Gulliver’s Travels (2-Disc Set w/ Gulliver’s Fun Pack )
Coolest extra: Gag reel (DVD); “Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character Jack Black and Jason Segel” (Blu-ray)
Complex says: Jack Black better hope that Dreamworks keeps cranking out new Kung Fu Panda sequels, because his live-action comedies have been the pits in recent years. Year One, his 2009 flop co-starring Michael Cera, was about as funny as AMC’s The Killing, yet it was School Of Rock-status when compared to Black’s most recent disaster, Gulliver’s Travels. Full of too many useless special effects and barely any humor, it’s a kid’s comedy that thinks youngsters are braindead.
Much like the classic 18th Century novel by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels is about a simpleton who gets caught in a storm and wakes up as a giant in a land of miniature people (including Jason Segel and Emily Blunt). While creative types would milk the size differential for all of its visual worth, Black and company do nothing with the set-up, resorting to bigger variations of the actor’s usual fat-guy-falls-down-and-yells shtick.
The lazily executed flick was released theatrically in 3D, which director Rob Letterman so cleverly interpreted as an excuse to show Black’s flabby belly in eye-popping dimensions; at home, without the uneventful 3D gimmick, you’ve just got Godzilla-sized man-boobs presented in a smaller, and duller, format. That’s going from bad to irreparably worse.
The King’s Speech
Coolest extra: A 20-minute “Making of The King’s Speech” featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Theoretically, we should use this space to bash The King’s Speech out of bitter contempt, since the austere period drama bested our favorite movie of 2010, The Social Network, at the Academy Awards. And it’d certainly be easy to hate on director Tom Hooper’s predictable and conventional film—literally everything you think will happen in The King’s Speech does, in fact, happen.
But how it all happens is what lifts the flick above any reasonable loathing. The King’s Speech tells a routinely inspirational story—that of King George VI of England (Oscar winner Colin Firth) and his confidence-shattering speech impediment—through superb acting. It’s a performer’s clinic, from Geoffrey Rush’s quirky showmanship as the king’s speech therapist to Firth’s ability to make us sympathize with a privileged rich dude. There are very few narrative surprises in store, yet Rush and Firth’s lively banter give the proceedings an entirely fresh vibe.
Unlike most film preachers, we’re not here to demand that you watch and admire The King’s Speech; films of its kind aren’t for everyone, especially young twenty-somethings who are still bitter that genre titan Christopher Nolan got snubbed by Oscar’s voting goons. Yet movie buffs who give this awards magnet a look won’t be disappointed, especially those able to appreciate proficient acting and feel-good endings. Don’t act like inspirational codas aren’t your thing, either—if you’re anything like us, you watch Rudy every time it’s on cable. The King’s Speech is basically Rudy for the Masterpiece Theater crowd.
Buy it now: The King’s Speech
Coolest extra: Making-of featurette (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: Before its release last December, Sofia Coppola’s quaint drama Somewhere had been touted as once promising and long-troubled actor Stephen Dorff’s very own The Wrestler. Unfortunately for Dorff, this critically embraced pic didn’t send casting agents or statue issuers his way in Mickey Rourke fashion. That’s not to say that the Blade star isn’t impressive in Somewhere; in fact, he’s a revelation, albeit a quiet one largely overlooked by audiences during the movie’s limited theatrical run.
And there’s the beauty of home video. Dorff stars as Johnny Marco, a hard-partying celeb forced to rethink his priorities while spending time with his 11-year-old daughter (the praiseworthy Elle Fanning). Considering Marco’s penchant for banging chicks and abusing drugs, one might expect Somewhere to move at a swift pace; one wouldn’t know much about Sofia Coppola, then. Francis Ford Coppola’s talented daughter is back in Lost In Translation mode here, concentrating on smaller character moments, extensive dialogue, and muted performances.
Somewhere is the kind of film in which simple acts, such as enjoying a calm meal or shooting the conversational shit, best define the characters, so proceed with caution if you’re seeking high-energy entertainment. Coppola’s film has some major flaws, too, mainly the choice to focus more on Dorff than Fanning; as it is, Somewhere is ultimately another woe-is-me tale of celebrity angst, when it could’ve been a much more intriguing look at parental neglect through the eyes of a famous person’s child. However, Dorff and Fanning are strong enough to justify the rental fee.
