Video Verdict: ‘The King’s Speech,’ ‘Rabbit Hole,’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ ‘Somewhere’

Colin Firth, left, plays King George VI and Helena Bonham Carter portrays the Queen Mother in the Academy Award-winning drama “The King’s Speech.”

It’s a good week for home video, as new releases include two films that played a prominent role in the 2010 Oscar race.

The King’s Speech
4 stars (out of four)
Rated R for some language
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Tom Hooper’s examination of King George VI’s ascent to the British throne is an old-fashioned film, but not in a negative way. One of its joys is that director Tom Hooper avoids flashy edits and other stylish flourishes to put the focus where it belongs: on story.

It helps that he has a terrific tale to work with. George was not expected to become king because his brother, Edward, was first in line to the throne. What’s more, George had a debilitating stammer that made him fearful of public speaking. When he was suddenly called to duty, he was forced to overcome his speech impediment, and the film focuses on that period of his life.

Obviously, the tale of a man battling a stammer is not action packed, but it is dripping with drama. Hooper and his cast do a wonderful job exploiting that fact and drawing viewers into George’s predicament, making sure his struggles strike a chord.

The always excellent Colin Firth plays the title role, and his work earned him a well-deserved Academy Award for best actor. Firth, however, is not the only highlight of the film. Geoffrey Rush is terrific as George’s speech therapist, Lionel Logue, and Helena Bonham Carter is equally good as George’s wife, Queen Elizabeth. Both Rush and Carter received Oscar nominations for their supporting turns, but they didn’t win.

In all, “The King’s Speech” was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and it walked away with four: best picture, best director for Hooper, best original screenplay for David Seidler and best actor for Firth. This is one case where the awards hoopla is well founded. “The King’s Speech” is dramatic and inspirational and, although modern, it plays like the best films of yesteryear.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include speeches from the actual King George VI, a 20-minute making-of feature and an audio commentary by Hooper.

Rabbit Hole
3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some drug use and language
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Nicole Kidman received a best actress Oscar nomination for her excellent portrayal of Becca Corbett, the forty-something woman at the heart of “Rabbit Hole.” Both Becca and her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart), are mourning the loss of their young son, who was struck by a car and killed. Despite having a strong marriage prior to the accident, the loss has them reeling, and each deals with the tragedy differently.

Howie, unable to accept his son’s death, lives in the past, watching family videos and attending support groups. Becca, on the other hand, wants desperately to move on, and she even forms a friendship with the teen driver who killed her son (Miles Teller).

The story, which screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire adapted from his own stage play, is unapologetically bleak, but it is also moving. As the Oscar nomination indicates, Kidman is fantastic in the lead role, but the movie isn’t a one-actor show. Eckhart proves equally powerful as a grieving father, and both actors receive excellent supporting work from Teller, Dianne Wiest (who plays Becca’s mother) and Sandra Oh (who plays another grieving parent).

Director John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) also deserves credit. Dramas like “Rabbit Hole” can easily become so moody and depressing that they collapse beneath their own weight, but he doesn’t allow that to happen. Instead, Mitchell strikes a fine balance, letting darkness settle over the film while inserting just enough humor and hope to make it fly.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary featuring Mitchell, writer David Lindsay-Abaire and director of photography Frank G. DeMarco.

Gulliver’s Travels
2 stars
Rated PG for brief rude humor, mild language and action
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Jack Black is a funny man, and when he has a solid project to work on, the results can be outstanding. He was a hoot, for instance, in “School of Rock,” “High Fidelity” and “Tropic Thunder.” Sadly, his talents are more often wasted on subpar material … like “Gulliver’s Travels.”

Director Rob Letterman’s adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel delivers key plot points from the book but tries too hard to be hip. For starters, the film depicts its title character (Black) as an unapologetic slacker whose career high is working in the mailroom of a newspaper.

In an attempt to impress an editor that he pines for (Amanda Peet), Gulliver plagiarizes several articles and convinces her to let him write a travel piece on the Bermuda Triangle. Next thing you know, he’s shipwrecked on the island of Liliput, where the residents average six inches tall.

“Gulliver’s Travels” has all the usual gags involving a giant living among tiny beings, but there are also ill-advised updates, such as Gulliver extinguishing a raging fire by relieving himself. Swift’s book is still read because it is imaginative, and the tale of Liliput is charming. Adding modern gross-out gags may make the story more like the average multiplex comedy, but it’s not an improvement.

