Video Verdict: ‘Eat Pray Love,’ ‘The Expendables,’ ‘I’m Still Here’

Julia Roberts tries to find herself in “Eat Pray Love,” a movie adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir.

This week’s home video releases range from a star-studded action film to a drama about a woman in search of enlightenment.

 

Eat Pray Love
2 stars (out of four)
The home video release contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received a PG-13 for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity
Columbia Pictures
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” memoir was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for more than 180 weeks, but not every book transfers perfectly to the screen … even when it has Julia Roberts to help it along.

In the movie, co-written and directed by Ryan Murphy, Roberts plays Gilbert, who goes on a journey of self discovery after divorcing her husband and subsequently bailing on a younger boyfriend. The film, like the book, has some good things to say, predominately that people should re-examine their lives and put the emphasis on things like, well, eating, praying and loving. Unfortunately, this message becomes cloudy in the presentation.

One of the problems is that Murphy and Roberts don’t do enough to connect viewers to Gilbert early in the film. In fact, she comes off as downright selfish when she dumps her husband (Billy Crudup) – apparently because of his lack of ambition – only to fall into a fling with a young, new-agey actor (James Franco). If a man were doing this, audiences would be expected to hate him.

Things get better when Gilbert travels to India to learn from a guru and Bali to work with a traditional medicine man, but the well was poisoned before she left the United States. That means Roberts has to work extra hard to regain viewer interest, and her efforts are only partially successful. Javier Bardem and Richard Jenkins prop things up with some nice supporting performances, but the overall project still comes off flat.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray release include the theatrical version of the film plus the unrated director’s cut. The Blu-ray also includes several making-of features.

 

 

The Expendables
1½ stars
Rated R for strong action and bloody violence throughout, and for some language
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

All it takes is a look at “The Expendables” cast to understand that the point of the film was to pack as many action heroes as possible into a single project. As co-writer, director and star, Sylvester Stallone was the ringleader, and he found key parts for Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Steve Austin, Terry Crews and Mickey Rourke. He also nabbed cameos for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, delivering enough star power to make the sun look dim.

Unfortunately, it seems Stallone put more time into gathering his cast than polishing his screenplay, which was co-written by David Callaham. As one might expect, the project relies extensively on action sequences, and the plotting is used primarily to break them up.

Stallone plays Barney Ross, leader of a mercenary group known as The Expendables. The film spends very little time establishing the bond between characters or even explaining their background, but it’s clear that they are extremely good at one thing: killing. Since they’re also willing to do just about anything for money, Ross and his crew agree to overthrow the dictator of a tiny South American country, even if that means taking on a small army.

Ross and his right hand man, Lee Christmas (Statham), travel to the country in advance in order to scope things out. Of course, everything goes south … and Ross meets a girl. It’s paint-by-numbers stuff padded by a proliferation of explosions, and the superstar cast never aims to produce better than one-dimensional characters. It’s too bad because this group would have been fun to watch if they had better material to work with.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a gag reel, deleted scene, marketing spots and an audio commentary by Stallone.

 

 

I’m Still Here
4 stars
Rated R for sexual material, graphic nudity, pervasive language, some drug use and crude content
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Filmed under a veil of secrecy that was lifted only upon the movie’s theatrical release, “I’m Still Here” is an intriguing faux documentary claiming to look at Joaquin Phoenix’s decision to quit acting and pursue a career as a rapper.

Today, we know that Phoenix, directed by his brother-in-law Casey Affleck, was merely playing a role, pretending to have a public meltdown. During the making of the movie, however, the media and general public were led to believe that Phoenix’s musical aspirations and erratic behavior were genuine. He was heavily bearded and disheveled in all public appearances and Affleck’s film captures many of those outings, plus the media reaction to them.

On the surface, “I’m Still Here” is the story of a talented actor in crisis, a man who feels that he’s gone as far as he can with movies and desperately wants another creative outlet. On an unscripted level, it’s the story of American culture and the perverse fascination the public has with the private lives of celebrities.

