Video Verdict: ‘Jack the Giant Slayer,’ ‘Quartet,’ ’21 & Over’

This week’s home video releases include a raucous teen comedy, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut and a fantasy project based on a classic fairy tale.

Nicholas Hoult plays the title character in the fairy tale adventure “Jack the Giant Slayer.”

Nicholas Hoult plays the title character in the fairy tale adventure “Jack the Giant Slayer.”

Jack the Giant Slayer

2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense scenes of fantasy action violence, some frightening images and brief language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand

Director Bryan Singer’s reinvention of “Jack and the Beanstalk” was a disappointment at the box office, a fact that probably has more to do with the concept than the execution. Although a fairy tale, the movie is presented as a big-budget, special-effects blockbuster that plays as much like “Clash of the Titans” as a Disney cartoon. That places a lot of limitations on audience.

Teens and young adults don’t typically line up for fairy tales, yet “Jack” has a dark tone that may concern parents of younger children. The movie is rated PG-13, mostly for fantasy violence, and it contains moments that will leave squeamish youngsters frightened. That sets the realistic target audience at ages 8 to 14. Chances are, kids in that range will like the project. Trouble is, there aren’t that many of them.

Over the decades, there have been numerous versions of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and the related fable “Jack the Giant Killer,” and Singer’s story borrows from the predecessors while forging new ground. One problem with the traditional fairy tale is that Jack is often portrayed as a stupid and selfish young man who lucks into an encounter with a giant, then steals from him. The Jack in Singer’s movie is more likable and heroic.

As portrayed by Nicholas Hoult, Jack is a hard-working youth who ends up with a handful of magic beans through no fault of his own. When one of them sprouts, sending a massive beanstalk into the clouds, it takes his house and a visiting princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) along for the ride. Jack then climbs the stalk in the company of one of the king’s advisors (Stanley Tucci) and a group of knights led by a dashing young soldier named Elmont (Ewan McGregor). The group’s goal is not treasure, but the recovery of the princess. The noble quest makes the adventurers more likable than if they were simple thieves. It also makes it easy to root for them when they discover a hostile group of giants.

“Jack” isn’t the smartest movie released this year, and it’s not the most inventive either. It’s based on a fairy tale that most children know by heart, and the insertion of the princess creates additional predictability in the form of a love story.

What “Jack” has going for it is a winning spirit of adventure and very good special effects. Hoult is likable in the lead role, Tomlinson is fetching as the princess and McGregor and Tucci make the project even better… especially for viewers of the proper age.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

 

Quartet

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and suggestive humor
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray digital download and on demand

Dustin Hoffman waited 75 years for his directorial debut, and the resulting film makes one wish he had stepped behind the camera decades earlier. “Quartet” is not just good; it’s the sort of sweet, simple character drama that comes along too infrequently.

The film focuses on Reginald Paget (Tom Courtenay), Wilf Bond (Billy Connolly) and Cissy Robson (Pauline Collins), residents of the Beecham House, a retirement home that caters to musicians. Despite their advanced age, the trio is good-spirited and active, particularly when working on Beecham’s annual concert in celebration of composer Giuseppe Verde’s birthday.

Wilf is an extroverted clown who has never met a woman he didn’t like, Reginald is a serious musician who teaches local youth and Cissy is hopelessly congenial, despite showing early signs of dementia. All three made their living as opera singers, and they seem happy spending their golden years with other musicians. The mood changes, however, when Beecham welcomes retired opera singer Jean Horton (Maggie Smith).

Jean is not only a first-tier diva, she was once married to Reginald, and he is still haunted by their traumatic split. Making the reunion even more dramatic is the fact that Jean refuses to sing in the Verde concert despite requests from other retirees.

Hoffman’s movie, which screenwriter Ronald Harwood adapted from his own stage play, follows Wilf, Reginald and Cissy as they become reacquainted with Jean. And, as they do, they must decide whether they can reestablish the bonds they had decades before or if their rocky past is too much to overcome.

Hoffman’s direction is direct and simple, which is exactly what “Quartet” requires. The movie, shot on location in England, is so littered with talent that Hoffman’s primary job is to get out of the way and let his players work. Smith, Courtenay, Connolly and Collins are incredible, and they are aided by a memorable supporting turn from Michael Gambon, who plays a retired opera director.

Although Hoffman tells the story in reserved fashion, his work is solid. He allows his camera to linger on the actors, soaking up their work while also capturing the beauty of the English countryside. Every now and then he allows the pacing to lull, but he is quick to make corrections, leaving viewers with a picture that is a smart, well-executed ode to our golden years.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes and an audio commentary by Hoffman.

