefully considered portrayal of the iconic pilot overshadowed by a decidedly less serious Amelia. At 44 percent on the Tomatometer, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian isn’t anyone’s idea of a critical darling, but it beats Amelia‘s 21 percent — and critics almost unanimously agreed that the best thing about Smithsonian‘s ungainly second helping of magically animated museum exhibits was Amy Adams as the thrillseeking sidekick who helps Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) defeat the army of Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria). As Christian Toto of What Would Toto Watch? wrote in his mostly negative review, “The best, and possibly only, reason to watch Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is the enchanting Amy Adams.”
If you’re going to film a quirky indie comedy about a cheerleader-turned-hardworking single mom who decides to clean crime scenes for a living so she can send her son to private school, you could hardly find a better person for the role than Amy Adams. And while critics carped that the Christine Jeffs-directed Sunshine Cleaning was ultimately a little too burdened down with quirky indie cliches to achieve its full potential, they had nothing but kind words to say about Adams (as well as Emily Blunt, who played her not-so-sunny sister). Time Out’s David Jenkins reflected the opinions of many of his peers when he wrote, “Jeffs makes a good fist of the direction and Blunt proves that she can do comedy, but it’s Adams’s comforting, charismatic central turn which really gives the film its lift.”
For a year after getting her first big break in Catch Me If You Can, Adams remained unemployed, which might help explain why, after her critically hailed work in Junebug, she didn’t wait for another script with heavy arthouse appeal; instead, she opted for a trio of projects with a more, um, populist bent. The less said about The Ex and Underdog the better, but with 2006’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Adams received her first real opportunity to display her talent for daffy comedy — and do it opposite the king of the doofus, Will Ferrell, in the movie that Nick Schager of Lessons of Darkness described as “an astute cultural satire masquerading as an infectiously stupid-silly lark — or, perhaps, it’s the other way around.”
Two biopics in one, Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia interwove the tales of culinary legend Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and author Julie Powell (Adams), tracing Child’s early career alongside Powell’s decision to launch a blog dedicated to her attempt to spend a year cooking every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Inviting direct comparison to Meryl Streep isn’t something most young actresses would be comfortable doing — and in fact, most critics did single out Streep’s performance, although that had more to do with Child’s famously winsome disposition than any flaws in Adams’ work. As David Edwards of the UK’s Daily Mirror wrote, “While both actresses deserve credit, it’s Streep who dominates and deserves to be put in contention for her third Oscar. Deftly playing the dotty masterchef — complete with a brilliantly squawking laugh — it’s an amusing but respectful imitation.”
It might have languished in various stages of development for almost 70 years, but once Winifred Watson’s novel finally arrived in theaters, it proved to be worth the wait, if for no other reason than to provide a charmingly frothy showcase for its two stars. Frances McDormand stars as the titular Miss Pettigrew, an unsuccessful nanny who, realizing she’s about to be fired by her temp agency, snags an assignment meant for another employee — and thus finds herself in the wild and wonderful world of rising starlet Delysia Lafosse (Adams). It’s a role that calls for an actress with enough bubbly charm to make you believe she can not only inspire the love of three very different men, but change the world of a profoundly disillusioned woman in a single day — and Adams pulled it off, as attested by critics like Margaret Pomeranz of At the Movies, who wrote, “This delicious froth of an entertainment could have creaked all over the place and at times you feel it does, but Amy Adams is just magic, she lifts every role she takes on to absolutely delightful heights.”
Adams received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her work in John Patrick Shanley’s adaptation of his own stage play — and she was in good company, too: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Viola Davis rounded out the quartet of Doubt stars earning Oscar nods, and Shanley himself was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. (They all came away empty-handed, but it’s being nominated that counts, right?) The role of Sister James was uniquely suited for Adams, taking advantage of her gift for portraying idealistic innocence while also giving her a chance to go toe-to-toe with Hoffman and Streep. A not-insignificant contingent of critics dismissed Doubt as excessively talky Oscar bait, but the majority echoed the sentiments of Total Film’s Neil Smith, who saw through its flaws: “Though Shanley’s first film as director since 1990 flop Joe Versus The Volcano never strays far from its theatrical origins, his unfussy direction and compelling script provide a perfect platform for his talented cast.”