In the film, Affleck often references the way Phoenix’s supposed meltdown was chronicled on everything from TV talk shows to the nightly news. At the time, the U.S. was at war, in a hotly disputed presidential election and in the beginning stages of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Still, the mainstream media found plenty of space to debate one actor’s odd behavior.

If nothing else, “I’m Still Here” casts a question mark over the things we value as Americans and the society we have become, but that’s not all. It is also a project of astounding creative integrity, one that took guts and a great deal of self-discipline to pull off. Now that it’s clear that Phoenix’s contributions to the film were a put on and not the result of documentary footage, they must be regarded as a performance. And, as such, it’s one fantastic acting job.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, an alternate ending and two commentary tracks, one with Affleck alone and one where Affleck is joined by Phoenix and others involved in the film.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Flipped”: Coming-of-age tale centered on Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) and Juli (Madeline Carroll), two youngsters who grow up together but have difficulty reconciling their relationship. For Juli, it’s love at first sight, but Bryce isn’t interested in a girlfriend. As he grows older, his feelings start to change, but it might be too late. The movie was co-written and directed by Rob Reiner (“The Princess Bride,” “Stand By Me”).

America Lost and Found – The BBS Story: With the holiday season underway, everyone seems to be rolling out gift-worthy boxed sets, and this one from the Criterion Collection is worth considering for the classic film buff on your list. It celebrates the work of BBS Productions, which specialized in edgy fair during the 1960s and ’70s, and the set collects seven movies: “Head” (1968), “Easy Rider” (1969), “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), “Drive, He Said” (1970), “A Safe Place” (1971), “The Last Picture Show” (1971) and “The King of Marvin Gardens” (1972).

“Deadwood” – The Complete Series: HBO’s series about the Wild West makes its Blu-ray debut with all 36 episodes collected onto a handsome 13-disc set. Along with the show itself, there’s more than four hours of bonus material, including a question-and-answer session with the creative team, a historical featurette and a bit where creator David Milch talks about what would have happened if the series continued.

“The Tudors” – Complete Box Set: Every episode of the Showtime drama about the reign of King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) packed into a single 16-disc set. The collection also has numerous extra features, including making-of bits, historical shorts, deleted scenes and a blooper reel.

“The Search for Santa Paws”: Direct to video holiday movie that serves as a prequel to Disney’s 2009 release “Santa Buddies.” In this film, Santa loses his memory while he and his new dog, Paws, are visiting New York City. That leaves it to Paws, a group of magic talking dogs, and two girls (Kaitlyn Maher and Madison Pettis) to save the day. The film is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download.

“The Six Million Dollar Man” – The Complete Collection: It’s hard to believe but this classic 1970s adventure series has never before been available on DVD. Apparently, good things come to fans that wait because this 40-disc set includes remastered editions of all 100 of the show’s episodes. Also included is more than 17 hours of new bonus material.

Tyler Perry movies on Blu-ray: Writer-director Tyler Perry has been making fans laugh and cry for years. Now, thanks to Lionsgate, they’ll be able to do it in high definition. The studio is rolling out the Blu-ray debuts of five Perry films. On tap are: “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” “The Family that Preys,” “Madea Goes to Jail,” “Madea’s Family Reunion” and “Why Did I Get Married?” For folks who aren’t into physical media, Lionsgate is also making the features available via digital download and on demand.

“Fire & Ice – The Dragon Chronicles”: Fantasy thriller about a dragon that creates havoc in a normally peaceful kingdom, prompting a princess and knight to summon another dragon to battle it. Amy Acker, Tom Wisdom and John Rhys-Davies star.

“Luther”: Six-episode TV miniseries about a detective (Idris Elba) who wrestles with his own demons while trying to nab a mass murderer. Originally seen on BBC America. Ruth Wilson, Steven Mackintosh and Indira Varma star alongside Elba.

 

 

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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