Video Verdict: ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,’ ‘A Dangerous Method,’ ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked’

Max von Sydow, left, and Thomas Horn in a scene from “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” Von Sydow’s work on the film earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

This week’s video releases are anchored by a drama that earned two Oscar nominations while taking a fictionalized look at the fallout of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

2½ stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

More than a decade has passed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks shook the foundations of America, and in that time a number of feature films have examined their overwhelming impact. For the most part, these movies have received tepid welcomes at the box office.

In keeping with that trend, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” had a quiet theatrical run. Still, it gained notice with two Oscar nominations: one for best picture and one for supporting actor Max von Sydow.

As these accolades indicate, the movie has strong points. Unfortunately, it also has problems, not the least of which is the Sept. 11 setting. Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, “Extremely Loud” is set in New York City and covers a span stretching from just before the terrorist attacks to several years after. The focus is on Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), a 9-year-old boy who loses his father, Thomas (Tom Hanks), when the twin towers fall.

Viewers learn early that Oskar is special. He has trouble interacting with new people, and the screenplay hints that he may be suffering from a mild case of Asperger’s syndrome. To help Oskar overcome his social anxiety, his father regularly designed complicated scavenger hunts, forcing the boy to talk with strangers. When the towers fell, Oskar was working on the most elaborate hunt ever: the search for a supposed sixth borough in New York City.

Desperate to maintain the bond he had with his father, Oskar continues the hunt even after the Sept. 11 attacks. He becomes particularly driven when he finds a mysterious key hidden in a vase in his father’s closet. Because his quest involves long treks around New York City, Oskar makes up stories so that his mother (Sandra Bullock) will allow him out of the house. Eventually, the boy finds a companion in his journey when the renter who lives in his grandmother’s apartment (Max von Sydow) offers to help. This relationship is complicated, though, because the elderly renter doesn’t speak, forcing him to communicate with Oskar using rapidly scribbled notes.

“Extremely Loud” mines some fascinating and dramatic territory. Trouble is, that territory is too large. There’s the possibility of Oskar’s autism; there’s his struggle to come to terms with his father’s death; there’s the elderly neighbor who doesn’t speak; and there’s the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hanging over the whole, messy affair.

Any one of those topics carries enough weight to drive a feature-length film, yet writer Eric Roth and director Stephen Daldry (“The Reader,” “The Hours,” “Billy Elliot”) insist on cramming them all into one package. That means none of the plot threads are developed well enough, and the film feels incomplete despite running longer than two hours.

DVD extras are limited to a short feature about Horn. The Blu-ray release includes this, plus several other making-of bits.

A Dangerous Method

2½ stars
Rated R for sexual content and brief language
Sony
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were among the most influential physicians of their generations, both playing key roles in the development of psychoanalysis. The fact that they also bounced ideas off one another and, ultimately, butted heads served as inspiration for “A Dangerous Method.” In the film, director David Cronenberg focuses on the early 1900s, during a span when Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Freud (Viggo Mortensen) collaborated.

People who study psychology will, no doubt, be interested in Cronenberg’s portrayal of these medical giants, particularly since he depicts them as younger men, rather than the grandfatherly stereotypes seen in most media representations. For the general public, “A Dangerous Method” is a tough sell, in large part because the plotting relies on the medical philosophies of Freud and Jung, but doesn’t do a very good job explaining them.

The movie also suffers because Cronenberg and screenwriter Christopher Hampton try to fit too many things into the 99-minute run. There is, of course, the relationship between Jung and Freud, but there is also considerable focus on Jung’s personal life, including an ill-advised affair with patient-turned-physician Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley). All of these plot threads are interesting, but the treatment is so shallow that it’s difficult for viewers to draw meaningful conclusions from them.

