Video Verdict: ‘The Beaver,’ ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’

Walter Black (Mel Gibson), right, talks to his son (Riley Thomas Stewart) in a scene from “The Beaver.”

This week’s home video releases are anchored by a documentary from the always-provocative Morgan Spurlock and an inventive drama starring Mel Gibson.

The Beaver

3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, some disturbing content, sexuality and language including a drug reference
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Mel Gibson’s off-screen antics have tainted his public image, but it’s difficult to debate his talent. Whether he’s working behind the scenes as a director or basking in the spotlight, the results are always memorable.

In “The Beaver,” he offers an excellent portrayal of a down-and-out husband and father, and one wonders if he drew on personal woes to flesh out the role.

Walter Black (Gibson) is so depressed that he does little more than sleepwalk through his days. The situation has grown dire enough that his oldest son, Porter (Anton Yelchin), is terrified that he might become his dad; and Walter’s wife, Meredith (Jodie Foster), is disgusted enough to boot him out of the house.

Just when it seems there’s nowhere to go but down, Walter finds therapeutic help from a beaver puppet. Without explanation, he develops a persona for the puppet and insists that people speak to him using it as a surrogate.

The bizarre behavior leaves his family and co-workers at a loss, but they humor him, in large part because Walter has suddenly re-engaged with life. As a result, his relationship with Meredith and his youngest child improves, and his long-flailing business gets a lift. In an odd way, the beaver makes Walter the man he could no longer be on his own.

Foster, who directs as well as stars in the film, allows plenty of time for her characters to develop, and they feel genuine despite all the puppet play. The script, by Kyle Killen, is less authentic.

Although there is a lot to like in Killen’s work, the plotting takes odd turns along the way. Particularly baffling is the way people outside Walter’s inner circle react to his behavior. Going into detail would spoil twists, but it’s reasonable to say Walter gets an unbelievably warm reception. That’s a small complaint, however, especially considering the film’s many positives, not the least of which is Gibson’s gripping lead performance.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature, deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Foster.

Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

3 stars
Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual material
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock became a sensation in 2004 when “Super Size Me,” his comical condemnation of the fast food industry, became about as big as a documentary can. He’s yet to best that effort, but his follow-ups have all been worthwhile, primarily because Spurlock is such a likable screen personality.

In “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” – yes, that’s the actual title – Spurlock takes a look at product placement in the film industry, and he does so by funding his picture with … product placement. That means viewers watch as Spurlock pitches advertisers on the idea of funding his venture.

Naturally, companies are skeptical, especially since they don’t know what Spurlock’s agenda is. Truth told, they had little to fear. Spurlock treats his advertisers with dignity, and they get their money’s worth. Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice seller that paid $1 million to become the title sponsor, is absolutely everywhere.

Spurlock deserves credit for bringing product placement to the spotlight. It’s an issue that few people talk about, yet it’s influence is tremendous. In movies and TV shows, everything from the cars appearing on screen to the beverages characters drink can be part of advertising deals. In other words, we’re watching commercials even though we think the commercials have played out.

Although the film is strong overall, it would have been nice to see Spurlock hit this point a little harder, something he probably couldn’t do considering his reliance on corporate funding. Although the movie assures viewers that advertisers were not allowed to approve the final cut, their involvement clearly affected the tone.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Spurlock, producer Jeremy Chilnick, cinematographer Daniel Marracino and editor Thomas M. Vogt.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Win Win”: Writer-director Thomas McCarthy (“The Station Agent,” “The Visitor”) tells the story of a high school wrestling coach (Paul Giamatti) who thinks his luck has turned after he discovers a teen runaway (Alex Shaffer) who’s a champion athlete. Amy Ryan also stars.

“Secret Sunshine”: Korean film about a widow who tries to achieve a fresh start by moving, with her son, to her late husband’s hometown. Presented by the Criterion Collection, the film was directed by Lee Chang-Dong, and it is presented in Korean with English subtitles.

“Phineas and Ferb The Movie – Across the 2nd Dimension”: This Disney Channel Original Movie premiered on TV earlier this month. Now fans can own it. The film follows the animated characters Phineas, Ferb and Perry the Platypus as they travel to an alternate universe and battle evil forces.

“Off the Map” – The Complete Series: All 13 episodes of the short-lived ABC Television medical drama about doctors working under primitive conditions in the South American rain forest. Martin Henderson, Jason George, Zach Gilford, Valerie Cruz and Rachel Lefevre star.

“Brothers and Sisters” – The Complete Fifth and Final Season: The last 22 episodes of the ABC drama about the ups and downs of the Walker family, a large group living in Southern California. Sally Field, Calista Flockhart, Patricia Wettig, Rachel Griffiths and Matthew Rhys star.

“Gossip Girl” – The Complete Fourth Season: Twenty-two episodes of the popular CW series about youngsters living in Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side. Blake Lively, Leighton Meester and Penn Badgley star.

“Tom and Jerry & the Wizard of Oz”: New film in which everyone’s favorite animated cat and mouse land in the enchanted world of Oz. While there, they share adventures with Dorothy, Toto, the Tin Man and other Oz characters.

“Bambi II”: Disney’s direct-to-video sequel to the original “Bambi” is making it’s way to Blu-ray for the first time. The animated film, which is also available on standard DVD and as a digital download, begins shortly after the death of Bambi’s mother and focuses on his relationship with his father, The Great Prince.

Miramax favorites on Blu-ray: Three guy-friendly Miramax films are coming to the high-definition Blu-ray format: “Swingers,” “Hostage” and “Rounders.” “Swingers” focuses on two men (Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau) navigating the Hollywood club scene. “Hostage” stars Bruce Willis as a former hostage negotiator who winds up in a tight spot after becoming a small-town police chief. “Rounders” centers on a former gambler (Matt Damon) who starts playing poker again to help his friend (Edward Norton).

“Sword and Sorcery Collection”: Shout! Factory is releasing four fantasy films as part of its Roger Corman’s Cult Classics collection: “Deathstalker,” “Deathstalker II,” “Barbarian Queen” and “The Warrior and the Sorceress.” All four movies are included as part of a single, two-disc set with a suggested retail price of $24.97.

“Dinosaur Train – Dinosaur Big City”: Several episodes from the animated TV series about a youthful Tyrannosaurus rex named Buddy. Along with the episodes, the DVD release has a number of special features, including coloring pages, a dinosaur reference guide and an interactive game.

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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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The Beaver,’ ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I must say I am fascinated by the Beaver but I figured it is one I could rent. However, I have been hesitant to do so because I feel that any support of this movie validates the hateful and terrible things that Gibson has done and said- antisemitic, hateful towards women. Its a tough question- where do you draw the line and say “That’s it. I’m not supporting that person?”

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  2. That is a tough question. In general, I try to ignore the personal lives of celebrities and focus on the work. The truth is, most of us don’t really know these people. I’ve had the opportunity to interview many of them over the years, and even then I don’t feel like I can properly judge who they are.

    I am friendly with a very few celebrities and they are the only ones that I feel comfortable making any sort of personal assessment about. It’s my feeling that there are probably plenty of famous people out there who are even more misogynistic and racist than Mel Gibson. They just haven’t had a public meltdown. But we really can’t know for sure.

    For that reason, I tend to defer to the work. It’s either good or it’s bad and it has nothing to do with the performer’s personal life.

    That said, I suppose somebody could do something so horrible that I would no longer have any interest in seeing their art. I’m not sure how far they would have to go, though.

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