TIFF 2011 - Melancholia - Featured

This Week in DVD: 3/13/12

The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures Of Tintin (2011, Steven Spielberg): While this blockbuster version of the popular comic may have qualified as a bit of a bomb in North America by only bringing in $77 million, the movie was still a hit worldwide with the total box office tally coming in at just under $400 million. In a way, that makes sense, since Herge’s books have always been huge everywhere outside of the apathetic North America. However, even if you’ve always dismissed the pint-sized ginger adventurer, the movie is still worth your time. Certainly I was never particularly into this family-friendly action series on the page, but filtered through the minds of two of cinema’s greatest fantasists in Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, it’s one hell of a ride. If you were one of the people deeply disappointed by Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (a.k.a. everyone who saw it other than George Lucas and our own arts editor and usual column writer Andrew Parker), get excited. This is a far better Indy adventure from Spielberg than that fridge-nuking disaster, and a much better return behind the camera for the bearded wonder than the overrated Oscar bait of War Horse.

The plot isn’t worth getting into very much. Within 30 seconds of kicking off, Tintin (Jamie Bell) buys the movie’s MacGuffin, a model ship containing a mysterious map. As soon as he’s got it, he chased by mysteriously evil folks seeking the ship, meets his longtime buddy the drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and gets into all sorts of globetrotting adventures. Impressively, the story is told almost entirely through set pieces, with barely a second passing by without some sort of slapstick or action sequence. The screenplay written by Tintin fanatics Steven Moffat (Dr. Who), Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead), and Joe Cornish (Attack The Block) is true to the source material, which means some humor that will fall flat for non-fans and endless adventure sure to please anyone with a pulse.

With the ludicrously successful team of Spielberg and Jackson calling the shots, the motion-capture production values are second to none, going a step beyond the creepy dead-eyed characterizations that plagued Robert Zemeckis’ efforts in the format. As a director, Spielberg seems energized by the material, creating his most breezily entertaining movie in years and crafting some incredible action scenes that would have never been possible in live action (including one astounding chase sequence executed in a single virtual take). Given the dated source material, the movie may be a little too whimsically innocent for some, but it is a far better movie than the limp North American box office numbers suggest and deserves rediscovery on shiny movie discs.

Paramount’s Blu-ray boasts a stunning transfer highlighting the amazing work of the animation team and the 3D is never missed. There’s only one special feature on the disc, but it’s a biggie and a goodie: a 90 minute making of doc in 11 chapters covering every conceivable aspect of production that will tell you everything you could possibly want to know about the film and a few things you won’t care about.

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TIFF 2011 - Melancholia

Melancholia (2011, Lars Von Trier): Lars Von Trier may have racked up plenty of awards over his career, but the prize for “the world’s cheeriest filmmaker” is one he’s never in danger of collecting. So it makes sense that he would make a movie called Melancholia and make a movie about the apocalypse. That’s just perfect fodder for the eccentric Danish depressive and combing both into the same film suggests it might be something of a career-defining work. Well, Melancholia isn’t his greatest movie, but it is damn good and was sadly overlooked during the recent awards run due to the director’s unfortunate Nazi comments during the film’s press conference in Cannes.

After an incredible silent prologue that spoils the earth-smashing ending of the film (although, if you didn’t think Von Trier would actually stage the apocalypse, you’re more insane than him), we’re introduced to Kirsten Dunst as the world’s worst bride. A girl who shows up late n’ depressed to her own wedding reception, watches her parents drunkenly embarrass themselves during the speeches, then manages to ruin her marriage, quit her job, and alienate all of her friends and family by the end of the night. This section almost feels like a dark comedy spin on Von Trier’s Dogme buddy Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen. Then a second movie starts with Dunst visiting her sister’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) mansion too depressed to even drag herself out of bed. She’s there to witness an astrological phenomenon where the planet Melancholia will pass by the earth or at least that’s what Gainsbourg’s science loving husband (Kiefer Sutherland) thinks. Of course, we’ve all scene the prologue so no points for guessing if he’s right.

The film is a tale of depression from arguably filmmaking’s greatest sufferer of the condition. In the first half, Dunst seems insane, but once the apocalypse comes along she’s the most rational person on screen. It almost feels like a feature length rationalization for intense depressive behavior and one that works quite well. The performances are remarkable from top to bottom. Dunst’s turn here was certainly better than Meryl’s Maggie Thatcher and every one else gets a chance to flaunt their acting chops from a randy John Hurt, to an embittered Charlotte Rampling, a hilarious cameo from Trier’s regular partner in crime Udo Kier, and of course some wonderful brooding, grounding work from Gainsbourg as the seemingly sane sister. Von Trier weaves together the ensemble human drama and apocalyptic fantasy masterfully to create a deeply powerful cinematic experience. It’s nothing that will ever qualify as a relaxing weekend watch, but it is yet another remarkable achievement from a director who would have an even greater reputation worldwide even he didn’t have an equal gift for accidentally creating controversy whenever he opens his mouth.

The combo DVD/Blu-ray features an amazing transfer that might not always be well served by Von Trier’s shakey-cam style, but he brings out the tripod for enough special effects beauty shots to work out an HD system. A handful of 10 minute featurettes with interviews with key members of the cast and crew are included and are far more insightful than most making-of mini-docs of their kind. It also might end up being a bit of a collector’s item as Von Trier is featured prominently, but has vowed never to speak publicly again. This might be the last time he’s featured on the DVD, which is a shame.

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Young Adult - Charlize Theron Patrick-Wilson

Young Adult (2011 Jason Reitman): Given my complete disgust for Juno, I can’t pretend that I was looking forward to Young Adult, the film that reunites that film’s writer and director Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman (unless your counting their duties as the writer and producer of Jennifer’s Body, respectively). However, the movie is a pleasant surprise for Hamburger phone haters, offering a dark almost angry comedy about deeply unhappy people devoid of Cody’s gratingly snappy dialogue. It’s a surprisingly mature outing for the smarty-pants filmmaking partners filled with wonderful performances and acidic humor.

Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, an embittered part time young adult author and full time alcoholic who’s so trapped in her high school princess adolescence that she makes the bizarre choice to head back to her depressing small town to try and reclaim her former high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) despite the fact that he’s happily married with a child. Admirably, the movie never turns into a fantasy rom-com where Mavis gets back the man of her dreams. That movie exists only in the delusional protagonist’s head, while the audience is awkwardly forced to watch her painfully drawn out journey of self-destruction. Theron is fantastically vile in the film and is equaled (if not bettered) by geek king comedian Patton Oswalt as a small town punching bag who Mavis never would have spoken to in high school, but now becomes her best friend since he’s the only person left in town bitter and self-destructive to get caught up in her passive-aggressive mind games.

The script is a massive leap forward for the critically controversial Cody, showcasing a level of darkness and insight in her writing that never seemed possible before. Granted, if there was any story that she was born to tell it’s one about a self-destructive 30-something woman stuck writing about high school, but she at least deserves the benefit of the doubt for now. The movie is still a little slight, clunky, and in search of a proper ending, but it’s better than it should be. Reitman doesn’t add much, which is also weirdly a good sign for the often self-important show off.

Paramount’s Blu-ray features the best possible technical presentation for the deliberately plain, simple, middle American aesthetic. The disc comes along with a backslapping commentary Reitman and some crew members, as well as a handful deleted scenes, perfunctory featurettes and interviews.

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American Pie - Jason Biggs

The American Pie Trilogy (Various, 1999-2003): Thirteen years ago Jason Biggs stuck his dick into a pie and mainstream comedy was never the same. Along with the surprise blockbuster success of the Farrelly Brothers’ romantic gross out picture There’s Something About Mary, it helped bring back the raunchy R-rated comedy for the 2000s. Whether you consider it a good thing or a bad thing, you can consider the careers of Todd Phillips and Judd Apatow a result the teen sex comedy’s surprising success. Like it or not, American Pie is kind of an important movie. After all, would your mother know what the term MILF means right now if this comedy hasn’t popularized it? Like I said, maybe not a good thing, but definitely a sex slang milestone.

The plot of the first American Pie couldn’t be more generic. A bunch of high school seniors vow to lose their virginity before graduating. Doesn’t get more simple than that, but it works thanks to a talented young cast and subtle, controlled direction from sibling filmmakers Chris and Paul Wiesz (who have since segued into dramas like the Zuckers before them.) Biggs should have been a bigger star, but the pie-fucking legacy never escaped him. Sean William Scott has played variations on Stifler ever since and given how cripplingly funny he is in the role, it’s no mystery why. Chris Klein, well he’s had some ironically hilarious internet videos recently, so that’s something right? Other than Natasha Lyonne and Alyson Hannigan, the girls don’t get to contribute much beyond being sex objects, but that’s sadly a genre staple and at least the overall tone is sweet. Then there’s Eugene Levy who contributes possibly his most famous role as Jim’s Dad, grounding the movie with a veteran comedy presence and clearly having a ball. He was so loved in the role that he ended up being the only actor to appear in the entire series including the direct-to-DVD sequels, which Universal unsurprisingly chose to ignore in this re-release. The movie has aged reasonably well. It was never a masterpiece, just a well-made teen comedy with a little heart. On that level it still works, it just ain’t an Animal House-style timeless raunch comedy classic

With the fourth theatrical franchise entry, American Reunion, only a few weeks away, Universal has seen fit to slip out Blu-rays American Pie, American Pie 2, and American Wedding to build a little hype. While the original is decent enough the follow ups involving a home-from-college party summer and a wedding follow the Hollywood sequel laws of diminishing returns and feel like they were clearly made for profit. Fortunately sex comedies aren’t exactly high art, so they’re still funny, just not as affecting as the original. The new transfers are nice, but aside from promo material for American Reunion there are no new special features. Everything from the loaded DVDs is included, but some retrospective material from the cast and crew would been nice.

Game of Thrones - Jaime Lannister

Also out (last) week: HBO’s crowd-pleasing sex n’ violence fueled fantasy series Game Of Thrones debuts on Blu-ray and DVD this week with the second season on the way. Now fans can comfortably conduct all day marathons of the show without having to take breaks for life and stuff. The addictive series was made for Blu-ray where the stunningly epic visual designs can shine and any questions raised by cliff-hanger episodes endings can be answered with the click of a remote rather an agonizing week-long. 1080p transfers ensure the show looks even prettier than an HD broadcast and fans can lose hours in the special features with commentaries, documentaries, detailed character profiles, In-episode pop-up fact guides, and Easter eggs to keep lonely geeks busy. A great show given the home video treatment it deserves. Go pick this up and giddily watch your social life disappear.

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