Video Verdict: ‘Midnight in Paris,’ ‘Warrior,’ ‘Straw Dogs,’ ‘Dolphin Tale,’ ‘Colombiana’

Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams take a European vacation in writer-director Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris."

It’s an excellent week for home video, as two new releases are likely contenders in this year’s Oscar race.

Midnight in Paris

3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for some sexual references and smoking
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
“Midnight in Paris” scored multiple nominations for the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, and the accolades are well deserved. Written and directed by Woody Allen, the film is a slice of nostalgia that’s both a love letter to Paris and a reminder that there’s no time like the present.

The movie centers on a quixotic screenwriter named Gil (Owen Wilson) who travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams). Gil, who falls in love with the city, argues that he and Inez should move there and live like Ernest Hemingway and the other 1920s expatriates he’s long idolized. Inez, however, is perfectly happy with their Beverly Hills lifestyle.

One night, Gil breaks away for a walk around the city and mysteriously finds himself transported to the ’20s where he comes face to face with Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and a host of other historical figures, including writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), composer Cole Porter (Yves Heck) and artist Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo). Gil also meets an enigmatic young woman named Adriana (Marion Cotillard) and becomes convinced he was born in the wrong time.

Allen paints historic Paris with such lovely brush strokes that it’s easy to understand why Gil would want to stay, and Wilson instills his character with a suave charm that makes him the perfect guide to days gone by. Although the film is big on nostalgia, Allen has a few tricks up his sleeve, including a message that is decidedly 21st century. Not every director would be able to deliver this tale so effectively, but Woody Allen is not every director.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a featurette titled “Midnight in Cannes.”

Warrior

3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense mixed martial arts fighting, some language and thematic material
Lionsgate
Available on: Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, digital download and on demand

Director Gavin O’Connor proved he had the chops to make a great sports film with 2004’s “Miracle,” and he has returned to the genre for “Warrior,” a movie that recalls “Rocky” and “The Fighter” while maintaining its own gritty identity.

O’Conner, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, took a two-pronged approach to the story. Viewers are first introduced to Tommy Riordan (Tom Hardy), a former Marine who shows up at his father’s house after 14 years away. Viewers learn that his dad, Paddy Conlon (Nick Nolte), is a former alcoholic whose drinking and abusive behavior chased Tommy and his now-deceased mother out of the home years before. Simultaneously, viewers meet Tommy’s estranged brother, Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a high school physics teacher who is struggling to pay his bills.

Although Tommy makes it clear that he isn’t forgiving his father, he convinces the old man to act as his trainer for an upcoming mixed martial arts competition. Meanwhile Brendan, a former fighter himself, returns to the ring in hopes of making the cash his family so desperately needs. As the plot progresses, the two long-separated brothers end up in the same competition and are forced to deal with years of pent-up emotion.

Hardy and Edgerton turn in solid performances and are convincing both in and out of the ring. That’s important because O’Conner spends a good deal of time both places. The movie’s only flaw is a 140-minute run that could have been trimmed by 15 minutes. Nolte, whose work landed him a best supporting actor nomination for the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, more than makes up for this glitch. Although Paddy is a supporting character, Nolte steals every scene with an earthy, realistic outing that is deserving of kudos.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a documentary on the making of the film, a gag reel, a deleted scene and an audio commentary with Edgerton, O’Conner and co-writer Anthony Tambakis.

Straw Dogs

3 stars
Rated R for strong brutal violence including a sexual attack, menace, some sexual content, and pervasive language
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

A remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 thriller “Straw Dogs” wasn’t necessary, but one has to credit writer-director Rod Lurie (“The Contender,” “Resurrecting the Champ”) for a respectable effort.

The original “Straw Dogs” focuses on a young American (Dustin Hoffman) who leaves the U.S. to live with his wife in a small English village, only to be harassed by the locals. Lurie has moved the action to the rural south, where a young actress named Amy Sumner (Kate Bosworth) returns to her family home with her screenwriter husband, David (James Marsden). Almost immediately, Amy’s former boyfriend, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard), and a group of his friends make it clear the Sumners aren’t welcome.

Unsure of how to react, David tries to befriend the locals, but as the situation spins out of control, he decides to fight back. Marsden had big shoes to fill, but he is convincing and likable in the lead role, and Bosworth turns in one of the finest performances of her career. What’s more, Lurie does an excellent job with the tone of the picture, creating tension early and allowing it to build over time.

Peckinpah was known for graphic depictions of violence, and his original film created controversy with an extended rape scene. To his credit, Lurie doesn’t shy from the graphic roots. Like Peckinpah, he delivers a product that is unapologetically violent and at times disturbing.

The biggest problem with this reinvention is an extremely weak implementation of the third-act plot twist. This is frustrating, but the movie’s strengths easily outweigh its flaws.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making of features and an audio commentary by Lurie.

