This week’s home video releases include a low-key thriller starring Katherine Heigl, an intense survival film featuring Liam Neeson and a drama that landed Glenn Close and Janet McTeer in this year’s Oscar race.
2½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
“Albert Nobbs” didn’t set box office records during its theatrical run, but it garnered enough critical acclaim to earn three Oscar nominations, including nods for best actress and best supporting actress. Glenn Close landed in the former category for her outstanding portrayal of the title character, a 19th century Englishwoman pretending to be a man so she can retain her job as a hotel waiter.
Close also had a hand in the screenplay, which fluctuates between fascinating and frustrating. The movie is at its best when it illuminates the discrimination and difficulties that 19th century European women faced. Sadly, director Rodrigo Garcia rarely places viewers inside Albert Nobbs’ head, and the result is a distant portrait that doesn’t allow viewers to build proper intimacy with the character.
Still, there’s no denying the power of the performances. If Close wasn’t a screen icon (and thus easily recognizable) few people would peg Albert Nobbs as a woman. Everything from her close-cropped hair to her voice seem masculine, making it completely believable that the world would accept Albert as male. Janet McTeer pulls off a similarly powerful performance, playing Hubert Page, a woman who – like Albert – masquerades as a man. McTeer received a best supporting actress Oscar nomination for her work.
As wondrous as it is to watch Close and McTeer deliver their gender-bending performances, the storytelling in “Albert Nobbs” is flat. Viewers are not only left to speculate about much of Albert’s internal life, they are left similarly distant from other key characters, including a housekeeper (Mia Wasikowska) that Albert attempts to woo.
If viewers were allowed to better identify with even an auxiliary player, “Albert Nobbs” might have been one of the most affecting films to enter the 2012 Oscar race. As is, it’s an interesting project, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Close and Garcia.
Rated R for violence, disturbing content including bloody images, and for pervasive language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download
With “The Grey,” writer-director Joe Carnahan (“The A-Team”) serves up his best work since the outstanding 2002 crime drama “Narc.” In a sense, the two movies are similar because Carnahan instilled both with a raw visual style that emphasizes the onscreen drama.
“The Grey” begins by introducing Ottway (Liam Neeson), a skilled hunter who makes his living killing wolves for an Alaskan oil drilling team. When he and six co-workers survive a harrowing plane crash in a remote Alaskan region, everyone becomes reliant on Ottway’s hunting and survival skills. His knowledge becomes especially important when they realize they have crash landed in territory hunted by the same vicious wolves that Ottway made a living exterminating.
Carnahan moves the film at a rapid pace, never shying from the brutality of the situation. Cold, alone and battling both the elements and the wolves, this ragtag group struggles to overcome fear and personal biases in hopes of survival.
“The Grey” is simplistic in that it’s a tale of man against nature, but Carnahan adds weight by giving viewers glimpses into the domestic lives of the survivors. This is particularly true in the case of Ottway, a man struggling with a personal crisis that isn’t fully revealed until the final act. The film is bleak, bloody and often terrifying, but it’s also relentlessly suspenseful and involving.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and an audio commentary with Carnahan and editors Roger Barton and Jason Hellman.
One for the Money
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual references and language, some drug material and partial nudity
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand
Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery novels have become a literary phenomenon, but the first screen adaptation – “One for the Money” – is a failure on almost every level. Director Julie Anne Robinson attempted to produce a pithy blend of romance, comedy and genuine suspense, but the result is confusing and bland.
The focus is on Stephanie (Katherine Heigl), a New Jersey store clerk who gets so desperate for cash she takes a job as a bounty hunter for her cousin’s bail-bond business. Because she has no training, she relies heavily on Ranger (Daniel Sunjata), a more experienced bail bond enforcer who volunteers to help. Stephanie also makes use of her Jersey contacts, especially when she decides to capture Joe Morelli (Jason O’Mara), a former cop – and former love interest – who is wanted for murder.
“One for the Money” has all the right elements for a quirky romantic adventure. The trouble is, Robinson and her team of three screenwriters drive the action forward in inexplicable ways. Most notably, they make it clear that Stephanie has no hope of capturing Morelli unless he comes willingly. Still, she relentlessly pursues him.
