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Crazy Heart, Edge of Darkness among new DVD reviews

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THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES COLLECTION (1939-1946). Sure, Robert Downey Jr. was terrific in the box office smash Sherlock Holmes (newly arrived on DVD), but let's not forget the numerous actors who had previously played the part of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's English sleuth in countless motion pictures dating back to the silent era. The most enduring of all screen Sherlocks, however, remains Basil Rathbone, who essayed the role in no less than 14 films during an eight-year span. The MPI Home Video outfit has seen fit to re-release the whole set on DVD, with a dozen of the titles having been restored to their original condition. The first two pictures in the series, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (both 1939), retain Doyle's period setting, as Holmes and his avuncular sidekick Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) set about solving a pair of baffling mysteries; the remaining pictures update the action to the 1940s, with the dynamic duo even taking on the Nazis in a couple of the entries (like 1942's Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror).

DVD extras include audio commentaries on six of the films; newsreel footage of Doyle; photo galleries; and theatrical trailers.

Collection: ***

Extras: ***

CRAZY HEART (2010). After decades in the business, Jeff Bridges finally copped his Oscar for his performance as a rumpled, boozing, country & western star who enters into a relationship with a sympathetic woman at least two decades his junior. Bridges' grizzled character goes by the name Bad Blake, and that first name describes less the man who bears it – he's fundamentally decent although, like most drunks, irresponsible and exhausting – than the circumstances of his present lot in life. But suddenly, unexpected developments on the personal and professional fronts hold real promise. His successful protégée, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), turns up and, clearly fond of his former mentor, offers him an opening slot on his tour and the opportunity to write new songs for him. And Blake, a multiple divorce' and unrepentant womanizer, finds a chance at a lasting relationship when he meets and falls for reporter and single mom Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Will Blake finally encounter true happiness, or will he find some way to screw everything up? Adapting Thomas Cobbs' novel, writer-director Scott Cooper throws enough curve balls into the expected plotting to keep the familiar narrative from dissolving into formula.

DVD extras include six deleted scenes and the film's theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***

Extras: *1/2

EDGE OF DARKNESS (2010). It's been eight years since Mel Gibson has handled a leading role on the big screen (2002's Signs), and he's spent the time since then directing the biggest moneymaking snuff film of all time, getting in trouble with the bottle, with the law and with the wife, and being brilliantly parodied in a memorable episode of South Park. Now he's back, and while his off-screen antics have noticeably aged him, he hasn't lost a step when it comes to exuding that undeniable movie-star magnetism. Gibson plays Thomas Craven, a widowed Boston cop whose grown daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) is murdered right before his eyes. The devastated dad starts snooping around and finds that all signs point toward Emma's former place of employment: Northmoor, a shady corporation with all sorts of underhanded ties to the government. Although based on a 1985 British TV miniseries, Edge of Darkness mostly feels like The Constant Gardener shorn of all emotional complexity and weighty plotting – it's effective as a cathartic revenge yarn, at least until the absurdities begin to pile up during the final half-hour. As for Gibson, he's just fine in the sort of role that's been his bread-and-butter for the majority of his career: the maverick out to right a massive wrong by any gory means necessary.

DVD extras include five minutes of additional and alternate scenes.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: *1/2

IT'S COMPLICATED (2009). After the triumph of Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep headed back to the kitchen for It's Complicated, an erratic comedy (but major box office hit) in which she plays Jane, a successful baker and restaurateur who, a decade after divorcing Jake (Alec Baldwin), finds herself cast in the role of the "other woman" once she embarks on an affair with her remarried ex. Writer-director Nancy Meyers (Something's Gotta Give) surprisingly goes too easy on the character of Jake, a decision that leaves a bad taste and drains some of the fun out of this otherwise agreeable (if rarely uproarious) bauble. But Streep's comic chops remain strong, and the film gets a significant boost from the presence of Steve Martin as a sensitive architect who finds himself drawn to Jane. For those who somehow missed it, Martin and Baldwin were re-teamed a couple of months later as co-hosts of the Oscar telecast.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Meyers and other production members; and a 20-minute making-of featurette.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

