Top 10 Best DVD Movies
|1. Skyfall||6. Tyler Perry’s Madea Gets a Job The Play|
|2. Pitch Perfect||7. Alex Cross DVD +|
|3. The Perks of Being a Wallflower||8. The Dark Knight Rises|
|4. Flight||9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel|
|5. Taken 2||10. Marvel’s The Avengers|
Daniel Craig is back as James Bond 007 in SKYFALL, the 23rd installment of the longest-running film franchise in history. In SKYFALL, Bond’s loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past returns to haunt her. 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. When Bond’s latest assignment goes gravely wrong and agents around the world are exposed, MI6 is attacked forcing M to relocate the agency. These events cause her authority and position to be challenged by Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the new Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. With MI6 now compromised from both inside and out, M is left with one ally she can trust: Bond. 007 takes to the shadows – aided only by field agent Eve (Naomie Harris) – following a trail to the mysterious Silva (Javier Bardem), whose lethal and hidden motives have yet to reveal themselves.
Everyone loves musical smackdowns–and Pitch Perfect is full of great ones. Pitch Perfect is like Bring It On crossed with the Step Up movies, flavored with a heavy dose of TV’s Glee and the Straight No Chaser boys. All of this is set appealingly on a college campus, with charming actors and a very funny script that will entertain fans, truly, from 10 to 90. The plot in Pitch Perfect follows the character of college freshman Beca (a delightful Anna Kendrick) as she decides to join her school’s a cappella women’s singing group. (Unlike on Glee, where the glee club is populated with outcasts, college a cappella groups are prestigious–and hard to get into.) Fellow singers include Brittany Snow as Chloe and Alexis Knapp as Stacie, a student who’s hilariously slutty and innocent at the same time. The faculty coordinator is Anna Camp, so memorable in The Help, and here both earnest and a bit naive. There’s also a potential love story between Beca and Jesse (Skylar Astin), a member of the male group at the same school. And the script, by sometime 30 Rock writer Kay Cannon, is witty, wry, and just silly enough. The rest of the time, the singing and music and routines take center stage, as everyone wants them to. Pitch Perfect is a surprisingly fresh and smart take on young adulthood, with a soundtrack that will have you cheering.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower maintains the fine tradition of movies like Running with Scissors and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist in its savvy, sensitive telling of high schoolers coming of age and coming to terms. Though it enters some dark emotional territory as freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman) connects with a clique of older students, the smart sense of humor threaded throughout is as charming as the heavy stuff is powerful. Charlie enters high school with some serious yet indeterminate psychological problems that have clearly devilled him since childhood. We don’t get to know about the extent of his difficulties until the movie’s final scenes, but they’ve made it hard for him to find friends. A device that comes and goes is Charlie’s voice-over of letters he’s writing to an unknown and unnamed friend that describe the hard shell he’s kept closed around himself. It all starts to change for Charlie–mostly for the better–when he hooks up with the eccentric, iconoclastic senior Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his popular step-sister Sam (Emma Watson). The energetic duo bring Charlie into their fold of friends and introduce him to a world outside himself that is probably exactly what he wanted, even though it’s a place of loyalty, trust, and understanding that had previously been unimaginable in the small confines of his tortured head space. As with all friendships, there are rivalries, boundaries, rifts, and betrayals that ebb and flow as the school year unfolds. Charlie’s inevitable breakdown and the healing that he experiences from having been exposed to such acceptance comes full circle in a neat little package at the end. But there’s plenty of honesty, wit, and genuinely moving emotion expressed along the way. All the young actors commit fully to their well-drawn parts, especially the three leads. This may be the post-Potter role that breaks Watson free to revel in her talent, and Miller is a natural as a grown-up teenager who may have most of it figured out, even though the internal confusion he’s tried so hard to bury still rears its head now and again. Set in the early ’90s, the movie is tinged with peripheral period details that never overpower or insert themselves awkwardly into the action. Music is a big part of the characters’ lives and is equally so in the spirit of the story. The writer-director is Stephen Chbosky, who adapted his own semiautobiographical young adult novel. He does right by his audience in presenting a movie that’s fully adult and gets the little things right for anyone who is or ever was an angsty teenager embroiled in that horrible/wonderful search for self.
