DVD REVIEW – Mar 6, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – Mar 6, 2008


Into the Wild (Paramount)
Beowulf: The Director’s Cut (Paramount)
Things We Lost in the Fire (DreamWorks)
Slipstream (Sony)


Into the Wild is the kind of film that is easy to appreciate yet hard to like, though the film has its champions from all corners of the viewing public. There are those who find Emile Hirsch’s performance as the central character in this tale of a young man’s yearning to connect with the Earth that bore him as a thing of monumental clarity and truth. Others point to Hal Holbrook’s career-definitive supporting turn, or simply the film’s lush, gorgeous photography (that looks absolutely stunning on HD DVD). The point of the matter is that Into the Wild is important because it polarizes – it engages as many viewers as it isolates, and in doing so, it stands tall as that rare kind of beast: A mainstream film that has the balls to actually inspire discussion. See it.

Beowulf: The Director’s Cut is, to put it mildly, ridiculous. Robert Zemeckis knows how to direct an action-packed movie – that’s for sure – but his preferred 3-D animation style of late keeps his pictures from having any kind of impact whatsoever. There are fantastic voice talent turns from Crispin Glover and Ray Winstone, for sure, but if a 3-D cinema version of Beowulf was iffy to begin with, this home entertainment version is a turkey (and the ‘director’s cut’ bonus footage doesn’t add up to much of anything).

The drama at the center of Things We Lost in the Fire is equally unconvincing, even though Oscar winners Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro have the kind of pedigree that should liberate this film from Danish director Susane Bier from being a precious, unconvincing take on tragedy and a family’s rehabilitation from it, but the film is little more than a bummer. It’s ambitious in its aims to define the vague sensibilities of death in a modern culture, but as a movie it feels inert and stillborn.

And it may not be air-tight as a film, but compared to the two above movies, Anthony Hopkins’ Slipstream is a breath of frenetic, drugged fresh air. Hopkins directs this tale of a haunted screenwriter with the kind of devil-may-care ambition sorely lacking in the majority of Hollywood films made today – so what if it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever? The fact that the guy used his celebrity and reputation to make a film with earnest heart and ideas is enough to recommend this one to anybody with a hankering for something different.


Touch (MGM)


Touch was made in the frenzy surrounding Jackie Brown and Get Shorty, when Elmore Leonard novels were selling to Hollywood studios like hotcakes. But even with director Paul Schrader’s inquisitive eye behind the camera here, Touch simply fails. Skeet Ulrich may have found success as a leading man on Jericho, but as a main character in this crime/romance, his presence leaves much to be desired. And it’s a testament to just how bad the movie is that performances by the usually-dependable Bridget Fonda and Christopher Walken are all but entirely wasted.


101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition (Disney)
The Aristocats: Platinum Edition (Disney) [ dvd ]
Flight 29 Down: Hotel Tango – Series Finale (Discovery Kids)


If forced to answer, this writer would argue that 101 Dalmatians is the better film in this pairing, but these two special editions of Disney animated classics are the kind of releases cinephiles adore. Sure, the bonus features are aimed toward a youthful demographic (you might play the set-top games once then never revisit them), but the transfers given both of these pictures are exceptional – they’ll make you feel like a kid again. What will make feel old as Hell is Flight 29 Down. This teeny-bop Lost about a group of students whose school trip is ‘sidetracked’ when their charter plane crashes on a desert island is full to the brim with the kind of Hannah Montana pacing, style and dialogue that engages youths to end but leaves anyone with a drivers license feeling, well, stranded.


No Country For Old Men (Buena Vista)
Dan in Real Life (Buena Vista)


For the first time in a long while, the Academy finally got it right – there are a couple of movies this writer might put above No Country For Old Men as ‘movie of the year’, but upon rewatching this glorious Blu-ray edition of the film, it’s hard to argue: It’s a masterwork. And while Javier Bardem has a shiny Oscar now, it’s really Josh Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones who steal this film, providing a moral and emotional bedrock upon which Bardem’s demonic, insane character roams.

Dan in Real Life is a lusciously-shot film, so this Blu-ray release is a gorgeous excuse to sit back and enjoy the scenery to a truly mundane film. Steve Carrell very well may be a comic genius, but the character he plays is too serious and mopy – he doesn’t get a chance to really dive deep into the part. And while it’s always a treat to watch Juliette Binoche on screen, I must say that it’s not an overstatement to attest that Dane Cook ruins every scene he’s in.