A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg) – While everyone slowly beings to froth at the mouth following the release of a French teaser for Cronenberg’s next film Cosmoplois, the director’s most recent effort makes it’s way to DVD and Blu-ray after being a bit slept on and misunderstood by some upon its theatrical release. A very straight laced period piece that just so happens to look at some of Cronenberg’s favourite psychological signifiers, A Dangerous Method is both a welcome addition and an odd man out in his filmography.
Based on both John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method and screenwriter Chris Hamilton’s play The Talking Cure, Cronenberg looks at the professional relationship between famed psychoanalysts Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and the impact that the former’s relationship with a past patient (Kiera Knightley, playing the also notable Sabina Spielrein) had on their perception of one another. The film belongs mostly to Jung who watches as his former patient displays remarkable analytical skills following her recovery from a bout of extended hysteria, and it becomes a chronicle of his own adulterous sexual relationship with her.
Quite possibly one of the best examples of how subtext can become text, Cronenberg and his cast put on a clinic for viewers simply looking for a well done historical drama. Instead of leaving a lot unsaid and under the visual surface as he often does in his other works, Cronenberg lets everything out into the open. That cast also rise to the occasion with Fassbender rightfully taking the lead over Mortensen’s arrogant stuffed shirt. Knightley’s performance takes a little while to warm up to, but once the audience sees where she’s going with it, everything makes sense. Vincent Cassel also shows up as a visiting doctor turned patient who could easily have a movie made about his own exploits.
The Blu-ray looks and sounds great, but it’s a little light in the special features department, with only a few interviews, some clips, and some B-roll footage.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011, Stephen Daldry) – When Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close first came out, I felt like I was one of the few people who actually adored it. Reviews from far and wide bashed director Stephen Daldry’s film for feeling manipulative and overwrought, but I stuck to my guns and never wavered in my love for this movie, which made it to number ten on my list of the best films of last year. Then, you know, it got nominated somewhat inexplicably for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, and I felt somewhat vindicated. Now that it’s reached home video, I hope that more people will take this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s best seller for what it is: a modern day fairy tale told from an extremely earnest and genuine point of view.
A young, neurotic child prodigy named Oskar (newcomer and former Jeopardy contestant Thomas Horn) still mourns the loss of his father (Tom Hanks) one year after he passed away in the September 11th World Trade Centre bombings. After discovering a key inside a vase in a closet that Oskar believes was part of one of the elaborate games he used to play with his dad, the young man travels in and out of the lives of various people in New York City trying to piece together the clues. He’s aided by a mute lodger (Academy Award nominee Max Von Sydow) that lives with his grandmother, while he constantly stymies his mother who’s still struggling to raise Oskar on her own despite always being the more absentee parent.
Daldry’s gift for stunning visuals serves the film well as he deals with some tough subject matter in a tactfully and wholly cinematic way. This film deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible as Daldry fills the frame with colours and settings that simply dazzle. None of this takes anything away from the cast, though, with Horn constantly straddling the line between precious and annoying. That works surprisingly well since that’s exactly how that character should be played in the first place. Sydow’s nomination was completely justifiable despite never once saying a word, but Bullock probably deserved something for her work here, as well. A scene at the mid-point in the film where she has an argument with her on-screen son is positively gutting and a thousand times more satisfying to watch than even ten second’s worth of The Blind Side.
The film is definitely a Blu-ray experience if you have the option. The picture leaps off the screen and the sound mix accurately carries over from the theatrical experience. The DVD and Blu-ray both have a featurette that looks at the casting of Thomas Horn, but the Blu-ray has three other exclusive featurettes, including a making of (featuring interviews with Hanks and Bullock), a look back with 9/11 survivors made in part with Tuesday’s Children, and a look at how Sydow created and honed his character.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011, Mike Mitchell) – Now to just go right on ahead and lose the last shred of critical credibility I had, I’ll go on record for a second time stating that I didn’t hate the third film in the somewhat creepy CGI Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise. I definitely hated the first two, but this one honestly works. Is it good? Oh, hell no. But at least this film actually feels like a film about the singing sibling critters. It’s closer in tone to the 1980s animated theatrical outing, it actually cuts back on the grating pop culture references by 75%, and for once people seem to be giving a shit. Jason Lee doesn’t look comatose for once, and Jenny Slate has some great moments as a crazed castaway on an island the ‘munks and the Chipettes was ashore on after a mishap on a cruise ship. Even David Cross, who shit talked the production of the film to high heaven, shows some comedic understanding as he plays the entire film in a pelican suit.
