This week’s home video releases include a raucous comedy set in fabulous Las Vegas, a drama about the beginnings of the Woodstock festival and a World War II thriller by director Quentin Tarantino.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong graphic violence, language and brief sexuality
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
In his best film since “Pulp Fiction,” director Quentin Tarantino has crafted a wild piece of revisionist history that is entertaining, suspenseful and oddly lacking in Tarantino-isms. The latter isn’t a bad thing because there’s something refreshing about a Tarantino film that isn’t overly reliant on offbeat monologues and geysers of bright, red blood.
As Tarantino movies go, “Inglourious Basterds” is straightforward. Set during World War II, it starts by introducing viewers to Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz), a cruel-hearted Nazi who takes pride in his ability to exterminate Jews. Then, in a second chapter, Tarantino delivers his title characters, Jewish members of a special forces unit sent into German-occupied France to kill Nazis. The group is led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) who orders his men not only to kill but to take the scalps of their victims.
Of course, the movie leads up to a showdown between Landa and the Basterds, but the fun is in the journey. Although just as entertaining as Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” flicks, “Basterds” isn’t as over the top. The film is still stylized, but much more subtle, giving it a fresh, lively feel.
World War II purists may not like Tarantino’s wild disregard for history, but the movie isn’t intended to be a text book. Rather, it’s meant as film that would have felt at home during the height of the war, rallying civilians behind the cause and delivering a hopeful message to U.S. troops.
Pitt and Waltz are fantastic, as is everyone in the supporting cast. In fact, the only real flaw is a wild, climactic action sequence that’s heavy on melodrama. This distracts from the film’s more suspenseful beginning, but it’s hardly a deal killer, especially since Tarantino closes with an ending so perfect it may just become a classic.
“Inglourious Basterds” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.
DVD is available in both rated and unrated versions. The rated version received an R for pervasive language, sexual content including nudity, and some drug material
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
In the opening moments of “The Hangover,” Phil Wenneck (Bradley Cooper) makes a painful telephone call. Exhausted, sporting a bloody lip and dirty from head to toe, he tells his best friend’s fiancee that her planned wedding isn’t going to happen … because he lost her groom, Doug (Justin Bartha). Then, with a quick cut, the audience is transported back to the days leading up to the call.
Phil, his buddy Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug’s brother-in-law-to-be, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), take the groom to Las Vegas for a bachelor party that’s so good none of them can remember it. The guys wake up the next day with a tiger and a baby in their suite and no idea how either got there. Even worse? Doug is nowhere to be found.
Most of the remainder of the film involves the guys slowly attempting to recreate their night in hopes of finding Doug, and each stop reveals one more crazy fact about their bachelor party bonanza. “The Hangover” was one 2009’s theatrical hits, hanging on for a long run at multiplexes and winning many fans along the way. The film is so wacky that it sometimes seems director Todd Phillips is forcing things, but the overall arc is rewarding enough to overlook a strained gag here and there.
The cast works well as an ensemble, and they’re good at earning the audience’s sympathy even though everything that happens is their fault. Nutty and filled with laughs, this is one “Hangover” you’ll likely welcome.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including an unrated two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.
Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual content, drug use and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Ang Lee’s take on the legendary Woodstock music festival shows such promise in its first two thirds that it’s borderline painful to watch it unravel at the end. It’s still better than most films that hit theaters, but it doesn’t have the impact it could have had Lee retained focus.
The director and his scribe, James Schamus, couldn’t seem to decide whether they were making an intimate family drama or a broad-based epic about the generational impact of Woodstock. So, they divided their picture into halves, giving viewers a sprinkling of both.
They start by introducing Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), a young man who — according to the movie and Tiber’s memoir — played a pivotal role in bringing Woodstock to Bethel, New York. In the film, he’s helping his parents run a failing motel when a nearby town rejects the festival. So, with the help of local farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), he gets the promoters to move to Bethel, saving his parents’ business in the process.
At first, “Taking Woodstock” is tightly focused on Elliot’s efforts to turn his family’s business around, and the traffic Woodstock will bring seems a keen way to do that. He’s so devoted to his family, that Elliot is determined to make the festival happen whether the rest of the community wants it or not — and there are plenty of people who don’t want it. When Lee focuses on this aspect of the story, it really soars, but the film struggles when the festival gets underway and Lee switches to a psychedelic barrage of nudity, music and drug use designed to give viewers a sense of place.
While he may have successfully captured Woodstock, Lee loses the emotional heart of his feature with the wild shift in tone. The film still has merit, particularly for those with an interest in the era, but it’s not as engaging as it could have been.
DVD extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Lee and Schamus.
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Because the world was apparently clamoring for a Jerry Bruckheimer action film starring a bunch of rodents, America is being treated to this offbeat effort about a group of guinea pigs trained to work as secret agents. There have been stupider premises, and the special effects are so respectable in “G-Force” that it’s easy to get sucked in … for about 10 minutes. After that, it becomes clear that director Hoyt H. Yeatman Jr. (a visual effects specialist) doesn’t have much to say.
There is a story here, centered on the rodents’ efforts to keep their top secret branch of the F.B.I. alive, even though the head of the bureau wants to shut it down. Of course, the best way for them to save their jobs is to save the world through some nifty spy work. The plotting is basically just an excuse to have the guinea pig heroes — Darwin, Blaster, Juarez and Hurley — race through action sequences and do the impossible, aided by nifty gadgets that would make James Bond proud.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that my boys (ages 8 and 5) enjoyed the movie thoroughly, indicating that the colorful visuals and general silliness are capable of keeping the attention of kids. This is not, however, a family film for the ages. The best family pictures are capable of entertaining young and old alike, and “G-Force” is strictly kid stuff. Nicolas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Jon Favreau, Penelope Cruz, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan lead the voice cast.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc combo pack with Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the feature. Extras vary.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Tudors” — The Complete Third Season: Showtime series following the life and reign of young King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). When the King has personal and professional difficulties, scandalous drama unfolds, including divorces, beheadings and an internal uprising within the Tudor Dynasty. This is a three-disc set.
“Wizards of Waverly Place The Movie” — Extended Edition: Mishaps abound as members of the Russo family experiment with their magical powers. While on vacation, Alex (Selena Gomez) accidentally casts a spell that threatens her family, so she and Justin (David Henrie) try to find the “Stone of Dreams,” which can reverse everything. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes look at the special effects, magical props, movie stunts and animal actors.
“The Other Man”: This suspense thriller, with a cast including Liam Neeson, Laura Linney and Antonio Banderas, is available on DVD and Blu-Ray. Neeson (“Taken,” “Schindler’s List”) is on a mission to uncover the truth surrounding the disappearance of his wife (Linney), and clues lead him to Milan and his wife’s lover (Banderas).
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