HOW DO YOU KNOW (2010). Often as likable as a frolicking puppy — and always as messy — How Do You Know is one of those pictures in which everyone is so gosh-darn charismatic that the battle (at least for the filmmakers) is already half over. When compared to writer-director James L. Brooks' early efforts in television and cinema (including Mary Tyler Moore and Broadcast News), this recent work — a box office disaster this past Christmas — is a mere trifle. But it's a fairly clever one, with Reese Witherspoon cast as Lisa, a professional softball player forced to choose between two guys: a baseball star (Owen Wilson) who's so smitten with Lisa that he agrees to a monogamous relationship (albeit one with the occasional "anonymous sex") and a squeaky-clean executive (Paul Rudd) being bamboozled by his dad (Jack Nicholson) into taking the fall for the old man's illegal activities. Witherspoon and Rudd are adorable, and Nicholson has one killer scene set inside a hospital room. Yet given the occasional blandness of the couple's romantic interludes and the haziness of the latter's business dealings, the movie works best when Wilson is front and center. The actor doesn't stray from his patented mellow schtick, but by subjugating his hangdog aura for a more aggressively horndog sensibility, he provides the film with its most knowing laughs.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Brooks and director of photography Janusz Kaminski; commentary on 10 select scenes by Brooks and Wilson; a 15-minute making-of featurette; four deleted scenes; and a two-minute blooper reel.
I LOVE YOU PHILLIP MORRIS (2010). This based-on-fact tale contains a scene in which Ewan McGregor goes down on Jim Carrey, and it's moments such as these that doubtless kept the film out of U.S. theaters since its Sundance premiere almost two years ago. That it finally earned a fairly wide release this past Christmas Day was a nice touch (let's not forget, Christians: good will toward all men), but the truth is that this forgettable yarn, about a con artist who repeatedly outwits the citizens of Governor-Bush-era Texas (not that hard, I imagine), needs a more sincere showcase than the one presented by the makers of Bad Santa. As Steven Russell, a shyster who successfully passes himself off as (among other things) a lawyer, a judge and a corporate executive all in the name of love for his boy toy Phillip Morris (McGregor), Carrey's performance veers more toward In Living Color mimicry than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soulfulness. That approach completely undermines a love story that's already being told in a slipshod manner due to an overstated focus on Steven's antics at the expense of more downtime with Phillip. Love means never having to say you're sorry, but viewers expecting any semblance of genuine romance nevertheless deserve some sort of apology.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by writer-directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra and other key crew members; a 12-minute making-of featurette; and seven deleted scenes.
MADE IN DAGENHAM (2010). Made In Dagenham is the sort of lighthearted and faintly inspirational picture that the British can make in their sleep — and occasionally have. Audiences who never grow tired of films in the tradition of The Full Monty, Waking Ned Devine and Calendar Girls (to name just three of many) are sure to lap up this recent offering in that vein; other viewers won't be quite as enthused but can still appreciate the movie's fine performances and peppy cheerleader attitude. Set in 1968, it concerns the true-life tale of when the working women of Dagenham, England — specifically, those toiling at the Ford Motor Factory there — banded together to demand equal gender pay from their employers. Backed by only one sympathetic male (Bob Hoskins' jovial union rep), lovely Rita (Sally Hawkins) becomes the movement's unlikely leader, thereby causing friction among her friends, family and co-workers. Lacking the ferocity of Norma Rae, the film keeps the situation's obvious tensions and dangers on the back burners, opting instead to play up the characters' spunk and humor. But it was still too slight to be considered the feel-good movie of 2010; we'll call it the feel-pretty-good movie of the year and leave it at that.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Nigel Cole; a 14-minute making-of featurette; eight deleted scenes; and two minutes of outtakes.
TANGLED (2010). Pixar came into power circa the same time that Disney lost its hold on the toon crown, and while the former animation giant may never reclaim its title, its acquisition of John Lasseter's trendsetting outfit suggests that it at least might be able to ascend from its status as court jester to a more regal standing. Tangled, the studio's 50th animated feature, follows 2009's The Princess and the Frog (both executive-produced by Lasseter) as an indication that, after years of dreary product (Chicken Little, anyone?), old-school Disney might be making a comeback. Yes, the animation is CGI rather than hand-drawn, but both Frog and Tangled benefit from strong story lines that stir memories of the outfit in its distant prime. In this case, it's a loose retelling of the saga of Rapunzel, she of the loooong golden hair. Forced by an evil woman she believes to be her mother to stay hidden in a tower 24/7, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) reluctantly complies until the day a devil-may-care thief named Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) comes along. This one's no classic-in-the-making, but it's certain to remain a best bet for family entertainment, with a pleasing mix of music, mirth and oddball supporting characters. Even the kid-oriented comic relief, Rapunzel's right-hand chameleon, is likely to charm the adults, further designating Tangled as silky-smooth entertainment.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes piece; three deleted scenes; two extended songs; two alternate openings; and the video montage "50th Animated Feature Countdown."
TOPSY-TURVY (1999). Writer-director Mike Leigh's Topsy-Turvy is a delightful period piece that beautifully conveys the art (and sweat) that often goes into putting on a show. Leigh (Another Year, Secrets & Lies) has applied his considerable talents to telling the story of librettist William Schwenck Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan, the 19th century musical team responsible for comic operas like H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. But this is no conventional biopic, taking us smoothly from cradle to grave with a few pit stops for career highlights and social low points along the way. Instead, it hones in on a specific period in their musical collaboration — namely, the point at which the gruff Gilbert (marvelously played by Jim Broadbent) and the more affable Sullivan (Allan Corduner) seem to have reached a critical impasse before bursting through with The Mikado. Structured like a two-act play — you can even picture the curtain coming down for intermission when the idea for the Japanese musical springs into Gilbert's head — this Oscar winner for Best Costume Design and Best Makeup devotes the first hour of its 160-minute run time to delineating the circumstances leading up to the creation of The Mikado, while the second part (which really cooks) deals with the preparation for the show's grand premiere. The movie is packed with enchanting scenes showing the creative process at work, yet for all the merrymaking, there's also an unexpected sadness that sneaks up on you, due largely to the personal problems of several principal characters. Topsy-Turvy is a joyous celebration of the theater, yet it's also honest enough to expose the harsh realities that remain crouched beneath the make-believe.
Extras in Criterion's two-disc DVD edition include audio commentary by Leigh; a 10-minute making-of featurette; a 38-minute discussion between Leigh and the film's musical consultant, Gary Yershon; four deleted scenes; and A Sense of History (1992), a half-hour film directed by Leigh and written by and starring Broadbent. Incidentally, Criterion is also releasing The Mikado, a 1939 Hollywood adaptation (in Technicolor) of the Gilbert & Sullivan piece.