Thursday, November 26, 2009

November Blu-rays

The Answer Man (Magnolia) – Jeff Daniels has always been one of the most underrated—and little-used—leading men, as anyone with fond memories of Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo can attest. Daniels flexes his comedic and romantic chops in this predictable but winning comedy about a self-help guru who re-emerges in society 20 years after his book, Me and God, was a phenomenal best-seller, only to fall in love with the young doctor (a delightful Lauren Graham) who fixes his back. Writer-director John Hinden has a genuine affection for his characters, and even if he falls into clichéd situations and has an unsatisfying wrap-up, he’s a talent to watch out for. Blu-Ray doesn’t really help improve the image of a low-budget Sundance entry; extras include short interviews and featurettes with Hinden, Daniels and Graham.

The Cunning Little Vixen (Medici Arts) - Leos Janacek’s fairy tale opera is wonderfully brought to life in this 2008 Paris Opera production. On the surface, this musical gem about a canny fox seems like family-friendly entertainment, yet lurking underneath is a dark musical and dramatic impulse. This staging gets it right, from the bright-colored sets and adorable singing animals to the later tragic but life-affirming events. On Blu-Ray, Janacek’s world looks vividly real; the orchestra (led by Dennis Russell Davies) sounds superb, as do the first-rate singer. The lone extra is a glimpse backstage with interviews.

The Kevin Smith Collection (Miramax) – Kevin Smith made his mark with Clerks, and his 1994 debut heralding a singularly new comic voice in American movies is the highlight of this three-film Blu-Ray collection. Nothing he’s made since has been as indelible as that no-budget, hilarious portrait of ne’er-do-wells working at convenience and video stores, even though he’s retained the same infantile humor since. The other movies in this set are Chasing Amy, Smith’s disastrous 1997 attempt at a brainy comedy about an irresistible young woman who attracts both sexes, and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, the 2001 hit-or-miss comedy that parodies Hollywood and Smith’s infantilism. Visuals have never been Smith’s forte—in fact, the crude B&W images are part of Clerks’ charm—but the Blu-Ray transfers are marked improvements over previous releases. There are anomalies in the extras—plentiful for Clerks and Amy, nearly non-existent for Jay and Silent Bob—with some dropped from earlier releases and others have been added. So Smith completists will keep the other discs and buy these to keep current.

My Sister’s Keeper (Warners) – Based on Jodi Pecault’s best-seller, My Sister’s Keeper is a quality tear-jerker that keeps maudlin to a minimum, even while ramping up the emotions of a court case pitting a young girl against her parents, who are dealing with their cancer-ridden daughter. Director Nick Cassavetes bypasses opportunities to make this a sob fest, abetted by solidly understated acting from everyone except Cameron Diaz, so out of her depth as the emotionally charged mother that she threatens to topple the movie. But Abigail Breslin, Jason Patric, Sofia Vassilieva and Alec Baldwin are so strong that Diaz’s ineptitude is not a fatal flaw. Extras include a Blu-ray exclusive featurette about turning the novel into a movie, along with deleted scenes.

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (Sony) – Tony Scott’s remake of Joseph Sargent’s tense 1974 thriller about a terrorist who holds dozens of hostages on a Manhattan subway train in exchange for millions of dollars is typically overdone, with more explosions, car crashes and rapid-fire editing than this well-constructed story needs. Scott is smart enough to have cast the always reliable Denzel Washington as his flawed hero, an MTA employee who talks to the bad guy (a shrill, unmenacing John Travolta) in attempt to trap him. There’s also good support from James Gandolfini as a Bloomberg-type mayor. On Blu-Ray, the movie’s underground textures pop off the screen, and the many extras include two audio commentaries, a 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary and featurettes on the NYC subway, marketing and the film’s characters.

The Ugly Truth (Sony) – If Hollywood was smart, Katharine Heigl would star in every romantic comedy until doomsday (which is in 2012, right?). This charming, funny, level-headed actress deserves to be in better films, but since that hasn’t happened, why not put her in every Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts role? As hackneyed and incredibly dopey as The Ugly Truth becomes, there’s no denying the truth: Heigl’s precise comic timing and fearlessness (she even makes that idiotic vibrating underwear scene work) make this more watchable than it deserves. Gerard Butler can’t keep up with Heigl comedically but is a credible leading man. The Blu-Ray has enough amusing extras (gag reel, deleted scenes, interviews, commentary) to satisfy fans of this definitely R-rated romantic comedy.

originally posted on

No comments: