This week’s major home video releases include the prequel to a classic horror film, a science-fiction drama starring Justin Timberlake and a gritty thriller featuring Ryan Gosling.
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong brutal, bloody violence, language and some nudity
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
It’s been a great couple of years for Ryan Gosling who has turned in outstanding performances in projects ranging from the dark drama “Blue Valentine” to the comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” In “Drive,” he’s again touring the dark side, playing a Hollywood stuntman and mechanic who makes extra cash as a getaway-car driver.
Viewers never learn the name of Gosling’s taciturn character, but it’s apparent that he is street smart and incredibly skilled behind the wheel. Despite his quiet ways, the driver starts to loosen up when he befriends Irene (Carey Mullligan), a young woman living in his apartment complex with her son, Benicio (Kaden Leos). The driver is instantly attracted to Irene, who is essentially a single mother because her husband, Standard (Oscar Isaac), is in prison. At first it looks as though the driver and Irene are destined for one another. Then, Standard is released from prison.
Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn lets this relationship drama play out while also detailing the seedy world that the driver inhabits. The owner of the auto shop where he works (Bryan Cranston) is priming him to become a racecar driver, but the venture is dangerous because it’s funded by mobsters (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman). Eventually, the driver finds his personal life intertwined with the criminal behavior he has surrounded himself with, and he is forced to decide how to move forward.
“Drive” made its way into U.S. theaters in September, but it feels as though it could have been released in the mid-1980s. That’s because Refn has embraced an effective-but-simplistic filmmaking style that involves gritty dramatic sequences and a 1980s-style soundtrack. The effect is nostalgic, but the movie doesn’t feel out of touch with our times.
Gosling and Mulligan are terrific in every scene and Brooks – playing against type – is so good that several critics’ organizations named him the best supporting actor of 2011.
One of the better theatrical releases of 2011, “Drive” is a first-rate thriller that is as inventive and artistic as it is exciting.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include an interview with Refn and several making-of featurettes.
Rated R for strong creature violence and gore, disturbing images and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 horror film “The Thing” is a lot of fun … as long as you turn your brain off before it starts.
Set just before the events depicted in Carpenter’s original film, the movie focuses on a group of scientists who, while working in the Antarctic, discover a spacecraft and what appears to be the corpse of an alien. This intrepid crew begins to study the alien only to discover that it’s not really dead. Even worse, it’s unfriendly and has the ability to divide into parts and take the shape of any creature it feeds on. That means the scientists soon find themselves trapped in their remote Antarctic research station battling an enemy that is masquerading as one of them.
The plotting is similar to that in the first movie – with the alien picking them off one by one – but Van Heijningen delivers enough differences to make it a legitimate prequel. He also offers several nice nods to Carpenter’s film.
The main problem with this modern-day “Thing” is that key elements of the creature are never fully explained. For instance, it’s easy enough to accept the being’s ability to mimic human form, but nobody even talks about the fact that it also assimilates human language and memories. If you’re willing to overlook details like those, there’s fun to be had. Van Heijningen moves the story at a rapid pace, and the often-gruesome special effects sequences are well executed.
The cast is also appealing. Mary Elizabeth Winstead leads the way as a clever paleontologist who has reservations about studying the alien before it’s moved to a secure location. Joel Edgerton is likable as a rugged helicopter pilot, and Ulrich Thomsen is solid as a pompous phD. The truth is, everyone in the cast does a fine job selling the schlocky material, which makes “The Thing” worthwhile, as long as no one tries to dissect it.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include two making-of features, deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary by Van Heijningen and producer Eric Newman.
The Big Year
Rated PG for language and sensuality
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
One wouldn’t expect a movie about bird watching to be exciting, but director David Frankel surpasses expectations by approaching the subject with a fresh eye and outstanding cast.
First up is Owen Wilson as Kenny Bostick, a devoted birder who holds the record for most species spotted in North America during a single year. He’s joined by Jack Black and Steve Martin who play Brad Harris and Stu Preissler, avid birders intent on breaking Bostick’s record. In their circle, such attempts are known as a “big year,” and all three men decide to mount one at the same time. That, of course, means they continually run into one another, developing a sense of both competition and camaraderie. All three actors are terrific in their roles, especially Black who has a tendency to go overboard but is properly subdued here.
Although birding is an abstruse past time, Frankel makes it understandable and accessible. The movie plays out like a hybrid between nature documentary and traditional full-length feature, with John Cleese serving as the narrator. This approach is effective, and the end result is a sweet-natured and frequently funny movie that people of all ages can enjoy.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include theatrical and extended cuts of the film. The Blu-ray also has a collection of deleted scenes, a gag reel and a making-of featurette.
