This Week in DVD: 12/4/12

By Dork Shelf
December 4, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012) – It might not have outperformed The Avengers in terms of box office superhero supremacy this year, but Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his cycle of Christian Bale starring Batman films sends the series out on an appropriately fun note that showcases some of the franchise’s playfulness that had been missing somewhat from his more serious takes on the character.

The laudatory and action packed send off finds Bruce Wayne a broken man (which not so oddly parallels what Daniel Craig’s James Bond recently went through in Skyfall) as he’s called back into action after being disgraced and framed for the murder of Harvey Dent. He’s asked to go toe-to-toe with Bane (Tom Hardy) a genetic freak looking to bring about a new world order by way of a threatened nuclear genocide.

There’s not much else to say about really any of the Nolan/Bale collaborations that hasn’t already been said time and time again. Bale is great, but still the same gruff hero he was in the other films despite getting a chance to be a much better Bruce Wayne here than he was in the previous Bat-centric entry. Anne Hathaway’s Selena Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman) is still a huge standout, and Hardy’s Bane isn’t any easier to understand on a home theatre system. The cinematography is stunning. Hans Zimmer’s score is pretty in-your-face, and Nolan can’t subtly reconcile the story as a proper political 99-percenter allegory, so he simply and wisely abandons it all for an hour long action climax that feels appropriately cathartic.

The unsurprisingly excellent Blu-ray still retains the same aspect ratio shift that Nolan performed in The Dark Knight between sequences shot in IMAX and scenes shot on regular 35mm film, making it a no-brainer for people with big screens to own this one. The sound is also appropriately bone crunching to make it one of those “show off” titles for audiophiles. The special features don’t amount to a whole heck of a lot, though, with a second screen styled experience for the first disc (which was unavailable for download prior to press time), and a second disc with a small handful of featurettes looking back on the series, its characters, and the production. The best of the bunch, and potentially most interesting for dorky viewers, however, is a look at the Batmobile through the ages. It’s a great send off to the series overall, but it’s nice to see one of the MVPs of the entire franchise over the decades is finally getting its due. (Andrew Parker)

 Men in Black 3

Men in Black III (Barry Sonnenfeld, 2012) – Men in Black III opened in theaters as one of those notorious, out of control productions that tends to clog up film news websites with hilariously disastrous stories. The budget reportedly swelled to $375 million and production had to be shut down for weeks in the middle of shooting so that the screenplay could be radically rewritten. It’s safe to say that the threequel developed a bad reputation before anyone got their eyeballs on the finished product and unfortunately the final product wasn’t exactly a secret success. Combining complex special effects spectacle with goofy character comedy ain’t easy, and the original Men in Black was one of the rare blockbusters to pull it off. Both sequels offer improved special effects and fewer laughs than you’ll get out of the particularly depressed 2pm Wednesday drinking crowd at a dive bar. This new franchise entry is at least better than the last one, but sadly that’s not saying much.

The plot’s barely worth discussion. A confusing concoction of bad fatherhood jokes and a growling supervillain (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement) is used to give Will Smith an excuse to go back in time to the ’60s and partner up with Josh Brolin doing an impeccable impression of Tommy Lee Jones as a younger man. None of it makes much sense, which would be fine if it were consistently funny or exciting amusing, but that just isn’t the case. A decade of drama has robbed Smith of much of his comedic timing and it’s kind of sad to watch him try and play the wisecracking young buck while slipping into middle age. Tommy Lee Jones is so visibly bored that he’s barely present. Brolin is admittedly fantastic, but his section of the script was the most radically rewritten and the life has been sucked out of his jokes.

It feels like director Barry Sonnenfeld simply stopped caring about the script at a certain point during shooting and focused entirely on the visuals. There are some fantastic special effects sequences (and with that budget, there had better be), but without a decent context for them to arrive or intriguing characters to share the screen with the effects, it’s hard to really care. Granted, the movie whizzes by at a sharp enough pace to never feel boring. That’s just not enough. When a sequel arrives this late to the party there has to be something new to add to the experience to justify the extension of the franchise. Men in Black III is a better timewaster than most blockbusters, but given the classic status of the original, it just doesn’t seem necessary. Ah well, it’s not like most movies with “Part 3” in the title can claim to be much better (stay tuned for an identical review if that long rumored Ghostbusters 3 is ever actually produced).

