Video Verdict: ‘That’s My Boy,’ ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ ‘Madagascar 3,’ ‘Chernobyl Diaries’

Adam Sandler, left, and Andy Samberg play father and son in the comedy “That’s My Boy.”

An Adam Sandler comedy and a sweet film by writer-director Wes Anderson anchor this week’s home video releases.

That’s My Boy

2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Watching Adam Sandler movies is frustrating because they always contain at least a few reminders of what a talented comedian he can be. Although humorous, these instances are ultimately sad because they also remind us that Sandler has wasted a huge portion of his career making movies that simply don’t matter.

The latest addition is “That’s My Boy,” the unfunny story of a high school stud named Donny who knocks up one of his teachers and becomes a celebrity in the process. When teacher-student relationships occur in reality, lives are ruined, so one has to question screenwriter David Caspe’s judgment in attempting to mine the situation for comedy. Nevertheless, he charged forward, producing an awkward tale about the bonds between father and son.

After a brief explanation of Donny’s relationship with his teacher, director Sean Anders moves the action forward 28 years. The future Donny (Sandler) is older, broke and still incredibly reckless. In fact, he’s made such poor decisions, he’s about to be thrown in jail for owing $43,000 in delinquent taxes.

Desperate, Donny turns to Randall Morgan (Dan Patrick), a TV producer who specializes in celebrity gossip. Randall agrees to pay Donny $50,000 if he can convince his estranged son, Han Solo (Andy Samberg), to reunite with him on TV. Unfortunately for Donny, Han so despised his childhood that he disowned his parents, going as far as to change his name and tell friends that he was orphaned. Thus, there’s many an awkward moment when Donny shows up just days before Han’s impending wedding, trying to convince his son to join him on TV.

“That’s My Boy” has a number of problems, the most critical being that there’s nothing inherently funny about bad parenting. Therefore, most of the jokes about Han’s terrible childhood come out flat. Even worse is the fact that none of the characters, other than Han, have any boundaries. That means they are constantly spouting everything from profanities to racist comments. Apparently, this is meant to be funny, but it plays as wildly inappropriate instead.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a gag reel.

 

Moonrise Kingdom

3½ stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and smoking
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and on demand

In a commercial film industry increasingly dominated by derivative fare, writer-director Wes Anderson is a beacon of creativity and inspiration. Anderson established himself as a force with his first feature film, 1996’s “Bottle Rocket,” and his follow-up movies – including “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” – have been equally unique and appealing.

His latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” is set in 1965 and tells the quirky story of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), troubled 12-year-olds who run away together and hide in the countryside of a New England island. Their disappearance is first noticed when Sam – a Khaki Scout – fails to show up for breakfast, prompting his troop leader (Edward Norton) to call the only authority on the island, Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Before long, the tiny island community is buzzing with activity, and everyone from Sam’s fellow scouts to Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are searching for the missing kids.

The film is centered on runaway children, but Anderson never creates a sense of peril. In fact, as the story moves forward, it becomes apparent that Suzy and Sam are more capable than many of the adults trying to track them. Perhaps that’s the point. Adults tend to diminish the experiences of children, despite the fact that their innocence and inexperience often makes them more perceptive.

“Moonrise Kingdom” is beautiful to look at because Anderson has given his visuals a saturated glow reminiscent of films actually shot in the 1950s and ’60s, but it’s not just the cinematography that’s wonderful. The characters have nuance and depth only seen in the best films, and Anderson’s cast is fantastic.

Willis is in top form as the island’s aging and somewhat dowdy lawman, and Edward Norton is brilliant as a man who treats his scout leader job as a calling. Murray and McDormand are always great, and there’s no exception here. One must also acknowledge the wonderful performances of the two young stars. Athough unknown, Hayward and Gilman carry the majority of the screen time and its easy to invest in their relationship.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of feature and a set tour with Bill Murray.

 

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

1 star
Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Paramount
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

Hollywood filmmakers should learn that it’s often best to leave well enough alone, and nothing proves this more readily than the “Madagascar” franchise. What started as an average-yet-enjoyable talking-animal enterprise has devolved into a redundant mess.

In “Madagascar 2,” the New York City zoo animals that populated the first movie attempted to return to the Big Apple, but ended up in Africa instead. That film not only failed to recreate the magic of the first, it moved slowly and dimmed the overall luster of the series. The even more unnecessary “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” should assure that the franchise is little more than a footnote in animation history.

The film picks up with Alex the lion (voiced by Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer) still longing to return to New York. This desire convinces them to swim to Monte Carlo, where they plan to meet up with their militaristic penguin pals who have been industrious enough to build an airplane. Because lions and zebras aren’t typically seen on the streets of France, chaos breaks out and a cruel animal control officer (Frances McDormand) chases the entire crew. In an effort to escape, the animals join a travelling circus, where they meet a new cast of characters, including a jaguar named Gia (Jessica Chastain), a sea lion named Stefano (Martin Short) and a tiger named Vitaly (Bryan Cranston). Naturally, Alex and company wind up performing with the circus, discovering that zoos aren’t the only institutions allowing animals to wow a human crowd.

“Madagascar 3” is colorful and zippy, which may be enough for the youngest audiences. Unfortunately, it is little more than a variation on the previous two movies. The animals feel lost outside of New York and make plans to return, but they learn that different ways of life have much to offer. This isn’t a bad message, but it gets tiresome, particularly since returning directors Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath don’t seem interested in exploring it any more fully than they have in the past. The movie may also have suffered from too many people in charge. A third director, Conrad Vernon, joined Darnell and McGrath, but the film is no better for this.

“Madagascar 3” is not only superfluous, it’s one of the worst animated movies of 2012.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a mad music mash-up and a filmmakers’ audio commentary.

