This week’s DVD releases are anchored by Heath Ledger’s last feature film and a wonderful comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for some drug content and sexuality
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Writer-director Nancy Meyers has crafted an absolute gem in “It’s Complicated,” a fast-moving picture that was nominated for three Golden Globes, including best motion picture musical or comedy and best screenplay.
Meryl Streep stars as Jane Adler, a divorced woman whose ex-husband, Jake (Alec Baldwin), convinces her to have an affair with him despite the fact that he is now married to a much younger woman (Lake Bell). As the clandestine affair blossoms, their children wonder why they are suddenly getting along so well, and Jake becomes downright exhausted because his new wife is pushing him to impregnate her. Amidst all this, Jane meets another man (Steve Martin) who is actually single and may just be perfect for her.
Complicated, right? Well, as the title suggests, that’s the idea, and Meyers takes all of the confusion and weaves it into a delightful story. The script is terrific, but much credit goes to Streep, Baldwin, Martin and their supporting players for bringing it to life. Baldwin, in fact, turns in one of the best performances of his impressive career. Although Jake spends most of the film cheating on his wife, he is so charismatic that he comes across as affable.
Really, affable is an apt description of the entire project. “It’s Complicated” is a deft blend of modern comedy and classic farce that is consistently funny, wonderfully acted and surprisingly touching in the third act.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and an audio commentary by several of the filmmakers, including Meyers.
The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
Rated PG-13 for violent images, some sensuality, language and smoking
Available on: Blu-ray and DVD
To watch “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” is to be reminded, once again, what a great loss it was when Heath Ledger died at 28 years old in January 2008. Ledger passed away while the film was still in production, prompting co-writer and director Terry Gilliam to ask three A-list stars to help with the portrayal of his character. As odd as the concept sounds, there was logic to the decision, even if it doesn’t completely work.
The movie is built around the exploits of Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), an oddball man who made a pact with the devil (Tom Waits) for wondrous power. The catch was that he would give up any child he fathered on his/her 16th birthday, and his daughter, Valentina (Lily Cole), is rapidly approaching that mark. Parnassus, who runs a sort of circus sideshow where customers are allowed to explore worlds of their own imagining, is given one last chance to save his girl.
The devil agrees to forfeit his claim to Valentina if Parnassus is able to win five souls over to goodness in an extremely short span, and the doctor receives unexpected help from a businessman that his performance troop rescues from a hanging. The man, Tony (Ledger), is clearly hiding something, but he is so charming that it seems he may be the key to helping Parnassus beat the devil.
Because much of the story takes place in fantasy worlds, Gilliam was able to sub Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell for Ledger by inferring that the character is seen differently by different people. Logically, this works, but it’s not altogether convincing because most of the film’s other characters – including Valentina – look identical in all situations.
Still, it’s not the actor swapping that is most troubling. I suspect the film would have had problems even if Ledger had lived. That’s because Gilliam seems more interested in presenting fantastical ideas and wondrous set pieces than a story that draws people in. Although all the performances are solid, no single character is compelling enough to merit a heavy emotional investment.
“Imaginarium” is a visual wonder, and it was nominated for Oscars for art direction and costume design because of that. Sadly, a picture can’t survive on looks alone, not even when Heath Ledger’s in it.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a deleted scene, one of Ledger’s wardrobe tests, several making-of bits and an audio commentary by Gilliam.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Transylmania”: Horror spoof about a group of American coeds who decide to take a semester in Transylvania, only to discover that vampires are real. Directed by David and Scott Hillenbrand.
“Five Minutes of Heaven”: Drama about Alistair Little (Liam Neeson), a Protestant member of the Ulster Volunteer Force who murdered an Ulster Catholic when he was just a teen. Thirty years later, when Alistair is released from prison, the murdered man’s younger brother is still looking for revenge. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.
“(D13-U) District 13 Ultimatum”: Sequel to the French action film “District B13”. Two years have passed since the events of that first movie, and civil unrest has returned to the ghetto, forcing police officer Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) to team up with a reformed vigilante (David Belle) and unleash his martial arts skills.
“The Descent Part 2”: Sequel to “The Descent,” which was focused on a group of women who were attacked by frightening, humanoid creatures during a cave expedition. This film furthers the story when Sarah Carter (Shauna Macdonald) escapes from the cave system but is asked to re-enter in order to help the rescue team searching for her missing girlfriends.
“The Fugitive Kind”: Criterion Collection release of the 1960 character drama starring Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, and Joanne Woodward. Brando plays Val Xavier, a man trying to tame his wild side while being seduced by two women (Magnani and Woodward). Directed by Sidney Lumet.
“Ride With the Devil”: New director’s cut of Ang Lee’s 1999 Civil War drama set during the Kansas-Missouri border conflict. Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich star as men who join with Confederate sympathizers and end up allied with a former slave who is also fighting for the South (Jeffrey Wright). Presented by the Criterion Collection.
“The Barbara Stanwyck Collection”: Six movies from the legendary actress’ filmography: “Internes Can’t Take Money,” “The Great Man’s Lady,” “The Bride Wore Boots,” “The Lady Gambles,” “All I Desire” and “There’s Always Tomorrow”.
“The End of Poverty”: Documentary film arguing that poverty is not a necessity, but an evil that has been forced upon the world through political maneuvering. Directed by Philippe Diaz. Narrated by Martin Sheen.
“I Love Lucy – The Movie”: Feature film that was built by blending three first-season episodes of the “I Love Lucy” television series with fresh material. Although assembled in the 1950s, the picture was never released theatrically, and the only other place it’s available is as a special feature on the “I Love Lucy” complete series DVD set. Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley star.
“Pride and Prejudice”: Digitally restored version of the much-loved A&E and BBC miniseries production of Jane Austen’s novel. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle star.
“Sheri – The Complete Season 1”: Lifetime comedy series based loosely on the beginning of Sheri Shepherd’s career as an actress, comedienne and co-host of ABC’s “The View.” Also stars Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Brandon Khalil and Tammy Townsend.
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