Video Verdict: ‘127 Hours,’ ‘Love & Other Drugs,’ ‘Burlesque,’ ‘Faster’



James Franco finds himself in a tight spot in “127 Hours,” a drama based on the real-life experiences of adventurer Aron Ralston.

This week’s major home video releases span several genres and include everything from a campy musical starring Cher and Christina Aguilera to an Oscar-nominated drama starring James Franco.

 

127 Hours
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Two years ago, writer-director Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” walked away with the best picture title at the 81st Academy Awards. The venerable British artist was back in the hunt last weekend with “127 Hours,” his look at the extraordinary real-life experience of Aron Ralston, an extreme athlete who got pinned by a boulder in a remote Utah canyon.

“127 Hours” was nominated for six Oscars, including best film, best adapted screenplay and best actor. The latter honor came thanks to a remarkable performance by James Franco, who plays Ralston. Because much of the movie is centered on what happens after Ralston is trapped, Franco’s performance is nearly a one-man affair.

Viewers watch as Ralston slips on a loose boulder that follows him into deep canyon, pinning his hand against the wall. At first, Franco’s depiction is calm and rational. Ralston tries numerous methods of freeing his hand so that he can hike back to his vehicle for medical attention, but he becomes more and more desperate, realizing how serious his situation is. Not only is he unable to free his hand, but he is stuck alone with no shelter and little water.

The film’s excellent cinematography offers tight, claustrophobic shots of Ralston’s perch in the canyon as well as broad sweeping images that demonstrate how far he is from civilization. It’s not easy to make a film about the predicament of a single man, but Boyle does a terrific job with pacing, keeping things exciting and suspenseful even though were confined to a single setting.

Ralston’s story has been widely reported in the media, so most people know how it ends, but that doesn’t take anything away from the drama. As the multiple Oscar nominations indicate, “127 Hours” was one of the finest theatrical releases of 2010.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary featuring Boyle, his co-writer Simon Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson.

 

 

Love & Other Drugs
2½ stars
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, and some drug material
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Writer-director Edward Zwick’s “Love & Other Drugs” has wonderful parts. Trouble is, they’ve been jumbled into a whole that lacks focus and emotional resonance.

On one hand, the film seems to be a commentary on America’s prescription drug industry, as it centers on Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal), a handsome pharmaceutical sales rep who spends half his time convincing doctors to buy drugs and the other half seducing their receptionists. Zwick does a nice job demonstrating the cutthroat nature of pharmaceutical sales, hinting that the quality of the drugs isn’t nearly as important as the people pushing them. Had he continued down that route, “Love & Other Drugs” might have been a wonderfully compelling film. Alas, the picture shifts gears when Jamie has a chance meeting with Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway), a patient who shows up during one of his sales calls.

Because Jamie is an expert at seduction, he and Maggie wind up in bed. At first, they seem like the perfect couple. He isn’t the sort to settle down and Maggie – who is suffering from an incurable disease – is too damaged for a relationship. Their connection is interesting, and Zwick spends a great deal of time allowing Jamie and Maggie to work out their feelings for one another. Thing is, that distracts from the earlier story about corporate drug sales.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are terrific young actors, and they play their roles with conviction. In fact, there are a number of steamy and graphic love scenes. Unfortunately, that only calls more attention to the disjointed nature of the project.

The screenplay was written by Zwick, with the help of Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, and it veers from one plot point to the next without really settling down. The result is a movie that frustrates not because it’s imperfect but because it could have been much better.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and several short features centered on Hathaway and Gyllenhaal.

 

 

Burlesque
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including several suggestive dance routines, partial nudity, language and some thematic material
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“Burlesque” provides pop singer Christina Aguilera with her first real film role, and she demonstrates a good deal of energy and charm. She does not, however, demonstrate acting chops.

From her opening sequence to her last, Aguilera delivers lines with the melodramatic flair of someone aware that she’s “acting,” not the natural ease of most screen actors. This isn’t a condemnation. It’s her first film, and someday Aguilera might get pretty good at this acting stuff. If that happens, she’ll be able to count “Burlesque” as a learning experience.

The plot is built on a classic showbiz fable. Aguilera is Ali, a small-town Iowa girl who quits her job as a waitress and travels to Hollywood with stars in her eyes. After a few days, she worms her way into a waitressing job at a racy burlesque club run by a diva named Tess (Cher). What Ali really wants to do is dance, but she’ll have to best the club’s boozy star, Nikki (Kristen Bell), before that happens. A subplot is built around the fact that Tess is in danger of losing the club, and everything is presented in the campiest, most cliché manner imaginable.

Cher is likable because her role was custom tailored to her strengths and she gets to sing. Still, her outing doesn’t come close to her best screen performances. Cam Gigandet, Eric Dane, Alan Cumming and Stanley Tucci are solid in supporting roles, but the material is so predictable that “Burlesque” never really takes flight. That means writer-director Steve Antin has nothing but flashy musical numbers to rely on. Fortunately, most of those are very, very good.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an alternate opening, six full-length song-and-dance routines, a blooper reel and an audio commentary by Antin.

 

 

Faster
1½ stars
Rated R for strong violence, some drug use and language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “Faster,” Dwayne Johnson plays an ex-convict who is identified only as Driver. The lack of intimacy is appropriate because director George Tillman Jr.’s film keeps viewers at an emotional distance. In part, that’s because most of the characters are downright nasty.

Driver, the closest thing we have to a hero, was incarcerated for his part in a bank robbery gone wrong. He and his partner-brother were double-crossed by thugs, and his brother ended up dead.

As the film begins, Driver is getting out of prison, and – despite the warden’s best attempts to set him on the right track – he immediately shoots a man in the head. You see, during the 10 years he spent behind bars, Driver wasn’t doing anything but planning revenge against all the men involved in his brother’s killing.

The film chugs along with Driver slaughtering people while being pursued by law enforcement officers, one an upright detective named Cicero (Carla Gugino), the other a drug-addicted fellow ID’d only as Cop (Billy Bob Thornton). Tillman does a decent job with his action sequences, and there are a lot. Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough plot to tie them together.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an alternate ending and a collection of deleted scenes, all with an introduction by Tillman.

 

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Bambi”: This animated classic is coming out of the Disney vaults for its Blu-ray debut. The 1942 film centers on a young deer who must grow up on his own after his mother is shot by hunters. Along with being released as part of a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, the film is available as a digital download. A standard DVD copy of the film is on its way, but won’t be released until April 19.

“Scooby-Doo! Curse of the Lake Monster”: This sequel to “Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins” is being released straight to home video. The story has the Mystery Inc. gang entangled in odd happenings at a country club run by Daphne’s uncle. Robbie Amell, Kate Melton, Hayley Kiyoko and Nick Palatas star.

“ReBoot” – Seasons 1 & 2: This fully computer-animated TV series debuted in 1994 and ran four seasons. The show is set inside a computer, and characters and storylines make frequent references to computers and video games. All 23 episodes from the first two seasons are included as part of this four-disc box set.

“Michael Jordan to the Max”: Documentary showcasing the life and career of basketball icon Michael Jordan. The movie follows Jordan as he leads the Chicago Bulls to their sixth NBA championship, and it features interviews with Phil Jackson, Steve Kerr, Doug Collins and Bob Costas. Available on Blu-ray just in time to get you primed for March Madness.

“Alonzo Bodden – Who’s Paying Attention?”: Tape of the 2004 winner of the reality TV show “Last Comic Standing” delivering a live performance in New York.

 

 

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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