Tuesday, December 14, 2010
With the awards season in full swing you'll get a chance to see an animated Oscar hopeful and a past Oscar-winner that's just been remade.
Minions! I have said that this was a weak year for animation but I do want to celebrate MINIONS! "Despicable Me" has Steve Carell voicing Gru, a criminal mastermind whose grand plan involves using a trio of orphans. Of course the little orphan girls are adorable and start to melt his fiendish heart. The minions – for which a special Minion-ese language was created – are diminutive, yellow, pill-shaped creatures that serve Gru. They are hilarious and it's nice to see that each has a personality and look and are not merely uniformly replicated in the computer. The film's endearing style may come in part from the fact that director Pierre Coffin is French and co-director Chris Renaud lives in France. There is a slightly different tone to the animation here, not quite as hysterical and condescending as in American animation.
"Despicable Me" is a delightful animation that adults can enjoy as well as kids. The Blu-ray can be purchased in a combo pack that includes a DVD and digital copy. There is a limited edition, Target exclusive that comes with minion goggles.
Since the Coen Brothers will be releasing their remake of "True Grit" on Christmas, what better time to go out and buy the Blu-ray of the 1969 original film that won John Wayne his first Oscar. The first film was a showcase for Wayne's over the top summation of his career. The new film gives the young girl a more featured role, allowing the remake to be more of her story. The 1969 film by Henry Hathaway is a stock studio film all the way but Wayne and Kim Darby as the young girl are fun to watch. Also look for Dennis Hopper in a small role.
Recent films making their Blu-ray debut can mostly be ignored. There is no reason to buy or even watch the remake of TV's "The A-Team," or the new "Nanny McPhee" entry. And "The Other Guys" is at best a rental. I can't see anyone wanting to own this mundane comedy. There are a few laughs but not much more in this cop buddy film starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg.
Also new is "Cyrus," a deliberately uncomfortable mumblecore comedy about a mother (Marisa Tomei), her son (Jonah Hill), and her new boyfriend (John C. Reilly. It becomes a triangular relationship film about a man trying to find a way to have a relationship when the most important man in his girlfriend's life seems to be her grown son. Fine performances especially by Tomei but sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or wince. A variety of parental relationships are at the heart of "Mother and Child." This is a well-acted, multi-stranded, multi-character film in which everything ties up very neatly in a bow at the end. Annette Bening gives essentially the same performance here as she did in "The Kids are All Right" only here it's more shrill. Some good elements but ultimately too contrived. A bizarrely fascinating doc is available in "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work." But I don't think this is something you want to own, just rent. The film is up close and unflinching as it examines River' life and career as she turns 75. Also new today is the charming French comedy "Micmacs" from Jean Pierre Jeunet. The film is a contrived, multi-character work but it turns its contrivance to its advantage. Jeunet crafts what is essentially a cinematic Rube Goldberg in which a ball is set in motion in the opening scene and it cues a series of complicated reactions that all lead to one thing in the end. It's a delight to see how everything will play out and the actors prove to be an exceptionally charming lot.
One other old release that is interesting is "Harsh Times" (2005) with Christian Bale and Freddy Rodriguez (also of "Planet Terror") as South Central friends torn by violence. It's similar to "Training Day" and it serves up a "psycho" Bale performance that might be fun to watch before seeing him as the squirrelly crack addict in "The Fighter." Another oldie comes from the ever-delightful Hammer Films: "Vampire Circus" (1972). How can you resist boobs, blood, vampires, and the plague? It's a fast paced, lurid tale that never pretends to be more than it is. A fine example of Hammer horror.
And a fine example of Asian action cinema can be found in the new Blu-ray edition of John Woo's "Hard-Boiled." This fast and furious cop thriller pairs Chow Yun Fat and Tony Leung as a cop and a killer. Only thing is the killer turns out to be a cop under deep cover. The action scenes are breathtaking and the relationship among the characters has surprising depth and emotion. The film is a delirious summation of the Hong Kong New Wave and it's a must have for any action junkie. Chow sliding down the banister with two guns blazing is one of those perfect moments in cinema.
And finally, a new DVD release from Shout! Factory, a special edition of Alan Rudolph's glorious "Trouble in Mind." It's a quirky, noirish tale as well as an achingly sweet romance. It also boasts a wonderful, performance by Divine (out of drag) and deliciously good as the impatient Hilly Blue. This one too is a keeper.