Video Verdict: ‘Princess and the Frog,’ ‘Armored,’ ‘Ninja Assassin,’ ‘The Fourth Kind,’ ‘Astro Boy,’ ‘Did You Hear About the Morgans?’

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is a clever and well-executed riff on a classic fairytale.

It’s a busy week on the home video front, as no fewer than six titles that received wide theatrical releases are making their way into stores. The bad news is that most of these releases are average or worse. The good news is that there’s one shining star: A Disney movie that features old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation, great music and a sweet, sweet story.

 

The Princess and the Frog
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated G
Disney
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Computer animation is the hot technology these days, but Disney’s fantastic adaptation of E.D. Baker’s “The Frog Princess” novel proves there’s still a place for hand-drawn cartoons. Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin”), the movie is set in Jazz Age New Orleans and focuses on a waitress named Tiana who dreams of owning her own restaurant.

Although Tiana is a good person and hard worker, her plans get derailed when she kisses a frog who was once a handsome Prince named Naveen. Instead of transforming the prince back to a human, the smooch turns Tiana into a frog, and she and Naveen must embark on a dangerous journey in hopes of becoming people again.

Hand-drawn animation has warmth that is sometimes missing in computer-generated work, and the images in “The Princess and the Frog” are gorgeous throughout. Most importantly, the film’s script is excellent. Although the story of “The Frog Princess” is little more than a twist on a classic fairytale, Musker and Clements make it feel fresh and original through their Broadway-style presentation. Several fantastic musical numbers – written by Randy Newman – are spaced throughout the film, making this a cartoon that’s vibrant, exciting and beautiful.

The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases. Extra features vary, but each release contains deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Musker, Clements and producer Peter Del.

 

 

Armored
2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence, some disturbing images and brief strong language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Certain schemes seem destined to fail and the one the security guards in “Armored” cook up is at the top of the list. The guards, led by Mike Cochrone (Matt Dillon), decide to hijack their own armored cars, stash the money and claim that they were held up by baddies. It’s a simple plan that will result in a big payday and, Cochrone promises, “no one gets hurt.” Of course, in movie language, that means lots of people die, and it’s not long before the guards – including characters played by Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, Amaury Nolasco and Columbus Short – are at each others throats.

“Armored” has a lot of silly moments, but it’s fast moving enough to remain entertaining throughout. Just don’t spend too long thinking about it.

Dillon and Fishburne turn in good performances – as does Short in a key role – and director Nimrod Antal proves excellent at pacing. The film is intense enough that it could have been a great meditation on greed and human nature, if only the characters and plotting had more depth.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features and a producer and cast audio commentary.

 

 

Ninja Assassin
2 stars
Rated R for strong bloody stylized violence throughout, and language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Some movies are designed as little more than splatter fests, and “Ninja Assassin” seems proud to join their ranks. What little plotting the film has revolves around the premise that several deadly clans have made a practice of training children to become ninjas. Once these killing machines become adults, the clans sell their deadly services to political organizations, a fact that a beautiful Europol agent named Mika (Naomie Harris) has uncovered. Because nobody is supposed to know about the ninja warriors, Mika is marked for death.

Fortunately, a disgruntled former assassin named Raizo (Korean pop star Rain) decides to protect her, and this sets up a number of bloody battle sequences – emphasis on the blood. Director James McTeigue doesn’t show the restraint that’s on display in his far superior 2005 movie “V for Vendetta,” as “Ninja Assassin” is all about martial arts action.

The whole affair is very stylized, and there’s no denying that the fast-paced fight scenes – laced with over-the-top gore – provide some entertainment value. What the film doesn’t have is an original plot, strong acting or an emotional center.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a collection of deleted scenes.

 

 

The Fourth Kind
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for violent/disturbing images, some terror, thematic elements and brief sexuality
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Borrowing a cue from “The Blair Witch Project,” director Olatunde Osunsanmi has crafted an oddly structured picture that is supposed to be one part documentary, one part dramatization of actual events. Were the film an actual documentary, the presentation would have been intriguing, but Osunsanmi’s offbeat combination of feature film and faked archival footage leaves much to be desired.

“The Fourth Kind” is essentially an alien abduction tale without aliens. Viewers watch as the supposedly “real” Dr. Abigail Tyler (played by an uncredited actress) is interviewed by Osunsanmi at a Chapman University campus. That footage is then displayed next to dramatized scenes in which actress Milla Jovovich recreates the events Abigail describes.

Most of the action centers on Abigail’s interviews with Nome, Alaska, residents who are facing sleep disorders apparently related to alien abductions. Although the movie displays plenty of creepy images, Osunsanmi leaves most of the truly terrifying stuff to our imagination. This works to some degree, but the fact that we know everything is fake – even the archival material – goes a long way toward undermining the project.

Were someone to wander upon “The Fourth Kind” unknowingly and mistakenly accept it as truth, the movie would have the potential to creep them out. As is, it’s a second-tier horror flick that doesn’t quite hit the mark.

DVD extras are limited to deleted scenes. The Blu-ray release includes that content plus two featurettes available only via BD Live.

 

 

Did You Hear About the Morgans?
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and momentary violence
Columbia Pictures
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” Hugh Grant – playing an emblematic New York City lawyer – finds himself in the country facing off against an angry bear. This fish-out-of-water gag is moderately funny … and it’s one of the few highlights of an off-kilter romantic comedy that’s firmly rooted in mediocrity. Trouble is, the comedy is inconsistent and the romance isn’t very sexy.

Grant’s lawyer is named Paul, and he spends most of the film apologizing to his estranged wife, Meryl (Sarah Jessica Parker), because he slept with another woman. She isn’t much interested in forgiving him, but he’s persistent, so they have dinner together. After the relatively pleasant meal, they decide to take a walk and end up with a front row seat to murder. That lands them, against their will, in a witness protection program in rural Wyoming.

What follows is a string of jokes about how lifelong city dwellers adapt to small-town happenings, and regular moviegoers have seen similar shenanigans dozens of times. Sadly, Grant and Parker don’t add anything new to the formula. Although both actors are likable individually, they don’t have much in the way of chemistry, and that’s a killer in any romance.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, several features on the making of the film and an audio commentary by Grant, Parker and director Marc Lawrence.

 

 

Astro Boy
2½ stars
Rated PG for some action peril and brief mild language
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Based on a popular Japanese manga series, this computer-animated feature is set in the distant future where a famed scientist loses his son to an accident that is largely his fault. Devastated, he decides to place the memories of his boy into an indestructible, high-tech robot. Alas, he is disappointed when the metallic creation is not exactly like his boy, so he shuns it. The robot, who looks human and feels human emotions but possesses remarkable physical powers, then strikes out in hopes of finding a place to fit in. Of course, he takes on the name Astro Boy.

Although the movie was a box office failure in the U.S., it features solid animation and a good voice cast that includes Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell and Bill Nighy. The plotting is deeper than in a lot of children’s movies, but the story seems rushed and the movie wraps in a quick, haphazard manner. That shouldn’t stop kids – particularly young boys who are into superheroes – from enjoying the film, but it does put “Astro Boy” a step below animated features like “The Princess and the Frog.”

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features and two new animated sequences.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Broken Embraces”: Tragic story of an author who, in a fatal car crash, loses his sight and the woman he loves. Devastated, he insists on being called by the name of his literary pseudonym, Harry Caine, while arguing that his real identity, Mateo Blanco, is dead. Denying his true identity, Harry is confronted by guilt, jealousy and other powerful emotions. The film, directed by Pedro Almodovar, is presented in Spanish with English subtitles, and it won the 2010 Critics Choice Movie Award for best foreign language film. Penelope Cruz stars.

“Dillinger is Dead”: The Criterion Collection presents this controversial, 1969 Italian film, which is a combination of reality and fantasy infused with a good dose of violence. The story considers a routine night in the life of a gas mask designer who may have discovered a gun that belonged to John Dillinger. Directed by Marco Ferreri, the film is presented in Italian with English subtitles.

“Wonderful World”: The world of Ben Singer (Matthew Broderick) is not so wonderful. He is down on his luck, his career is in the toilet and being a part-time Dad is not going well. Ben’s attitude does a 360, however, when his good friend and roommate Ibu (Michael Kenneth Williams, “The Wire”) falls ill. Ben learns from Ibu’s sister Khadi (Sanaa Lathan, “A Family that Preys”) that life is a matter of perspective and that happiness is a choice.

“Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”: John Krasinski (“The Office”) makes his directorial debut with this dark comedy based on a collection of short stories by David Foster Wallace. The subject matter delves into the intricate ideas men have about women, and the premise is that Sara – who was dumped by her boyfriend – is being interviewed about the failed relationship. Sara, in turn, conducts a scientific experiment to discover why men mistreat women. Stars include Timothy Hutton, Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Meloni, Chris Messina and Will Arnett.

“Paris”: A youthful Moulin Rouge dancer named Pierre sees his career cut short when a heart condition puts him on the list for a transplant. While waiting for a new heart, Pierre’s struggling sister, Elise (Juliette Binoche), comes to take care of him. Presented in French with English subtitles

“Hawaii Five-O – The Eighth Season”: This television crime drama was set on the island of Hawaii and ran from 1968 to 1980. During that long stretch, detective Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) and his sidekick Dano (James MacArthur) fought to rid the island of bad guys. This release includes all 23 of their adventures from season eight.

“Mystery Science Theater 3000 – Volume XVII”: This four-disc boxed set features Joel Robinson, Mike Nelson and their robotic pals poking fun at the blunders of four aging movies: “The Crawling Eye,” “The Beatniks,” “The Final Sacrifice” and “Blood Waters of Dr. Z.”

 

 

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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1 Comment

Filed under Video Verdict

One response to “Video Verdict: ‘Princess and the Frog,’ ‘Armored,’ ‘Ninja Assassin,’ ‘The Fourth Kind,’ ‘Astro Boy,’ ‘Did You Hear About the Morgans?’

  1. i always regard the movie ninja assasin one of the best action films, ;~,

    Like

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