Buy it now: Somewhere
Coolest extra: Commentary with director John Cameron Mitchell (DVD/Blu-ray)
Complex says: It’s pretty much certain that Aaron Eckhart would much rather we cite his name alongside Rabbit Hole than in the same breath as his recent sci-fi hit Battle: Los Angeles. In the latter, the usually on-point actor checked in with an inexcusably awful performance, drowning in awful monologues and hackneyed character development. Here, though, in the independent heart-tugger Rabbit Hole, he’s at his dramatic best.
Even more laudable is Nicole Kidman, resurrecting her credibility after years of mainstream avoidance and miscalculated prestige flicks (Australia, Nine). She and Eckhart play a couple intensely grieving after their four-year-old son is killed in a car accident. Rabbit Hole isn’t exactly wholesome family fun; it’s an emotional tailspin of a movie that beats down your sensitive parts with raw acting and genuinely evocative themes.
Other than Kidman’s deserved Academy Award nomination, Rabbit Hole was mostly passed over during the recent accolades season, but don’t let that neuter the film’s muscle. Independent veteran John Cameron Mitchell directs the memorable pic with a reserved and steady hand, wisely keeping the focus on the actors’ turns, and Kidman and Eckhart showed up prepared to make viewers reach for the Kleenex. We’ll admit it: Rabbit Hole almost made us tear up. We’re not robots, after all.
Buy it now: Rabbit Hole
Coolest extra: Over 30 minutes of extra archival footage (DVD)
Complex says: For a second there, Billy Corben was starting to feel like a one-trick pony. After the massive impact of his 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, the young Miami-based filmmaker went right back to the well in in 2008 with Cocaine Cowboys 2: Hustlin’ With The Godmother. But then came The U, his doc for ESPN about the Miami Hurricanes football team, for which Corben ventured away from narcotics. With Square Grouper, he’s back on his drug shit, but, fortunately, it’s something completely different from the dark and kinetic Cocaine Cowboys.
Square Grouper looks back at South Florida’s pot-smuggling underworld of the late ’70s, but with a jovial attitude. The music alternates from jam-band acoustics to lighthearted reggae, backing ruminations from those who lived out all of the marijuana hustles. The surprising thing about Square Grouper (a '70s term for weed bales tossed out of planes or boats) is that none of interview subjects come across as bitter or all that hardened; like any true Mary Jane partaker, each one reflects in mellow thought and “It’s all good” matter-of-factness.
Released just in time for 4/20, the laidback Square Grouper is the perfect documentary to watch on the world’s biggest weed day: It’s insightful and entertaining, but not so explosive for the mind that it’ll blow your buzz.
Buy it now: Square Grouper
If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise
Coolest extra: “Pickin’ Up Da Pieces: A 60-minute featurette with never-before-seen interviews” (DVD)
Complex says: As if the news reports weren’t infuriating enough, Spike Lee’s vigorous 2006 HBO documentary When The Levees Broke left us heated about the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. In true Lee spirit, the four-plus-hour doc jammed the injustices into our face, mostly through heartbreaking interviews with angered New Orleans residents. When The Levees Broke was so powerful that, inevitably, its follow-up, If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise, isn’t nearly as devastating.
Even at four hours, Lee’s quasi sequel feels like it needs more room to breath. He covers a wide range of post-Katrina issues, including the New Orleans Saints’ motivational Super Bowl victory, health care, police corruption, Brad Pitt’s relief efforts, and the gulf oil spill. It’s all fascinating, yet some of the material (namely the oil spill portion) comes off as an afterthought to the doc’s much fuller human interest sections. For anyone who’s seen When The Levees Broke, If God Is Willing… works best when Lee checks back in with the first film’s participants, most of whom aren’t doing all that much better.
The DVD’s most welcome bonus feature, an hour-long compilation of extended interviews, partially solves the brief running time issue, though it also strengthens the argument that If God Is Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise would’ve been better served by a sprawling Ken Burns approach.