 

21 & Over

2 stars
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs and drinking
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray digital download and on demand

There’s a reason “21 & Over” feels like a low-rent, teen version of “The Hangover.” It was written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the two scribes who created the comedy blockbuster. Only this time, they’re out of new ideas.

“21 & Over” centers on Miller (Miles Teller), Casey (Skylar Astin) and Jeff (Justin Chon), three high school buddies who have gone their separate ways but reconnect to celebrate Jeff’s 21st birthday. Because that’s thin plotting for a movie, Lucas and Moore up the ante by setting Jeff’s celebration the night before an important medical-school interview. Nevertheless, the three friends go out, drink too much and find themselves in loads of trouble.

As with “The Hangover,” each of the characters responds to the crisis uniquely. Miller is a free-spirited party boy who oversteps every boundary. Casey is a straight arrow who continually tries to rein things in. And Jeff gets so blasted that he’s at the mercy of his pals. Since the film is rated R, viewers get plenty of profanity, nudity and general debauchery, some of which adds to the plotting but much of which is gratuitous.

Why Lucas and Moore are so fixated on parties gone bad is difficult to say, but they aren’t furthering their careers. As their directorial debut, “21 & Over” feels like a sad attempt to recapture the magic that made “The Hangover” a hit. But this film is redundant, less frequently funny and populated by actors who aren’t at the level of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis.

That’s not to say the “21 & Over” cast is bad, but the names don’t light up a marquis, and the script doesn’t take up the slack. Not only do Lucas and Moore borrow freely from their previous work, they owe a debt to better teen comedies, including “Risky Business” and “American Pie.”

There’s no reason to watch “21 & Over” because everyone knows the story already, and it was better the first time around.

The DVD has no special features, but the Blu-ray contains making-of shorts and a gag reel.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Last Exorcism Part II”: This sequel to 2010’s “Last Exorcism” focuses on Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), the young woman who was possessed in the original movie. Although she’s trying to move on, the demon that haunts her refuses to leave. Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly.

“Movie 43”: Film consisting of thirteen comedy bits created by varied directors, including Peter Farrelly, Brett Ratner and Elizabeth Banks. Despite being universally panned, the movie features some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet and Seth MacFarlane.

“Stoker”: One of the last movies produced by Tony Scott, who died in August 2012. Mia Wasikowska stars as a young woman whose life is upended when her father dies and an uncle she didn’t know (Matthew Goode) moves in with her and her mother (Nicole Kidman). Directed by Chan-wook Park.

H.G. Wells’ “Things to Come”: Writer H.G. Wells wrote and oversaw production of this 1936 science-fiction effort detailing a 100-year period scarred by war. Raymond Massey, Edward Chapman, Ralph Richardson and Margaretta Scott star. Directed by William Cameron Menzies.

“Safety Last!”: Criterion Collection release of the 1923 silent comedy starring Harold Lloyd. The movie tells the story of a small-town guy (Lloyd) trying to make it in the big city. Directed by Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor.

“Marketa Lazarová”: Czechoslovakian director František Vlácčil’s 1967 movie about feuding Medieval clans. In its homeland, the work is widely considered the greatest Czech film of all time. Presented in Czech and German with English subtitles.

“Body of Proof” – The Complete Third Season: ABC recently announced the cancellation of this medical drama, so the 13 episodes here conclude the series. Dana Delany stars as Megan Hunt, a troubled medical examiner with a gift for solving murders. Jeri Ryan, Mark Valley, Geoffrey Arend, Windell Middlebrooks, Elyes Gabel and Mary Mouser also star.

“Workaholics” – Season Three: Twenty most recent episodes of the Comedy Central sitcom about college buddies who keep the party going after leaving school. Three of the show’s co-creators – Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine and Anders Holm – star.

“Lifeforce”: Director Tobe Hooper’s 1985 film about alien vampires who land in London and unleash terror. Steve Railsback, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay, Mathilda May and Patrick Stewart star.

“The Howling”: This 1984 horror film tells the story of a television newscaster (Dee Wallace) who attends a retreat after narrowly escaping a serial killer. Alas, the facility has ties to something sinister: werewolves.

“Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated – Season 2 Part 2 – Spooky Stampede”: Thirteen episodes of the animated series featuring Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and the rest of the Mystery Inc. gang. In all, this release contains more than four hours of cartoon content.

 

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at
Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.

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