Tune to The 2 Guys Named Chris Show every Monday to get the scoop on the latest new films and releases to DVD from a Canadian point of view. Julie Crawford, Film Critic for The Vancouver Courier, gives her two cents worth every Monday morning on Rock 92.
This is a feel-good biopic from writer-director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) about Jackie Robinson, the first African-American player admitted into Major League baseball. The film explores race relations as it pertained to baseball and to life in post World War II America, where men were welcome on the battlefield but not on the baseball diamond.
There would be no Jackie Robinson without Branch Rickey (played by Harrison Ford), GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers and founder of the farm-team system. Rickey didn’t see black and white but green, as in the money he’d make by integrating African-American players into his league. After a search Branch signed 26-year-old Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) into the Montreal Royals farm team, for $600 a month, plus a $3500 signing bonus.
Sports is the great equalizer: athleticism levels the playing field, breaking down barriers of race, language and status more quickly than anything else can. But before that can happen the team is denied lodging at hotels, local sheriffs eject Robinson from the field, and there are cabinets full of death threats in Rickey’s office.
The film struggles to balance the drama and the on-field action. While 42 won’t be included among the great baseball movies of all time it is an interesting look at Robinson’s career.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, so you know what you’re in for, violence-wise. The film is set a few years before the civil war, as a free slave (Jamie Foxx) engages in a bloody hunt for his wife (Kerry Washington), lost years ago to the slave trade. He crosses paths with famous bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) and the two become invaluable to one another as Django’s quest leads him to the plantation of Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), the area’s most ruthless plantation owner. It is too long at 2 hours 45 minutes and at times Tarantino’s tribute to the spaghetti western feels like the cartoon version, but overall this is a very entertaining film.
Save the Date
From the producers of The Kids are Alright, Garden State and Waitress, all great indie romances, Save The Date is about a couple who have hit a romantic stalemate. The solution? A very public marriage proposal. Sarah (Lizzy Caplan, Freaks and Geeks) immediately turns around and has the requisite rebound relationship, meanwhile helping her sister (Alison Brie, Mad Men) to plan her own dreamy wedding. The film finds little for its great cast to do, and though it has some nice moments overall this is yet another movie about kids hitting 30 who can’t figure out how to grow up.
Steven Spielberg’s film about the 16th president’s final four months in office as he pushed to abolish slavery while the Civil War was still raging. Daniel Day-Lewis won the Best Actor trophy, deservedly so, and the film also offers great supporting performances by Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. A great history lesson in an albeit lengthy, 150-minute package.
The blu-ray features include a nine-minute making-of extra; and one on Richmond, Virginia, “the heart of the Confederacy”, where filmmakers were lucky enough to use the existing capitol building for many scenes.
Killing Them Softly
Set in the run-up to the 2008 election, with parallel commentary by the talking heads of the election circuit. There isn’t much hope and change for Frankie (Scoot McNairy) who gets roped into knocking over a regular card game run by Markie (Ray Liotta). When things go awry the budget-minded middleman (the always great Richard Jenkins) calls in Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt) to clean things up, with the help of a troubled hitman (James Gandolfini). Stylish, sharply written and suitably unpredictable, with a timely subtext about the disenfranchised 99 per cent.
On the regular disc: deleted scenes and the making of Killing Them Softly, which features chats with writer/director Andrew Dominik who says that the film is about “capitalism in its most brutal form” .
Uptight helicopter parents (Marisa Tomei and Tom Everett Scott) reluctantly let their three kids stay with grandparents for a few days. Billy Crystal and Bette Midler are old-school: yelling and a swat on the behind worked just fine for them, thank you, so 21st-century touchy-feelly methods are a foreign language. It’s all about finding a happy medium and learning from each other, paint-by-numbers stuff, but there are occasional glimpses of the Crystal we used to know, which makes things almost bearable.
A Royal Affair
A nominee for Best Foreign Film this year, the film tells the true and amazing story of a young English girl (Alicia Vikander, Anna Karenina) who is sent abroad to marry the King of Denmark, who she quickly discovers is stark raving mad. But then a village doctor (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) arrives to tend to the monarch and starts advising the king on politics. Doctor and queen begin an affair while implementing radical reforms that bring Denmark out of the Dark Ages. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Struensee’s influence with the king puts him in grave danger with the ruling aristocracy. If you like period pieces in general the costuming and the sets are incredible, and you won’t mind the subtitles
21 And Over comes courtesy of the writers of The Hangover, so they know a thing or two about debauched nights on the town. The film borrows from The Hangover, Old School, and Road Trip, among others, and if you’re over the age of 25 you’ve definitely seen it before. Two guys (Miles Teller and Skyler Astin) try and convince their friend Jeffchang (Justin Chong) to go out and party for his 21st birthday. Despite the fact that Jeffchang has a really old-school father and a big interview the next day he agrees to go out for “just one beer”. And as everyone knows, nothing good ever followed that sentence. The rest of the movie features the guys trying to get an incredibly drunk Jeffchang home in time for his interview. Along the way there is mechanical bull-riding, a stampeding buffalo, angry sorority girls, beer pong and a love interest (Sarah Wright) thrown in for good measure.