On the plus side, there’s nothing negative to be said about this Blu-ray presentation of Men in Black 3III. Since Sony invented the next gen discs, their transfers tend to be the best in the business and Men in Black III is no exception. Colors are rich, details are sharp, and the losless sound mix is guaranteed to piss off your neighbors in the best possible sense. I’m not convinced if all $375 million are visible onscreen (certainly a huge chunk went to Will Smith’s 3-story-trailer), but this is still a blockbuster behemoth and those suckers are made for HD show-offery. Sadly, the special features are a bit light, which is a shame. There’s a decent 30-min Making of documentary that unfortunately never touches on the production woes, several brief featurettes on the special effects and 60s setting, a gag reel, and a music video. Standard issue supplemental stuff with few insights and there’s barely even an hour of it total. The strangest addition is a Men in Black themed first person shooter mini-game that turns your Blu-ray remote into a blaster. Of course, since motion control technology doesn’t come standard issue with a Blu-ray player, you’ll be moving the aiming curser with the direction buttons on your remote and that’s no substitute. Admittedly, it’s a nifty idea to include bonus videogames with this sort of blockbuster, but if Sony is committed to that concept in future releases they should make the games for the PS3. That’d be some great cross-promotion and the mini-games might actually be worth playing. Think about it Sony. I’m prepared to give you that idea in exchange for royalties. You know how to reach me.  (Phil Brown)

Ted (Seth MacFarlane, 2012) – Apparently there’s no money left that he hasn’t made in the television industry, because Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane finally took a crack at that whole “movie” thing with Ted. As seems to be par for the course for Seth, it broke R-rated comedy box office records. Given how ludicrously successful MacFarlane is I suppose the cool guy response would be to claim that he’s a hack in any medium. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. He’s certainly not without his weaknesses as a storyteller, but the guy knows funny and has a factory of writers who can help him deliver the finest juvenile gags around. Whatever problems you have with Ted (and they’re definitely there), you’ll be too busy cleaning your shorts from laughter-induced mistakes to care that much.

The movie starts out like an 80s schmaltz fest about a young boy named John who wishes that his little teddy bear would come to life and be his best friend. This being a movie, that happens thanks to magical music and Patrick Steward voiceover. The cutesy walking Disney character becomes not only a family fixture, but a TV celebrity (the public was excited by a real talking teddy. Who would have guessed?). Fast-forward a few decades and now John (Mark Wahlberg) and Ted (the voice and motion capture work of Seth MacFarlane) are a pair of stoners who spend all of their time watching bad movies, eating snacks, and generally getting fucked up in any way possible. John has a girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) now though, and she gets tired of the slacker bear, eventually saying that he has to move out after an incident involving three hookers and a giant poop (yeah, this ain’t highbrow stuff). So the little bear does and Ted/John have to deal with the pain of being separated for the first time.

Essentially, the setup for Ted is a stoner-makes-good comedy that could have easily been designed for Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill. The difference is that the Rogen role is played by Wahlberg as a man far too old to be playing with toys and Hill’s role is a CGI teddy bear. That’s just enough to make the premise feel fresh, particularly when run through the MacFarlane comedy spin cycle that includes an endless array of vulgarity and non-sequitur gags hitting on everything from Flash Gordon to 9/11 (at one point there’s even a joke that references the Saturday Night Fever parody in Airplane!, which is about three or four more meta layers deeper than should be expected from talking bear comedy). There’s a reason why MacFarlane has three animated series running on television right now: the man knows funny and he slathers more jokes onto Ted than 8 Gerard Butler comedies combined. When his Masshole-accented Ted and the gooey, childlike, innocent version of Mark Wahlberg are lazing around and cracking wise, the laugh count is as consistently high as an episode of Family Guy, which is not easy to do for 90 minutes.

