New This Week
This year’s Oscar winner, The Artist, is an unusual film in more ways than the one. The obvious is that it is a black-and-white silent film made in Hollywood by a French director with French stars with title cards in English. More than that, however, it is told from the perspective of the silent screen actor whose career is brought to a halt by the advent of sound. Although the film ends on a happy note, the career of the film’s protagonist is still in question.
Jean Dujardin as a Douglas Fairbanks-style matinee idol and Bérénice Bejo as an exuberant rising star are perfectly delightful. The film’s story is a mix of Sinigin’ in the Rain and A Star Is Born with a little 42nd Street thrown in for good measure.
The films within the film have more in common with films actually made during the silent era than the overall film itself which has more in common with early talkies even if it doesn’t itself talk. I’m not sure the film would have won all the awards it did had it not been a disappointing year overall for films, but it was lucky to have come out at the right time.
The Artist is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
The big screen adaptation of 21 Jump Street, the popular TV series that ran from 1987 to 1991, was widely hailed by critics when it opened last April. After years of painfully bad big screen adaptations of old TV shows, this not too serious update from the directing team of Phil Lord and Chris Miller is refreshing if you’re not expecting too much.
In a reversal of roles, nerdy Jonah Hill is the star and popular Channing Tatum is the sidekick as they go back to high school as undercover cops with Dave Franco as the drug dealer they encounter. Original series star Johnny Depp is excellent in a surprising cameo.
21 Jump Street is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Critically lambasted upon its opening last March, Mirror Mirror, directed by Tarsem Singh, is better than its naysayers would have you believe. Everything is tongue-in-cheek as evil Queen Julia Roberts plots to kill Snow White while the seven dwarfs and handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) help the young princess thwart her stepmother’s intentions. If it’s a bit simple, well, it is after all a fairy tale.
Mirror Mirror is available on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Released on DVD just a month after its New York premiere, The Perfect Family from first time director Anne Renton, features Kathleen Turner in her first lead role in 18 years. Only 56 at the time of filming, and supposedly the contemporary of featured players Sharon Lawrence and Elizabeth Pena who are seven years her junior in real life, Turner looks more like a woman in her 60s and what’s worse, looks like she could be the grandmother, rather than the mother of co-stars Emily Deschanel and Jason Ritter, then 34 and 30, respectively. Not only does Turner look to be their grandmother, her character acts like someone whose sensibilities were formed fifty or sixty years ago. It might have worked better as a period piece set in 1970 or earlier.
The film doesn’t mean to be, but is nevertheless benignly anti-Catholic as this supposedly pious practitioner of good deeds is the only person in her daughter’s sphere who doesn’t know and refuses to accept that her daughter is a lesbian and that her son doesn’t love the woman he was forced to marry when he was 18. The religious characters in the film are also poorly written with Richard Chamberlain’s priest coyly bringing up things he heard in the confessional, which is the one thing no priest is likely ever to do. Anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the news knows that today’s nuns are the tolerant ones, while priests and especially bishops in the Church are less so, yet it’s the nun in the film who is portrayed as a close-minded conservative and the priest and bishops as open-minded liberals, even more understanding of Turner’s family than she is through most of the film.
The Perfect Family is available on standard DVD only.
Available on both Blu-ray and DVD while still in theatres, but only in region 2, John Madden’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is like a breath of fresh air, a film about old people that is neither condescending nor unrealistic in its approach. The film, whose full title is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly & Beautiful, tells us up front “everything will be all right in the end... if it's not all right then it's not the end.”
Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup star in the British comedy set in modern India. They all have their moments, but Dench and Patel have the most to do. Smith has the funniest lines. Dench and Smith, who have been together in various films over the years, do not have much to say to each other in this one in which their characters are seemingly at odds with one another until the end.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is available on region free Blu-ray and PAL DVD from the U.K. U.S. release dates have yet to be announced.
Sadly, Fox’s first widescreen color film to be released in their Cinema Archives MOD program is a disappointment. It is not presented in widescreen, nor are its colors particularly vibrant. In fact, it seems to be the same print that has been used for TV showings for decades.
The film is 1958’s Fraulein, an interesting Cold War romance which relies a bit too much on coincidences and coyly presents its German heroine not as a prostitute, but one who through circumstances has been falsely accused of being one, thus hindering her chances at happiness with the nice U.S. Army officer who comes to her rescue. Dana Wynter and Mel Ferrer star with Helmut Dantine the standout in the supporting cast as Wynter’s former fiancé.
Hugh Waldpole who adapted the acclaimed 1935 version of David Coperfield provided the screenplay for David O. Selznick’s 1936 production of Little Lord Fauntleroy directed by John Cromwell.
The bestselling late 19th Century novel about an American boy reunited with his British grandfather was credited in part for easing tensions between Britain and America at the time. Freddie Bartholomew and C. Aubrey Smith are superb as the generous lad and his cantankerous grandfather in the classic film that has been given a Blu-ray upgrade by the George Eastman House and released by Kino. Dolores Costello as the boy’s beloved mother, Henry Stephenson, Guy Kibbee, Mickey Rooney, Una O’Connor, Constance Collier, and Jessie Ralph hit all the right notes in prominent supporting roles.
The best of the Alfred Hitchcock’s early films, The 39 Steps has been given a Blu-ray upgrade by Criterion. Robert Donat has one of his best roles as the falsely accused man on the run with Madeleine Carroll as the woman who doesn’t believe him and Peggy Ashcroft as the one who does. It’s the one in which Donat and Carroll are forced to spend half the film attached to one another by handcuffs. Extras include the commentary track from the 1999 standard DVD release.
This week’s new releases include Universal 100th Anniversary Editions of Born on the Fourth of July and The Horse Whisperer.