This is a remake of the 1984 film starring Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen and C. Thomas Howell. Back then it was the Russians, now it’s the North Koreans who land on American soil and take over. A small group of teens form a resistance group called The Wolverines and help to take down the entire North Korean army. The remake has no teeth compared to the original, wooden performances by the leads (Josh Peck, in particular), and nonsensical gunplay. This new version was filmed in 2009 and it sat on the shelf until Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson made it big (Thor, The Hunger Games respectively). No special features on the standard disc.
France’s entry for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars is based on the true story of a quadriplegic French millionaire (Francois Cluzet) who is tired of being pandered to by caregivers, and decides to hire a street tough from the projects named Driss (Omar Sy), who is just at the job interview to fulfill his welfare requirements. Driss has no idea what he is doing but is a breath of fresh air for Philippe, and the two men learn about themselves through learning about one another. Great performances; a real feel-good film, which broke all box-office records in France.
Playing For Keeps
George (Gerard Butler) is a former European soccer star who has moved stateside to be closer to his son and his ex-wife (Jessica Biel), who is about to remarry. George ends up coaching his son’s soccer team, and becomes the prey of horny soccer moms, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer and Uma Thurman, all of whom are under-utilized in embarrassing roles. Dennis Quaid has a few funny moments; Biel has one or two nice scenes, but otherwise this is a mess. If you like Butler, see "Dear Frankie" instead.
An old-school arcade game character called Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is tired of being the bad guy all the time. So, on the 30th anniversary of his game, he attends a BAD-Anon group and decides to change his destiny, proving to everyone that he can be a true hero. One of the most inventive films in years, Wreck-It Ralph was nominated for Best Animated Film but lost out to Brave. Kids will love the sharp animation and video game premise; adults will appreciate the message about how people can change, while spotting all the old-school video game references (Burger Time!). Deleted scenes, video game commercials, a making-of extra, and the Oscar-winning short "Paperman" are included on the blu-ray disc.
Melissa McCarthy, who played the ever-reliable Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls, is finally getting her due. In Identity Thief she stars alongside Jason Bateman as “Sandy Bigelow Patterson”. The only problem is, that’s his identity, not hers: she’s managed to rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt in his name, plus an assault charge, so Sandy (“it’s not a girl’s name, it’s unisex!”) decides that the best way to clear his name is track her down in Florida and drive her across the country back to Colorado so that she can ‘fess up. In pursuit are a bounty hunter and two drug-dealers, totally redundant to the plot and just there to add to the car-chases and gunplay. This is a very basic movie, saved single-handedly by McCarthy, who goes from moments of slapstick physical comedy and pratfalls to a scene where she completely breaks down, proving that she can really act in addition to playing the funny fat girl.
Just when you thought they couldn’t teach an old dog new tricks, Sam Mendes came out with a fresh Bond just in time for the 50th anniversary of the franchise. Mendes played with the advancing age of Bond (Daniel Craig), M (Judi Dench) and all those spy gadgets with jokes and jabs aplenty about “the golden age of intrigue.” But we were introduced to new characters introduced, a longtime staple of the films left us, we got a great villain in Javier Bardem, and just the right amount of Bond’s history is explicated for those of us who need to know more about the man holding the signature martini. Remember all that fuss about a blond Bond? Once and for all Daniel Craig puts those doubts – along with a Bond girl or two – to bed. If you are a Bond fan you will love the special features: commentaries, extras on Bond women, on that iconic car DB5, one on the music, a bit on the premiere… Too many to list.
