The Muppets (2011, James Bobbin) – While it’s as funny as one would hope a Muppet film would be, the rebooting of this finely-felted gang of friends, courtesy of Disney and star and co-writer Jason Segel, does have a few fairly big problems. Structurally the film is a bit wonky, and the script feels like the result of many different people having a lot of different feelings about the tone of the film. To call a film like The Muppets out on such seemingly trivial issues might sound like the groanings of Statler and Waldorf, but despite any such complaints The Muppets are undoubtedly back at the top of their game comedically.
Brothers Gary (Segel) and Walter (inexplicably a Muppet) have grown up idolizing The Muppets, particularly Walter who always dreamed of being a part of the great comedic team. When Gary decides to take his long time girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) on a trip to California, they find the Muppet Theatre to be dilapidated nearly beyond repair and about to be stolen away from our felted friends by a rich oil baron (Chris Cooper). With Walter’s urging, Kermit gets the estranged gang back together to put on a show and save the theatre’s heritage.
The gags are consistently funny and the performances and cameos are in the classic tradition of using famous faces that are great sports, but the film seems choppy at times and the songs from Academy Award winner Bret McKenzie sometimes feel like discarded ideas from his time in Flight of the Conchords. Still, it’s a dream come true to see The Muppets back on the big screen in something other than a literary adaptation. These guys haven’t lost a step.
Aside from some excellent picture and sound quality, the Wocka Wocka Pack Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy/Soundtrack combo pack isn’t quite the comprehensive package one probably hopes it would be. The lengthy nine minute blooper reel is more amusing than particularly funny (save for two riotous outtakes with the underused Rowlf the Dog), and the several deleted and extended scenes hint at a much longer cut that isn’t explained at all. Two of the scenes include huge cameos that seem to merit their inclusion, but they are from a subplot that remains as of yet unexplained. It’s also a bit of a bummer that the really great Toy Story short that preceded the theatrical release is missing here. The best features aside from getting a digital download of the catchy soundtrack, are an amusingly avant-garde 15 minute making of documentary that keeps going on unrelated tangents, and a wonderful commentary track from Segel, co-writer Nicholas Stoller, and Bobbin. Also, be sure to pause the film a few times if you’ve seen it already as there are some interesting Easter Eggs for patient viewers.
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011, David Fincher) – The only real issues with David Fincher’s take on Stieg Larsson’s best selling The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are problems that were in the original story to begin with. It’s overlong, needlessly convoluted in terms of pacing, and the plot is sleazy and dumb as a box of hammers. Having said that, this remounting of the Swedish pop culture juggernaut firmly establishes Fincher as one of the best in the world at what he does. A technical maestro of the highest order, Fincher teams up with two pitch perfect leading actors to make the pulpy material vastly more watchable and entertaining than it probably should be.
Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has barely had time to recover from his recent libel suit when he is called away from his family’s Christmas dinner to meet with rich industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). The elder Vanger wishes for Blomkvist to not only construct a written family history and memoir for him, but to also help track down his niece who has been missing and presumed murdered for 40 years. Stymied not only by the Vanger family’s remote island compound, but also by bureaucratic paperwork and almost undecipherable, incomplete clues, Mikael enlists the help of the mysterious and possibly dangerous Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) – A master hacker and technical wizard with extremely antisocial tendencies. Together the pair uncover a mystery shrouded in the family’s dark past.
Filled with intensely accomplished technical credits and two incredible career-best performances from Craig and Mara, Fincher has returned to his Seven roots with another polished bit of pulpy entertainment. While Steve Zallian’s script is virtually indistinguishable from the original Swedish film, Fincher still finds ways to tune up the material and make it his own.
The Combo Pack Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy comes with a commentary track from Fincher on both versions, but all the special features are on the Blu-ray. As expected from a Fincher release, there are plenty of featurettes and multi-angle interactive pieces for film nerds to geek out over that span the entire production from the origins of the books to the film’s release. It also looks and sounds as amazing as it does in a theatre. It demands to be viewed with the best set-up possible.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011, Tomas Alfredson) – This stoic, but intense drama from the director of Let the Right One In attempts to take the famed, sparawling spy novel from writer John le Carre and the equally sprawling 1979 BBC miniseries adaptation and boil it down into just a little over two hours. It’s got the look and the feel down pat, with some killer performances, but this one’s definitely overstuffed.
George Smiley (Gary Oldman) has just been brought back into the MI-6 fray after a forced retirement to suss out the identity of a mole within the British intelligence organization. Without his former mentor to fall back on, Smiley has to rely on a junior agent (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a disgraced operative (an excellent Tom Hardy) to help get to the bottom of things.
The story moves far too quickly for its own good, but this film works better at home than in a theatre. It all still adds up, but the compression of everything is almost enough to induce whiplash. Still, Alfredson is a heck of a talent, crafting a film so atmospheric you can smell the smoke hanging off the ugly 70s shag carpeting. But the performances are the real hook here, with Oldman leading an all star cast that also includes great turns from Mark Strong (never better as a shell shocked former agent in hiding) and Colin Firth (as a bureaucrat who seemingly never leaves his office).
The Blu-ray brings out all the smoky colours and adds real depth to the shadowy scenes inside “the circus,” as the organization is often referred to. The commentary track with Alfredson and Oldman is also a must listen for period filmmaking buffs. Aside from that, there are really just a couple of featurettes and cast and crew interviews to round out the special features.
My Week With Marilyn (2011, Simon Curtis) – Aside from a great lead performance from Michelle Williams (who was flat out robbed by Meryl “My movie really sucked” Streep at this year’s Oscars) as the sexpot Marilyn Monroe, My Week With Marilyn probably wasn’t exactly the Oscar bait the Weinstein’s hoped it would be. It’s a pleasant enough piece of fluff based on the memoirs documenting filmmaker Colin Clark’s youthful encounters with Monroe, but in no way is this is serious or hard hitting biopic.
Before he would become a famous documentarian in his own right Clark (Eddie Redmayne) began as a production assistant on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl, set to co-star the volatile Monroe just as her stardom was beginning to skyrocket. Despite having feelings for the shoot’s costumer (Emma Watson), Monroe gravitates towards to young Colin more than she does the director (Kenneth Branagh), her acting coach (Zoe Wanamaker), her handler (Dominic Cooper, always looking pissed off), or her husband, playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). The two begin a generally chaste, but flirtatious affair that changes both of their lives forever.
Williams might command the screen with one of the best female performances of last year, but the supporting cast elevates the material more than TV veteran Curtis ever could. The film comes across as an A-list soap opera where everyone purposefully plays to the bleachers. It’s pure fantasy disguised as a prestige picture, but it’s not without charm or merit.
The DVD includes commentary from Curtis and a featurette about Monroe, neither of which will tell fans of the blonde bombshell anything they don’t already know. But the Blu-ray looks and sounds nice.
Also out this week: Jonah Hill teams with Pineapple Express director and former indie-wunderkind David Gordon Green for the amusing comedy The Sitter, and Russell Brand voices the Easter Bunny in the better than expected family comedy Hop.
Editor’s note: In an effort to keep providing comprehensive DVD coverage, from here on out our Tuesday postings will reflect new and first time DVD releases. Every Friday, however, we will have a special column dedicated to older films and re-releases. Come back this Friday for our takes on Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (with Johnny Depp), the long awaited Battle Royale box set, and three really special sets from Turner Classic Movies.