Video Verdict: ‘My Life in Ruins,’ ‘Year One,’ more new releases

Nia Vardalos stars in "My Life in Ruins."

Nia Vardalos stars in "My Life in Ruins."

This week’s major DVD releases are both comedies, but they’re as different in tone as films of the same genre can be.

 

My Life in Ruins
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for sexual content
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In 2002, Nia Vardalos made a splash as writer and star of the independent hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and she’s been futilely trying to recreate that success ever since. With “My Life in Ruins,” she again plays up the Greek angle, portraying an American professor named Georgia who moves to Greece for a university job.

Sadly, she is downsized and forced to take work as a tour guide, showing the sights to folks who don’t much care about Greek history. It’s a frustrating position for an educated woman who is passionate about the country, and the screenplay makes it painfully clear that Georgia has lost her kefi (or mojo).

Since “Ruins” is a romantic comedy, we know she will be re-kefified, but director Donald Petrie (“Miss Congeniality,” “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days”) tries to keep us guessing at how that will transpire. Alas, he does a poor job because the plotting of “My Life in Ruins” is painstakingly formulaic.

Vardalos is sweet enough to make the material palatable in a cheesy sense, but she can only do so much because the majority of the humor is built around scenes where Georgia’s tourists run around like stereotypes.

At least “Ruins” is a good-natured movie that has reasonable, if unremarkable, supporting turns from Richard Dreyfuss (as a tourist) and Alexis Georgoulis (as a taciturn bus driver). Like Vardalos, both actors are handcuffed by the script, but they do their best to make the material accessible.

DVD extras are anchored by three audio commentaries, one by Vardalos, one by Petrie and one by writer Mike Reiss. Also included is a collection of deleted and alternate scenes and a comic short that Petrie created by re-editing some of his footage.

 

 

Year One
1 star
Available in rated and unrated versions. The rated version received a PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Note to Jack Black and Michael Cera: You are too talented to waste your time on films built around fart gags and bad sex jokes. Note to writer-director Harold Ramis: If you want to salvage your once-fine career, figure out why “Caddyshack” and “Groundhog Day” became classics and recapture the magic. Note to readers: “Year One” is noteworthy only because it wastes the estimable talents of the three previously referenced men.

That Ramis, Black and Cera would combine for such tripe is proof that even talented comics can have poor taste. That Columbia Pictures saw fit to release this mess into theaters is proof that great Hollywood comedies are hard to find.

“Year One” focuses on two cavemen, Zed (Black) and Oh (Cera), who leave their tribe and stumble upon a number of Biblical figures, including Cain (David Cross), Abel (Paul Rudd) and Abraham (Hank Azaria). They also find themselves prisoners in the Biblical city of Sodom, where viewers are treated to such highbrow humor as Oh being forced to urinate on his own face. This is an apt scene to mention because, like pee in the face, the humor in “Year One” is often crude and offensive but rarely funny.

The movie also contains surprisingly sloppy moments, including a couple sequences that seem as though they were edited by amateurs. Second note to readers: Don’t bother renting this film.

DVD extras include two deleted sequences, 10 extended and alternate scenes, a gag reel, and a commentary track with Ramis, Black and Cera.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The National Parks — America’s Best Idea”: This six-part PBS documentary series by Ken Burns takes you across the country to some of America’s most spectacular sites, including the Gates of the Arctic in Alaska, the Florida Everglades, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone. If you’ve been enjoying the program on television, this is your chance to own it.

“Nip/Tuck” — Season Five, Part Two: The plastic surgeons of McNamara/Troy are in the land of plenty in Los Angeles, changing people’s bodies and their perception of themselves. The key question posed to every client, “Tell me what you don’t like about yourself,” exposes a world of secrets and deception, and no subject matter is off limits. The show’s sixth season will start Oct. 14 on FX.

“Medium”: The Fifth Season: Psychic mom Allison Dubois (Patricia Arquette) solves crimes using her gift, but that’s causing problems at home. Season five follows both Allison’s crime fighting exploits and her personal conflicts.

“My Fair Lady”: Digitally remastered version of the classic film about sweetly awkward Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) and her encounter with the arrogant Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison), who is determined to turn her into a polished and proper Victorian lady. The movie features a host of memorable musical numbers, and DVD extras include an audio commentary and vintage featurettes.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”: Disney is finally presenting its first full-length animated movie on Blu-ray. The Mouse House is also planning a Nov. 24 DVD re-issue, but this Diamond Edition release offers the best of both worlds weeks in advance. It’s a three-disc set featuring both DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film.

“Bones” — The Complete Fourth Season: This six-disc set houses the continuing television adventures of FBI agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) and forensic anthropologist Temperance “Bones” Brennan (Emily Deschanel), who work together to solve crimes.

Ghost House Underground: In anticipation of Halloween, Lionsgate has released a new batch of horror movies as part of its Ghost House Underground Series. They include “Seventh Moon,” about a couple who face off against evil spirits on their honeymoon; “Offspring,” about a flesh-eating clan that attacks a sleepy Maine town; “The Thaw,” starring Val Kilmer as a scientist who discovers that global warming has unleashed a deadly, prehistoric parasite; and “The Children,” about a virus that turns children into killers.

“Anvil — The Story of Anvil”: Documentary film about a Canadian heavy metal band that has been hopelessly trying to break into the mainstream for decades. The movie is both optimistic and depressing because the band members refuse to give up hope despite being forced to work menial day jobs to pay the bills.

Warner Home Video Christmas Titles: It’s still October, but Warner is getting a jumpstart on Christmas by rolling out a couple holiday movies: “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” and “I Want a Dog for Christmas Charlie Brown.” The latter is a Peanuts cartoon focused on Linus’ and Lucy’s brother, Rerun, and his dreams of getting a dog. “Miser Brothers” is a stop-motion feature based on the characters from the 1974 Christmas special “The Year Without a Santa Claus.” It tells the story of the evil North Wind and his plans to sabotage Santa’s Christmas Eve journey.

 

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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