Silent Hill: Revelation
The first Silent Hill film was released in 2006 and based on a popular survivalist video game. It adds greatly to Revelation’s story to have seen the original. In the sequel, Michelle Williams-lookalike Sharon (Adelaide Clemens) and her father (Sean Bean) are moving from town to town, avoiding the cult members from Silent Hill who want Sharon back to complete their prophecy. When dad goes missing, Sharon and a local boy go to find him, and instead are transported to a horrific world of demons, deformed half-humans/half-machines, and scarier still: clowns. There are several films going on at the same time here: a thriller with a pretty convincing and detailed plot is punctuated by jarring “Saw”-like scenes. Some great visuals (the mannequins sequence was awesome) but too many to appreciate. No clear direction and some pretty grim dialogue further bog down the film, which is guaranteed to spawn another sequel.
Just one making-of extra on the blu-ray disc.
In time for Oscar viewing is The Sessions, based on the real-life story of polio victim Mark O’Brien, who is almost completely immobile. After much soul-searching 38-year-old Mark (John Hawkes) decides that he finally wants to lose his virginity, and after consulting with his priest (William H. Macy) and with the help of his therapist he hires a sexual surrogate to make it happen. Cheryl (Helen Hunt) explains that she is not a prostitute, because a prostitute wants repeat business, but they can only get together for a limited number of sessions. This is the story of how the relationship between Mark and Cheryl changes them both forever. Helen Hunt is nominated for Best Supporting Actress in what is an interesting character study, but ultimately is a film with limited appeal.
Deleted scenes, an interview with the writer/director, how Hawkes became O’Brien and more extras on the blu-ray disc.
A Royal Affair
Nominated for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars, A Royal Affair is the true story of the doomed royal relationship between an English girl in the late 1700s sent to marry the King of Denmark, who turns out to be mentally ill and controlled by the corrupt Danish nobility, who bleed the country dry. The king becomes so ill during a trip that he recruits a German doctor (Mads Mikkelsen) to be his personal physician. Dr. Struensee is a man with radical ideas who becomes the king’s playmate and constant companion, and eventually the most powerful man in the kingdom. He and the queen (Alicia Vikander) engage in a torrid and dangerous affair that transforms the kingdom for the better: they official ban torture, censorship and the excess spending by members of the court, putting their lives in jeopardy. Mikkelson makes a great romantic hero here; great story, beautiful-looking period piece about the Age of Enlightenment.
Death Race 3: Inferno
Death Race 2000 came out in 1975 and starred David Carradine and Sylvester Stallone mowing down innocent pedestrians for points. In the modern incarnation convicts kill each other by whatever means necessary in a fight to the finish. “Frankenstein” (Luke Goss) has miraculously survived from Death Race 2, and is back to win his freedom and stop the franchise from going worldwide. “More cars, more cons, more death” is the motto here, in this mindless boobs-and-body-count straight-to-DVD offering. Ving Rhames, Dougray Scott also star. It’s gory for gore’s sake, it’s repetitive, and it’s boring.
An unrated version an all sorts of extras on the blu-ray in case you didn’t get enough mayhem from the feature film.
For A Good Time Call…
In Jamie Travis’ first feature film, Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller) and Katie (Ari Graynor, Celeste and Jesse Forever) shared a horrific moment back in college and haven’t seen each other since. But after Lauren is dumped by her reliable boyfriend and Katie is about to be evicted from her dream apartment, the two former enemies reluctantly agree to move in together. Little does Lauren know, but Katie is working part-time as a phone-sex operator; Lauren offers to streamline Katie’s business and the two become partners, then odd-couple besties. Justin Long co-stars as their gay BFF; very dirty cameos from Seth Rogen and Kevin Smith. When I chatted to the director he compared it to those girl-power movies of the 80s with Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn, and the film is definitely a chick flick about friendship that just happens to be surrounded by R-rated chitchat.
Special features on the standard disc include deleted scenes, feature commentary with Graynor, Miller and Travis, plus a making-of featurette with audience reaction to the film.
Searching for Sugar Man
A nominee for Best Documentary Feature this year, about a musician named Rodriguez, who producers thought was going to be huge in the early ‘70s but for some reason, the record never hit. Rodriguez faded into obscurity and it was rumoured that the artist had played one last gig and then commited suicide onstage. But in the meantime, one of his records made its way to South Africa, then under heavy censorship. The record was copied, became popular, and eventually record producers got the rights to print the album even though it was banned from being played on the radio. Rodriguez became bigger than Elvis, helping to spur on the anti-apartheid movement, even though no one in South Africa could discover anything about him. Back in the U.S., Rodriguez didn’t know anything about it, the money never got to him, and he lived in squalor in Detroit. An amazing story whether you’re a music junkie or not: it’s interesting from a political point of view, and Rodriguez as a character is fascinating. Great film.