Video Verdict: ‘The Descendants,’ ‘My Week With Marilyn,’ ‘The Adventures of Tintin,’ ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘Happy Feet Two,’ ‘Young Adult’

George Clooney, left, and Shailene Woodley play a distressed father and daughter in writer-director Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants.”

This week’s home video releases are anchored by two movies that played key roles in the recent Academy Awards ceremony.

The Descendants

4 stars (out of four)
Rated R for language including some sexual references
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

“The Descendants” was a major player at the 2012 Oscars, as it was nominated in five categories, and won the award for best adapted screenplay. Co-written and directed by Alexander Payne (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt”), “The Descendants” is a profound and moving portrait of a family in crisis.

George Clooney was nominated for best actor for his portrayal of Matt King, a Honolulu lawyer struggling to care for his two daughters after a boating accident sends his wife into a coma. While dealing with this personal tragedy, Matt is also hammering out the details of a real estate transaction that could change the face of Hawaii. Plagued by his wife’s worsening condition and second thoughts about the deal, Matt fights to keep his emotions under control so he can provide a nurturing environment for his daughters.

Clooney is outstanding, portraying Matt with an emotional honesty that allows viewers to empathize with his character and imagine what they might do in his situation. Ultimately, French star Jean Dujardin bested Clooney in the best actor race, but that doesn’t diminish his performance. In fact, it’s difficult to imagine anyone besides Clooney imbuing Matt with the subtle despair that oozes from the character’s skin.

Of course, Payne’s writing and direction were big pieces of the puzzle. The screenplay, which Payne penned with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, is brilliant on every level. Too often, films that meditate on tragedy bog down, leading viewers into a morose quagmire. Payne avoids this, delivering a movie that mixes touching dramatic moments with quirky bits that create a meditative tone rather than a depressing one. As a result, the film lingers in the mind long after it has played out, and that’s a testament to its depth and artistic intricacy.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of shorts, including one focused on Payne and one focused on Clooney.

My Week With Marilyn

3 stars
Rated R for some language
Anchor Bay
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Simon Curtis’ winning film about sex symbol Marilyn Monroe proved an excellent springboard for its stars. Michelle Williams earned a best actress Oscar nomination for her take on the title character, and Kenneth Branagh landed a best supporting actor nomination for his portrayal of the late British actor and director Sir Laurence Olivier.

Based on two books by writer and filmmaker Colin Clark, the movie tells of an alleged affair between Clark and the starlet. The movie is set during the filming of Marilyn’s 1957 romantic comedy “The Prince and the Showgirl,” and it depicts Clark (Eddie Redmayne) – an assistant director on the picture – forming an increasingly intimate relationship with the troubled starlet. It also spends a good deal of time detailing Olivier’s frustration with Marilyn. As the director of “Prince,” and a workmanlike artist in his own right, Olivier can’t stand the fact that Marilyn faces one emotional collapse after another, placing the movie in jeopardy.

Williams does a nice job capturing Marilyn’s essence, while avoiding routine imitation; and it’s fun to watch Branagh walk Olivier through varying levels of aggravation. Although these Oscar-nominated stars received the bulk of the acclaim for the film, they are hardly the only high points. Redmayne is terrific as Clark, Emma Watson is outstanding as a young wardrobe assistant, and Zoe Wanamaker is a blast as Marilyn’s acting coach, Paula Strasberg.

The “Marilyn” script occasionally lags, but Curtis does a good job powering through the dead spots and delivering a drama that is both nostalgic and absorbing.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a featurette about Marilyn and an audio commentary by Curtis.

The Adventures of Tintin

2½ stars
Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking
Paramount
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand

Director Steven Spielberg’s first animated feature is a technical wonder, boasting lifelike visuals that pop off the screen, particularly when viewed in 3D. Sadly, those visuals are used in support of an uneven story that flits between brilliance and monotony.

The movie is based on a popular comic book series by the late Belgian artist Georges Remi, but Spielberg’s fingerprints are everywhere. In fact, “Tintin” often feels like a lightweight Indiana Jones adventure. The action centers on the title character, an intrepid young journalist who purchases a model ship at a flea market and immediately attracts the attention of two other potential buyers. Both men offer Tintin much more than he paid, but he refuses to sell the ship, intrigued by why it has attracted so much attention. Tintin’s instincts are strong, as the model pulls him and his trusty dog, Snowy, into an international adventure involving seaplanes, sunken treasure and 17th century pirates.