NINE (2009). Perhaps the biggest disappointment of 2009, Rob Marshall's second celluloid musical (after the accomplished Chicago) proves to be both tone deaf and flat-footed. Based on the Broadway musical (itself loosely based on Federico Fellini's classic movie 8-1/2), this lumbering eye sore (mis)casts Daniel Day-Lewis as egotistical film director Guido Contini, who juggles all the women in his life (played by five Oscar winners ... and Kate Hudson) while attempting to jump-start production on his next picture. Nicole Kidman, Judi Dench, Sophia Loren and (to a lesser degree) Oscar-nominated Penelope Cruz – all are lined up against the wall and mowed down by Marshall's indifference to their characters, a massacre that extends to his handling of the film's aimless plotting and ugly musical numbers. An inspired sequence bursts through the gloom now and then, but the only true success story here belongs to Marion Cotillard: As Guido's long-suffering wife, she adds the only warmth to this otherwise chilly undertaking.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Marshall and producer John DeLuca; eight featurettes totaling 52 minutes and covering various aspects of the production, including the performances, the choreography and the visuals; and music videos of Hudson belting out "Cinema Italiano," Cotillard performing "Take It All" and Griffith Frank singing "Unusual Way."

Movie: **

Extras: **1/2

RIDE WITH THE DEVIL (1999). Perhaps Ang Lee's most obscure English-language film, Ride with the Devil suffered from a bumpy limited release at the close of 1999 and then proceeded to bypass most of the country – including Charlotte, which didn't land the picture until the Charlotte Film Society brought it to town two years later. Certainly, it's no Brokeback Mountain or Sense and Sensibility (two of Lee's more successful pictures), but the movie deserved a better fate. Based on Daniel Woodrell's novel Woe to Live On, this Civil War drama focuses on two young men (Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich) from Missouri who, initially separated by distance from the war raging further east, join up with the Bushwhackers and wage their own guerilla battle against Union soldiers and sympathizers. Pop singer Jewel makes an acceptable acting debut as a young widow who befriends the men, but the real acting fireworks come from Jeffrey Wright as a former slave who fights alongside the Bushwhackers. Lee may have chosen to relate a tale about the Civil War from the POV of the South, but it's made clear that his loyalties rest not with either side of the cause but with the ordinary men who, regardless of their alliances, were forced to fight against their friends, neighbors and countrymen.

Criterion has released the picture in a 148-minute director's cut. Extras include audio commentary by Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus; separate audio commentary by director of photography Frederick Elmes and other crew members; and a new 15-minute interview with Wright.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

THE YOUNG VICTORIA (2009). Skewing closer to the likes of Marie Antoinette and Lady Jane than to stately biopics of more seasoned rulers, The Young Victoria turns out to be as interested in charting the sexual and societal awakening of a royal naif as in examining the historical events that shaped her destiny. Building upon her already diverse portfolio, Emily Blunt handles all of the heavy lifting in the picture's titular role, first seen as a teenager refusing to relinquish control of the empire to her mother (Miranda Richardson) and her conniving advisor (Mark Strong). After her uncle, King William (Jim Broadbent), dies and she becomes queen, Victoria finds herself free from her mother but now being wooed politically by Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and romantically by her cousin Albert (Rupert Friend). Less probing than many costume dramas yet also lighter on its feet, The Young Victoria didn't break out of its niche market during its theatrical run but stands to service its target audience on DVD in satisfactory fashion. Sandy Powell earned an Academy Award (her third, following wins for Shakespeare in Love and The Aviator) in the Best Costume Design category.

DVD extras include 22 minutes of deleted and extended scenes; a 6-minute making-of featurette; an 8-minute piece on the real Queen Victoria; and an 8-minute look at the film's costumes and locations.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

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