Video Verdict: ‘J. Edgar,’ ‘Puss In Boots,’ ‘Tower Heist’

Leonardo DiCaprio plays J. Edgar Hoover and Judi Dench plays his mother, Anna Marie Hoover, in the Clint Eastwood film “J. Edgar.”

This week’s home video releases include an Oscar-nominated animated movie and a historical biopic directed by Clint Eastwood.

J. Edgar

3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for brief strong language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Much of director Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic is speculative and thus runs the risk of coming under attack from historical purists. But for those willing to view it for what it is – a movie – there is much to enjoy.

The film begins with an aging Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) dictating his memoirs with the goal of telling “his side of the story.” The film then takes viewers through Hoover’s lengthy career as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, painting a portrait that is alternately positive and damning. Arguably, this is the fairest way to portray a man of Hoover’s controversial status. Today, he is viewed as someone who promoted significant advances in investigative techniques, but also overstepped the bounds of his authority, particularly when it came to the Red Scare of the 1940s and ’50s.

“J. Edgar” reinforces both of these perceptions, while also digging into even more speculative territory, like that of his sexuality. Some have argued that Hoover was gay and that he had a sexual relationship with longtime FBI associate director Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Eastwood’s movie treats this almost as fact, spending ample amounts of time on their relationship, yet not quite confirming that they were lovers.

Clearly, Eastwood has taken liberties in his storytelling, but that’s not a bad thing. In so doing, he has crafted a fascinating vision of a well-known personality. Viewers can argue whether the vision is accurate and fair, but it would be difficult to call it uninteresting.

DiCaprio deserves a good deal of credit for the film’s success, as he is believable not only as a twenty-something Hoover, but as his elderly counterpart. Hunched over and lathered in makeup, DiCaprio easily passes as a man decades beyond his actual age. The same can be said for Naomi Watts who plays Hoover’s long-time personal assistant, Helen Gandy.

The film’s technical work is not flawless, however. As convincing as DiCaprio and Watts look as seventy-somethings, Hammer’s aged version of Tolson is a disaster. In fairness, this isn’t so much the fault of Hammer as it is a makeup job gone bad. Also distracting is Judi Dench’s portrayal of Hoover’s mother, Anna Marie Hoover. Dench, a usually stellar talent, plays the role with a British accent, despite the fact that her real-life counterpart was not English.

These things prevent “J. Edgar” from becoming another Eastwood classic, but they shouldn’t stop anyone from renting it.

DVD and Blu-ray extras are minimal, but each release contains a short about Hoover.

Puss In Boots

3 stars
Rated PG for some adventure action and mild rude humor
Paramount
Available Feb. 24 on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

By the time “Shrek Forever After” reached theaters, it was clear that the once-outstanding animated franchise had hit a wall, and mustering high expectations for a spinoff was difficult. Nevertheless, “Puss In Boots” proves that old cats can learn new tricks.

The movie, which is up for an Oscar for best animated feature, is built around the version of Puss In Boots that Antonio Banderas introduced in “Shrek 2,” but the action is set years before he connected with Shrek, Donkey and Fiona. In essence, director Chris Miller (“Shrek the Third”) has created an origin tale, showing viewers how Puss came to be the silky-voiced feline everyone loves.

“Puss In Boots” also details a swashbuckling adventure in which Puss teams with Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and a daring feline named Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek). Their mission is to find the magic beans from the Jack and the Beanstalk legend, a task made difficult by constant battles with the evil criminals Jack and Jill, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris.

“Puss In Boots” isn’t as original as the first “Shrek” movie, but it is consistently entertaining thanks to first-rate direction from Miller, strong performances from the voice cast and gorgeous visuals. Like the “Shrek” movies, “Puss In Boots” takes pleasure in tipping classic fairytales on their ear. While this isn’t as effective as when Shrek and company burst onto the scene more than a decade ago, it’s still fun.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include games for youngsters, shorts on the making of the film and deleted scenes.

Tower Heist

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for language and sexual content
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

“Tower Heist” is custom made for an age where talk of income gaps and entitlements has become almost as common as chatter about the weather. Directed by Brett Ratner (“Rush Hour,” “X-Men: The Last Stand”), the film is essentially a modernized take on the Robin Hood mythology, only the Robin character is a mild-mannered luxury apartment manager named Josh Kovacs (Ben Stiller).