Not even Jason Segel (star of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and TV’s “How I Met Your Mother”) lifts “Gulliver’s Travels.” Like Black, he’s a creative and funny guy, but he’s wasted here, playing a bland Liliputian who befriends Gulliver.

Had this crew spent more time focused on the inherent appeal of the source material and less time trying to make it their own, they might have produced a winning family film. Sadly, their version of “Gulliver’s Travels” will most likely be remembered as an unfortunate chapter in the ongoing life of a timeless tale.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and several making-of features.

Somewhere
2 stars
Rated R for sexual content, nudity and language
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Sofia Coppola is part of the royal family of moviemaking. She’s a cousin to Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman and, more notably, daughter to the wonderful director Francis Ford Coppola. It is not, however, nepotism that made Sofia Coppola a player in Hollywood. She did that on her own, writing and directing several critically acclaimed movies, most notably 2003’s “Lost in Translation,” which landed her an Oscar for best original screenplay.

The thing about Coppola’s work is people either get it or they don’t, and I’m in the latter camp. “Lost in Translation” was regularly praised as brilliant, but I’ve always found it remarkably dull. Coppola’s latest effort, “Somewhere,” has also received acclaim, winning best picture at the Venice International Film Festival and earning four stars from renowned critic Roger Ebert. Again, I’m on the outside looking in.

The film takes a brief peak at the life of Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), an A-list Hollywood actor who buries his boredom with parties, fast cars and faster women. He is forced to re-assess his lifestyle, when his ex-wife asks him to care for their 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning) for an extended period.

“Somewhere” has wonderful moments, most of them courtesy of Dorff, who’s reading of Johnny is nuanced and sympathetic. Trouble is, Coppola allows her camera to linger on every sequence about twice as long as it should. Some people may appreciate this technique, as it gives the film a cinema verite flair not seen in most modern movies. A consequence, however, is that it slows the narrative and reeks of overindulgence.

“Somewhere” clocks in at 98 minutes, but Coppola could have likely told it in 70, improving the flow and allowing audiences to build a stronger relationship with the characters.

DVD extras are limited to a making-of feature. The Blu-ray release has that plus a few more bonuses.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise”: Spike Lee documentary focused on residents of New Orleans and their ongoing efforts to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The movie is something of a follow-up to his earlier documentary “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

The Ernie Kovacs Collection: Impressive six-DVD set collecting comedian Ernie Kovacs’ influential TV work in the 1950s and ’60s. The set has more than 13 hours of content, including some of his earliest TV shows, his five ABC TV specials and numerous bonus features.

“Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure”: Direct-to-video movie that sees Ashley Tisdale again playing her “High School Musical” character Sharpay Evans. The plot has Sharpay traveling to New York City with hopes of making it on Broadway.

“The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” – The Complete Sixth Season: Final season of the popular TV comedy starring a young Will Smith as an inner-city Philadelphia boy sent to California to live with wealthy relatives. Alfonso Ribeiro, James Avery and Karyn Parsons also star.

“Chicago Overcoat”: Mob movie about an aging hit man (Frank Vincent) who tries to make a comeback in an effort to finance his retirement. Kathrine Narducci, Stacy Keach and Armand Assante also star. Directed by Brian Caunter.

“Born to Raise Hell”: Direct-to-video action film starring Steven Seagal as an Interpol agent who seeks revenge when a street war claims the life of a member of his team. Directed by Lauro Chartrand.

– 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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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The King’s Speech,’ ‘Rabbit Hole,’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels,’ ‘Somewhere’

  1. Pingback: King George Vi

  2. smilingldsgirl

    I loved The King’s Speech. Just the kind of movie that makes me excited, that moves me. Everyone kept saying The Social Network was robbed at the Oscars but I for once thought they got it right. SN isn’t a bad movie but I liked Kings Speech better.

    Like

  3. As always, thanks for your thoughts. I personally liked “The Social Network” slightly better, but they are both such good movies that I didn’t care who won. I certainly wouldn’t say “Social Network” was robbed. “King’s Speech” is unquestionably great, so it deserves the accolades. I would have also been OK with “Social Network” or “Inception” winning. Trouble is, all three are different types of films, so they’re hard to compare.

    “King’s Speech” is old-fashioned and story-driven. “Social Network” is also story-driven, but decidedly more modern. And “Inception,” of course, is a special effects mind bender. Good films all.

    Like

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