Video Verdict: ‘Marmaduke,’ ‘Harry Brown’

It doesn’t take the title character in “Marmaduke” long to learn what it means to be a California dog.

This week’s home video releases range from a revenge thriller starring Michael Caine to a family friendly comedy adapted from a comic strip.

Marmaduke
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG for some rude humor and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Adapting short-form mediums, like newspaper comic strips, to the big screen is tricky, but director Tom Dey has done a better than average job with “Marmaduke.” Not only does he deliver enough material to fill a feature-length film, his execution is reasonably good.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t stellar cinema, but as talking-dog flicks go, it’s OK. It’s also a remarkable upgrade over peers like the live-action Scooby-Doo films.

Although based on Brad Anderson’s long-running comic, the “Marmaduke” script is essentially original, even if its themes aren’t. Marmaduke, a rambunctious Great Dane living with the Winslow family, finds his life in turmoil when the head of household, Phil (Lee Pace), decides to move the family from Kansas to southern California.

Like Phil’s wife and kids, Marmaduke finds himself struggling to fit into the new environment, where he is routinely hazed by purebreds at the local dog park. Viewers know this because they hear what the pooches are saying and Marmaduke – through the voice of Owen Wilson – regularly addresses the camera. Phil and the rest of the humans in the movie don’t know Marmaduke and his pals can talk, but it’s better that way.

Determined to fit into his new surroundings, Marmaduke spends much of the film trying to better his social status, primarily so he can impress a beautiful collie named Jezebel (the voice of Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson). Sadly, his quest threatens to ruin the relationship he has with a group of mutts who befriended him from day one. Anyone who’s seen “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” or any number of other films about fitting in at school, is already familiar with the “Marmaduke” arc. That’s too bad because Dey assembled a great canine cast for “Marmaduke,” meaning the movie could have been better.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a bit on the canine casting and a special look at the film’s “surfing dogs” sequence.

Harry Brown
3 stars
Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Harry Brown is one of the more unusual vigilantes to hit the silver screen. Why? Because he’s a mild-mannered senior citizen with emphysema and a healthy respect for the law. At least that’s how he appears at first.

As portrayed by Michael Caine, Harry is a gentleman, one who tells an elderly friend harassed by thugs that he should go to the police for help. But when that friend turns up dead, Harry ignores his own advice, drawing on his background as a Royal Marine to teach the killers a lesson.

Although the storyline mirrors other revenge flicks, like the “Death Wish” saga, director Daniel Barber sets his feature apart by leaving plenty of space for character development. Viewers get to know Harry slowly, warming to the man as they might an actual friend.

They also get an in-depth look at detective Alice Frampton (Emily Mortimer), the one person with the wherewithal to see beyond Harry’s frail-old-man act.

The movie rolls at a steady but unhurried pace that Barber would have done well to push now and again. But that’s a minor complaint to an otherwise enjoyable thriller that deserves credit for reminding audiences that seniors are important and powerful members of our society. Don’t let the grey hair fool you.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Caine, Barber and producer Kris Thykier.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Why Did I Get Married Too?”: Writer-director-actor Tyler Perry’s followup to 2007’s “Why Did I Get Married?” The film focuses on four couples that unite for a vacation in the tropics, but it’s not all fun in the sun. The getaway is quickly marred by the unexpected appearance of an ex-husband, and viewers get a front-row seat as the couples work on a host of relationship issues. Perry stars alongside Janet Jackson, Tasha Smith, Jill Scott, Sharon Leal, Louis Gossett Jr., Michael Jai White, Lamman Rucker, Richard T. Jones and Malik Yoba.

“NCIS Los Angeles” – The First Season: This TV series spinoff focuses on a new division of NCIS, the Office of Special Projects. Chris O’Donnell and LL Cool J star as special agents “G” Callen and Sam Hanna, leaders of an undercover team devoted to protecting national security.

“The Vampire Diaries” – The Complete First Season: Vampire brothers Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) fall into a love triangle with a human teen named Elena (Nina Dobrev). This boxed set allows fans and newbies alike to cram before season two debuts Sept. 9 on The CW.

“The Middle” – Season 1: ABC television sitcom centered on the Hecks, a middle-class clan juggling family life, school and work. Stars Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), Neil Flynn (“Scrubs”), Charlie McDermott (“The Office”), Eden Sher (“Weeds”) and Chris Kattan (“Saturday Night Live”).

“Brothers and Sisters” – The Complete Fourth Season: The close-knit Walker family tests the bounds of sibling, parental, and extended family relationships in this TV drama. In season four, Nora (Sally Field) dates a younger man and Kitty (Calista Flockhart) exposes a deep secret. Rob Lowe, Rachel Griffiths, and Patricia Wettig also star.

Red Riding Trilogy: Studio Canal is delivering a special edition of this British mystery trilogy made up of three separate-but-interconnected movies. The films – titled “1974,” “1980” and “1983” – examine everything from serial murders to police corruption in the West Riding region of Yorkshire, England. Available on Blu-ray and DVD.

“9th Company”: Russian drama focused on a year in the lives of soldiers serving in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The film won a Nika Award (Russia’s equivalent to the Oscars) for best picture. Presented in Russian with English subtitles. Also, an English-language dub is available for those who don’t like subtitles. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

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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