Ratner takes pains to demonstrate that Josh is a great guy. He’s the sort of boss who expects his employees to be gracious and personable to customers, yet he always has his workers’ backs. Josh is also well loved by tenants, and he thoroughly enjoys his job until he learns that one of the residents, a financier named Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), has stolen all the money from the apartment complex’s pension fund.

Frustrated, Josh convinces a financially ruined former tenant (Mathew Broderick) and two building employees (Casey Affleck and Michael Pena) to help him exact revenge. Unfortunately, Josh has no idea how to mastermind a crime, so he reaches out to the only thief he knows, a small-time crook that lives in his neighborhood (Eddie Murphy). Together, this unlikely group plots a daring, multi-million dollar robbery.

The “Tower Heist” script, which was written by committee, has a number of flaws, including a complete lack of plausibility. Still, it’s fun to watch this cast play off one another. Murphy is typically manic, and Stiller, Affleck, and Broderick have a laid-back everyman style that strikes a nice contrast.

The material is so ludicrous, that Ratner doesn’t even try to convince viewers that it’s based in reality. Instead he embraces the absurdity, allowing the actors to riff off one another and mine the material for laughs. For the most part, this strategy works, but it doesn’t eliminate the fact that better scripting would have improved things.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two alternate endings, a collection of deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reel and an audio commentary with Ratner, editor Mark Helfrich and writers Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Martha Marcy May Marlene”: Critically acclaimed drama about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who tries to reconnect with family members after leaving a cult. The film was written and directed by Sean Durkin, and Olsen’s performance was praised by a number of critics groups and professional organizations.

“The Mighty Macs”: Independent drama starring Carla Gugino as a basketball coach who takes over the program at a tiny, all-girls Catholic college during the early 1970s. David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Ellen Burstyn and Lauren Bittner also star. Directed by Tim Chambers.

“The Way”: Film project backed by Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. The movie tells of an American doctor (Sheen) who travels to France after learning that his son (Estevez) died while walking the Camino de Santiago, a Catholic pilgrimage route in Europe. Although his initial plan is to bring his son’s body home, the doctor ends up walking the route himself. Written and directed by Estevez.

“Underdog” – The Complete Collector’s Edition: Nine-DVD set containing every episode of the 1960s animated series about a humble, superhero dog. Not only does this release have all three seasons of the show, it comes with a number of extras, including bonus cartoons, alternate openings and closings and audio commentaries by people involved with the production.

“Borgia Faith and Fear” – Season One: International TV series about Rodrigo Borgia (John Doman), a Renaissance-era pope who built a powerful crime family. The series was created by TV veteran Tom Fontana, and the home video release features 12, hour-long episodes.

“Anatomy of a Murder”: Criterion Collection release of director Otto Preminger’s star-studded, 1959 thriller about a Michigan lawyer (James Stewart) defending an Army officer accused of murder (Ben Gazzara). Lee Remick and George C. Scott also star.

“World on a Wire”: This German science-fiction story was originally released as a two-part TV movie in 1973, but the Criterion Collection has packaged it so that you can watch in a single setting. Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, the futuristic movie tells of an engineer who uncovers a dangerous corporate conspiracy.

“Weeds” – Season Seven: Thirteen recent episodes of the TV drama about Nancy Botwin, a suburban mom (Mary-Louise Parker) who turned to dope dealing after the death of her husband. In season seven, she returns to civilian life after serving a three-year prison sentence. Justin Kirk, Hunter Parrish, Alexander Gould and Kevin Nealon also star.

“Nurse Jackie” – Season Three: Twelve episodes of the Showtime series starring Edie Falco as drug-addicted emergency room nurse in New York City. Eve Best, Peter Facinelli, Paul Schulze and Merritt Wever also star.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘J. Edgar,’ ‘Puss In Boots,’ ‘Tower Heist’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I heard like you said that the makeup in J Edgar was really bad. I figured it is one I could get on netflix. I’ll let you know what I think.
    2011 was such a bad year in animation- usually my favorite genre. I think Tin Tin should have been nominated. Just because it is stop motion I still think it applies as animation. I loved it.

  2. The makeup is a strange thing in “J. Edgar.” I think you’ll find that it’s very good on Leo and Naomi Watts, yet astonishingly bad on Armie Hammer.

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