Top 10 Best DVD Movies October 2012
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.
The Collinses: Every Family Has Its Demons
From the wonderfully warped imagination of Tim Burton comes the story of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), a dashing aristocrat who is turned into a vampire by a jilted lover and entombed for two centuries. Emerging from his coffin into the world of 1972, he returns to his once-majestic home, only to the few dysfunctional descendants of the Collins family who remain. Determined to return his family name to its former glory, Barnabas is thwarted at every turn by his former lover – the seductive witch Angelique (Eva Green) – in this wildly imaginative” (Sam Hallenbeck, NBC-TV adventure).
Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross’s action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins’s young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest–but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be “dangerous.” Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they’re adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win. For those who haven’t read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It’s an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it’s hard to tell who’s doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor, Lost, and the collected works of George Orwell.
Definitely not your average retelling of the classic Snow White fairy tale, Snow White and the Huntsman is a dark, action-fantasy film that’s based more on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale than the well-known Disney version of the story. It features intriguing concepts, impressive special effects, and some disappointingly lackluster acting. The essence of the “Snow White” story is preserved in this recounting: the queen’s beautiful daughter Snow White, who is heir to the throne, is displaced and persecuted by an evil stepmother after her mother dies. Here, the evil stepmother Ravenna possesses a disturbing power to maintain her own perpetual youth by stealing youthfulness from the hearts of the young and beautiful, but her magic mirror warns that Snow White’s innocence and purity as she comes of age will destroy Ravenna’s chance at immortality. When Snow White escapes from the castle prison, Ravenna hires a downtrodden Huntsman to bring her back so that Ravenna can steal her youth and achieve personal immortality. But Snow White runs into a dark and sinister forest where mushrooms disperse hallucinogenic spores, trees come to life, flocks of bats spring from inanimate objects, and dwarves lurk in the shadows. The roles of the seven dwarves and the Huntsman in this version of the story prove to be quite different from the original, but what remain steadfast are Snow White’s inner strength and absolute goodness, and her stepmother’s innate evilness. This film is full of fascinating imagery that’s brought to life through powerful special effects, great costuming, and captivating cinematography–the scenes in the dark forest and the fairy-filled wilderness beyond are reason enough to see it. Unfortunately, the story moves a bit slowly and the acting by Kristen Stewart (Snow White) and Chris Hemsworth (Huntsman) is rather stoical and passionless and lacks chemistry, though Charlize Theron does stand out as a particularly disturbing Ravenna.
A rambunctious group of five college friends steal away for a weekend of debauchery in an isolated country cabin, only to be attacked by horrific supernatural creatures in a night of endless terror and bloodshed. Sound familiar? Just wait. As the teens begin to exhibit standard horror movie behavior, a group of technicians in a control room are scrutinizing, and sometimes even controlling, every move the terrified kids make! With their efforts continually thwarted by the all powerful eye in the sky, do they have any chance of escape?
Following the success of Transformers and G.I. Joe, Hasbro brings another of its beloved properties to the big screen, with explosive and cheerfully improbable results. The situation: Aliens splash down outside Hawaii, surrounding the islands with an impenetrable force field and wreaking havoc on the captive population. While the world outside watches helplessly, a skeleton crew of naval officers and civilians (led by Taylor Kitsch’s cocky washout and Rihanna’s weapons expert) must figure out a way to save the planet while being seriously outgunned. Director Peter Berg, whose previous films The Rundown and Hancock displayed a playful tweaking of genre conventions, keeps things surprisingly high and tight here, depicting military tactics and the chain of command with an honest respect, including casting actual combat veterans in pivotal supporting roles. While such a reverent approach is certainly admirable, it coexists uneasily with the inherent goofiness of the premise, particularly during the climactic scene where the heroes sit down in front of a grid and, yes, fire a missile at B7. (Note: Nobody actually gets to say “You sunk my battleship,” but Liam Neeson, in an extended cameo as an admiral, sure looks like he wants to.) However, while the narrative might be missing a few pieces, Berg’s film undeniably delivers the action-movie goods, staging a number of all-out combat scenes with verve and ingenuity. (Special kudos to whoever designed the main weapon of the aliens, a razor-toothed sphere of gears that chews up the scenery with a tangible sense of delight.) Audiences looking for coherence may need to keep on looking, but Battleship definitely sports the maximum number of bangs for the summer-movie buck. Bring on Kerplunk: The Motion Picture.
As a tourism advertisement for Louisiana, where filming took place, The Lucky One makes the most of a scenic state. As an opportunity for Zac Efron (High School Musical) to prove his acting mettle, it’s less successful. On his third tour of duty in Iraq, Efron’s Sgt. Logan Thibault finds a photograph of a pretty blonde that reads “keep safe” on the back. After a series of close scrapes, he credits his survival to the memento. Upon his release, Logan retrieves his German shepherd and sets out for North Carolina (it’s never clear how he figures that out as a destination). When he finds Beth (Taylor Schilling), who runs a kennel with her grandmother (Blythe Danner), he doesn’t know how to tell her about the picture, so he takes a job working with the dogs, and befriends her son (Riley Thomas Stewart), a chess prodigy, while inspiring jealousy in her hotheaded ex-husband, Keith (Jay R. Ferguson, who looks more like a marine than Efron). The climactic storm at the end provides the opportunity for Logan to come clean and for Keith to prove he isn’t a complete loser, allowing romance to bloom between the central couple. In drawing from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, Shine‘s Scott Hicks offers a picture-postcard romance that feels too much like a Lifetime movie. Though Efron, who made a stronger impression in Me and Orson Welles, never overacts, his recessive performance renders Logan more opaque than necessary.
Jesse Stone’s involuntary retirement ends when the young sheriff who replaced him is blown up in the town police car. The loyal staffers who worked for Jesse have abandoned the department and Jesse must try to solve the case on his own.
It’s a big crime, and startling, coming in the film’s first moments amid some mindless chatter between two police officers. Stone isn’t one of them; as the story begins, he is in reluctant exile – “retirement” doesn’t seem like the right word for this fellow – with just his dog for company. But the crime leaves Paradise police chief-less, and the town string pullers ask Stone to put on the chief’s badge again to work the case. Stars Tom Selleck, Kathy Baker, Robert Carradine and William Devane
Monumental is the story of America’s beginnings. Presented, produced, and starring Kirk Cameron, the 90-minute true story follows this father of six across Europe and the US as he seeks to discover America’s true “national treasure” – the people, places, and principles that made America the freest, most prosperous, and generous nation the world has ever known.
Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, and Jude Law returns as his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Sherlock Holmes has always been the smartest man in the room… until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large – Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris) – and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may give him an advantage over the renowned detective. Around the globe, headlines break the news: a scandal takes down an Indian cotton tycoon; a Chinese opium trader dies of an apparent overdose; bombings in Strasbourg and Vienna; the death of an American steel magnate… No one sees the connective thread between these seemingly random events – no one, that is, except the great Sherlock Holmes, who has discerned a deliberate web of death and destruction. At its center sits a singularly sinister spider: Moriarty. Holmes’ investigation into Moriarty’s plot becomes more dangerous as it leads him and Watson out of London to France, Germany and finally Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead, and moving perilously close to completing his ominous plan. If he succeeds, it will not only bring him immense wealth and power but alter the course of history.
Copyright David Masters 2012