This week’s DVD releases are anchored by a film adaptation of a Noel Coward comedy and a big-budget superhero flick starring Hugh Jackman.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, and some partial nudity
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Now that Hollywood has produced a host of great superhero movies — “The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man,” “Iron Man” and the first two “X-Men” flicks — you’d think filmmakers would have a grip on the genre.
Alas, many directors continue to deliver superhero films that are all punch and no emotion. The latest film to succumb is “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” a picture with a reasonably good premise but poor execution. The problem? An over-reliance on special effects and action sequences and a general lack of soul.
The film starts by introducing viewers to a youthful Wolverine. Even as a boy, he had nifty pointed claws that could shoot from between his knuckles and wreak havoc on enemies, but it took some meddling to make them shiny and metallic. The film explains that process and lets viewers know how Wolverine developed his persistent memory problem. It also fleshes out his complicated relationship with the morally ambivalent mutant known as Victor Creed or Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber). Mostly, though, the film is an excuse for the adult Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to wield his shiny claws against all manner of opponents.
Director Gavin Hood depicts him in battle against Victor and other mutants as well as an airborne helicopter. Some of the action sequences are very impressive, but it is possible for a film to have too much combat. Jackman, Schreiber and the remaining cast are good, but the project would have been a lot more fun if viewers were allowed to spend more time inside their heads and less on the receiving end of their fists and claws.
“Wolverine” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including two-disc DVD and Blu-ray versions that boast digital copies for portable devices. Extra features vary.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, brief partial nudity and smoking throughout
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Jessica Biel has done her share of forgettable pictures, but “Easy Virtue,” like the “Illusionist” before it, reinforces the fact that she is a serious and capable actress.
Too often, Hollywood’s beautiful blondes are typecast as dim-witted ingénues or defined solely by looks, and Biel fell into that trap early in her career. Fortunately for moviegoers, writer-director Stephan Elliott (“The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”) looked past her appearances in “Summer Catch” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (2003) to see that she would be outstanding as Larita Whittaker, an hard-headed American racecar driver who falls in love with a young, British playboy named John Whittaker (Ben Barnes) while traveling through post-World War I Europe.
Larita adores John but knows she’s in trouble the moment she sees his family’s massive English estate. Indeed, John’s mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) is shocked that he has married a carefree American and even more troubled by Larita’s independence and strong will. Neither of John’s sisters are a source of comfort either. Although intrigued by Larita’s freewheeling attitude, they are put off by her manner.
In fact, the only member of John’s family to embrace Larita is his father (Colin Firth), a quiet-but-sardonic man who never recovered from his experiences in World War I. At first, Larita is a sport, putting up with John’s family despite feeling an outcast, but when it becomes apparent that John expects the two of them to live with his family for the foreseeable future, she begins to unravel.
“Easy Virtue” is a screen adaptation of the play by Noel Coward, and the work jumps to the screen nicely. The success is due in part to the spirit of Coward’s original, but it’s also because of Elliott’s well-paced treatment of the material and the standout performances he gets from everyone involved. The entire cast seems to be having a dandy time, and each actor does a fine job balancing the story’s comic tone with the more serious social issues that are broached in the dialogue.
For Biel, it’s the type of role that should make people stand up and take notice. For moviegoers its not as significant, but it is a sprightly, well-produced comedy of manners that pairs well with a bottle of wine and significant other.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a blooper reel and a commentary track with Elliott and his co-screenwriter Sheridan Jobbins.
Next Day Air
Rated R for pervasive language, drug content, some violence and brief sexuality
Available on: DVD
What happens when an inept delivery man drops a huge shipment of cocaine at the wrong address? In “Next Day Air,” it sparks an orgy of scheming, violence and all-out confusion as the thugs who own the product try to retrieve it from the thugs who decide to take it and run. That, in a nutshell is the film, and to succeed it needed to be more.
“Next Day Air” has a handful of enjoyable moments, but they’re all tainted by the fact that none of the characters are either likable or people that one can relate to. Unfortunately, the closest thing we get to a hero is the delivery man, Leo (Donald Faison), and he’s so devoted to marijuana that even his mother is thinking of firing him. But he has one big plus. He’s not a sociopath like every other character in the film.
Drector Benny Boom was able to land some charismatic performers, including Mike Epps and Mos Def, so “Next Day Air” is watchable, but good actors playing lousy people can only take you so far. What’s more, Boom wraps things up so quickly that it almost seems like he ran out of money.
I may never know if that’s what happened, but I can recommend that you don’t throw any of your dough his way.
DVD extras include outtakes and an audio commentary by director Benny Boom.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Bonanza” — The Official First Season, Volumes 1 & 2: Residents of North America have seen a handful of episodes from this classic Western reach DVD, but this is the first time a season has been presented in its entirety. Since “Bonanza” is one of the longest-running Westerns in television history — second only to “Gunsmoke” — this release is a big deal. Fans should appreciate that the 32 episodes from season one have been nicely restored, and they are being sold in two volumes, which can be purchased as a set or one at a time.
“Camille”: This indie film played in film festivals across the country in 2007 and 2008 and is now getting a wide release on DVD and Blu-ray. When Camille (Sienna Miller) marries her soulmate, Silas (James Franco), she doesn’t realize that he has ulterior motives. But none of that matters when an accident on the way to their honeymoon sends them on an unexpected adventure.
“Director Brett Ratner — The Shooter Series Volume 1”: A career retrospective of director Brett Ratner, which includes music videos, short films and commercials. Ratner is known for blockbuster movies including the “Rush Hour” series, “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and “Red Dragon,” but he has also produced award-winning music videos from the likes of Mariah Carey, Madonna, Public Enemy and Sean “Diddy” Combs. In addition to showcasing Ratner’s artistic work, the DVD includes a 50-minute documentary on his life.
“Grey’s Anatomy” — The Complete Fifth Season: This taut, medical drama is still one of the most enjoyable shows on television, and the season-ending cliffhanger is heartbreaking. Season six will debut Sept. 24 on ABC, so you’ve only got a handful of days if you want to buy this DVD set and get caught up.
“Private Practice” — The Complete Second Season: If one medical drama’s not enough, you can always turn to this “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff. Kate Walsh stars as Dr. Addison Montgomery, a talented physician balancing personal and professional goals in Los Angeles.
“The Big Bang Theory” — The Complete Second Season: This half-hour sitcom about a couple uber-geeks (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons) living across the hall from a world-class hottie is one of the funniest shows on TV, and this set arrives just in time for you to prime yourself for the Sept. 21 premiere of season three.
“C.S.I. Miami” — The Complete Seventh Season: More crime scenes. More investigations. More Miami. With some cop dramas, the name says it all. David Caruso stars.
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