Video Verdict: ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,’ ‘The Muppets,’ ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,’ ‘The Sitter,’ ‘Hop’

Rooney Mara plays the title character in “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” a thriller based on Stieg Larsson’s best-selling novel. Mara’s work in the film earned her an Academy Award nomination for best picture.

Three films that had starring roles in the recent Academy Awards ceremony lead this week’s crop of home video releases.

 

 

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray combo pack

Despite its general excellence, director David Fincher’s film adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was a box office disappointment when it hit theaters in December. The poor audience response may have been due to stiff competition from “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” and “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.” Another possibility is that the target audience couldn’t work up much enthusiasm after the 2009 Swedish version did such a fine job capturing the spirit of Stieg Larsson’s novel. Or it may have been that holiday audiences just weren’t in the mood for a picture that spends much of its time meditating on brutal rapes and murders. Whatever the reasons, too few people have seen this movie.

Larsson’s “Dragon Tattoo” novel became a massive international hit thanks to its blend of pulp fiction plotting, gritty drama and heavy helpings of the unusual title character, Lisbeth Salander. As portrayed by Rooney Mara – who earned a best actress Oscar nomination for her work – Salander is an appealing mix of punk rock attitude and intellectual genius. The plot is too complicated to discuss at length – at least without giving things away – but all one need know is that Salander, a first class computer hacker, teams with disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) in hopes of discovering what became of the disappeared daughter of a powerful businessman (Christopher Plummer).

Since Fincher’s adaptation was clearly an attempt to draw an American audience, he could have moved it from Sweden to a fitting locale in the U.S. To his credit, he instead chose to maintain the novel’s chilly Swedish setting, and this makes the whole project feel more authentic … and bleak.

“Dragon Tattoo” is not for the squeamish. Larsson’s novel spares few details in its depictions of violent acts, most perpetrated against women, and Fincher stays true to the book. Fans of Fincher’s movies, including “Se7en,” “Fight Club” and “Zodiac,” know that he doesn’t pull punches; but newcomers could be shocked by the graphic nature of several scenes and the generally grim tone of the project. That is not, however, a criticism. Many of the best thrillers are dark, and they continue to gnaw away at audiences long after they’ve unspooled. Such is the case with “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Like “Silence of the Lambs,” this is a movie that gets under the skin and stays there.

Fincher is one of today’s great directors and his work is typically outstanding. He delivers all the details necessary for viewers to understand the complex mystery at the heart of the story, but he also spends plenty of time developing his characters. This fine balancing act landed his editors – Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter – an Oscar for their efforts.

If there’s a flaw in the film, it’s that it remains too true to Larsson’s novel, coming in at a whopping 158 minutes. There are definitely subplots that screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List,” “Moneyball”) could have cut, but it’s hard to blame him for taking a good thing too far. The self-assured performances of Craig, Mara and their wonderful supporting cast make spending time with the characters a treat … albeit a creepy one.

Extras on the DVD release are limited to an audio commentary by Fincher. The Blu-ray combo pack has the same commentary, plus making-of features that look at everything from the visual effects to the locations.

 

The Muppets

3½ stars
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Disney
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

It’s been more than a decade since Jim Henson’s Muppets appeared in a theatrical release, but they couldn’t have returned in better company. Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and their crew have joined with three-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams and “How I Met Your Mother” star Jason Segel for a movie that is funny, sweet and – most importantly – inventive.

Segel played dual roles in the project, co-writing the script with Nicholas Stoller and portraying the movie’s human lead, Gary. The story begins by introducing Gary, his girlfriend Mary (Adams), and his brother Walter, a small fuzzy fellow who was born a Muppet. The three end up vacationing in Los Angeles where they visit the Muppet Studios only to discover that the facility is about to be destroyed by an oil magnate.

A huge Muppet fan, Walter is determined to prevent this. So, he tracks down Kermit and convinces him to stage a show in hopes of raising enough money to save the studio. Since the Muppets have all gone their separate ways, Kermit has to reunite his old pals and convince them to come back for a one-time TV spectacular.

Segel’s and Stoller’s script is smart and funny, and director James Bobin keeps the action moving at a perfect pace. It helps, of course, that Segel and Adams are charming performers who not only have great chemistry but can act and sing with the best of them. The latter talent comes in handy because “The Muppets” is a musical, and it contains several great song-and-dance numbers, including Bret McKenzie’s “Man or Muppet,” the tune that won best original song at this year’s Oscars.

“The Muppets” is ostensibly a kids’ film, but these characters have been around so long that the nostalgia factor is high. The fact that the picture is also well written and executed makes it a family movie that adults can enjoy as much as their children.

The film is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a three-disc Blu-ray combo pack. Extra features vary.

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

3 stars
Rated R for violence, some sexuality/nudity and language
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

Tomas Alfredson’s film adaptation of novelist John le Carre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” earned three Oscar nominations, including a best actor nod for Gary Oldman and an adapted screenplay nod for Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. The film came up empty at the awards, but anyone who enjoys dense, brooding spy films will do well to check it out.

