Video Verdict: ‘The Tree of Life,’ ‘Horrible Bosses,’ ‘Green Lantern,’ ‘Judy Moody,’ ‘Zookeeper’

Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan, an adventurous test pilot who becomes the heroic title character in “Green Lantern.”

A lot of theatrical releases are making their way to home video this week, and they range from a big-budget superhero flick to a poetic drama from one of the film industry’s maverick directors.

The Tree of Life

3½ stars (out of four)
PG-13 for some thematic material
20th Century Fox
Available on: Blu-ray disc combo pack (including DVD and digital copy)

Mention Terrence Malick’s name in film circles and you’re sure to hear about his notoriously long-and-detailed process. The writer-director has helmed only five feature-length movies in the last 40 years, yet he is rightfully considered a great.

Even the worst films in his catalog, which includes “Badlands,” “Days of Heaven,” “The Thin Red Line,” “The New World” and, now, “The Tree of Life,” possess moments of breathtaking beauty. The best of his works are genius.

Only time will tell if “Tree of Life” becomes an all-time great, but it is certainly one of the most intriguing films released this year. The movie is hard to describe because it is so sweeping in scope.

It is probably best described as a meditation on life itself, although the focus is on a family of five living in Texas during the 1950s. Malick has always strayed from traditional storytelling and added elements of visual poetry to his films. Here, he takes that predilection to the extreme, adding lengthy sequences of footage that are backed only by music tracks and never completely explained.

The family at the center of the action is led by a strict patriarch who is disappointed with his lot in life (Brad Pitt). His foil and, ironically, partner is his beautiful and caring wife (Jessica Chastain). Together, they raise their three boys using vastly different parenting styles and creating tension along the way. That tension plays out in traditional dialogue, but it is always secondary to Malick’s visuals and to narration that allows viewers to see the world from differing characters’ points of view.

This is a complex filmmaking structure, and it’s certain to frustrate viewers who resist it. Malick doesn’t spell things out for his audience, and it is almost impossible to digest the film in a single setting.

Like a work of great literature, “The Tree of Life” is to be looked at repeatedly, then closely dissected. Viewers willing to do that work may find their lives enriched by the questions that Malick raises. Those looking for mindless entertainment, have gone hopelessly astray.

Home video extras are limited to a 30-minute making-of feature.

Horrible Bosses

3 stars
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material
New Line Cinema
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

What’s worse than unemployment? Working for any of the nasty supervisors depicted in director Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses.” This crew – portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell – is so offensive and over-the-top that no sane viewer will blame the film’s protagonists when they begin to ponder murdering them.

Spacey plays Dave Harken, a corporate suit who thinks nothing of forcing his employees to work ridiculously long hours without hope of advancement or thanks. Harken’s management style is particularly offensive to Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), a long-time employee who can’t escape the man’s poisonous grasp.

Nick is able, however, to commiserate with his buddies, Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis). Dale works for a voluptuous dentist (Aniston) who is constantly sexually harassing him, even with patients in the room. Kurt is coming to terms with the fact that his new boss (Farrell) is a narcissistic drug addict.

One night, after some heavy drinking, Nick, Dale and Kurt decide life would be better if their bosses were dead. So, with the help of a former felon (Jamie Foxx), they hatch a half-baked murder scheme.

Because these guys aren’t cold-hearted killers, there are plenty of pitfalls in their plan, and therein lies the humor. “Horrible Bosses” isn’t a terribly inventive film. In fact, it willingly admits to stealing a major plot point from the Alfred Hitchcock thriller “Strangers on a Train.” But a film doesn’t have to be inventive to be funny, and “Horrible Bosses” delivers consistent laughs.

The cast is strong, with Spacey, Aniston and Farrell turning in particularly inspired performances, and Gordon paces the film perfectly. At 98 minutes long, the movie provides an ideal balance of character development and solid gags, leaving viewers with one of the better comedies of 2011.