Spielberg shot the movie using motion capture technology, in which the performances of actual actors provide a detailed model for the animation. The result is a film that looks great and features the voices and performance tics of several noteworthy stars. Jamie Bell served as Tintin, and Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg played supporting roles.

Despite the strong cast and appealing look, “Tintin’s” only Oscar nomination was for John Williams’ score. The film did, however, win the Golden Globe for best animated film, underscoring the duplicitous nature of the project. Filmgoers who are wowed by startling images and technical mastery may add “Tintin” to their list of favorites. Those who prefer snappy, efficient storytelling could be sorely disappointed.

The DVD-only release doesn’t have extras, but the Blu-ray sets contain a number of making-of features, including shorts about the animation and score.

The Three Musketeers

2½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of adventure action violence
Summit Entertainment
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Over the years, there have been numerous cinematic takes on novelist Alexandre Dumas’ tale of “The Three Musketeers.” The volume of material already available has made it increasingly difficult for anyone to deliver a fresh perspective. Director Paul W.S. Anderson (“Event Horizon,” “Resident Evil”) made his attempt by maintaining the story’s 17th century setting but glossing it up with the action and bombast of a 21st-century blockbuster. The resulting film plays like a hybrid of “The Da Vinci Code,” “Star Wars” and the traditional swashbuckler.

The setup of the Dumas original remains essentially intact. A youngster named D’Artagnan (Logan Lerman) travels to Paris with dreams of becoming a musketeer. Rather than achieve this goal, he manages to insult three actual musketeers, earning a duel with each. Before the duels occur, the musketeers – Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Porthos (Ray Stevenson) and Aramis (Luke Evans) – are set upon by guards loyal to the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz). D’Artagnan joins them in a scuffle, and a new partnership is born.

From this point, the story takes numerous twists and turns, some based on the novel and some that are significant departures. The most notable deviation is heavy reliance on a subplot involving the quest to build an airship designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. It’s not giving too much away to say that this goal is achieved, leading to an explosive, high-altitude battle that is as entertaining as it is ridiculous. Truth told, “entertaining and ridiculous” is a pretty good summary of the film overall.

The cast, which also includes Orlando Bloom and Milla Jovovich, is likable; and the plot moves at lightning speed. That pace, bolstered by nearly continuous action, allows viewers to overlook things like plausibility and diminished character development. This isn’t the definitive “Musketeers” movie, but it is fun.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted and extended scenes and an audio commentary with the filmmakers.

Happy Feet Two

2 stars
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and digital download

Writer-director George Miller’s original “Happy Feet” delivered the enjoyable story of a young penguin named Mumble who was struggling to find his place in the world. That film was honored with an Academy Award for best animated feature, but as happens too often, the sequel is disappointing by comparison.

Although “Happy Feet 2” is as visually impressive as its predecessor, it falls short from a storytelling standpoint, in large part because there is too much going on. The film starts, as the original did, as a coming-of-age tale. This time it’s Mumble’s son, Erik, who is having trouble fitting in with the Emperor penguin community. So, he and two friends take off on a journey highlighted by a meeting with a mysterious flying penguin named Sven.

Mumble goes in search of his son, but while he is gone, a shifting iceberg traps all the other Emperor penguins, leaving them in danger of starvation. Still not enough plot threads for you? Never fear. Miller alternates between these lines and a story about two krill who become disenchanted with the fact that they’re on the bottom of the food chain.

Because music and dance played an important thematic role in “Happy Feet,” the sequel delivers a number of musical sequences as well. Unfortunately, they aren’t as well integrated into the plotting as in the original movie.

Several members of the original voice cast – Elijah Wood and Robin Williams included – are back; and they’re joined by Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Hank Azaria, Sofia Vergara and Pink. All that talent leads to some nice cinematic moments, but the film – with its scattered focus – isn’t consistent enough to merit a recommendation.

DVD and Blu-ray extras are mostly geared toward youngsters, and they include three sing-along tracks, a bit on how to draw a penguin and a short about helping real-life penguins and other wildlife.

Young Adult

3 stars
Rated R for language and some sexual content
Paramount
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

When “Young Adult” was released into theaters, Charlize Theron received much acclaim – including a best actress Golden Globe nomination – for her portrayal of Mavis Gary, a struggling alcoholic who returns to her rural hometown in hopes of hooking up with an old boyfriend. The accolades were deserved, as Theron is remarkable in the role. That does not mean, however, that it’s pleasant to watch her on screen.

