The One Where ‘This Is 40,’ ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ and ‘Les Misérables’ Are Rentals at Best
Welcome back to This Week In Discs!
As always, if you see something you like, click on the image to buy it.
The Big Picture
Paul (Romain Duris) is a successful lawyer with a wife and two beautiful kids, but something is amiss in his marriage. He envies his neighbor Greg’s casual freedoms, but when he discovers his wife has been loving Greg in some far more physical ways, a conversation between the two men leads to an incident that sends Paul running for his life.
This French thriller is based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy, and as they did with Harlan Coben’s Tell No One, the result is a far more literate thriller than we would probably get from Hollywood. Duris is a fantastic actor, and he invests Paul with passion and emotional intensity as his mistake leads to a life he’s always wanted but was afraid to attempt. The supporting performances are equally solid including a brief turn by Catherine Deneuve. [Blu-ray extras: Trailer]
4 Action-Packed Movie Marathon
Pitch: Because 3 Action-Packed Movie Marathon doesn’t have the same ring to it…
What’s It About? Shout! Factory has gathered four films from the late ’80s (roughly) and collected them on two DVDs. Cyclone stars Heather Thomas and Jeffrey Combs in a film about a super duper motorcycle of the future. Alienator sees an alien convict arrive on earth with a bounty hunter on his tale. Eye of the Tiger stars Gary Busey as a Vietnam vet out for revenge against the bikers who killed his wife. And Exterminator 2 finds Robert Ginty returning as everyone’s favorite pissed-off vet with a flame thrower.
Why Buy? Any collection of films is going to be a mixed bag, especially one featuring a random assortment of movies, but three of the movies here are good enough to warrant a buy. It’s really only Alienator that stands out as a complete and utter stinker with its lame story, weak acting and laughable effects. The other three each offer varying degrees of entertainment and together more than justify the $8 price tag at Amazon. [DVD extras: Commentary on one film]
Zero Dark Thirty
Pitch: I’m not proud of it, but I reached a point where I wanted to start waterboarding people who kept making the joke about not seeing the first 29 Zero Dark movies…
What’s It About? The terrorist attacks of 9/11 triggered a global response by the USA that resulted in two wars, tens of thousands more deaths, billions of dollars in additional spending and the most intense manhunt in history. Osama Bin Laden became the focus of our intelligence agencies, but as the years crept by the intensity diminished. The film follows one agent’s (Jessica Chastain) persistent and dogged pursuit of the man leading up to the historic raid green-lit by President Obama that actually resulted in Bin Laden’s death.
Why Buy? Kathryn Bigelow’s award-winning film is essentially a character piece capped off with a suspenseful and beautifully-staged military raid, and while both parts work well it’s the latter that is executed best. Chastain does good work as a fictional character built on the backs of a few real life agents, and the film hits both her successes and failures over the decade. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, featurettes]
Pitch: Hey everyone! Let’s remake Bridesmaids but have all of the main characters be total assholes…
What’s It About? Becky (Rebel Wilson) is getting married, and she’s inexplicably asked three of the meanest girls (Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan) from high school to be her bridesmaids. The days leading up to the wedding see the trio bitching, bickering and being inconsiderate jerks, but by the time they realize they’ve gone too far it may be too late to save the ceremony.
Why Rent? I’m all for female-led versions of raunchy comedies, but I prefer they be closer to The Hangover than The Hangover 2. This one falls somewhere in the middle with a rough, unfunny start slowly giving way to more depth and some darkly comic laughs. Caplan comes out best from the three girls, Wilson trumps them all with a sweet and humorous performance. [Blu-ray extras: Bloopers, behind the scenes, commentary]
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Pitch: The only part of this journey that’s unexpected is the apparent need to split a 300 page book into three films…
What’s It About? Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) wants little more than a quiet evening at home, but what he gets instead is a house full of dwarves and one very adamant wizard (Ian McKellan) insisting that he join them on a quest to a far away mountain to defeat a dragon named Smaug. This first part of the trilogy starts with Bilbo being convinced to join the quest and follows the group all the way to the end of his driveway.
Why Rent? This is not a good movie. Greed aside (by both Peter Jackson and the studio), the film lacks much of the magic and scope that made his Lord of the Rings trilogy so enchanting and exciting. It’s dull and belabored at times and there are some sketchy effects throughout, but fans of the trilogy will want to check it out anyway. On the plus side though the confrontation scene between Bilbo and Gollum is a spectacular combination of acting, writing, directing and CGI. If only the rest of this 2+ hours film managed even a portion of that scene. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes]
Pitch: Studio notes show that test audiences asked if the characters could be made happier and less miserable…
What’s It About? Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-con who breaks his parole and goes on the run from a dedicated policeman named Javert (Russell Crowe), but while these two cross paths over the decades they do so against the backdrop of the French revolution. Characters die, children grow up and good stands strong against tyranny, but through it all one constant remains. People can only communicate through song.