DVD extras are limited to a collection of deleted scenes. The Blu-ray release has those plus several making-of features and a segment where Gordon and the cast talk about the most difficult jobs they’ve held.

Green Lantern

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital download Oct. 14

Not so long ago, it would have been impossible to make a film like “Green Lantern.” The story, after all, focuses on a superhero who can manifest virtually anything from glowing green energy. Saying that the movie depends on high-end digital effects is like saying politics are contentious.

“Green Lantern” is so effects-heavy, in fact, that the opening sequence plays more like an animated film than a live-actin blockbuster. That’s not a compliment because it’s never good when computer animation calls attention to itself. Still, director Martin Campbell’s overreliance on digital images is not the biggest problem. That honor belongs to the underperforming four-man screenwriting team.

The movie begins by introducing viewers to an intergalactic group of heroes known as the Green Lantern Corp. Each member of the organization possesses a ring that can manifest any object the wearer imagines. Despite this enormous power, the fate of the Corp is in danger because a planet-destroying creature named Parallax has resurfaced after years of imprisonment. But “Green Lantern” isn’t just a science-fiction story. It’s also the tale of a talented-but- capricious test pilot named Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds).

It’s Jordan who becomes the first human being inducted into the Corp, an honor he’s not sure he can handle. After all, he couldn’t even hold down a romantic relationship with the woman of his dreams, fellow test pilot Carol Ferris (Blake Lively).

Still, Hal is forced to play hero when a scientist named Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) gains otherworldly powers and begins wreaking havoc. Campbell does a reasonably good job introducing the characters, and the cast – Reynolds in particular – is winning. Sadly, the film’s considerable potential dwindles in an abbreviated third act that climaxes long before it should.

The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a Blu-ray 3D combo pack. Extra features vary.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

2 stars
Rated PG for some mild rude humor and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director John Schultz’s film adaptation of author Megan McDonald’s “Judy Moody” book franchise may satisfy young viewers, but in the realm of family films, it’s second tier.

The movie focuses on the title character (Jordana Beatty), a perky elementary school student hoping to have the most adventurous summer of her young life. Alas, she learns that two of her three best friends are going away for vacation and that her parents also have to leave town. That means Judy and her brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller), will spend the summer with their Aunt Opal (Heather Graham).

At first, Judy is horrified, as she can’t even remember her aunt. But, as the days wind on, she discovers that Opal may be just the person to give her vacation some extra sparkle.

“Judy Moody” is bright, colorful and has a generally bouncy tone. That should help it reach its target audience of very young children, but it won’t do much for adults. The movie doesn’t have any of the subtle, layered humor that makes the best family films so entertaining. Even worse, Schultz frequently cuts away from live-action storytelling to present animated renderings of Judy’s daydreams. These sequences feel low budget and don’t do anything to further the storytelling.

What’s more, it doesn’t take long for Judy herself to become tiresome. Although it’s easy to understand her desire for a wild summer, it’s tougher to reconcile her histrionics when things go bad. In short, Judy is just too moody to spend 90 minutes with.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a bunch of behind-the-scenes features, a collection of deleted scenes and a pop quiz about the film.

Zookeeper

1½ stars
Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor, and language
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

What does a guy do to follow up a batch of subpar comedies like “The Dilemma,” “Grown Ups” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”? If that guy is Kevin James, he makes a feature that can slouch proudly beside them.

“Zookeeper” isn’t so much a movie as it is an excuse to put James in the same frame as talking animals. I make this observation because the plotting is so half-hearted and predictable that it’s tough to believe anyone actually invested effort in the screenplay.

James plays Griffin Keyes, a kind-hearted zookeeper who has a phenomenal way with animals but no understanding of women. The film starts with Griffin getting dumped – mid-proposal – by his girlfriend, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb). He is devastated but takes refuge in his job.