The power of Theron’s performance lies in the fact that she and director Jason Reitman (“Up In the Air”) refused to sugarcoat any aspect of Mavis’ life. The character, a blocked author on the rebound from a failed marriage, begins the movie as a horrible person, and this never changes.

The structure presents a challenge to viewers because change to the primary player in a fictional work is a foundational element of storytelling. “Young Adult” refuses to play that game, instead delivering a character study in the purest sense.

Written by Diablo Cody (“Juno,” “Jennifer’s Body”), “Young Adult” does little more than walk viewers through Mavis’ ill-advised return to her high school stomping grounds. Upon arrival, it becomes clear that Mavis can’t recapture her glory days, but that doesn’t prevent her from attempting to break up the happy marriage of her teen heartthrob (Patrick Wilson).

As Mavis charges down this irredeemable path, a former classmate named Matt (Patton Oswalt) tries to point out the bizarre nature of her quest. Oswalt is great. In fact, he’s every bit as good as Theron. This, coupled with Reitman’s steady direction, makes “Young Adult” an interesting animal. The film is unquestionably well made, and there’s loads of talent on display, but it’s difficult to see what Cody wanted viewers to take from the script.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include the deconstruction of a scene, an audio commentary with the filmmakers and a collection of deleted scenes.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Melancholia”: The latest work by avant-garde filmmaker Lars von Trier. The film examines the complex relationship between two sisters while a rogue planet draws ever closer to a collision with Earth. Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Alexander Skarsgard star.

“The Killing” – Season One: Complete first season of the Emmy-nominated AMC television series about events surrounding the murder of a teenage girl. Mireille Enos, Joel Kinnaman, Billy Campbell, Michelle Forbes and Brent Sexton star.

“Scooby-Doo! Music of the Vampire”: Feature-length, animated movie starring the ever-popular “Scooby-Doo!” characters. Shaggy, Daphne, Fred and the rest of the gang are looking forward to a quiet vacation when Velma takes them to Vampire Palooza, an event that quickly draws what appears to be an actual bloodsucker. This title is noteworthy as the first-ever “Scooby-Doo!” musical.

“American Pie” series on Blu-ray combo packs: Universal Studios is bringing a new “American Pie” movie (“American Reunion”) to theaters in April. To prepare audiences, it is releasing Blu-ray combo packs of the first three films: “American Pie,” “American Pie 2” and “American Wedding.” Each release contains both theatrical and unrated cuts of the movies.

“Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention”: Every episode of the BBC series in which claymation characters Wallace and Gromit introduce viewers to real-life inventors and the gadgets that put them on the map.

“History of the World in Two Hours”: This TV special originally aired on the History channel, and it’s goal is to live up to its title, presenting a fast-paced look at the events that have shaped our planet.

Forrest Hartman is a print and broadcast film critic whose writing 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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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘The Descendants,’ ‘My Week With Marilyn,’ ‘The Adventures of Tintin,’ ‘The Three Musketeers,’ ‘Happy Feet Two,’ ‘Young Adult’

  1. smilingldsgirl

    I’m really surprised you didn’t like Tintin. I thought it was great! I don’t see how it could be any more snappy. To me the plot zipped along from one adventure and clue to the next. I don’t know how they could have fit more in. It reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Arc. I loved it and my nieces who are huge fans of the books also loved it. I enjoyed taking them to see it. (Last year was such a weak year for family fare).
    Normally I don’t like action movies but Tintin was funny and fast enough that I enjoyed it. Plus, I liked the 3D and the animation was great.
    I’m looking forward to seeing the Descendants. Its on my netflix.

    Like

  2. Yeah. I just couldn’t warm up to “Tintin,” and not for lack of trying. I watched it twice — once in theaters in 3D and again on video. As noted, I didn’t think it was terrible (and I think the animation is incredible), I just wasn’t into the story. It reminded me a little of Indiana Jones as well, only not as entertaining.

    Next week, “The Muppets” comes out. If you don’t count “Harry Potter,” that was my favorite family film of the year.

    I hope you like “The Descendants.” It’s dark, but really gripping. Of course, It think both Alexander Payne and Clooney are great.

    Like

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