Why Rent? I’m a big fan of the original stage musical, but the success rate for stage shows turned into movies is pretty low (it’s far better the other way around actually) so I stayed skeptical. Tom Hooper’s film has since gone on to earn awards and box office receipts along with a hefty amount of criticism for his camera angles and extreme close-ups. Both critiques are warranted as the camera work is distracting, but the film’s worth a watch for the talented performers including Samantha Barks, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and the two men listed above. [Blu-ray extras: Featurettes, commentary] *NOTE: This title releases on Friday for no good reason.*
The Protectors: The Complete Season One (UK)
Pitch: Say hello to the great Danes willing to take a bullet for you…
What’s It About? P.E.T. is the Danish national police force tasked with protecting politicians, dignitaries and other V.I.P.s, and this series follows the dramas, dangers and day to day lives of its members. The series starts with the existing force and the introduction of recruits desperate to join, but the elimination process is rigorous and will leave only 20 applicants standing including one woman.
Why Rent? The latest release from UK-based Arrow Films’ Nordic Noir label follows a familiar formula to cop shows in America, but the specifics and the quality raise it above the norm. The protection team are essentially Secret Service agents with duties expanded beyond the usual politicians, and the show does a fine job weaving their private lives into the stories as well. The action is fairly minimal, but suspense is built intelligently and with skill from both the actors and the filmmakers. It’s a fantastically written show that already has me eagerly awaiting season two. [DVD extras: None] *NOTE: This is a UK release. Be sure your player takes region 2 discs before ordering.*
Pitch: The best Ripper-related film/show remains a tie between Murder By Decree and Time After Time…
What’s It About? Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) and the rest of London’s police force live daily with their failure to catch Jack the Ripper, but while the killings stopped their work continues. When a young woman is found murdered and mutilated Reid and his fellow policemen struggle to catch the killer and avoid a panic in the streets. Even if they solve that one there’s always a bloody reminder of humanity’s worst traits tomorrow.
Why Rent? This new series from the BBC is little more than a police procedural set in post-Ripper London, but like The Protectors above that setting automatically makes it unique in a crowded field. The mysteries play out with interesting turns and characters, and the show doesn’t skimp on the blood and boobs. Macfadyen is a fun lead in that he manages to be engaging even as he lacks an excitable style. [DVD extras: Featurettes]
This Is 40
Pitch: I’m not proud of it, but I reached a point where I wanted to start waterboarding people who kept making the joke about This Is 40 Minutes Too Long…
What’s It About? Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are married parents of two and approaching middle age. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but her impending 40th birthday becomes a point of friction between them that leads to struggles, laughs and conversations while on the toilet.
Why Rent? Judd Apatow’s sideways sequel to Knocked Up focuses on that film’s funniest characters, but it reveals that the duo and their kids belong in supporting roles only. They’re just not likeable or interesting enough to warrant a full feature of them and their incessant whining. That said, there are some good laughs to be found, and the disc’s special features offer up even more. [Blu-ray extras: Making of, deleted scenes, gag reel, line-o-rama, music, commentary, Fresh Air segment, featurettes] *NOTE: This title releases on Friday for no good reason.*
Pitch: Lyle Swann: The Adventure Begins…
What’s It About? A time travel experiment set up in the desert gets an accidental test subject in the form of a motocross champion named Lyle Swann (Fred Ward) who drives his bike right into it. He comes out the other side in America’s old west a century into the past and gets caught up in a battle between cowboys, rustlers, townsfolk and others.
Why Rent? This forgotten flick is a goofy mix of cowboy shootouts sitting side by side with high-speed motorcycle action and broad comedy. It’s fun, but it’s not hard to see why it was forgotten in the first place. Ward had a short run for a few years where he actually played lead roles, and while it didn’t last long they showed him to be a casually entertaining actor who was rarely less than enjoyable onscreen. This particular film’s biggest claim to fame is probably the presence of The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith as co-producer, co-writer and composer. Blu-ray extras: Commentary, interviews, gallery
Nothing to avoid this week!
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show and review material was unavailable:
Daniel Day-Lewis Triple Feature
Grave of the Vampire
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (Criterion)
Rust and Bone