Two sequels anchor this week’s crop of home video releases, the most noteworthy being chapter four in the “Twilight” franchise.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, sexuality/partial nudity and some thematic elements
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand Feb. 11
The massive popularity of Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” book series is difficult to explain, but there are harder tasks. Try, for instance, unearthing solid rationale for the success of the movie adaptations. The first “Twilight” film was bad, but it introduced enough interesting elements to inspire hope for the franchise’s future. Four movies in, that promise has faded into an increasingly inane love triangle.
One would think a 100-year-old vampire possessing movie-star looks would make an interesting character. Not so with Edward Cullen, the brooding bloodsucker Robert Pattinson has created for the “Twilight” films. Edward has always been a downer, but never more so than in “Breaking Dawn.” Thematically, this seems odd because Edward is finally able to marry his beloved, the equally morose Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart). Good times, right?
Not so much, because a vampire-human coupling brings up such weighty questions as, “Is there any such thing as safe sex?” And, “Can a human woman carry the child of an undead monster?” If this seems like titillating stuff, then you are the audience for “Breaking Dawn.” For everyone else, the movie will likely play as tired, supernatural melodrama.
It would be negligent to review a “Twilight” movie without mentioning Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner), the charismatic werewolf who has long been an anchor of franchise. He represents the third corner of the Bella-Jacob-Edward triangle, meaning Bella’s wedding is particularly hard on him. That fact allows Lautner to run about, angry, snarling and, of course, shirtless. He’s a charismatic young talent, and he’s good in the role, all of which makes it sad that it doesn’t have more to offer him.
Frankly, the most interesting – and frightening – thing about “Breaking Dawn” is the message it could convey to young audiences. Viewed critically, the film seems to argue that it’s OK for a woman to put both her body and life at risk in the interest of winning her man. Sadly, this is an ongoing theme of the “Twilight” books and movies because Edward and Jacob are, quite literally, monsters.
Also depressing is the fact that the movie was helmed by Bill Condon, the usually terrific director who gave us “Dreamgirls,” “Kinsey” and “Gods and Monsters.” This is a man who knows how to tell a story, but “Breaking Dawn” doesn’t give him much room for creativity.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a six-part making-of documentary and an audio commentary by Condon.
A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, graphic nudity, pervasive language, drug use and some violence
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital download
It’s been three years since perpetual bad boys Harold Lee (John Cho) and Kumar Patel (Kal Penn) were featured in a movie. Speaking from an artistic perspective, that wait could have been extended indefinitely, and cinema would have been just fine. Still, as crass as the movies are, it’s worth noting that “Harold & Kumar” adventures have never been – nor were they designed to be – high cinema. Rather, they are lowest-common-denominator stoner comedies intended to milk cheap laughs from audiences avoiding more serious fare.
That means the bar for the pair’s Christmas extravaganza was set low, and director Todd Strauss-Schulson had no trouble clearing it. In fact, as slight a compliment as this may be, Strauss-Schulson’s “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” is the best entry in the franchise.
Set six years after the duo got locked up in Guantanamo Bay, audiences learn that Harold is married and leading a buttoned-down white-collar life. Kumar, on the other hand, still spends his days smoking pot and avoiding serious commitments. Their divergent lifestyles have left them estranged, but they are reunited when Kumar receives a package intended for Harold. Despite Harold’s resistance, one thing leads to another, and the guys find themselves on a wild adventure, this time involving mobsters, Santa Claus and, of course, Neil Patrick Harris.
As base as the film is, it moves at a decent pace and contains a number of worthwhile gags. In theaters, the movie was released in 3D, and there are several decent visual jokes tied to the technology. At home, that only matters to viewers with the capacity for Blu-ray 3D. That’s a small percentage of households, but those who have the option, should take advantage, as the movie was clearly designed for multi-dimensional viewing.
Regardless of the dimension you choose, “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas” will never find itself ranked among the finest holiday films, nor will it go down as one of the top comedies of 2011. It does, however, punch enough correct buttons to satisfy longtime fans.
The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases. Extra features vary.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Anonymous”: Well-crafted historical drama that supposes it was actually Edward De Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who composed all plays credited to William Shakespeare. Rhys Ifans does a fine job as De Vere, and he’s joined by Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Elizabeth I, Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson and Rafe Spall as Shakespeare. Directed by Roland Emmerich (“2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Independence Day”).
“Project Nim”: Award-winning documentary about a chimpanzee that was taken from its mother at birth and raised in close contact with humans. Directed by James Marsh (“Man on Wire”).
“Downtown Abbey” – Season 2: Eight fresh episodes from the Emmy-winning British drama about an aristocratic family living in North Yorkshire during the early 20th century. Created by Julian Fellowes, writer of “Gosford Park.”
“Sunset Limited”: HBO film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 play about a spiritual ex-convict (Samuel L. Jackson) who debates the meaning of life with a white atheist (Tommy Lee Jones) after preventing the man from committing suicide. Jones plays a dual role, both directing and starring in the feature.
“Lady and the Tramp” Diamond Edition: Disney is opening its vaults and trotting out a new release of its classic animated film about a well-mannered cocker spaniel who falls in love with a street smart mutt. The film is available as part of multiple sets, including a three-disc collection with Blu-ray, DVD and digital copies of the feature.
“Yakuza Weapon”: Japanese action film about a former mobster who takes revenge on the man who killed his father. Directed by Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi. Presented in Japanese with English subtitles.
“Ancient Aliens” – Season Three: Sixteen episodes of the History Channel show focused on the possibility of aliens visiting Earth in the distant past.
“Rocko’s Modern Life” – Season Two: Thirteen adventures from the 1990s animated series about an Australian wallaby and his pals.
“Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred”: TV movie featuring Lucas Cruikshank reprising the role of socially awkward teenager Fred Figglehorn. This time out, Fred is convinced his new music teacher is a vampire.
“The Rum Diary”: This film adaptation of writer Hunter S. Thompson’s novel about an American journalist living in Puerto Rico during the 1950s will be released on DVD and Blu-ray Feb. 14. It’s available for digital download this week. Johnny Depp, Aaron Eckhart, Giovanni Ribisi and Richard Jenkins star.
– 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 email@example.com.