Does anyone really care about the DVD quality of special features on this one? Unless you’re buying it for your kids you probably already skipped over this, but there’s a ton of things for the kids to do on the Blu-ray. For adults, there is on concession: a featurette with Alan Tudyk as he talks about doing the voice of the altar ego Simon develops after being hit on the head. Other than that, I think we’re done here.
Monster Brawl (2011, Jesse Thomas Cook) – Despite being the opening film at this past year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Monster Brawl is the kind of film that works better from a critical perspective on the small screen than it does on the big screen. Combining monster mash-ups with old school Saturday afternoon wrestling shows from the late 80s and early 90s, writer-director Cook hasn’t really made an actual film with anything at all resembling a plot, but he has created an interesting and infectiously fun mock television experience that will appeal to lovers of bodyslams and finely tuned cheese.
Monsters from all over the world have been summoned to a graveyard in Central Michigan to compete in a tournament to determine who’s the baddest of them all. Following a template close to that of a wrestling pay-per-view, the film even features two undercard matches before getting into the heavyweight championship tournament where a werewolf takes on a bog monster and Frankenstein takes on a zombie that just happens to be managed by a marine played by wrestling/Super Shredder legend Kevin Nash. The proceedings come complete with a pair of colour analysts (Dave Foley and Art Hindle, being great sports and really getting into the material) and the legendary Mouth of the South Jimmy Hart as the ring announcer.
If I were a kid and Monster Brawl were a real show that was on every week, I would’ve watched the shit out of that thing. Vicious monsters settling scores in a wresting ring with no-holds-barred matches? I wouldn’t be able to turn the dial on the TV fast enough. Cook definitely raises his fanboy flag as high as possible with this one including as many monster and wresting in-jokes as he possibly can, ranging from nice, subtle touches to easily accessible pop culture iconography. Who cares that the film looks like it cost $5 to make (putting its production values somewhere between Ring of Honor and CZW by today’s standards)? The matches are fun to watch and the between match promos cut by the monsters are comedic gold.
The extras on the Blu-ray are pretty lacking for the most part. The commentary from Scott and producers Matt Wiele and John Geddes is extremely tedious to listen to, and the making-of featurette only has some interesting insight when it comes to talking about the make-up effects courtesy of the aptly named, The Brothers Gore. The only feature worth looking into would be a great 6 minute reel of B-roll footage that features the utterly charming Jimmy Hart dishing on his past and present. It’s so candid and humble that you just want to give the guy a hug. On the technical side of things, the Blu-ray looks probably as good as the film did when it was shot, but the sound mix on this thing is pretty wonky with channels randomly cutting out for no good reason. That’s a strange problem to have.
Confucius (2010, Hu Mei) – Maybe it’s because they cost the most money to make, but the films coming out of China that often get the most recognition in North America are sprawling, big budget, historical epics. Quite often, these films (produced in large part by the state) are simple, nationalistic pride pieces that get laughed off screens in near record time. Thankfully, Hu Mei’s look at the famed philosopher who gave the world as many idioms as Shakespeare did plays is an even handed, almost entirely a political effort. That’s both a good and bad thing. The film ends up being so dry and needlessly fast paced that it nearly dies a very pretty looking death.