A biopic about a Congressman’s efforts to increase American support for Afghan freedom fighters during the 1980s? Sounds like awfully dry stuff, but in the hands of screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, director Mike Nichols, and a cast toplined by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Charlie Wilson’s War became something of an acidic tragicomedy — and a $119 million worldwide hit. Adams appears here as Bonnie Bach, a fictional composite of the real Charlie Wilson’s two top administrative aides; it’s sort of a thankless role, one that calls for little more than standing back and letting Hanks do his thing, but Adams continued her tradition of taking every opportunity to shine, holding her own against her far more famous co-star. “The story of Charlie Wilson’s War makes an engaging and amusing film,” wrote Emily S. Mendel of culturevulture.net, concluding, “Aaron Sorkin’s script is literate, intelligent, well-written, fast-paced and full of clever and cynical one-liners.”
By 2005, Amy Adams had scored roles in a number of mainstream productions, including Serving Sara and The Wedding Date — but it wasn’t until she starred in a tiny $1 million indie film that people really understood what she could do. As the pregnant chatterbox Ashley Johnsten, Adams took what was technically a supporting part and walked away with Junebug, earning an Academy Award nomination in the process. Urban Cinefile described it as “an arthouse Meet the Parents,” and that isn’t an entirely inaccurate assessment of a story about a newlywed wife (Embeth Davidtz) meeting her husband’s family for the first time. Instead of a sweaty Ben Stiller, though, you get Adams — who is, in the words of CinePassion’s Fernando F. Croce, “simply magical, guileless and throbbing, sunniness fraught with desperation.”
On the surface, Enchanted is sort of silly — a self-parody from a studio whose trademark films have already been parodied to death. What makes it work, though, is just how darn smart the parody is — well, that and Amy Adams’ relentlessly charming performance as Giselle, the Disney princess whose journey from Andalasia to New York City moves the plot. Adams excels at playing characters with sunny dispositions, and Giselle was a perfect fit, even giving Adams the chance to wrap her lovely singing voice around some wonderfully tongue-in-cheek songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz. A $340 million-plus hit that netted Adams a passel of award nominations, Enchanted also earned loud applause from critics like Mark Pfeiffer of Reel Times, who wrote that it “bubbles over with good cheer, due in large part to Adams for the wide-eyed optimism and innocence she brings to her irony-free performance.”
Prior to Catch Me If You Can, Amy Adams’ filmography had been restricted to small parts in films like Drop Dead Gorgeous and Psycho Beach Party; her closest brush with fame came when she stepped into the Sarah Michelle Gellar role in Fox’s aborted Cruel Intentions spinoff, Manchester Prep. It only takes one prestigious project to turn a career around, though, and scoring a plum gig with a director as well-known as Steven Spielberg never hurts. Spielberg certainly thought Adams was destined for bigger things after her appearance as Brenda Strong, the candy striper who catches the eye of legendary teen con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) — and he was right, although it took a few years for the rest of the world to catch up. Even if it didn’t translate to immediate success, working on Catch Me If You Can gave Adams an early opportunity to work with some of Hollywood’s finest; as Matthew Turner of ViewLondon noted, “Spielberg being Spielberg, he’s surrounded himself with the best that money can buy, from the superb cast to the characteristically superb score by John Williams, and the result is his most purely enjoyable film in ages.”
In case you were wondering, here are Amy’s top ten movies according RT users’ scores:
1. Catch Me If You Can — 94%
2. Enchanted — 90%
3. Doubt — 90%
4. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day — 90%
5. Charlie Wilson’s War — 88%
6. Junebug — 88%
7. Julie & Julia — 87%
8. Sunshine Cleaning — 85%
9. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby — 73%
10. Standing Still — 60%
Finally, here are Adams’ scenes from her big screen debut, Drop Dead Gorgeous: