Video Verdict: ‘Twilight: New Moon,’ ‘Blind Side,’ ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ ‘Brothers,’ ‘Men Who Stare at Goats,’ ‘The African Queen’

Kristen Stewart, right, and Robert Pattinson do a lot of sulking in the vampire drama “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”

This week’s DVD and Blu-ray releases include a Humphrey Bogart/Katharine Hepburn classic, a best picture candidate in the 2009 Oscar race and a pop culture phenomenon that had tweens flocking to theaters just a few months ago.

 

The Twilight Saga: New Moon
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some violence and action
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

The first film adaptation of novelist Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series had problems, and they continue in this plodding and melodramatic sequel. Chief among the flaws is the fact that director Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “The Golden Compass”) seems more interested in having his male leads run around shirtless than in actually furthering the story. Worse than that, two of the film’s three key players are so depressive and dull that it’s hard to care what happens to them.

The action in “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” is set shortly after the events in the original “Twilight,” with our hero Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moping about because she is destined to grow older while her vampire lover, Edward (Robert Pattinson), will stay eternally youthful. When – at a birthday celebration – one of Edward’s vampire buddies tries to turn Bella into dinner, he decides it will be best for his family to move away. Devastated, she turns to her friend Jacob (Tayor Lautner), who has a monstrous secret of his own.

Of course, the point of all this is to set up a love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob, and it might have been engaging if the former pair weren’t so darn depressing. While Lautner infuses Jacob with an easygoing and likable spirit, Pattinson and Stewart delight in draining all personality from Edward and Bella. In fact, their characters seem capable of only three emotions: sadness, longing and panic. Why Jacob would want any part of either of their lives is baffling, yet the story is dependent on his infatuation with Bella.

Because the “Twilight” books and movies are a full-fledged phenomenon, no review is going to prevent the home video releases from becoming bestsellers, but you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t understand what the fuss is about. You’re not alone. 

DVD and Blu-ray extras include making-of features, a Death Cab for Cutie music video and an audio commentary by Weitz and editor Peter Lambert.

 

The Blind Side
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for one scene involving brief violence, drug and sexual references
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

It’s not often that a feel-good sports drama gets Oscar attention, but this reality-based football flick received a 2009 nomination for best picture and earned Sandra Bullock her first ever Academy Award.

Bullock landed the best actress Oscar for her solid portrayal of Leigh Anne Tuohy, the real-life Memphis, Tennessee, wife and mother who opened her family’s upper-crust home to Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a talented young athlete with a troubled past. The film follows Oher’s transition from near illiteracy to his receipt of a college football scholarship, and it focuses on the way he enriched the Tuohys lives while they inspired him.

As with most good sports films, the human drama is more important than the on-field action, but writer-director John Lee Hancock (“The Rookie,” “The Alamo”) does a fine job balancing the two. Although an Oscar seems like overkill for Bullock’s performance, her outing is strong and seems particularly good because she’s playing against type.

Aaron doesn’t give much depth to Oher, but he’s an affable enough performer to keep viewers invested in the story throughout. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the movie is country singer Tim McGraw who does an outstanding job portraying Leigh Anne Tuohy’s businessman husband, Sean. This isn’t McGraw’s first movie role, and if he keeps turning in work like this, his acting career could someday surpass his musical accomplishments.  

When considered as a whole, “The Blind Side” seems redundant because it treads the same ground as a dozen or so other inspirational dramas. But this is a case where craft has overcome cliché.  The film’s execution and acting are good enough that most viewers should be able to look beyond the conventional storytelling and simply have a good time with the characters.

DVD extras are limited to additional scenes. The Blu-ray release includes those, plus several behind-the-scenes features and an exclusive interview with the real Michael Oher.

 

 

The Fantastic Mr. Fox
3 stars
Rated PG for action, smoking and slang humor
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Writer-director Wes Anderson has been serving up delightfully different movies since the mid-1990s, when he broke into Hollywood with “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore,” and his first animated effort, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” is typically atypical.

Based on the like-titled Roald Dahl children’s novel, “Mr. Fox” follows the adventures of the mischievous title character, a master livestock thief who is the scourge of three farmers named Boggis, Bunce and Bean. After he and his wife are captured and nearly killed by one of them, Mr. Fox agrees to abandon his larcenous ways.

Alas, Mr. Fox can’t stay away from temptation so, along with an opossum friend, he decides to pull one last big score. Unfortunately, this one is so big that it draws the wrath of all three farmers, and their quest for revenge threatens the lives of Fox, and many of his woodland pals.   

“The Fantastic Mr. Fox” was made using crude, stylized stop-motion animation that adds warmth and humor to Anderson’s oddball style, and the characters get a big boost from the fantastic voice cast. George Clooney lends his voice to Mr. Fox, and he’s joined by Meryl Streep, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson.

The movie was nominated for best animated feature film at the 2009 Oscars and, although it ultimately lost to “Up,” it is highly recommended.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features.

 

 

Brothers
3 stars
Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

For years, film buffs have commented on the physical similarities of Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire, so it seems natural to cast the pair as siblings. In “Brothers” they not only look similar enough to be believable as family, they prove exciting and explosive on screen, particularly when supported by other fine actors, including Natalie Portman and Sam Shepard.

Directed by Jim Sheridan (“The Boxer,” “In America”), the movie considers two brothers on opposite paths. Capt. Sam Cahill (Maguire) is a heroic U.S. Marine serving his country in Afghanistan while Tommy Cahill (Gyllenhaal) is a hard-drinking ne’er do well just out of prison. But when Sam is presumed dead after a helicopter crash, Tommy surprises everyone – including their father (Shepard) – by stepping up to help his brother’s wife, Grace (Portman), and their children.

Maguire, Gyllenhaal and Portman are allowed room to take their characters through a range of emotions, and their performances make the movie worth watching even when Sheridan rushes through much of the third act plotting. ”Brothers” also makes the excellent point that people aren’t always what they seem and that circumstances have a great impact on who they become.

As a contemporary war drama, “Brothers” isn’t quite as powerful as “The Hurt Locker,” which just won Oscar’s best picture award, but it is a fine film, and the two would make an excellent double bill.   

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Sheridan.  

 

 

The Men Who Stare At Goats
2½ stars
Rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is in complete despair over the breakup of his marriage, so he travels to Iraq with hopes of landing a dangerous and juicy story that will leave his estranged wife stunned by his bravery. What he finds is Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a man who claims to be part of an elite U.S. military unit made up of psychic warriors.

Thinking he might have the story of his life, Bob decides to accompany Lyn on a supposed mission, learning about the history of psychic training in the military while making his way through a wild adventure in the Middle Eastern desert.

Although the setup for “The Men Who Stare at Goats” is terrific and Clooney and McGregor have solid chemistry, director Grant Heslov paces the film too slowly.  That means the funny moments – and there are some – get spaced too far apart.

Not even a terrific supporting cast, including Jeff Bridges as a psychic training officer and Kevn Spacey as Clooney’s adversary, help the material rise above passable. That’s too bad because the comic potential for a movie about government-sponsored psychic warriors is rich.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes feature and two audio commentaries, one by Heslov and one by Jon Ronson. The latter man wrote the book that inspired the film.

 

 

The African Queen
4 stars
Unrated
Paramount
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

American classic movie fans have been calling for a DVD version of director John Huston’s 1951 drama “The African Queen” for years, and they are finally getting their wish. After a lengthy restoration process, the film is hitting stores courtesy of Paramount, and it looks gorgeous.

The movie, an adaptation of C.S. Forester’s 1935 novel, is set in East Africa during World War I. Katharine Hepburn plays Rose Sayer, the sister of a British reverend who is working with African natives when war breaks out between Germany and England. After the Germans burn their missionary camp, Rose’s brother dies and she is forced to leave with a rough-hewn Canadian riverboat captain named Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart).

Charlie is inclined to go into hiding and wait out the war, but Rose is a feisty woman who insists they do what they can to fight back against the Germans. Much of the movie revolves around Charlie’s and Rose’s relationship and the way it deepens as they get to know each other. Because the film is so tightly centered on the two lead characters, its success depends largely on the performances of Bogart and Hepburn and neither disappoints. In fact, much of the movie’s fame – it is ranked No. 17 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest American movies of all time – is built around the work of these two legends. Both actors received Oscar nominations for their work on the movie, and Bogart won the best actor award.

“The African Queen” is more than an acting showcase, though. The story is fast-moving and entertaining and the gorgeous color cinematography is something to behold. This is one of those movies that should have been available on DVD a long time ago, and it’s nice to see it finally arrive on such a lovely video transfer.

“The African Queen” is available as part of multiple home video releases, including limited edition DVD and Blu-ray boxed sets. Extra features vary.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Red Cliff”: Historical drama recounting the epic battle that led to the fall of China’s Han Dynasty in 208 A.D. Director John Woo cut two versions of the film, Asian and Western, and both are available on home video. The Western theatrical version is scaled down and runs 148 minutes, while the Asian version is presented on two discs and runs nearly twice as long. Both are in Mandarin with English subtitles.

“Bigger Than Life”: Criterion Collection release of director Nicholas Ray’s drama about a father (James Mason) and respected teacher dealing with addiction to prescription medication during the mid-1950s.  Though it was a box-office flop when released in 1956, the film is considered great by historical standards.

“The Prisoner”: Contemporary science-fiction miniseries based on the original 1960s television drama by Patrick McGoohan.  The story takes place in The Village where everyone has a number instead of a name. Jim Caviezel, Number 6, is determined to escape the sterile, conformist society and reclaim his former life and freedom. Ian McKellan, Number 2, is the shrewd protector of The Village.  

“Free Willy – Escape from Pirates Cove”: This fourth installment of the “Free Willy” franchise stars Bindi Irwin (daughter of Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter) and Beau Bridges. Sent to live with her grandfather (Bridges) at his run down sea animal park in South Africa, Kirra (Bindi Irwin) discovers an injured baby orca trapped in a lagoon. She then works tirelessly to rehabilitate the orca so it can be released back to the wild rather than sent to a rival theme park to be exploited.

 “7th Heaven – The Tenth Season”: This television drama is focused on happenings in the life of the extremely large Camden family, and themes include stay-at-home fatherhood, teen pregnancy and basic relationship issues. This five-disc set includes all 22 season 10 episodes, including the finale when all seven kids are reunited.

“Mad Men – Season 3”: The culture of society in 1963 is presented with Hitchcockian style in this well-regarded TV drama. Season three focuses on dark, alluring and mysterious happenings with the characters of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency. Issues explored include drinking, smoking, sex, adultery, homphobia, racism and a lack of environmental concern. The timing of this release allows everyone to get caught up before season 4 debuts this summer

 

 

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: ‘Twilight: New Moon,’ ‘Blind Side,’ ‘The Fantastic Mr. Fox,’ ‘Brothers,’ ‘Men Who Stare at Goats,’ ‘The African Queen’

  1. I just covered my entire room with posters of jacob and edward, now I can sleep easy all night knowing they are protecting me 🙂

    Like

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