 

Chernobyl Diaries

2 stars
Rated R for violence, some bloody images and pervasive language
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and digital download

Oren Peli made a name for himself in 2007 by writing, directing and producing “Paranormal Activity,” a horror franchise that spawned three sequels. The success of that series also paved the way for him to tackle other work, including co-writing the script for “Chernobyl Diaries,” a horror enterprise set in Pripyat, a Ukrainian city that was abandoned following the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

In the film, several young people opt for an “extreme tour” of Pripyat, curious about what the city – now a ghost town – will look like. Although Peli came up with the story and co-wrote the screenplay, it’s first-time director Bradley Parker who guides viewers through the action. He starts by introducing the main characters, the most important being Chris (Jesse McCartney); his girlfriend, Natalie (Olivia Dudley); their friend Amanda (Devin Kelley); and Chris’ brother, Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). In early scenes, viewers learn that Paul has a history of getting his younger brother into trouble. This makes it more than a little foreboding when Paul suggests visiting Pripyat in place of the Moscow trip that the group had planned.

Sure enough, the group ends up stranded in Pripyat when the tour guide, Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), can’t get their van started. This means an overnight stay in the eerie city, setting the stage for horrific happenings.

The concept for “Chernobyl Diaries” is solid, but the execution is weak and passé. Like countless other horror films, it places its characters in obvious peril, then allows them to fall victim to increasingly terrible circumstances. The Pripyat setting is novel, but Parker could have filmed his movie by a rural lake or an urban shopping mall and used the same, tired structure.

What’s more, the characters are not fully developed, despite the fact that the first 15 minutes of the movie is designed primarily to do this. One gets the sense that Parker and Peli want us to understand these folks, but we never do because we don’t know enough about their lives.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include a “Chernobyl Conspiracy” viral video, a deleted scene and an alternate ending.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“2016: Obama’s America”: This documentary film is based on “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” a 2010 book by conservative writer and commentator Dinesh D’Souza. It paints President Barack Obama in a negative light by examining his past and arguing that the president’s background will lead to decisions that negatively impact America’s future. Written and directed by D’Souza and John Sullivan.

“The Forgiveness of Blood”: Director Joshua Marston’s follow-up to the outstanding drama “Maria Full of Grace” is set in present-day Albania, and it tells the story of two siblings whose lives are irrevocably changed by their father’s blood feud with another family. Presented by the Criterion Collection in Albanian with English subtitles.

“Neil Young Journeys”: Director Jonathan Demme’s documentary concert film looking at the life and music of Neil Young. The movie features an extensive interview with young, as well as a great deal of concert footage.

“The Firm” – The Complete Series: This TV series, meant as a sequel to John Grisham’s bestselling book, ran for only 22 episodes before getting cancelled. The story centers on Mitch McDeere (Josh Lucas), an attorney attempting to reclaim his life after spending a decade in the Federal Witness Protection Program for helping to end a corrupt law firm.

“Looney Tunes Platinum Collection Volume 2”: Fifty digitally remastered animated shorts from Warner Brothers. The set includes pieces focused on classic characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as well as lesser-known players like Cecil Turtle. Three of the shorts – “A Wild Hare,” “Tabasco Road” and “Mexicali Shmoes” – were nominated for Oscars.

“Avatar” on Blu-ray 3D: Consumers have been slow to adopt 3D technology in the home, but those who have both a 3D TV and 3D Blu-ray player should be excited to learn that James Cameron’s “Avatar” is now available in all its multi-dimensional glory.

“Mad Men” – Season Five: Another batch of recent episodes from the Emmy-winning TV drama about the key players at a 1960s advertising agency. Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks and January Jones star.

“Psych” – The Complete Sixth Season: New episodes of this long-running USA Network detective drama won’t return until early next year, meaning fans have plenty of time to relive the 16 installments on this boxed set. The show focuses on Shawn Spencer (James Roday) a man who uses his keen observational skills to pretend to be a psychic and aid police in solving crimes. Dule Hill, Corbin Bernsen and Maggie Lawson also star.

“Pete’s Dragon” – 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray: Disney is rolling this 1977 film, about a boy and his invisible dragon friend, to Blu-ray for the first time. Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy, Sean Marshall, Red Buttons and Jim Dale star. Directed by Don Chaffey.

“The Cup”: Drama focused on jockey Damien Oliver’s dramatic 2002 win at the Melbourne Cup. Stephen Curry and Brendan Gleeson star. Directed by Simon Wincer.

Scary movies from Scream Factory: This sub-label of Shout! Factory is releasing two early ’80s horror films just in time for Halloween: “Teror Train” (1980) and “The Funhouse” (1981). The former stars Jamie Lee Curtis, and it centers on a killer targeting college kids who are partying on a train. Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”) directed the latter, and it is focused on teenagers stalked by a masked murderer in a carnival funhouse.

Blu-ray debuts from Miramax: Lionsgate is delivering the Blu-ray premieres of two films originally produced by Miramax: “Ella Enchanted” and “Everybody’s Fine.” The former is a family film starring Anne Hathaway as a young woman who has been placed under a spell. The latter features Robert De Niro as the widowed patriarch of a dysfunctional family.

– 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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2 Comments

Filed under Video Verdict

2 responses to “Video Verdict: ‘That’s My Boy,’ ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ ‘Madagascar 3,’ ‘Chernobyl Diaries’

  1. Mimi

    Since being back in the U.S., I have been surprised about how many people have never even heard of “Moonrise Kingdom.” Since I did not see many movies this year, this may not hold much weight, but I think”Moonrise Kingdom” was one of the best movies I have seen in years.

    Like

  2. I think it’s one of the best of the year Mimi. You’ve simply chosen wisely. 🙂

    Like

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