Video Verdict: ‘The Host,’ ‘Admission,’ ‘The Gatekeepers’

In “Admission,” Tina Fey plays a Princeton University employee with the power to decide who does and does not get accepted to the top-notch school.

In “Admission,” Tina Fey plays a Princeton University employee with the power to decide who does and does not get accepted to the top-notch school.

This week’s home video releases include a romantic comedy starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd, an Oscar-nominated documentary and a science-fiction film about alien invaders.

The Host

½ star (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality and violence
Universal
Available on: Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand

The movies inspired by Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels were bland, especially considering the supernatural subject matter. Yet if one considers those movies bad, it’s difficult to find an adjective strong enough to criticize Meyer’s latest film adaptation.

“The Host” is a science-fiction effort that starts poorly and steadfastly refuses to improve. In fact, if the film weren’t so boring, one could almost respect how completely writer-director Andrew Niccol fails. One might also salute Meyer for again making fascinating material so dull.

“The Host” centers on aliens who conquer Earth by taking control of humans. Once an alien has merged with a host, it can move the body at will, but it doesn’t extinguish the mind. That means a stubborn human can actively communicate with its alien invader, attempting to influence its actions and even win its sympathy. Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan) is as tenacious as they come, so when an alien known as Wanderer takes control of her body, she refuses to submit. This creates an unusual situation where Melanie and Wanderer battle with one another until realizing it is probably best for them to work together.

Because Meyer is also a romantic, “The Host” – like “Twilight” – contains relationship drama. This time, the film doesn’t focus on a human deciding between vampire and werewolf lovers; it centers on two women sharing the same body yet longing for different men. This might be interesting if Melanie and Wanderer were better developed. Sadly Ronan presents Wanderer as a milquetoast trespasser troubled by the fact that her host is so strong. Melanie, on the other hand, is a shrill presence presented only as a desperate voice in Wanderer’s head.

Needless to say, “The Host” fails as a romance, but it also struggles as an adventure film. The body-snatching angle has been done before, and the aliens, led by a determined woman known only as The Seeker (Diane Kruger), aren’t menacing enough. What’s more, those aliens don’t make sense. Despite possessing incredible medical technology, they are limited to 21st century vehicles, like helicopters and cars.

In other words, Meyer didn’t do any of the world-building required for a great science-fiction film. That leaves viewers with an uninspiring love story set against a background that never really works.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes and an audio commentary featuring Meyer and Niccol.

 

Admission

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

What’s a romantic comedy to do when it is neither romantic nor comedic? When that film is “Admission,” it plunges forward drunkenly, hoping to overcome its inadequacies with goodwill created by the cast.

Thankfully for director Paul Weitz (“American Pie,” “Little Fockers”) that cast contains Tina Fey, Paul Rudd and Lily Tomlin, a group that would make a line at the post office more appealing. Alas, these three are saddled with a Karen Croner screenplay that isn’t nearly as smart as they are. Therefore, “Admission” chugs along slowly, playing more like a drama than a lightweight romance. That would be fine if the material were good enough to support the weight. It isn’t.

Fey plays Portia Nathan, star admissions officer at Princeton University, a school that is notoriously tough on its applicants. Rudd plays John Pressman, head of an experimental high school. Tomlin plays Portia’s mother, Susannah. The three meet after John convinces Portia to visit his school, largely because he wants to introduce her to Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), an unusually talented student.

Although John is a dedicated teacher, the introduction extends beyond academic norms because he has reason to believe Portia gave Jeremiah up for adoption. Portia is startled by this revelation, but decides to invest in the boy’s future nonetheless. Of course, she also forms a connection with John.

The most interesting thing about “Admission” is that Croner and Weitz spend a good amount of time looking at the college application process. Higher education is supposed to be an exciting journey, but the admission process has become ridiculously competitive and stressful. It’s nice to see a comedy address this fact. Trouble is, “Admission” doesn’t do it well.

If the screenplay were littered with solid gags, the heavy stuff would be more appealing. If Portia acted more like an actual college employee and less like a movie character, “Admission” would have heart. If the romance were better established, the project would be more coherent. That’s a lot of “ifs” for a 107-minute movie. So many, it’s impossible to grant a recommendation.

DVD and Blu-ray extras are limited to a short, making-of feature.