Unfortunately, while Ted shows off MacFarlane’s considerable comedy chops as writer, director, and voice actor, it also puts his weaknesses on full display. The guy is great at coming up with masturbation jokes for children’s toys, but when it comes time to tell a story he’s never been that interested. Ted is dripping with misplaced sentimentality between the boy, his toy, and his girlfriend that never meshes with the anarchistic laughs, and also features an awkward, forced thriller subplot with Giovanni Ribisi there purely to facilitate a climactic chase scene. The story is essentially meaningless and the stabs at emotion are completely trite (MacFarlane is no Judd Apatow). However, that’s been true of Family Guy for years, the only difference is that a cheesy emotional episode wrap-up takes only 30 seconds away from a 22-minute cartoon, while in a movie that material goes on much longer and is all the more irritating for it.

The redonkulous hit debuts on Blu-ray with a fantastic audio/visual presentation. This isn’t a movie that demands HD eye-candy, but there are a few beauty shots (Flash Gordon reboot!) and the CGI bear looks pretty fantastic (especially during the much loved and way-too-long fight scene). MacFarlane has always been a fan of special features since the Family Guy DVDs resurrected the cancelled series and so Ted comes packed with goodies. First there is the inevitable unrated cut filled with an extra 7 minutes of filth. Then there are 20 minutes of deleted scenes and audio takes that aren’t just funny, but also reveal just how many times MacFarlane and co. changed the CGI Ted’s dialogue before release. There’s also a making of documentary and featurette on the fight scene that are actually better than most docs of their kind since everyone involved clearly loved the project and don’t take these things too seriously. Finally, there’s a fantastic commentary with MacFarlane, co-writer Alec Sulkin, and Mark Wahlberg filled with gags and anecdotes, but will be most enjoyed by commentary geeks because Wahlberg ducks out early like he did on the Boogie Nights disc. I guess that’s the Wahlberg commentary staple. So the moral of the story is that Ted is just has flawed and hysterical as any of MacFarlane’s previous work. He’s not great at emotional content, but for his brand of comedies, who cares? If MacFarlane can stumble onto a movie concept like Airplane!, Dumb & Dumber, or Anchorman where the idiotic plot is mocked along with everything else, he could make one hell of a big screen comedy. Until then, Ted will fill the void just fine. (Phil Brown)

 

The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy, 2012) – There’s a feeling of desperation that runs through The Bourne Legacy. This franchise wrapped up in a very satisfying way fonly ive years ago. The ongoing mystery was solved and while the final shot left things slightly open, that was primarily just a way of giving an audience a happy ending after a three movies of brooding misery. Talented people came on board to attempt to revive the franchise including writer/director Tony Gilroy (who wrote the previous Bourne movies and directed Michael Clayton), Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, and Edward Norton. Everyone treats the material very seriously and professionally, but despite a few fantastic sequences the filmmakers simply can’t overcome the fact that this is an unnecessary sequel/remake. There’s nowhere for this story to go, so everyone spends just over two hours struggling to justify the existence of a fourth chapter and a leave a few doors open for a fifth. If it feels like you’ve seen it all before, that’s because you have and even though everyone involved tries damn hard to make this semi-reboot work, it’s ultimately a disposable blockbuster with delusions of self-importance.

Gilroy is a talented writer and has gifted actors delivering his dialogue. So, while people are rattling on about the new Bourne program and special “meds” while Renner is climbing for the first 20 minutes or so, it seems like Gilroy up to something exciting. Unfortunately he commits the ultimate action movie sin that both Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass avoided in their Bourne movies: he gets too wrapped up in the plot and loses track of the action. The Bourne Legacy is over 2 hours long and feels like it. The first hour or so spent setting up the story gets quite boring quite quickly (and that’s about the only thing that happens quickly in the first 2 hours). The plot is ultimately a simple spin on previous Bourne flicks, but Gilroy over-explains everything to death and sucks the small levels joy out of the concept. The scene in which Weisz’s lab partner goes postal is undeniably intense, as is the follow up sequence when she’s confronted by the undercover agents. The trouble is that it takes an hour to get there and then after Gilroy’s two original set pieces are used up, the movie turns into an uninspired Bourne Identity remake that reruns scenes we’ve seen before. It looks slick, the action is mostly CGI free, the over-use of shaky-cam is gone, and the acting is solid. All of those classic Bourne elements are in place, except for a decent story and a sense of originality, which essentially kills the movie.

