Video Verdict: ‘An Education,’ ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks 2’

Carey Mulligan received a best actress Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of a teen girl who has an affair with an older man in “An Education.” The film also received Oscar nominations for best picture and best adapted screenplay.

This week’s major video releases include an update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character, a children’s movie featuring singing chipmunks and an Oscar-nominated drama about a teen girl who falls for an older man.

 

An Education
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual content and for smoking
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

When David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard) shows an interest in British schoolgirl Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan), she’s overwhelmed. Unlike her father (Alfred Molina), whose primary goal in life is to get Jenny accepted at Oxford, David lets her experience the world, buying her fine meals, taking her to concerts and even arranging a trip to Paris. It’s easy to see why Jenny would fall for him. As played by Sarsgaard, David is wonderfully charming, and he even convinces Jenny’s stuffed-shirt parents that he’s a good thing for their daughter. Alas, Jenny soon discovers cracks in his knight-like armor. For starters, David’s job doesn’t seem particularly legit. And there’s the awkward way that his friends look at her.

Still, Jenny realizes that this handsome, older man can provide her with things nobody else has, so the temptation is remarkable. As the movie rolls on, audiences watch as Jenny matures too quickly and, of course, receives a powerful, if unwanted, education.

Working from an Academy Award-nominated screenplay from Nick Hornby, director Lone Scherfig has crafted an outstanding drama that moves quickly and is populated by fascinating characters. Mulligan received a best actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Jenny, and she is completely believable as a girl who is intelligent beyond her years yet still remarkably naïve. Sarsgaard is also fantastic, if only because he takes an inherently creepy guy and makes him so affable that viewers may find themselves liking him almost as much as Jenny’s parents.

“An Education” is a fascinating film that demonstrates how even good people can lose perspective when presented with a shot at the high life.

Blu-ray and DVD extra features include deleted scenes, a making-of short and an audio commentary by Scherfig, Mulligan and Sarsgaard.

 

Sherlock Holmes
3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some startling images and a scene of suggestive material
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s super detective, Sherlock Holmes, has always been a great character, but he’s usually portrayed as a stiff and formal thinking man. With direction from Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr. took a different approach, painting Holmes as a hard-living eccentric who is not only remarkably intelligent but physically gifted. This rendering seems perfect for 21st century audiences.

Downey Jr.’s version of Holmes is just as comfortable competing in bare-knuckle brawls as deciphering complex puzzles, and his sidekick, Watson (Jude Law), is a jaunty chap as well. Thankfully, none of this means that Ritchie has abandoned Holmes’ detective story roots. The plot of the film is complicated and involves nothing less than an attempted takeover of Parliament by an apparently supernatural villain named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). The film also includes an excellent femme fatale (Rachel McAdams) who is just as smart as Holmes and involved in something that even he struggles to comprehend.

Ritchie deftly mixes the complexities of the story with beautifully staged action sequences, and he does an excellent job demonstrating how Holmes’ brain works.

This is the most muscular film interpretation of Sherlock Holmes to date, and it’s also one of the most entertaining.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include a 16-minute making-of feature. The Blu-ray also includes something called Maximum Movie Mode, allowing viewers to watch the feature alongside added information, including storyboard comparisons and still galleries.

 

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
2½ stars
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

This follow up to 2007’s “Alvin and the Chipmunks” takes place shortly after the events of the first film and considers many of the same characters. Already established as superstar musicians in part one, the Chipmunks are wowing the crowd at a benefit concert when the mischievous Alvin attempts an acrobatic feat that goes wrong, landing their guardian, Dave (Jason Lee), in the hospital.

Unable to care for the boys, Dave assigns the task to his Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten), who is inadvertently injured herself. Out of necessity, the Chipmunks find themselves under the care of Jackie’s grandson Toby (Zachary Levi), a videogame-addicted twenty-something who, although kind-hearted, is just as reckless as they are. On top of that, the chipmunks are enrolled in a public school where they get a mixed welcome.