Few directors can meld high-tech whiz-bang with solid narrative values like Robert Zemeckis, a filmmaker whose best work (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the Back to the Future trilogy, Cast Away) stands tall among the blockbusters. Although there have been times when Zemeckis’s insistence on pushing the special effects envelope can end up overshadowing the story being told (as in his animated version of A Christmas Carol), his innate gifts persist: when he’s in the groove, he can show you something you’ve never seen before, as well as a reason to care about it. Flight, the director’s first wholly live-action film in over a decade, serves as a reminder of just how good he can be, featuring both an exquisitely terrifying crash sequence and a fearless central performance from Denzel Washington. John Gatins’s script serves as a bizarro inversion of the Sully Sullenberger tale: when a routine flight over Atlanta goes terrifyingly wrong, the aircraft’s pilot (Washington) saves his passengers with a near-miraculous display of skill. As the investigation into the disaster begins, however, it becomes apparent that its hero’s impromptu bravery hides a multitude of bad habits. Washington does a brilliant job as a man who is all too aware of his feet of clay, subverting his innate nobility to shattering effect. (As in the earlier Training Day, when he goes to the dark side, the shock ripples the screen.) The strength of his central performance is only amplified by some outstanding supporting work from Kelly Reilly (as a recovering heroin addict), Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, and a scene-stealing John Goodman, who gets a few lines crass enough to remind you that yes, Zemeckis is the same person who once made the low-taste classic Used Cars. Impressive as the cast is, though, it’s unlikely that things would work nearly as well without the director’s grasp of the material, which shifts between horror, black comedy, and uplifting pathos without missing a beat. In his hands, this potential sap story makes for a smart, worldly addiction saga that blessedly refuses to stay within the usual melodramatic lines. Just don’t ever, ever expect to see it as the in-flight entertainment.
5. Taken 2
Coming at a time when the action genre was dominated by shaky-cam Bourne editing shenanigans, 2008’s Taken registered as a pleasantly streamlined surprise: a straight-ahead thriller where the clean, clear style both matched and accentuated Liam Neeson’s ruthless-blunt-object force. Strangely, the sequel feels much more in line with producer Luc (The Transporter, Colombiana) Besson’s other franchises–noisy, chaotically slammed together, and in dazed thrall to its own flash. (If there’s an opportunity for a swooping helicopter shot or a fruit-cart collision, this sucker’s going to go for two.) However, even if it can’t match the impact of its predecessor, the sight of Neeson in righteous revenge mode still carries some considerably addictive juice. Set several years after the events of the first installment, the story finds Neeson’s black-ops professional losing ground with his beloved daughter (Maggie Grace), while forming a tentative rapprochement with his ex-wife (the always welcome Famke Janssen). During a working vacation in Istanbul, their family ties are sorely testing by the appearance of an army of villains with a particular score to settle. Director Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3) digresses wildly from previous director Pierre Morel’s no-nonsense approach, choosing instead to revel in over-the-top implausibilities; some pleasantly goofy (two words: grenade cartography), and others just sort of baffling (the reprisal of the first film’s famous phone call comes in the middle of a fight scene, while a bunch of armed goons stand around obligingly). Still, even if the narrative rarely makes sense, Neeson keeps things from wandering too far off track, via sheer movie star presence. Craggier and somehow taller than ever, he makes for an ideal Family Man of Action: intriguingly self-contained, tender in repose, and absolutely ferocious when provoked. When he gets going, prepare to feel a little sorry for the bad guys.
Tyler Perry’s new musical stage play starring the infamous Mabel Simmons or “Madea” as her fans know her. When a judge orders Madea to do 20 hours of community service at a local retirement home the residents and staff are not ready for Madea’s brand of “the truth”, but all is well that ends well when Madea helps the residence of Easy Rest Retirement Home realize the importance of family, love and forgiveness.
