This week’s major home video releases include an exciting animated movie and the drama that won best foreign language film at this year’s Oscar celebration.
2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including a disturbing act, and for brief language
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and on demand
The adoration heaped on writer-director Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is one of the great mysteries of the 2012 movie awards season. The intimate drama, which is presented in French with English subtitles, won best foreign language film at the Oscars, Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Movie Awards. It was also named best overall film by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and National Society of Film Critics. This is an inordinate amount of praise for a movie that drags on for more than two hours in its attempt to make one remarkably simple point.
Fans of “Amour” will argue that the picture – as the title indicates – is about love. It is better described as a meditation on old age, dying and the moral dilemma of euthanasia. These are worthwhile topics, and Haneke assembles a first-rate cast to tackle them. Alas, his decision to present the film using painstaking cinema verité- techniques makes “Amour” feel like a sledgehammer that mercilessly pounds its sermonizing message home. What is that message? That growing old stinks and euthanasia has its place.
The movie focuses on Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), a happy and comfortable Paris couple who are enjoying their retirement. They enter a dark period, however, when Anne suffers a stroke and the medical treatment she receives is unsuccessful. This sets her on a path of slow deterioration that Haneke documents in painstaking detail.
Because he agreed not to send Anne back to the hospital, Georges becomes his wife’s primary caretaker, even when she is no longer able to bathe, eat or walk on her own. As the film moves forward, Haneke crawls through each stage of Anne’s progressive downfall, frequently allowing his camera to linger on a scene long seconds after anything meaningful has occurred. The thinking behind the approach must be that only with absolute realism can one represent the trauma of watching a loved one decay. However, many people in the audience will have experienced this phenomenon first hand, making such detail unnecessary. What’s more, one needn’t be exposed to absolute realism to feel empathy.
Obviously, there are many critics and film professionals who disagree with my assessment of “Amour,” as the film not only won best foreign language film at the Oscars, it was nominated for four additional awards, including best picture and best actress. The latter nod is the most understandable, as both Riva and Trintignant are outstanding. Despite the snail-slow pacing, they breathe life into their characters, and this allows the audience to identify with them. But that’s not enough. Watching the slow death of an elderly character is more torturous than dramatic even when the actors are fantastic.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and a Q&A with Haneke.
Rated PG for mild action, some scary images and brief rude language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and on demand
Director Chris Wedge, the man who brought us “Ice Age” and “Robots,” delivers another terrific animated film with “Epic,” a beautifully crafted work that brushes hefty doses of action and adventure across a visually stunning canvas.
The film is a screen adaptation of the William Joyce children’s book “The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs,” but Wedge and company do a lot more than change the title. The screen version features a new bad guy as well as an interesting plot thread about the importance of parental relationships.
The story begins with a teen named M.K. travelling deep into the woods to live with her estranged father. Although he is a kind man, his obsessive belief that the forest is protected by tiny, unseen men and women has cost him everything, including his relationship with M.K. and her mother. M.K. reunites with her eccentric father, however, when her mother dies.
Before the two can bond, our heroine is mysteriously shrunken to about two inches high and thrust into an extraordinary adventure. In short order, M.K. learns that her father is not only right about the forest men but that she is to play a key role in helping them defend the natural world. With the forest under attack from dark forces, M.K. must help two warriors, known as Leafmen, deliver a precious pod to safety. When the pod blooms, she learns, a new forest queen will be crowned and the woods will be saved. If the mission fails, the forest will be plunged into darkness.
The journey is arduous, as the little group, which also includes a snail and slug, faces one setback after another. As they progress, fellowship grows close, and M.K. finds herself particularly taken by an impetuous, young Leafman named Nod. Like her, he is suffering from the loss of a parent and hasn’t found his way in the world.
“Epic” is a well-planned animated movie that should appeal equally to boys and girls. The use of a female lead will draw the Disney princess crowd, but Nod and the other male figures are equally powerful. What’s more, the action is nearly nonstop.
Wedge also delivers top-notch animation that beautifully renders the fantasy setting. Although 3D viewing isn’t required to enjoy the story, the depth that it offers makes a difference. For that reason, the Blu-ray 3D is recommended for anyone with a home theater capable of displaying it.
“Epic” also receives a thumbs up for its excellent voice cast. The star-studded lineup features Amanda Seyfried, Colin Farrell, Josh Hutcherson, Christoph Waltz, Beyoncé Knowles, Chris O’Dowd, Pitbull and Jason Sudeikis. Each actor adds depth to the movie’s characterizations, making “Epic” an adventure film that balances its high-flying thrills with a whole lot of heart.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include short bits designed to teach children more about our natural world.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Scary Movie 5”: Yet another horror movie parody by the “Scary Movie” folks. In this one, a couple experiences odd happenings after they agree to raise the children of a recently deceased relative. This is the first “Scary Movie” entry without actresses Anna Faris or Regina Hall. Instead, audiences get performances by Ashley Tisdale, Simon Rex, Snoop Dogg, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan and Jerry O’Connell. Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (“The Best Man,” “Soul Men”).
“The Frozen Ground”: This thriller will be available on demand Aug. 23, the same day it starts a limited run in theaters. Nicolas Cage stars as an Alaska State Trooper on the hunt for a serial killer (John Cusack). Vanessa Hudgens also stars. Written and directed by Scott Walker.
“Killing Season”: Limited-release thriller about two war veterans (John Travolta and Robert De Niro) who wind up in a standoff in the rugged Appalachian Mountains. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson (“Simon Birch,” “Ghost Rider”).
“Boardwalk Empire” – The Complete Third Season: Twelve episodes of the HBO historical drama focused on Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), a corrupt politician who ruled over Atlantic City, New Jersey, during the early 20th century.
Movies by Satyajit Ray: The Criterion Collection delivers new digital restorations of “The Big City” (1963) and “Charulata” (1964). Both movies are the work of seminal Indian director Satyajit Ray. “Charulata” tells the tale of a lonely 19th century woman who is dangerously drawn to her husband’s cousin. “The Big City” is centered on a Kolkata housewife who takes a job despite her husband’s protests.
“Star Trek – Enterprise” – Season Two: Twenty-six episodes of the “Star Trek” drama conceived as a prequel to the very first series. The show focuses on the crew of an early Earth space vessel designed for deep-space exploration. Scott Bakula, Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock star.
“Mike & Molly” – The Complete Third Season: The continuing, madcap adventures of Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell) and Molly Flynn (Melissa McCarthy), a couple who fell in love at a meeting of Overeaters’ Anonymous. In season three, the two adapt to married life.
“NCIS” sets: Paramount rolls the 10th season of “NCIS” and the fourth season of “NCIS: Los Angeles” to video. Both series boast a combination of police and military drama, and both are big hits for CBS.
“The Good Wife”: Twenty-two episodes of the CBS drama starring Julianna Margulies as a housewife forced to resume her legal career after her husband is caught in a sex and corruption scandal.
“Revenge” – The Complete Second Season: Fresh batch of episodes from the CBS drama about a young woman (Emily VanCamp) who returns to the Hamptons with secret plans to destroy the people that ruined her father’s life. Madeleine Stowe and Gabriel Mann also star.
“Scooby-Doo – Stage Fright”: New movie focused on the crime-solving dealings of Scooby, Shaggy and the rest of the Mystery, Inc. gang. In this adventure, they run into a haunted opera house after travelling to Chicago for a talent show.
– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at email@example.com.