In the meantime, the chipmunks’ bitter former manager, Ian Hawke (David Cross), is doing everything he can to run their careers into the ground, and he has convinced a promising female super group – the Chipettes – that his old charges are ungrateful wretches.

“Alvin and the Chipmunks” wasn’t a cinematic classic, so expecting greatness from “The Squeakquel” is unrealistic. With a movie like this, the most one should hope for is a follow that’s at least as entertaining as its predecessor, and “Squeakquel” is that. The film is packed with goofy gags, the computer-animated chipmunks and Chipettes are cute, and viewers get a healthy dose of high-pitched squirrel-made music.

The story is predictable and often seems little more than an excuse to show off the computer-generated stars, but there’s something entertaining about rodents that sing, and it’s likely that the target audience – kids 10 and younger – will have a good time, flaws and all.

The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“The Baader Meinhoff Complex”: German drama about the terrorist organization that launched attacks on establishment figures during the 1970s. The film was directed by Uli Edel and it received a 2009 Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. Presented in German with English subtitles.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection: If Robert Downey Jr.’s take on Sherlock Holmes gets you interested in seeing other adventures from the super detective, this five-disc set is a great place to start. It includes all 14 movies starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. John Watson. What’s more, 12 of the 14 films have been freshly restored. The titles in the set are: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939); “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939); “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror” (1942); “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” (1943); “Sherlock Holmes in Washington” (1943); “Sherlock Holmes Faces Death” (1943); “The Spider Woman” (1944); “The Scarlet Claw” (1944); “The Pearl of Death” (1944); “The House of Fear” (1945); “The Woman in Green” (1945); “Pursuit to Algiers” (1945); “Terror by Night” (1946); and “Dressed to Kill” (1946).

“The Abbott and Costello Show” – The Complete Series: Time Magazine TV critic James Poniewozik named this 1950s comedy show one of the 100 greatest TV programs of all time. Now you can add all 52 episodes of the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello series to your home video library. The shows are spread over nine discs, and the set has a suggested retail price of $59.98.

“Deadliest Catch” – Season Five: Capt. Phil Harris, who gained prominence due to this show, passed away in February, but this set allows fans to relive some of his adventures. For the uninitiated, “Deadliest Catch” is a Discovery Channel reality program that follows commercial fishing crews as they work. This release contains 17 episodes on five discs.

“Letters from Fontainhas” – Three Films by Pedro Costa: Four-disc Criterion Collection set that includes three of Portuguese director Pedro Costa’s movies set in the slums of Fontainhas, located on the outskirts of Lisbon. Each movie – “Ossos,” “In Vanda’s Room” and “Colossal Youth” – considers marginalized, often desperate, people and their struggles. Presented in Portuguese with English subtitles.

“The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty”: TV docu-series that was meant to follow Michael Jackson’s brothers – Jackie, Jermaine, Tito and Marlon – as they prepared for a 40th anniversary Jackson Five concert. The film became even more poignant when the Jacksons agreed to let filmmakers continue shooting after the death of their brother, Michael. This two-disc set is packed with nearly five hours of Jackson family footage.

“The Yes Men Fix the World”: Documentary film centered on the Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno, who attacked corporate America by posing as members of its club. For instance, they took a slap at the oil industry by pretending to be insiders introducing a new Exxon fuel made from the bodies of “global warming losers.” The film considers this bit along with many of their other exploits.

 

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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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘An Education,’ ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks 2’

  1. I thought Sherlock Holmes was a real stinker. Why not make a real mystery with realistic clues? Why bring strange pagan rituals and the undead into it? Why not use one of the great Conan Doyle stories? They are wonderful on their own. I thought it was grimy, unpleasant and unclever (the true crime for a Holmes movie!).
    Instead of watching this lame movie rent the great Jeremy Brett PBS series from the 80s.
    I also thought Rachel McAdams was under-used and remarkably unsexy.

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  2. Sorry you didn’t like “Sherlock.” I thought the mystery was actually pretty good, as Holmes is ultimately able to explain everything. Often the clues in the books weren’t clear to readers until he explained them on the page. But I don’t suppose we can agree on them all. As always, thanks for dropping by. 🙂

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