Having cornered the market on his signature brand of inspirational comedy, Tyler Perry makes a bid for action-movie supremacy with this grisly adaptation of author James Patterson’s most popular character. Loosely based on the 12th novel in the series (2007’s Cross), the plot follows the early days of the title character, a genius police detective/psychologist trying to clean up the mean streets of Detroit while keeping his family out of the line of fire. As he mulls over accepting a job with the FBI, he and his team are forced to match wits with a psychotic contract killer (Matthew Fox), who displays a disturbing commitment towards seeing his job through. Director Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious, XXX) knows this turf well, delivering an effective mix of creeping thriller sequences and go-for-broke action scenes. (Parents should be warned that the crime scenes glimpsed here push the PG-13 rating to the urpy limits and beyond.) Faced with the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of Morgan Freeman (who played the character in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider), Perry does a credible job in portraying both the tender and vengeful aspects of his character, even if the script often falls into the trap of having other characters exclaiming how brilliant Cross is, rather than letting the viewers see the deductive process for themselves. Based on his first attempt, any future entries in the franchise appear to be in good hands. Ultimately, however, the other elements of Alex Cross pale in comparison to Fox, who goes all out–and then some–in giving the audience someone to hiss at. He’s shorn down to what appears to be a negative body-fat ratio, and occasionally literally froths at the mouth–and his dedication to creating a villain for the ages quickly overpowers the material. Once this freaky beanpole starts chewing the scenery, you’ll be glad that the filmmakers decided against shooting in 3-D.
Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, TDK Rises finds Bruce Wayne broken in spirit and body from his moral and physical battle with the Joker. Gotham City is at peace primarily because Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent’s murder, allowing the former district attorney’s memory to remain as a crime-fighting hero rather than the lunatic destructor he became as Two-Face. But that meant Batman’s cape and cowl wound up in cold storage–perhaps for good–with only police commissioner Jim Gordon in possession of the truth. The threat that faces Gotham now is by no means new; as deployed by the intricate script that weaves themes first explored in Batman Begins, fundamental conflicts that predate his own origins are at the heart of the ultimate struggle that will leave Batman and his city either triumphant or in ashes. It is one of the movie’s greatest achievements that we really don’t know which way it will end up until its final exhilarating moments. Intricate may be an understatement in the construction of the script by Nolan and his brother Jonathan. The multilayered story includes a battle for control of Wayne Industries and the decimation of Bruce Wayne’s personal wealth; a destructive yet potentially earth-saving clean energy source; a desolate prison colony on the other side of the globe; terrorist attacks against people, property, and the world’s economic foundation; the redistribution of wealth to the 99 percent; and a virtuoso jewel thief who is identified in every way except name as Catwoman. Played with saucy fun and sexy danger by Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle is sort of the catalyst (!) for all the plot threads, especially when she whispers into Bruce’s ear at a charity ball some prescient words about a coming storm that will tear Gotham asunder. As unpredictable as it is sometimes hard to follow, the winds of this storm blow in a raft of diverse and extremely compelling new characters (including Selina Kyle) who are all part of a dance that ends with the ballet of a cataclysmic denouement. Among the new faces are Marion Cotillard as a green-energy advocate and Wayne Industries board member and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a devoted Gotham cop who may lead Nolan into a new comic book franchise. The hulking monster Bane, played by Tom Hardy with powerful confidence even under a clawlike mask, is so much more than a villain (and the toughest match yet for Batman’s prowess). Though he ends up being less important to the movie’s moral themes and can’t really match Heath Ledger’s maniacal turn as Joker, his mesmerizing swagger and presence as demonic force personified are an affecting counterpoint to the moral battle that rages within Batman himself. Christian Bale gives his most dynamic performance yet as the tortured hero, and Michael Caine (Alfred), Gary Oldman (Gordon), and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) all return with more gravitas and emotional weight than ever before. Then there’s the action. Punctuated by three or four magnificent set pieces, TDKR deftly mixes the cinematic process of providing information with punches of pow throughout (an airplane-to-airplane kidnap/rescue, an institutional terrorist assault and subsequent chase, and the choreographed crippling of an entire city are the above-mentioned highlights). The added impact of the movie’s extensive Imax footage ups the wow factor, all of it kinetically controlled by Nolan and his top lieutenants Wally Pfister (cinematography), Hans Zimmer (composer), Lee Smith (editor), and Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh (production designers). The best recommendation TDKR carries is that it does not leave one wanting for more. At 164 minutes, there’s plenty of nonstop dramatic enthrallment for a single sitting. More important, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction that The Dark Knight Rises leaves as the fulfilling conclusion to an absorbing saga that remains relevant, resonant, and above all thoroughly entertaining.
