Top 10 Best DVD Movies September 2012
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.
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.
Fans of Steve Harvey’s wildly popular relationship self-help book, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man–and even people unfamiliar with the book but interested in love, lust, and related topics–will enjoy the fictionalized film based on it, Think Like a Man. Harvey’s book’s tenets involve letting a woman’s softer side show more, and understanding that men have different sexual needs. The book has been polarizing, but Think Like a Man, the film, gives women more of an even playing field, and handles the topics with a lighter touch. The stars are uniformly excellent and believable, including Gabrielle Union, Taraji P. Henson, Michael Ealy, Chris Brown, and Kevin Hart. They help make up four couples in which the women have decided to take the advice in Harvey’s book and use the recommendations to get their men on track. When the men discover this, they in turn try to turn the tables on their women. While one wishes so much manipulation weren’t necessary in personal relationships, both Harvey’s advice and Think Like a Man‘s softer point of view have merit. The struggles of the couples are believable, and the viewer secretly hopes there will at least be a few happy endings (it’s not a spoiler to say there are). Crisply directed by Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four), Think Like a Man is a funny, moving chick flick that will appeal to guys too.
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
The first of many enchanting title cards that show up as loose chapter markers in Richard Linklater’s sweet little movie about murder in a small Texas town reads, “What you’re fixin’ to see is a true story.” It sets the perfect down-home tone for the charming, if occasionally gruesome story of an East Texas funeral director named Bernie Tiede, whose sociable selflessness, empathetic demeanor, and guileless personality won him the friendship of the whole town of Carthage, especially the little old ladies. He even captivated the good graces of the meanest and richest old lady of them all, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), eventually becoming her business manager and constant companion. But even with the patience of Job and the compassion of Jesus, eventually Bernie couldn’t take it anymore and in a fit of pique shot her in the back four times then dumped her body in a freezer. That synopsis hardly seems the stuff of a lighthearted comedy that energizes a large ensemble of endearing characters. But in the hands of director Richard Linklater (who cowrote the script with Skip Hollandsworth, who originally reported the story for Texas Monthly magazine), the tale is simultaneously knee-slappingly funny and head-shakingly poignant. Jack Black stays dead-on and in character, with nary a trademark Black-ian wink to his audience. He is genuinely sympathetic as the adorable and unfailingly affable closeted gay man who devotes any spare moment not spent artistically fawning over the recently deceased to countless community service activities, like directing school musicals, coaching little league, helping roughnecks with their taxes, and making earnest googly eyes with Carthage’s blue-haired biddies. But the movie’s biggest success springs from its stylistic device of using ersatz interviews with characters and several non-actors who knew the real Bernie. These offbeat and articulate throwaways provide exposition about the man and his crime, which both remain entirely credible. It would play like incredible real life even without the bit of jailhouse vérité video that rolls under the credits, showing Jack Black interviewing the real Bernie Tiede. MacLaine’s appearance is relatively fleeting, but she embodies with delectable aplomb a mean, cranky old bag who’s too insufferable even for over-tolerant Bernie. Also adding to the wacky, pseudo-realistic charm is Matthew McConaughey as a quintessential Texas prosecutor. McConaughey’s dilemma is how to win the conviction of a confessed cold-blooded murderer the townspeople believe should go scot-free because he’s such a sweet man and his victim only got what she deserved. The mixture of interview segments and dramedic reenactments tiptoe gently but sometimes set off comedy booby traps in a very well-configured minefield of sweetness and dark. Though it’s a small and gentle film, Bernie packs a great deal of formal flair in breaking new ground. It’s understated and unremarkable, but there’s really never been anything quite like it. It’s also an unassuming career highlight for Black, McConaughey, MacLaine, and Linklater all around.
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.
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.
The Dictator wants to inspire outrage and hilarity in equal measures. Sacha Baron Cohen rose to fame through Borat, a sort of Candid Camera movie that let real people reveal their prejudices in response to an outrageously conceived character. Here, Cohen acts in a scripted story about an equally outrageous character, a brutal dictator named Aladeen, ruler of the fictional North African country of Wadiya. While in New York to protest United Nations sanctions against him, Aladeen is kidnapped by a scheming underling (Ben Kingsley) and stripped of his beard, rendering him unrecognizable. A vegan co-op manager (Anna Faris, pretty unrecognizable herself in a black wig) takes him under her wing, leading to a change of heart… sort of. Cohen’s lowbrow humor is oddly intellectual. He’s a student of comedy, analyzing the current boundaries so he can push at them, seeking something that will still shock. The result? Jokes about rape–lots and lots of jokes about rape–along with an anthology of gags about body functions and racism. The effect is more calculated than comical. Cohen’s deeply cynical perspective suggests that, in a world where everyone has a price (one of the movie’s running themes), the audience will cheer on a murdering megalomaniac because at least his narcissism is pure. But The Dictator seems like a movie only a murdering megalomaniac could really love.
10. The Expendables
They might be expendable, but they sure are durable: The Expendables is crammed with well-traveled action heroes, called to a summit meeting here to capture some of that good old ultraviolent ’80s-movie feel. Star-director Sylvester Stallone rides herd as the leader of this mercenary band, which includes Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Stallone’s old Rocky V nemesis Dolph Lundgren. Mickey Rourke, looking like a car wreck on Highway 61, plays the tattoo artist who communicates the gang’s assignments to Stallone; throw in Terry Crews and Ultimate Fighting champ Randy Couture, and you’ve got a badass crew indeed. The specifics here involve a Latin American island where US interests have mucked up the local politics beyond repair–but when Sly’s eye is caught by the feisty daughter (Giselle Itie) of the local military jefe, a simple job gets complicated. Adding to the B-movie flavor of the enterprise, we’ve got Eric Roberts and Steve Austin bouncing around as badder-than-the-bad guys, plus Bruce Willis popping in for a one-scene bit, and… well, perhaps another unbilled cameo. The violence doesn’t reach the frantic pace of Stallone’s last Rambo picture, but it builds to a pretty crazy crescendo in the final reels, during which each cast member gets to show his stuff. Although Stallone’s face looks younger than it did in the first Rocky movie, his line delivery is more sluggish than ever, and what lines! The dialogue is stuck in the ’80s, too. Although it’s pretty ham-handed throughout, The Expendables is likely critic-proof: the audience that wants to see this kind of body-slamming throwdown isn’t going to care about the niceties. Let the knife throwing begin.
Copyright David Masters 2012