This doggedness does allow her to dig into the mystery surrounding Morelli’s murder charges, but the filmmakers never explain why she would choose to do this. They make it clear that Stephanie is in this gig for the money, and there’s no cash in clearing Morelli’s name. Heigl is a likable actress, but she struggles almost as much as the screenplay, especially since she fails to consistently maintain Stephanie’s New Jersey accent.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature, deleted scene and a gag reel.
Rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Movies like “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield” have proven that fictional films delivered in documentary style can have big payoffs. The latest to enter the fray is “Chronicle,” a drama about Seattle-area teens who develop astonishing supernatural powers.
The movie starts from the perspective of Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a high school student who decides he’s going to chronicle his life with a video camera. This obsession doesn’t do anything for his social standing, which is already dismal. His alcoholic father abuses him, his mother is ill and he is ruthlessly bullied at school.
One of the few highlights in Andrew’s life is a friendship with his popular cousin Matt (Alex Russell). One night, Matt and his friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) discover a strange cave, and they invite Andrew to videotape it. While inside, the three teens find eerie glowing rocks, and the next day they develop telekinetic powers.
The story is presented through footage that was supposedly shot by the characters, so viewers piece the happenings together as they do. While many documentary-style films rely on low budgets and minimal special effects, “Chronicle” has solid production value, meaning viewers can watch as the characters perform incredible feats.
The heart of the drama isn’t, however, in what the teens do with their powers. It’s in what the powers do to them. Andrew, in particular, is stunned by his transition from bullied outcast to telekinetic wonder.
Co-writer and director Josh Trank takes the storytelling in interesting directions, and he has valuable things to say about the use and abuse of power. Unfortunately, these ideas are undermined by “Chronicle’s” extensive use of special effects.
Trank spends so much time showing off the cool things his characters can do, he forgets to put viewers inside their heads. This is a shame, not only because it would be easy to achieve, but because failing to do so weakens the important messages the film seems to be sending.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include animated pre-visualizations of several key scenes and a camera test.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“The Devil Inside”: Story of a young woman (Isabelli Rossi) who travels to Italy in hopes of unraveling the mystery that led to her mother’s (Suzan Crowley) incarceration. What she learns is that her mother is possessed by evil spirits, and this leads to a showdown with evil.
“Rampart”: Woody Harrelson plays a Los Angeles cop who has no problem foregoing the law to dispense his own version of justice. When he’s caught on tape beating a suspect, both his personal and professional lives spin out of control. Ned Beatty, Ben Foster, Anne Heche, Ice Cube, Sigourney Weaver, Robin Wright, Cynthia Nixon and Steve Buscemi also star.
“Being John Malkovich”: Criterion Collection release of director Spike Jonze’s 1999 black comedy about a forlorn puppeteer (John Cusack) who finds a portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich (playing himself). Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener also star. Written by Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”).
“Walking Tall” – The Trilogy: Shout! Factory is releasing a three-disc collector’s set featuring each of the 1970s “Walking Tall” films: “Walking Tall,” “Walking Tall Part 2” and “Final Chapter: Walking Tall.” Each movie looks at the life of Buford Pusser, a Tennessee sheriff who worked to rid his hometown of crime and corruption.
“Hell on Wheels” – The Complete First Season: First 10 episodes of the AMC drama about a vengeful former Confederate soldier (Anson Mount) working on the first transcontinental railroad. Common, Colm Meaney, Dominique McElligott and Ben Esler also star.
“The Universe” – The Complete Season Six: Nine most recent episodes of the History Channel series about the universe we live in. Season six episodes include “Catastrophes That Changed the Planets” and “UFO: The Real Deal.”
“Flashpoint” – The Fourth Season: Producers announced that this Canadian police drama will end after its fifth season, so this three-disc set will help fans prepare for the finale. The show focuses on an elite group of cops known as the Strategic Response Unit. Enrico Colantoni, David Paetkau, Amy Jo Johnson, Sergio Di Zio and Michael Cram star.
“Aaahh!!! Real Monsters” – Season Two: This two-disc set includes 13 episodes of the Nickelodeon and Nicktoons animated series about young monsters that are training to scare humans.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.