Coming on the heels of 2009’s underperforming The Princess and the Frog, Disney rolled the dice yet again on a fairly low-fi tale of storybook royalty, in the form of Tangled, based on the fairytale of Rapunzel. A huge $575 million worldwide hit, the movie is a well-rendered throwback that underscores the still existent pleasures of traditional storytelling, amidst all the glitz and glam of more forcibly lively animated fare. Nicely balancing a sense of classic sentimentality with contemporary, gender-equal romance and adventure, Tangled features engaging vocal turns by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi — as the locked-away Rapunzel and rakish bandit Flynn Rider, respectively — and has enough going on to connect with both adolescent girls, its target audience, and older audiences who just enjoy a good, old-fashioned yet spirited yarn.
The movie’s superb, four-disc combo-pack is by far the best and most value-friendly way to experience Tangled. One disc is devoted to a 3-D Blu-ray presentation, which makes smart use of not just depth but also stirring low-angle shots; most rapturous are a dam-bursting escape sequence and Flynn and Rapunzel’s boat ride under thousands of candle-powered floating lanterns. Along with a digital copy of the film, separate regular (read: 2-D) DVD and Blu-ray discs are also included, and the complement of bonus features here is solid — a making-of featurette hosted by Moore and Levi; 13 minutes of deleted scenes, 10 minutes of online teasers and promotions, some alternate introductions to the movie, a couple extended songs, and more. A 7.1 DTS-HD sound mix anchors the Blu-ray aural offerings, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles are also included.
Setting aside my irritation for titles that are interrogatives but lack actual question marks, James L. Brooks’ How Do You Know still proves a strange beast. A big, star-laden seriocomic studio project, the sort of which used to populate Hollywood release slates but now seems increasingly rare, the film got something of a bum rap in theaters, coming across as neither fish nor fowl (that is to say funny, or particularly moving) and pulling in only $30 million domestically.
It’s not terrible, honestly, but more of a middling effort through and through. The story centers on Olympic softballer Lisa (Reese Witherspoon), who finds herself caught up between a womanizing baseball pitcher, Matty (Owen Wilson), and an about-to-be-indicted businessman, George (Paul Rudd), who may be taking the fall for his father (Jack Nicholson). There’s a pleasant bounce in a lot of Brooks’ dialogue and situations, but the third act plotting in particular here seems a bit sludgy, and Wilson, bless his soul, is only partially derailed from trading in his usual affable gladhanding. Too glossy and polished by about half, How Do You Know is a movie that would be a heckuva lot more engaging (and profitable) had it featured a cast of unknowns and a budget of roughly 1/15 of what Brooks was given. Sometimes less really is more. The movie’s DVD presentation includes a short blooper reel, six-plus-minutes of deleted scenes, a 15-minute making-of featurette, a feature-length audio commentary track with Brooks and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and select scene commentary with Brooks and Wilson. DVD audio comes in a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound mix, and optional English, Spanish and French subtitles are included too.
Finally, if there were ever a movie specifically designed to make conservative mouthpieces Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann simultaneously crap their pants — pairing all the extreme edginess of an online Mountain Dew advertising campaign with the ethnic “otherness” of a full weekend’s cab rides in Manhattan — it would probably closely resemble The Taqwacores, about a group of young, punkish, fornicating Muslims trying to reconcile their religious beliefs and personal freedoms in a country that isn’t always as welcoming of diversity as it likes to claim. The movie centers on Yusef (Bobby Naderi), a first-generation Pakistani college sophomore who moves into an eclectic off-campus house in Buffalo, which becomes an unlikely community magnet for Friday prayers as well as music-fueled weekend partying. The result often feels less real or believable than like a stumbling collection of characters tilting at windmills, peppered with moments either designed for raw provocation, or that read as overly telegraphed issue statements on gender equality, sexual identity and the like. Still, there’s undeniably something of a natural pull to the proceedings, in no small part because of Dominic Rains’ charismatic supporting performance as Jehangir, the mohawked, reconciliatory chieftain of this colorful clan. The Strand Releasing DVD presentation of The Taqwacores includes a behind-the-scenes featurette, a brief collection of deleted scenes, the original theatrical trailer and previews for other Strand titles.
Written by: Brent Simon