Oldman is fantastic as George Smiley, a senior British intelligence agent who is first forced into retirement, then asked to return and uncover a mole. As with most Le Carre stories, “Tinker” is considerably more complex and slow moving than a James Bond film, meaning fans of action-oriented spy flicks could be disappointed. On the other hand, those willing to put in the work necessary to follow the oblique plotting will be treated to an extremely nuanced feature.

Make no mistake about it, however: “Tailor” is work. Nod off during a key moment, and the whole plot may unravel in your mind. To some degree, this is Alfredson’s fault. He is willing to spend precious minutes watching the characters meditate on the depth of their situation, yet he covers important plot developments – including betrayals and deaths – in a flash. It would have been smarter – or at least more viewer friendly – to reverse this tendency.

Nevertheless, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a solid adaptation of a beloved book.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include an audio commentary by Alfredson and Oldman and interviews with several members of the cast and crew.

 

The Sitter

3 stars
Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, drug material and some violence
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

It’s been fun to watch the trajectory of Jonah Hill’s career, if only because it has been so unexpected. He’s gone from being a staple of Judd Apatow sex comedies – including “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” – to landing an Oscar nomination for his outstanding supporting work in the Bennett Miller drama “Moneyball.” In other words, Hill is versatile. That isn’t, however, preventing him from mining old territory.

In “The Sitter,” which was released into theaters just a few months behind “Moneyball,” Hill plays Noah Griffith, a twenty-something slacker still living with his mother. Although Noah’s the type of guy who prefers doing nothing, his mother convinces him to take a last-minute babysitting job for the wealthy Pedulla family.

Suddenly, Noah finds himself caretaker to three pre-teens, each with distinct issues. Blithe (Landry Bender) is a makeup-wearing wannabe party girl; Slater (Max Records) is frozen by anxiety; and Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) is an all-around troublemaker. Already ill-prepared to handle their care, Noah makes things worse by deciding to take them on a road trip so he can attend a party with his sometimes-girlfriend Marisa (Ari Graynor). Their first stop? A visit with a temperamental drug dealer named Karl (Sam Rockwell).

Of course, this goes badly, and the fact that you already knew that proves that “The Sitter” is in no way fresh. In fact, it plays like an oddball mix of several 1980s comedies, “Adventures in Babysitting” and “Risky Business” coming to mind first. As with many pictures in the genre, things wrap up too neatly and there are few consequences for the bad behavior shown on screen.

Fortunately, originality isn’t the sole requirement of good comedy, and “The Sitter” has plenty of satisfying moments, most of them thanks to Hill’s comic presence and the steady hand of director David Gordon Green (“All the Real Girls,” “Pineapple Express”).

The DVD and Blu-ray releases include both rated and unrated cuts of the film, plus a gag reel and a short about Hill.

 

Hop

2 stars
Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Universal
Available March 23 on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

With movies making their way from theaters to home video at an ever-increasing pace, it seems like ages since “Hop” played multiplexes, but Universal made the wise decision to tie the home video release to the Easter holiday.

The film, featuring an appealing mix of live action and computer animation, tells the story of two troubled sons, Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) and E.B. Fred is a good-hearted dreamer who can’t settle into a respectable job, despite endless prodding from his parents and sister (Kaley Cuoco). E.B. (voiced by Russell Brand) is a youthful rabbit who is supposed to inherit his father’s position as Easter Bunny, only he really wants to become a rock ’n’ roll drummer. Fate – in the form of a minor traffic accident – brings these two wayward souls together, and the adventures they share help them gain greater perspective on life.

“Hop” is colorful, and director Tim Hill has done a nice job mixing his live action footage with vivid animation. This, along with the Easter theme, should keep the attention of youthful viewers. For adults, things aren’t so promising.

The plotting, about children deciding whether to blaze their own paths or follow those of their parents, is hackneyed; and jokes about humans living with precocious animals got played out with the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” franchise. Since Easter films aren’t as plentiful as those tied to Christmas and Halloween, a little more time with the script might have turned “Hop” into a perennial favorite. Instead, we’re left with a fleeting entertainment that bounces from mind shortly after arriving.

The movie is available as part of multiple home video releases, including a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that also includes a digital copy of the feature. Extras vary.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Carnage”: Both Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster earned best actress Golden Globe nominations for their work in this dark comedy by director Roman Polanski. The film focuses on two couples that decide to meet after their 11-year-old sons get in a fight. What was supposed to be a pleasant discussion of the issues surrounding the conflict devolves into verbal warfare. The movie is based on Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play “God of Carnage,” and the impressive cast is rounded out by John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz.

“Letter Never Sent”: Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov’s 1959 feature about a group of geologists who get stranded in the Siberian wilderness while searching for diamonds. Presented by the Criterion Collection in Russian with English subtitles.

“The War Room”: Criterion Collection release of Chris Hegedus’ and D.A. Pennebaker’s 1993 documentary about the political maneuvering that took place during President Bill Clinton’s initial run for office. The release includes not only the title film, but a newer, 2008 documentary – “Return of the War Room” – in which key players reflect on the way Clinton’s campaign changed politics.

“Battle Royale – The Complete Collection”: This Four-disc set includes the 2000 Japanese film “Battle Royale” and its 2003 sequel, “Battle Royale II: Requiem.” The movies are set in a dismal future where the Japanese government forces groups of 9th graders to hunt and kill each other in last-person-standing tournaments.

 

– 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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