I AM LOVE (2010). How devoted is Tilda Swinton to her craft? Thespians occasionally learn another language in order to play a certain role, but Swinton plunged even deeper: For I Am Love, she not only learned to speak Italian and Russian, she also learned to speak Italian with a Russian accent. Or at least that's what Swinton and director Luca Guadagnino have stated — for all I know, she could be speaking Italian with an Inuit accent. The point is that her fine performance is the cornerstone of this foreign import whose initially chilly demeanor will melt away for any viewer willing to stick with it. A drama centering on a wealthy family in Milan, this follows dutiful wife Emma Recchi (Swinton) as she embarks on a love affair with the younger Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a splendid chef and best friend to Emma's sensitive son Edo (Flavio Parenti). Accustomed to keeping her emotions on a low simmer, Emma finds her senses aroused by her extramarital tryst. The plot threads involving the family business (textiles) aren't nearly as involving as the ones centering on the characters' various relationships, and I didn't buy the late-inning tragedy for one minute. But through both its bird's-eye view of a world of privilege and its personal look at a woman's self-realization, I Am Love is easy to admire.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Swinton and Guadagnino; 15 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage; and individual interviews with 11 cast and crew members totaling 70 minutes.
JONAH HEX (2010). Strip Jonah Hex of its closing credits and we're looking at a movie that clocks in at approximately an hour and a quarter. Such a brief running time would be OK if the film arrived, got the job done, and left, but that's not the case. Instead, this adaptation of the DC Comics series is primarily sabotaged by a choppy, truncated style that suggests it was edited with the same fire-licked hatchet used to scar its protagonist's face. Resembling nothing so much as a blown opportunity, Jonah Hex can at least boast of a well-chosen leading man in Josh Brolin and a few striking visuals. But the rest is a shameful mess, an obvious example of a film that was sliced and diced even after the cameras were rolling (original scripters Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor have basically disowned the final product). The character of Jonah Hex is an interesting one: He's presented as a former Confederate soldier whose family was killed — and whose face was disfigured — by the ruthless Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich in one of his laziest performances). Years later, he's hired by President Ulysses S. Grant (Aidan Quinn) to stop Turnbull and his Tea Party-like followers from destroying the U.S. government with a doomsday device. Jonah Hex is one big rush, but not in the positive sense. Characters appear and disappear at will, jumbled flashbacks tell us things we already knew or surmised, and stiff Megan Fox occasionally turns up as a tough hooker with a soft spot for our anti-hero. Frankly, Jonah has more chemistry with his horse.
DVD extras include 5 minutes of deleted scenes and theatrical trailers.
THE KARATE KID (2010). If your parents are Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, you're probably going to get what you want, no matter how ill-advised. And certainly, mounting a remake of one of the 80s' definitive crowd-pleasers, a movie that led to major box office, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Pat Morita and (alas) three inferior sequels, probably signaled some sort of career death wish. Yet The Karate Kid turns out to be a pleasant enough surprise (as well as a substantial commercial hit during its theatrical run). To be sure, there's absolutely no area in which it improves on the original, yet the basic plot remains durable enough that there's no harm done by this easy-to-take update. Jaden Smith plays Dre Parker, who's forced to move from his Detroit home when his single mom (Taraji P. Henson) lands a job in Beijing. Dre catches the eye of a cute schoolmate (Wenwen Han), but most of the time, he's being beaten to a pulp by a local bully (Zhenwei Wang) and his sycophants — at least until his building's maintenance man, Mr. Han (Jackie Chan), teaches the lad how to protect himself. This Karate Kid clocks in at 135 minutes, which seems absurd until one recalls that the original itself runs a lengthy 126 minutes. But that version flies by; this one proceeds in fits and starts. Chan and Smith are charismatic enough, though no match for Morita and Ralph Macchio.
DVD extras include a 20-minute making-of piece and the music video for Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never."