While The Bourne Legacy is the weakest film of the franchise, it just might have the best Blu-ray. Greengrass’ relentless shaky-cam and Limon’s machine gutting editing didn’t allow for much detail in previous Bourne HD outings, but Gilroy’s far more subdued aesthetic is still stylish while holding still long enough to appreciate all of the glob-hoping locations and pretty explosions (and the audio rocks speakers appropriately whenever characters aren’t talking in hushed tones in offices). The special features kick off with a commentary Tony Gilroy, co-writer Dan Gilroy, editor John Gilroy, DOP Robert Elswit, second unit director Dan Bradley, and production designer Kevin Thompson that is lively, but just as confused as unfocused as you’d expect from combining that many competing voices. There are also some fairly dry deleted scenes and a collection of featurettes that add up to about an hour long documentary on the film. Like The Bourne Legacy itself, the special features offer a lot of flash and the illusion of substance, while ultimately being superfluous and boring. Hey, at least everyone involved with the film and Blu-ray were consistent in their mediocrity. (Phil Brown)

 

Lawless (John Hillcoat, 2012) – If Lawless, the latest film from director John Hillcoat (The Road), was simply Tom Hardy sitting down and reading the entire script while seated in a chair, it just might have more personality and charisma than this dull, plodding prohibition era drama could muster.

In chronicling the real life exploits of famed Franking County, Virginia backwoods moonshine runners the Bondurant boys, Hillcoat and musician-screenwriter Nick Cave are trying to make a realistic revisionist western, but they keep getting dragged down by the fact that neither seems to know how to balance the film’s numerous and vastly different characters.

Eldest brother Forrest (Hardy) is the brains of the operation; a strong, silent type that’s been described in local lore as being immortal. Middle child Howard (Jason Clarke) is the loose cannon enforcer, and youngest Jack (Shia LaBeouf) acts as the naïve driver, but he really fancies himself becoming a future Mafioso in the vein of his idol Floyd Banner (a cameoing Gary Oldman with little to do). Their world is thrown into flux by the arrival of a Chicago hotshot fed (a horribly misguided Guy Pearce playing a character that belongs in a sci-fi movie in terms of mannerism and appearance), who aims to put them out of business even if it means killing everyone in his path.

Aside from Hardy’s genuinely great turn as the smartest man in the film and the campiness brought by Pearce, Lawless is about as smooth going down as rubbing alcohol. LaBeouf doesn’t do anything more than the same petulant brat routine he’s trotted out several times already, and making his hopelessly green hooch hustler the focal point of the film’s second half makes the movie lose dramatic momentum fast. Also wasted in thankless roles are the usually great Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska as love interests for Forrest and Jack, respectively.

It also doesn’t help that Hillcoat has always been the kind of filmmaker that likes to drag out the miserably circumstances of his characters to unconscionable lengths. What makes this film less successful, however, is that the script just isn’t able to go to the same depths as the director, leading to a film that’s not as depressing as the director wants, but far duller than one would expect.

The Blu-ray looks and sounds adequate, and the special features here (including a commentary from Hillcoat and real life descendant and writer Matt Bondurant) wisely stick closer to talking about the real history than the lacklustre fiction. (Andrew Parker)

 

The Odd Life of Timothy Green (Peter Hedges, 2012) – There’s very little doubt in my mind that The Odd Life of Timothy Green was coming from a place a genuinely good intentions, but to put it quite bluntly, writer-director Peter Hedges (working from a story written by Ahmet Zappa) has crafted an odd duck of a film that’s trying so desperately to be inspirational that it turns out to be cheesy at best and downright creepy and off putting and worst. It’s no fault of the cast or crew persay because they seem to be acting in an authentic fashion, but this project was something that definitely went awry in the writing stages.

In the pencil producing capital of the world, Stanleyville, a factory foreman (Joel Edgerton) and his wife (Jennifer Garner) have been trying to desperately conceive a son to no avail. Out of options, they decide to spend a night drinking wine and daydreaming about the attributes of what their biological child would be like before burying the slips of paper in the front yard. Later that night following a magical storm, a young boy named Timothy (CJ Green) emerges from the ground claiming to be their son, and while he indeed conforms to everything the couple wanted in a child, he also has unprunable leaves protruding from his legs. The previously childless couple now has to learn how to deal with their odd and kindly new family member on the fly, not knowing that the young man has a secret he’s not telling his parents.