Fassbender, Mortensen and Knightley do a fine job with their roles, and they succeed in building interest in their characters, but there’s only so much they can do with the wandering, underdeveloped script.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature, a taping of an American Film Institute seminar with Cronenberg, and an audio commentary by Cronenberg.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked

2 stars
Rated G
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

The “Alvin and the Chipmunks” franchise keeps chugging along despite the fact that none of the recent films have been any good. The latest outing – “Chipwrecked” – sees rodent crooners Alvin, Simon and Theodore taking a cruise with their human “father,” Dave (Jason Lee), and their female counterparts, The Chipettes.

As with the 2007 and 2009 “Chipmunks” flicks, the feature is a mix of live-action footage and computer animation, and much of the plotting revolves around Alvin’s gift for finding trouble. Just moments after Dave and his furry pals board the ship, they earn a stern talk with the captain. Then, Alvin strands them on a tropical island, which explains the title.

One thing “Chipwrecked” got right was the casting. Not only is Lee back as Dave, but David Cross returns as the Chipmunks’ arch enemy, Ian. Also, the voices of the critters are the same as in prior movies, so there’s a nice sense of continuity. Unfortunately, that’s one of the only good things about the project.

“Chipwrecked” is so bland and reminiscent of the previous movies that there’s no reason for it to exist. Still, the target audience – young children – will probably be mollified. The Chipmunks and Chipettes are cute and colorful, and director Mike Mitchell includes a host of musical numbers. These things don’t make the film good, but they do make it flashy, and that may be enough for undiscerning viewers.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a tongue-in-cheek feature about shooting on location in Hawaii and a “Music & Dance Machine” that allows viewers to skip directly to the musical bits.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“A Night to Remember”: A 3D version of director James Cameron’s “Titanic” is steaming into theaters next month, but “A Night to Remember” looked at the Titanic disaster decades before Cameron. The 1958 drama was directed by Englishman Roy Ward Baker, and the Criterion Collection is bringing a new, high-definition digital transfer to both DVD and Blu-ray.

“David Lean Directs Noel Coward”: David Lean (“The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Lawrence of Arabia”) began his career by directing four stories by playwright Noel Coward: “In Which We Serve,” “This Happy Breed,” “Blithe Spirit” and “Brief Encounter.” This impressive, multi-disc set from the Criterion Collection includes all those titles.

“The Broken Tower”: James Franco wrote directed and stars in this biopic about Hart Crane, a modernist American poet who committed suicide at age 32. Michael Shannon and Dave Franco (James’ younger brother) also star.

“In the Land of Blood and Honey”: Actress Angelina Jolie makes her directorial debut with a foreign-language drama about would-be lovers whose relationship is tainted by the Bosnian War. The film features an all-Bosnian cast led by Zana Marjanovic, Goran Kostic and Rade Serbedzija. The movie is presented on a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack with two versions of the film (one in Bosnian and Serbian with English subtitles and one dubbed in English).

“Casablanca” – 70th Anniversary Edition: Warner Home Video is celebrating the anniversary of one of its best-loved films with a three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that includes 14 hours of bonus material.

“South Park” – The Complete Fifteenth Season: Uncensored episodes from Comedy Central’s long-running animated show about four Colorado kids.

“The Bodyguard”: As the world mourns Whitney Houston’s death, Warner Brothers is bringing her most memorable movie to Blu-ray. In the film, directed by Mick Jackson, she plays a pop star who comes under the protection of a former Secret Service agent (Kevin Costner).

“The Heir Apparent – Largo Winch”: Action movie about a young adventurer who has to defeat drug dealers, assassins and other nasty folk before taking over his adoptive father’s financial empire. Tomer Sisley and Kristin Scott Thomas star. Co-written and directed by Jerome Salle.

“Eureka” – Season 4.5: Eleven episodes of the Syfy series about an Oregon town inhabited entirely by scientists working on groundbreaking technological advances. Colin Ferguson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Niall Matter and Erica Cerra star.

“Catdog” – Season 1, Part 2: Ten episodes of the Nickelodeon animated series about a cat and dog that were born as conjoined twins.

“Breaking Wind”: Direct-to-video spoof of the “Twilight” saga. Heather Ann Davis, Eric Callero and Frank Pacheco star. Written and directed by Craig Moss (“The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It”).

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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