Several years later, Stephanie reappears and decides that Griffin has “potential.” He is heartened by this but doesn’t know how to proceed. That’s when his animal buddies break a long-standing rule and reveal that they can speak perfect English. Their goal? To teach Griffin to find a mate.

Director Frank Coraci (“The Waterboy,” “The Wedding Singer”) does a decent job with the talking animals, but the story is so weak that it doesn’t matter. Griffin, although apparently smart enough, listens to the animals even when their advice is outrageous. And the movie never establishes much in the way of believable character relations.

On the up side, the film has an outstanding voice cast that includes Nick Nolte as a gorilla, Sylvester Stallone as a lion, Adam Sandler as a monkey and Cher as a lioness. This, along with a solid supporting turn by Rosario Dawson, gives the movie star power. Sadly, that’s all it has.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features and a blooper reel.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Chuck” – The Complete Fourth Season: This quirky espionage dramedy is one of the best shows on TV, and it’s slated to enter its fifth-and-final season Oct. 21. That means fans have less than two weeks to bring themselves up to speed with the 24 episodes on this set. Zachary Levi stars as a one-time computer nerd who becomes a high-end secret agent with the help of CIA partners (Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin).

“Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1” – Season 1: All 10 season-one episodes of the Cartoon Network show about humanized fast food items. Although this collection is branded as a new season, the content is really a continuation of the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” series.

“Beautiful Boy”: Independent drama about a struggling couple (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) who are devastated to learn that their teen son killed several people in a college shooting before committing suicide.

“The Trip”: British movie culled from the like-titled English TV series. The story centers on the events that transpire when Steve Coogan, playing a fictionalized version of himself, accepts a magazine commission to tour high-end restaurants in London. Accompanying him on the journey is fellow British comedian Rob Brydon, who also plays a dramatized version of himself.

“Submarino”: Danish film about two brothers who, after violent childhoods, find themselves on dangerous life paths. Co-written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg. Presented in Danish with English subtitles.

“Mr. Nice”: Biopic focused on Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans), an Oxford scholar who became a notorious marijuana smuggler. Chloe Sevigny, Crispin Glover and David Thewlis also star. Directed by Bernard Rose.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. For more of his work visit http://www.ForrestHartman.com. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

5 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The Tree of Life,’ ‘Horrible Bosses,’ ‘Green Lantern,’ ‘Judy Moody,’ ‘Zookeeper’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    My brother and I have our biggest movie disagreement on Terrence Malick. He loves Days of Heaven- one of his favorites. While the cinematography is undoubtedly beautiful, I thought it was so boring. If you strip away all the pretty images the story is pretty soapy. Haven’t seen Tree of Life yet but of course my brother loves it, which makes me wonder! I will let you know what I think.
    Green Lantern looked terrible. The special effects look awful.

    Like

  2. Please do let me know what you think of “Tree of Life.” Malick is definitely different. As mentioned, I think many of his films are meant to be cinematic poetry rather than traditional storytelling, and this film really leans toward that approach. My favorites of his are “The Thin Red Line” and “The New World” but I at least appreciate everything he’s done.

    Like

  3. smilingldsgirl

    So I finally watched Tree of Life. Definitely one of those strangest movies I’ve ever seen. I think going in expecting an art piece helped me enjoy it more. Better than Days of Heaven. I don’t know how I would rate it. On one hand it kind of bored me, on another it was beautiful to look at. I appreciate someone trying to do something different but a little more nod at plot would have been nice. Overall I’m torn. Maybe that’s what the filmmakers wanted?
    Jessica Chastain has been amazing in everything I’ve seen her in.

    Like

  4. smilingldsgirl

    I did feel that while it was contemplative and thoughtful it left me feeling a bit gloomy. Funny that it seems to have the reverse response on other viewers. Go figure.

    Like

  5. I can see feeling gloomy after that movie, and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong reaction. As mentioned, I see the film as visual poetry. There can be multiple interpretations to any movie, but this one is particularly open ended. Glad you didn’t hate it. 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s