As parents on screen, Edgerton and Garner feel realistic and are giving an effort to seem kind, nurturing, and a bit scared by their own trial by fire, but as they are written, these are character so deeply neurotic and irreversibly messed up that they really should seek psychological help regardless of them having some sort of magical kid that just came from out of nowhere. The fantastical element is creepily at odds with a subtextual feeling that the parents are wholly unfit and forcing themselves to be grateful at this new miracle. It’s not the fault of the leads, but it’s just how they are written. As Timothy, CJ Green definitely steals the show with a display of soulfulness and charm that makes the more cloying elements of the film easier to swallow, but the character’s appearance and what happens to him at the film’s climax is so overblown that it looks like it came straight from a Japanese horror film. It’s a creepy musical cue away from turning everything into an entirely different movie.

This isn’t to mention the film’s wealth of side characters whose lives Timothy has to touch that are straight out of a Frank Capra film, but who have nothing interesting, insightful, or different to say. There’s Edgerton’s estranged father (David Morse) who always abandons his son and grandson, but who will actually go all Billy Madison on a group of kids with a dodgeball for no good reason. There’s the weasely, uptight pencil pushing pencil pusher (Ron Livingston) and his dour mother (Diane Weist) who want to close the plant and who delight in making Timothy’s parents’ lives a living hell. There’s the soccer coach (Common) who refuses to give Timothy a chance. There’s the young girl who thinks she’s the same as Timothy because she has an obviously large birthmark. These are all archetypes from a typical small town film who get to say lines like “I never thought I would hear that laugh again” before staring off meaningfully into space. They get the kind of incredibly stilted dialogue that sounds inspirational when trying to reassure a friend in some profound way, but that becomes grating when strung together over an hour and forty-five minutes.

Hedges obviously and quite desperately at times wants to make a Capra styled small town epic about being different, replete with town hall meetings to save the plant with speeches from people who have no business being at the meeting. It’s going for an earnest sense of corniness, but instead it becomes a caricature of itself. It’s like being force fed by someone who thinks every word in the film is inspirational when it’s really not saying anything new at all. The cast understands the tone, but it’s never apparent that Hedges truly gets it, and given his past filmography (Pieces of April, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Dan in Real Life) it makes sense that sentimentality wouldn’t exactly be his strong point. The darker revelations and psychological implications in the film, especially in the climax, are constantly at war with the feel good movie it obviously wants to be. Technically speaking, it’s a mess, but it’s a mess made with a good heart.

The Blu-ray looks pretty and while the sound doesn’t really impress, its much more of a visual experience that Hedges is going for anyway. There’s a commentary track and a Glen Hansard music video for the curious. (Andrew Parker)

Check out our interviews with director Peter Hedges and star Joel Edgerton!

 

Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan, 2012) – While Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan can’t seem to restrain himself from inserting what appear to be heavily stylized Dolce and Gabbana ads into his films to pad out an (on the surface) unconscionably long running time of 161 minutes, Laurence Anyways (which won the award for Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week and has already made waves in Quebec) marks the most assured effort from the young filmmaker; a multilayered story about love and the search for identity where even his sometimes egregious stylistic touches seem to have deeper meanings about the nature of conformity and the death of individuality.

Chronicling the life of Laurence Alia (Melvil Poupaud), a 35 year old poet and university professor, who one day in 1989 tells his wife Fred (Suzanne Clement) that he would rather live life as a woman, we follow along as the couple falls in and out of love over the course of a decade. She thinks she can support him and act more progressively than those around her, but her love might not withstand the stress brought on by someone who simply doesn’t know what they want out of life. Despite their pseudo-bohemian appearance and vaguely leftist doctrine of beliefs, Fred can never fully grasp what Laurence goes through and the true dramatic thrust of the film comes from watching her break down as her own sense of progressiveness comes into question.

Aside from assuredly controlled direction, Dolan shines more brightly as a masterful storyteller. The film – when it isn’t bogged down by lengthy sequences of people looking impeccably dressed in 80s fashions – doesn’t feel like it’s as long as it is. It’s made known very early on that the viewer is in for a lengthy trip through the memories of the film’s main character, and while he’s never the most sympathetic character on the planet, Dolan strikes just the right balance that makes it easy for viewers to want this couple to succeed and find happiness (or at the very least, closure).