Some of the finest actors in England lend their formidable talents to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a charming fish-out-of-water yarn. The Brits, who include Evelyn (Judi Dench), Muriel (Maggie Smith), Douglas (Bill Nighy), and Graham (Tom Wilkinson), are planning retirement in a less expensive country. After “thorough research on the Internet,” the group chooses what looks to be a grand, peaceful retreat, the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It turns out that the bloom is off this marigold–it’s shabby, antiquated, and as chaotic as the city in India, Jaipur, where it is set. Who can adapt to this very different retirement experience, and who founders? That question lies at the heart of the plot ofThe Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The cast is uniformly superb, as the retirees bond and bicker and fall out and then try to encourage one another. And Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) shines as Sonny, the barely-holding-it-together Marigold Hotel manager. Patel and Tena Desae, who plays Sunaina, his girlfriend, are charming yet face adaptation struggles of their own, in a modern-day India still tied strongly to its traditions but rapidly charging into the future. And the young Indians also seem to represent the energetic future, as the Brits represent the old world that’s fast falling. At its heart, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, deftly directed by John Madden, is an uplifting journey, allowing the viewer to feel what the retirees are discovering on the screen. When Evelyn sighs, “Nothing here has worked out quite as I expected,” Muriel crisply replies, “Most things don’t. But sometimes what happens instead is the good stuff.” The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is most definitely the good stuff.
Blasphemy? Perhaps. But the best thing about what may be the most rousing and well-crafted superhero movie since The Dark Knight is not the boffo action scenes that culminate in a New York City-destroying finale that rivals Michael Bay’s obliteration of the Chicago skyline in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. No, the real appeal of The Avengers comes from the quiet moments among a group of decidedly unquiet humans, extra-humans, mutants, and demigods. In no particular order those are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), S.H.I.E.L.D. world-government commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and indispensable functionary Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). That’s a superstar lineup both in and out of character, and The Avengers brilliantly integrates the cast of ensemble egos into a story that snaps and crackles–not to mention smashes, trashes, and destroys–at breakneck pace, never sacrificing visual dazzle or hard-earned story dynamics. Writer-director Joss Whedon is no slouch when it comes to being a comic geek and he handles the heavy duty reins with efficient panache. The effects are of course spectacular. They include a monstrous flying aircraft carrier that is home base to S.H.I.E.L.D. and Nick Fury’s Avenger Initiative; Tony Stark’s gleaming skyscraper in midtown Manhattan; off-world scenes of malignant evil; as well as blindingly apocalyptic fights and the above-mentioned showdown that leaves New York a virtual ruin. Yet it’s the deeply personal conversations and confrontations among the very reluctant team of Avengers that makes the movie pop. Full of humor, snappy dialogue, and little asides that include inside jokes, eye rolls, and personal grudge matches, the script makes these superhumans real beings with sincere passion or feelings of disillusionment. The conviction of the actors as they fully commit to their clever lines gives credibility to what comes off as more than simple banter, even during the more incredible moments among them (of which are many). The plot involves the appearance of Loki, disgraced villain and brother of Thor, who was also a key player in his eponymous movie. Loki has come to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract, a blue-glowing energy cube that is valuable beyond compare to forces good and evil throughout the universe. As Loki, Tom Hiddleston is supremely, yea gloriously appealing as the brilliantly wicked regal charmer who captures minds from S.H.I.E.L.D. and attempts to conquer Earth with the hideous army at his command. To say he is foiled is an understatement. His face-off with the Hulk is one of the giddiest moments in a movie filled with lightheaded mayhem, and is a perfect example of Whedon’s throwaway approach to translating the mythic mystique of the Marvel comics universe. Though at times deadly serious (as deadly serious as an outrageous superhero destructo/fight-fest movie can be, that is), The Avengers is best when it lightens up and lets the fun fly alongside the powerhouse punches. By the way, a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it powerhouse punch is another moment that makes Hulk the most loveable underdog of a smashing green rage monster ever. That spirit of fun and pure adventure makes The Avengers the greatest kind of escapist Hollywood fantasy $250 million can buy. A blockbuster in the most literal sense.
Copyright David Masters 2013