 

The Gatekeepers

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for violent content including disturbing images
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand

Director Dror Moreh’s documentary about the Israeli Shin Bet was one of five films competing for best documentary at the most recent Academy Awards, and it will fascinate anyone who enjoys studying history and current events. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, plays a major role in many of the nation’s political policies, and Moreh convinced six of the organization’s former leaders to go on the record. This is noteworthy not only because of what they say, but because this is the first time they’ve agreed to talk openly about their work.

Viewers who know Israeli history will find the project especially intriguing, but even those with only a moderate knowledge of world affairs should enjoy. Moreh’s six interviewees drive the film, and they talk about everything from Shin Bet history to the morality of torture and political assassinations. The subject matter is enticing, and it’s easy to see similarities between Israel’s historic security problems and those we face in the U.S. today.

Out of necessity, “The Gatekeepers” is centered on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although one might expect the former Shin Bet directors to be militant hardliners, they come off as progressive. In fact, most seem to support the eventual creation of an independent Palestinian state. This does not mean, however, that all Israelis feel the same.

“The Gatekeepers” notes that some Israeli political groups will do anything to derail peace talks and that these organizations can be just as problematic as external terrorists. The film delivers a prime example with the 1995 assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was shot and killed by an Israeli man who opposed Rabin’s peace talks with Palestinians.

“The Gatekeepers,” presented almost entirely in Hebrew with English subtitles, does not attempt to solve Israel’s current security problems. Instead, it shines as both an excellent history lesson and a remarkably in-depth look at one of the world’s most important covert agencies.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a commentary and Q&A with Moreh.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Spring Breakers”: Writer-director Harmony Korine takes aim at the excesses of spring break with his drama about college girls who rob a restaurant so they can party in Florida. Once they arrive in the Sunshine State, they fall under the influence of a dangerous gangster rapper named Alien (James Franco). Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine star.

“Dead Man Down”: Director Niels Arden Oplev, who directed the Swedish Version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo,” tells the story of a gangster (Colin Farrell) and femme fatale (Noomi Rapace) on a quest for revenge. Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper and Isabelle Huppert also star.

“Tyler Perry’s Temptation – Confessions of a Marriage Counselor”: Writer-director Tyler Perry presents a drama about a powerful billionaire (Robbie Jones) who seduces a married woman (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). Lance Gross, Kim Kardashian, Vanesa Williams and Brandy Norwood also star.

“The Life of Oharu”: Criterion Collection release of Japanese writer-director Kenji Mizoguchi’s 1952 movie about a woman who is sold into prostitution by her father. Toshiro Mifune and Kinuyo Tanaka star. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.

“Unforgettable” – The First Season: The second season of this CBS police drama debuts at the end of the month. Those who want to catch up, can watch the first 22 episodes on this six-DVD set. The plot centers on a New York City Police detective (Poppy Montgomery) who has Hyperthymesia (the ability to remember everything she sees).

“The Legend of Korra – Book One – Air”: First 12 episodes of the Nickelodeon animated series created as a sequel to “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” The show follows the adventures of the title character, a girl with the ability to “bend” the elements of earth, water, fire and air.

“The Power of Few”: Independent thriller that tells the story of a heist from varied perspectives. Christopher Walken, Christian Slater, Anthony Anderson, Nicky Whelan, Moon Bloodgood and Q’orianka Kilcher star. Written and directed by Leone Marucci.

“Bonanza” – The Official Sixth Season, Volume One and Volume Two: This long-running Western is a favorite of generations of TV fans, and Paramount continues to roll it out on DVD. Lorne Greene stars as Ben Cartwright, patriarch of a family of 19th century Nevada ranchers.

“Dynasty” – The Seventh Season, Volume One and Volume Two: Fans of nighttime soap operas may have fond memories of this 1980s drama about an oil-rich family wheeling and dealing in Denver. John Forsythe, Linda Evans, Joan Collins and Jack Coleman star.

“Cohen & Tate”: Blu-ray release of writer-director Eric Reed’s 1988 thriller about two hitmen pitted against each other by a 9-year-old boy that they were ordered to kidnap. Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin star.

 

– 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.

About these ads

3 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

3 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The Host,’ ‘Admission,’ ‘The Gatekeepers’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    Too bad about Admission. The premise and cast seemed so likable that I wanted to like it but alas it was a bore.

  2. Yeah. I really like Paul Rudd and Tina Fey, so I thought it had potential. Oh well. Next time maybe!

  3. 103222 827971magnificent post, extremely informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not notice this. You need to continue your writing. Im certain, youve an excellent readers base already! 160852

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s