Saving it from ever coming close to total failure is Chow Yun-Fat as Kong Qiu, the man who would become one of the world’s most noted analytical minds. Mei explores his life beginning at age 51 when he was the mayor of a town noted for its lawfulness to becoming a head of state where his ideas on ethics and the aristocracy weren’t exactly the right fit. After about an hour focusing on his political career, the film follows his return to his scholarly roots while living a more nomadic lifestyle.
Marred by cheesy dialog and a pace that’s far too fast for it’s own good, Mei somehow manages to keep her film on the rails most of the time. It doesn’t help that the film starts up mid-story with people being introduced with title cards that fill in their importance on top of some very fast moving subtitles that go by too quickly to register at times. But even with such a quick pace, the film often comes across as quite staid and proper despite obvious elements of fantasy and dramatic license as the film goes on to fill in the factual gaps.
The true aces of this film, however, are Yun-Fat and cinematographer Peter Pau, who won an Academy Award for his work on Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yun-Fat adds a lot of soul and warmth to a character that one wouldn’t expect to be anything other than purely stoic. Pau adds the gravitas the script is lacking throughout as he makes sure every penny of the film’s massive budget makes its way to the screen. It’s definitely something worth seeing on Blu-ray for those who are truly interested.
The package of the featurettes on the Blu-ray are also worth a look with a great focus placed on the painstaking recreations of ancient China and the acting abilities of Yun-Fat who really comes across as one of the great actors of his generation. It’s just a shame that sometimes the mini-documentaries are more engrossing than the film they came out of.
Corman’s World (2011 Alex Stapleton, Review by Phil Brown) – Everyone’s favourite schlock-slinger Roger Corman gets a worthy tribute in the new documentary Corman’s World. The penny pinching writer/producer/director of all things lurid has been the subject of a few career appreciations as of late from a lifetime achievement Academy Award to Shout Factory DVD double features and a hilarious doc about of his wild exploitation days in the Filipino film industry (Machete Maidens Unleashed), but Alex Stapleton’s new film offers the best introduction for those uninitiated to the cult of Corman. It’s star packed, comprehensive, filled with stock footage of gore n’ nudity, and of course very entertaining. Corman wouldn’t have it any other way (particularly in term of the blood, boobies, and entertainment).
Stapleton’s movie opens with footage of Corman supervising his latest SyFy channel project involving some sort of dinosaur ripping apart pretty young beach bunnies. We see a charming old man supervising the silly bloodbath with an eye on the time and the budget. It’s a bizarre image that wouldn’t suggest the subject is a cinematic legend, but quickly the doc dives into an adoring retrospective. We’re introduced to a fiercely independent artist who became disgusted with Hollywood bureaucracy early in his career and left to crank out 50s monster movies for budgets roughly equal to a Beverly Hills high schooler’s lunch money. A string of B-movie successes led to him rise up to making glossy Edgar Allen Poe adaptations with Vincent Price that are regarded classics. Eventually he created his own studio New World Pictures and was responsible for launching the careers of countless 70s film luminaries.
Corman’s World is filled with adoring praise from people given their first crack at filmmaking through Corman’s wild man exploitation flicks. The likes of Joe Dante, Peter Fonda, William Shatner, Jonathan Demme, Martin Scorsese and Jack Nicholson all spout out endless love for the reserved man with a perverted imagination. What’s nice is that it never feels like self-aggrandizing Hollywood backslapping, but genuine appreciation for an independent artist who clearly enjoyed supporting new talent, even if he was sending them off to make forgettable women in prison pictures to fill drive-in slots. Though only a handful of the 400+ films Corman cranked out over his career qualify as genuine classics, the importance and impact of the man himself on the film industry cannot be overstated. Stapleton’s movie gets the point across succinctly and sweetly in a way that will hopefully introduce his legacy to a new generation who know Corman only as the guy who made Sharktopus. A vital piece of movie geek education that thankfully never feels like a tedious history lesson. Anchor Bay’s shiny new movie disc also comes with a handful of extended interviews, offering more of the same for anyone anxious for extra Roger once the credits roll.