Despite his flourishes of flash, Dolan definitely knows how to compose a shot and fill the frame with stunning visuals. Shooting in the now little used 1:33 academy ratio, it feels like Dolan might have imposed the smaller screen technique for fear of going mad trying to work on a bigger palate. He’s a heck of a stylist and wit working with little need for visual subtlety or restraint.

He also draws immense performances from his two leads, and the chemistry between Poupaud and Clement is undeniable. As Laurence, Poupaud runs through an appropriately confusing and confounding gamut of emotions and outbursts, but Clement steals the show as his counterpart. Fred actively works herself into a depression brought on by a secret she keeps from Laurence so she doesn’t upset their already fragile dynamic. It leads to bursts of anger and resentment that Laurence doesn’t have the capacity to understand, and Clement offers more sympathy for her character over time than Poupaud. Even without the notion of changing identities, they could very well stand in for any couple facing hurt feelings and secrets. Their problems are universal and Dolan makes theirs one of the more believable doomed romances in years.

It’s all dramatically weighty stuff told by someone with a thorough vision of what they think the material needs to be, even if it does get a bit ungainly at times. Sometimes the people don’t speak like 80s intellectuals, but more like modern post-irony disaffecteds. Dolan sometimes can’t help taking ten minute to describe what can easily be summed up in two, and this tendency leads to far more monologues as the film goes on, showing a love for his own language rather than the story which lurches towards being somewhat too convenient as it plays out. Despite all that, Laurence Anyways continues Dolan’s ascent to becoming one of Canada’s leading filmmakers and one of the local industry’s biggest players on a global stage. It’s easily his best work to date and it looks great on Blu-ray, even if the only special feature is a French language commentary track. (Andrew Parker)

 

Hope Springs (David Frankel, 2012) – Baby boomers, much like their teenage counterparts, deserve better than what they are normally given at the movies. Quite often the films they are served up are half baked inspirational epics that had been told thousands of times before that never once speak to who they actually are as people living in the world. So when a film like the deeply flawed and still not all that great Hope Springs comes out, it’ s still a minor cause for celebration. Despite awkward pacing, a threadbare story, and an odd second act lurch towards sexism, the film ultimately does try to tackle 60+ sexuality in a humorous and loving manner, and it gets more than saved by two incredibly captivating lead performances.

Kay (Meryl Streep) wants nothing more out of life now that her kids have moved on out of the house than to be acknowledged by her hopelessly aloof and gruff husband of 31 years, Arnold (Tommy Lee Jones). They no longer sleep in the same room, he often passes out watching the Golf Network, his life has become so routine that any attempt to break him out of it results in an endless stream of complaints, and forget about sex. They haven’t even so much as touched each other in roughly five years.

From the outset, the film makes it apparent that this is Streep and Jones’ film to run with in any way they see fit and the wonderful opening gives the two of them perfect moments and opportunity to shine. They are one of the most believable on screen married couples in quite some time and their awkwardness, bitterness, and complacency feels totally unforced even when the film will attempt to overcomplicate things to near disastrous results later on. These two are phenomenal right from the opening scene (arguably the best in the whole film) where Kay wordlessly tries to “seduce” Arnold into just sleeping in the same room as her, but he can’t be bothered to look up from his golfing magazine and he stammers through a bunch of empty excuses why he can’t leave the guest room.

Fed up with constantly feeling unwanted, Kay takes some advice from noted marriage therapist and self-help writer Dr. Bernard Feld (Steve Carell), and she gradually breaks the chronically complaining Arnold into following her to a marriage retreat and visit to Feld’s offices in Maine. The remainder of the movie follows Kay and the vehemently opposed Arnold as they make their way through therapy with hopes of adding more intimacy to their lives and ultimately to save their marriage from complete dissolution by way of apathy.