Rated PG-13 for violence, some sexuality and partial nudity, and brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Writer-director Andrew Nicol’s “In Time” may be set in the future, but its themes are borrowed directly from the Occupy Movement. The action takes place during a time where people have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25. That means everyone looks great, but there’s a down side. After they reach their 25th birthday, they only live one year longer unless they are able to literally buy more time.
In this society, hours, days and minutes are the major currency, meaning workers are paid with life extension. Likewise, bills – for everything from food to automobiles – are paid by deducting time. Under this system, the wealthy can live forever, barring an unexpected act of violence, like a murder. The prospect of immortality is not as nifty as it sounds, however, as few people are able to do more than live day to day, scraping up just enough hours to keep themselves from expiring. Because the situation is bleak, crime is rampant and thugs kill over minutes.
The hero of the story is Will Salas, a charming and smart ghetto dweller who struggles to survive day to day. In a chance encounter with a wealthy man, Will learns that the system is rigged and that there is more than enough time to go around but the rich are hoarding it. He vows to change this, and ultimately kidnaps Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried), a woman who sympathizes with the poor despite being daughter to one of the richest men in the world.
Although Sylvia is terrified at first, she quickly learns to appreciate Will’s quest. The movie then plays out as a futuristic gangster effort reminiscent of pictures ranging from “Minority Report” to “Bonnie and Clyde.”
Niccol (“Gattaca,” “Lord of War”) deserves credit for the worthwhile message and for creating a fascinating world. Unfortunately, his execution is imperfect. The relationship that develops between Will and Sylvia seems forced, and that makes the entirety of the second act seem implausible. This doesn’t derail all the interesting ideas Niccol delivers in the first half of the movie, but it considerably weakens the overall project.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted and extended scenes.
Rated PG-13 for violence, terror, some sexuality and brief strong language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
“Dream House” is a thriller so steeped in mind games that it’s difficult to discuss without giving away important plot twists. Suffice it to say there are strange things going on in the world of Will Atenton (Daniel Craig), a big-city book editor who moves to the country in hopes of spending more time with his family.
At first, this seems like the perfect plan. Then, creepy things start hovering around Will’s seemingly idyllic home. His young daughters (Taylor and Claire Geare) are seeing shadowy figures outside, and his wife (Rachel Weisz) becomes increasingly distressed by the situation. Then, Will learns that the home was the site of three grisly murders … those of a mother and her two young children. What’s more, the primary suspect was the family patriarch, a man who spent time in a mental institution but was released because he couldn’t be convicted.
Naturally, Will tries to make his living situation more tenable, but nobody – including the police – will come to his aid. Even the woman living across the street (Naomi Watts) seems to be hiding important information from him. The film, which was written by David Loucka and directed by Jim Sheridan (“In America,” “Brothers,” “The Boxer”), reveals its secrets slowly, letting the audience discover them along with Will. This is effective except for the fact that the “big twist” isn’t as well set up as it could be.
In fairness to Sheridan, a typically outstanding director, this type of movie is difficult to make. It requires the filmmaker to build strong emotional bonds between characters, hooking the audience while remaining cagey about their circumstances. Sheridan and his cast do a reasonably good job building interest, but the storytelling often seems stilted and flat.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features, including a look at the cast and a bit on the construction of Will’s “dream house.”
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Transformers – Dark of the Moon” Limited 3D Edition: The basic DVD and Blu-ray versions of this Michael Bay blockbuster have been available since September, but Paramount is rolling out a deluxe four-disc treatment packed with the Blu-ray 3D, standard Blu-ray, DVD and digital formats. Also included is nearly four hours of extra features. In essence, this is the version for big-time Transformers fans. Also out this week is a seven-disc Blu-ray boxed set that includes all three of Bay’s “Transformers” movies plus more than 10 hours of extras.
“Treasure Buddies”: Latest direct-to-video release in Disney’s “Buddies” franchise. In this outing, the popular golden retrievers head to Egypt for a treasure-seeking adventure.
Miramax Best Picture Academy Award Winners: Miramax is delivering a set packaging five terrific films that landed the Oscar for best picture: “The English Patient” (1996), “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), “Chicago” (2002), “Crash” (2004) and “No Country for Old Men” (2007). Also out this week are Blu-ray releases of “The Piano,” “Frida” and “Cold Mountain” (Miramax efforts that didn’t win best picture, but were nominated for multiple Oscars).
“The Comic Strip Presents” – The Complete Collection: Nine-disc boxed set featuring every episode of the 1980s British comedy series featuring Robbie Coltrane, Jennifer Saunders, Rik Mayall and Dawn French.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.