Dolphin Tale

3½ stars
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Many people know Charles Martin Smith for his acting, including a key role in the 1973 classic “American Graffiti,” but he’s also had an active career behind the scenes, most notably as the director of Disney’s 1997 hit “Air Bud.” Smith’s latest directorial effort, “Dolphin Tale,” is the best of his career.

The movie is based on the true story of Winter, a bottlenose dolphin who lost her tale after getting tangled in a crab trap but was saved by the staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida. Smith and screenwriters Karen Janszen and Noam Dromi have delivered a highly fictionalized version of Winter’s road to recovery, but it’s so enjoyable that there’s little room to grouse about factual inaccuracies.

In the movie, the injured Winter is discovered by a fisherman and a reclusive young man named Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble). Then, she is transported to Clearwater, where Sawyer is given the opportunity to help with her recovery.

Gamble does a fine job in the lead role and he gets solid support from Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who plays the daughter of aquarium facilitator Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.). Connick provides the backbone for the adult cast, which also includes Ashley Judd, Kris Kristofferson and Morgan Freeman.

All that talent helps, but the thing that really makes “Dolphin Tale” a winner is the crisp storytelling. Smith’s pacing is efficient, and each scene drives the tale forward. At times, things get maudlin and soapy, but that’s forgivable, particularly in a movie designed to play to multiple age groups.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include additional scenes and a gag reel.

Colombiana

2 stars
Unrated
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Zoe Saldana has risen from relative obscurity to superstar status in a handful of years, and “Colombiana” was designed to take her career to the next level. The full-tilt action film is driven by Saldana’s portrayal of a professional assassin who is determined to kill the Colombian crime lord that murdered her parents.

Saldana is physically impressive, and she handles stunt sequences well, so it’s easy to imagine her becoming Angelina Jolie’s equal as a female action star. For that to happen, however, she’ll need a better script than the one Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen assembled for “Colombiana.”

From the opening sequence – where a young version of Saldana’s character watches as her parents die – to the final, predictable end, “Colombiana” feels like dozens of films that have come before. Mimicking other movies isn’t always bad, but the “revenge porn” plotting presented here is as tired as it gets.

Director Oliver Megaton (“Transporter 3”) is reasonably good at action, and he has assembled a steady stream of well-executed shootouts and chases. Trouble is, that’s the only trick he has. The story is cartoonish and the characters are poorly defined.

On the up side, “Colombiana” has the potential to serve as a calling card for Saldana’s future efforts. The picture has plenty of flaws, but she’s not one of them.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include two making-of features.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Margin Call”: Thriller about a laid off investment firm employee (Stanley Tucci) who leaves a colleague with information that could destroy the company … or its investors. The film’s standout cast includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto and Demi Moore. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor.

“Glee: The Concert Movie”: Concert film featuring dozens of musical performances by the cast of the popular television show “Glee!” Along with the music, the film includes behind-the-scenes footage and brief interstitials about the influence of the show. Dianna Agron, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Mark Salling and Amber Riley star. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Blu-ray 3D.

“Moneyball”: Director Bennett Miller’s biopic about Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane will be available exclusively for digital download Dec. 22. The movie, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, will move to Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 10. Look for a full review at that time.

“Abduction”: This Taylor Lautner thriller – about a man in search of his true identity – will be available exclusively as a video-on-demand title from Dec. 22 through Jan. 4. It will move to Blu-ray and DVD Jan. 17. Look for a full review then.

“Burke & Hare”: British comedy about 19th century scoundrels (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis) who make a living selling corpses. Isla Fisher and Tom Wilkinson also star. Directed by John Landis (“The Blues Brothers,” “Trading Places”).

“Blackthorn”: Historical drama supposing that Butch Cassidy was not killed in 1908 and instead lived to be an old man. Sam Shepard plays Cassidy with supporting performances by Eduardo Noriega, Stephen Rea and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau.

“One Tree Hill” – The Complete Eighth Season: The final season of “One Tree Hill” will start airing on The CW in early January. This set includes all 22 episodes from season eight, allowing fans to refresh their memories before the swan song begins.

“Futurama” – Volume 6: Thirteen episodes of Matt Groening’s animated series about the employees of a 31st century delivery company.

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.

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5 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

5 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘Midnight in Paris,’ ‘Warrior,’ ‘Straw Dogs,’ ‘Dolphin Tale,’ ‘Colombiana’

  1. Good reviews, I agree with what I have seen. Colombiana just sounded stupid from the begging for me!

    Like

  2. Thanks Matt. I just subscribed to your blog as well. Happy holidays!

    Like

  3. smilingldsgirl

    Loved Midnight in Paris. My second favorite movie of the year. It was a challenge recognizing all the name drops (I did pretty good with the writers, not as well with the surrealists). Even so, it didn’t distract from enjoying the movie. I like the message of the film- that living in a supposed ‘golden age’ that we’ve idolized is not really any better than the age in which we are living.

    Like

  4. It is a good message, and I found it unexpected considering all the nostalgia in the setup.

    Like

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