Once the film approaches the point of the therapy sessions, things start to get problematic. While Streep and Jones still put in wonderful work, the film decides to go in a bolder direction than Marley & Me and The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel and television writer Vanessa Taylor are capable of going in. The actual sequences of couples therapy are long and cyclical to feel like the audience is watching an actual counselling session. Needless to say, aside from some great acting, the pacing gets killed by dialogue that alternates wildly between stilted, insightful, forced, banal, and sometimes incredibly rushed because there is no concept of how these sequences should be paced. That’s a huge issue when these sequences make up almost half of the film’s running time.

Now would also be a good time to say that if anyone is thinking of going to see Carell be his usually funny self they shouldn’t even bother. Carell, although holding his own against acting royalty, is totally miscast as the straight-man here. In the film’s commitment to realism, Carell is playing a professional therapist who says nothing that could ever once be construed as a joke.

It’s understandable that Frankel and Taylor would want to give their actors as big of a showcase as possible (and with capable vets like Streep and Jones who honestly wouldn’t give them free reign), but their commitment to slow burning realism comes at odds with their desire to keep the story moving. For example, if Dr. Feld asks them for a list of all the things they have done sexually, they only talk about one specific thing in great length before ending the session. It will be a five or six minute sequence that will set up a gag outside of the therapy session, but not much ground will be covered.

This comes to harm the characters later on when it feels like almost out of nowhere that the film begins to blame Streep’s character for the marital problems. It doesn’t say she’s entirely at fault, but there’s literally a line in the film about this being all about “pleasing the man you love.” It’s a bit icky especially since the first half of the film shows the great pains Kay goes through to set everything up in the first place. Frankel and Taylor even give themselves an easy out by constantly playing up that Arnold has a deep secret that is going to come out through therapy, but they drop the ball because it never goes anywhere specific. The film keeps saying that there’s a problem between the two of them, and while we can see the loss of passion between them, the audience never feels entirely privy to just what that problem is exactly.

Anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that sexuality, while usually a large part, is never the be all and end all of a partnership. There are always other issues bubbling under the surface, and it’s those issues that the second and third acts of Hope Springs completely throws away in favour of the one problem with the most comedic potential, leading to decidedly unrealistic looking sequences of outlandish sexuality (movie theatre blow jobs, banana fellatio) that reek of filmmakers hedging their bets. Streep and Jones seem completely game to take this look at relationships to as dark a place as possible, but Frankel and Taylor keep pulling back, even tacking on a feel good ending that the film in no way deserves because of just how rushed it feels. If the filmmakers had allowed Streep and Jones to explore these characters more fully and let them throw the script out the window, Hope Springs would be something special. Instead, it’s an intermittently admirable face plant with wonderful performances made all the more frustrating by how it almost gets things right.

The extras package does offer some decent nuggets for fans of the film that go nicely with a beautiful Blu-ray picture transfer that makes the film look even better than it did on the big screen. For what it’s worth, Frankel’s commentary is pretty wonderful and he does a great job talking about his process, and six featurettes really help to highlight his relationships to the actors and honing each other’s craft. (Andrew Parker)

The Day - Doug Aarniokoski, Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan

The Day (Douglas Aarniokoski, 2012) – The WWE Films logo might seem a bit misleading when it comes on screen before this post-apocalyptic action thriller considering that they’re only acting as distributors on this film and not a single one of their wrestlers turned actors shows up throughout the entire film. (It’s the second such film this year in this new trend following the little noted Eric McCormack horror movie Barricade.) Instead, this TIFF 2011 Midnight Madness selection is a nasty and satisfying sepia toned siege flick that plays pretty well at home.

A band of five survivors (including Shawn Ashmore, Dominic Monaghan, and Shannyn Sossamon) after the downfall of society happen upon an abandoned farmhouse that looks like their salvation, but was really an elaborate trap designed to lure in unsuspecting passerby into a den of bloodthirsty killers.

Aarniokoski manages a plethora of twists that help to mask the low budget he was working with, even if some of them can be seen a mile away. The film still does a decent job adhering to the great horror trope that anyone can die at any time, though, so regardless of name value there’s always quite a bit of suspense being generated. The film’s gritty, bleached out tones also look great on Blu-ray, and the sound is great despite a sequence involving a blaring alarm that’s almost too annoying for its own good. There’s nothing particularly spectacular about it, but there’s far worse ways to spend an afternoon. (Andrew Parker)

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