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DVD Review: Bridesmaids, The Tempest, The Conspirator, Dressed to Kill and The Sentiment of The Flesh

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DVD Review: Bridesmaids, The Tempest, The Conspirator, Dressed to Kill and The Sentiment of The Flesh

Too many romantic comedies witlessly hone in on the differences between men and women to create a heightened-stakes backdrop in which every interaction with the opposite sex is imbued with some sort of grand, gender-statement significance, which is of course then supposed to be neatly resolved and tidily put away by the time a paired-off happy ending rolls around. Co-written by Annie Mumolo and “Saturday Night Live”‘s Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids” instead focuses a considerable amount of its energy on female friendships, yes, but also the things women want in relationships — love, security, availability — that are the same as men. The result is the best female-fronted Hollywood comedy in years, and a movie that just happens to almost incidentally be about women, if that makes sense. Yes, theirs is the lens or perspective through which the story is told, but it is not a pandering or cloying, exclusively pitched tale. In its savvy blend of the utterly silly and urbane, “Bridesmaids” reaches across aisle and grabs back the dignity of its nuptial-inspired moniker from seemingly a generation’s worth of mainstream studio pap like “27 Dresses” and “Bride Wars.”

bridesmaids

Wiig stars as Annie, a thirtysomething Milwaukee native who, after the failure of her bakery forces her into a jewelry store retail job for which she is ill-suited, finds herself stuck in a friends-with-benefits situation with a narcissistic jerk (Jon Hamm). Annie’s rough patch is additionally complicated when her longtime best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) announces her engagement. This seemingly highlights and underscores every perceived failing or emptiness in Annie’s life, and the passive-aggressive competitiveness of Helen (Rose Byrne), Lillian’s wealthy and newer friend, does little to bring about the best in Annie, even as a local cop, Nathan (Chris O’Dowd), tries his best to get to know her.

Its tone is a pinch exaggerated, true, but almost all of the movie’s set pieces are genuine howlers, and “Bridesmaids” belies the notion that femme-centric comedies have to be either toothless, gorgeously wardrobed fluff or vapid and completely over-the-top. Possessing distinctly drawn supporting characters, director Paul Feig’s film is honest about their different backgrounds and stations in life, and doesn’t sacrifice sensible motivation for a couple cheap scene-to-scene laughs. Wiig, meanwhile, elevates her game from mere top-notch sketch performer; as Annie, she’s so damn good at communicating the quiet and relatable sadness behind the smile and cackling, put-on-a-happy-face exterior. And that’s why “Bridesmaids” comedy connects so consistently, and forcefully — because it matters to the characters, who in turn are genuine and familiar.

Combo-pack versions are also available, but “Bridesmaids” comes to DVD presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio tracks in English, Spanish and French. Housed in a complementary cardboard slipcover, this version includes both the (R-rated) theatrical version of the movie and a longer unrated version, with an additional six minutes of material — much of it foul-mouthed riffing. An audio commentary track with Feig, Mumulo, Wiig and other cast members proves a lively, enjoyable listen, anchoring the bonus material. Other supplemental extras include 12-plus minutes of very funny improvised and alternate line readings, and a four-minute gag reel in which breasts are touch (accidentally and otherwise), car alarms go off in the distance, and the late Jill Clayburgh engages in some salty sex talk, including an explanation of the act of “bird-bathing.” There are also a number of extended and alternate scenes, a fake commercial for Annie’s jewelry store employer, and three entirely excised sequences — the big one being a five-minute blind date scene featuring Wiig’s character with Paul Rudd, who experiences a character-revealing ice skating accident. Whatever your format of choice, this release is a home video keeper, for sure.

4th and goal

With over one million kids playing high school football, many dream of a career in the NFL, where there are less than 1,700 roster spots. Dreams die hard, of course, and often grippingly so, so that’s the reason for the existence of “4th & Goal.” Directed by Nina Gilden Seavey, this documentary aims to be a blend of “Hoop Dreams” and “Friday Night Lights,” charting the hard-knock course of a handful of would-be professional athletes as they work to try to secure Division I college scholarships, and then parlay that experience, effort and training into an eventual career playing on Sundays.

Seavey’s film spans time, and has the benefit of a couple well chosen subjects, including in particular Gibril Wilson and DeQawn Mobley, who eventually go on to matriculate at the University of Tennessee and Texas A&M University, respectively. One of the problems, though, is that she chooses to focus on teammates from a highly regarded Bay Area junior college squad that serves as a steady pipeline to NCAA Division I schools. From a production standpoint, and allocation of time and resources, this absolutely makes sense, but it doesn’t give a particularly representative snapshot of the path of the average college football scholarship recipient. It would have been more interesting to delve into college program summer camps and pro-am training programs, none of which are addressed here. Furthermore, Seavey then burns roughly 40 minutes of her movie’s 90-minute running time charting a season of Coach George Rush’s City College of San Francisco Rams. When the kids (and their sometimes delusional parents) are given a chance to speak themselves, “4th & Goal” is quite interesting. Overall, though, it just doesn’t hang together quite enough to serve as an accurate and emotionally involving tale of the sacrifice involved in the pursuit of becoming an elite athlete. While football maniacs will still likely be pleased, fellow documentary “Go Tigers!” provides a comparatively more interesting look at the punishment and dashed dreams of young pigskin players.

Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a nice, deep-set snap-in spindle, “4th & Goal” is presented on DVD in 1.78:1 widescreen, with a 5.1 audio track. Bonus features are limited to a textual director’s statement and biography, the movie’s original trailer, brief biographies on the movie’s subjects, and a trailer gallery of other First Run Features releases.

As a director, Julie Taymor’s chops have never really been much in question. On big screens, she’s delivered visionary versions of artists and their work (“Frida,” “Across the Universe”), and on Broadway she’s delivered imaginative, groundbreaking, monster-sized hits (“The Lion King”) and imaginative, groundbreaking, overreaching musicals whose long-term viability have yet to be determined (“Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark”). Through it all, though, she has returned to the works of William Shakespeare. Her most recent retelling of the Bard comes by way of her modernized, tweaked version of his final play, “The Tempest.” Visually gorgeous, full of recognizable (and soon-to-be recognizable) actors, and certainly audacious in its own way, the movie bristles with an undeniable energy, but ultimately feels like it misses the mark with respect to the intent and meaning of the text.

The biggest change is a sex change — exiled Duke of Milan Prospero is now Prospera (Helen Mirren), a scorceress reigning over the magical island of Lanai with an androgynous sprite Ariel (Ben Whishaw) to do her bidding. Conjuring up a storm to shipwreck her enemies and visit revenge upon them, Prospera also deals with the resentful Caliban (Djimon Hounsou), the island’s original inhabitant. The cast here — inclusive of Russell Brand; Alfred Molina; Chris Cooper; Alan Cumming; star-to-be Felicity Jones, of the forthcoming “Like Crazy;” David Strathairn; and Reeve Carney, of the aforementioned “Turn Off the Dark” — is both an interesting collection and a testament to Taymor’s drawing power with actors. And their delivery of the original Shakespearean dialogue makes for some spirited, memorable moments, often given a different spin by the gender-switch of the protagonist. But any sense of resignation from the original text seems ripped up and put away here; this is a “Tempest” more about sound and fury, and while it’s an imaginative and passionate staging, it also feels a bit too manic and insistent.

the tempest

Housed in a regular Blu-ray case, “The Tempest” comes to the format presented in a high-definition 1080p/AVC-encoded 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The film’s textures are clean, and its saturated color scheme protects cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh’s smart use of natural lighting, which tracks with the grey, fading day of the movie’s narrative. The DTS-HD 5.1 master audio, meanwhile, deftly balances its dialogue track with directional effects and the swirling howl of seaswept winds. Bonus features are anchored by an audio commentary track from Taymor, who is whipsmart but not always at ease with balancing nuts-and-bolts production information with thematic ruminations and more gossipy anecdotal offerings. Much better is a comprehensive, 65-minute documentary about the making of the movie, which includes loads of insightful interviews (Brand is a hoot, but also surprisingly knowledgeable regarding Shakespeare), on-location footage, visual effects breakdowns, and other behind-the-scenes material. Finally, also included on the Blu-ray is 15 minutes of revealing Los Angeles rehearsal footage; an annotated Shakespeare commentary featurette which grants Bard experts Virgina Vaughan and Jonathan Bate couch time alongside viewers; a bunch of energetic, in-character rehearsal riffing from Brand; and a music video from Carney, “O Mistress Mine.”

George Lucas is a marketing genius. Long before the rest of Hollywood caught on, the effort and managerial oversight he applied to ancillary deals and product tie-ins created a labyrinthine network which helps sustain his film properties even today, more than three decades on. Well… more than sustain, actually — it helps them thrive, and Lucas live on a cloud where he can float high above criticism over he’s treated characters like Luke Skywalker and Indiana Jones in his prequels and sequels. “Star Wars” is the first and most successful LEGO licensed product collection in the company’s history, generating more than 200 models and approximately 275 miniature figurines inspired by the sci-fi saga. And as part of that tiny spin-off sliver, the animated short film “LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace” aired on the Cartoon Network in July, and hits home video this week via an exclusive deal with retail distributor giant Walmart.

LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace

The plot of the irreverent adventure centers on a routine Jedi Academy field trip that gets turned upside down. When he’s summoned to help save the Republic and turn away the evil Sith, Master Yoda puts C-3PO and R2-D2 in charge of the boisterous young Jedis. Zaniness ensues, naturally. Purists will no doubt disapprove of some of the jokey mainstream pop cultural references in the program (tips of the cap to an “American Idol”-type singing competition, plus a reality show called “Keeping up With the Calrissians”), but “The Padawan Menace” isn’t really meant to be canonical anyway. It’s best enjoyed as a piece of adjunct entertainment — a nice little gift, perhaps, for youngsters who actually play with their “Star Wars” toys.

Housed in a nice, inch-thick cardboard case with an exclusive “young Han Solo” LEGO minifigure, “Star Wars: The Padawan Menace” comes to home video in a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. The Blu-ray is a 25GB single layer disc with a 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, while the DVD comes with a Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound audio track and the same subtitle options. Both formats are in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and come with complementary Spanish and French language 5.1 surround sound audio tracks. Special features include a clutch of short featurettes on the condensed “Star Wars” saga and the “Clone Wars” animated comics.

The idea of Robert Redford, behind the camera, tackling the story of the plotters of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, and those who might have harbored them and/or had advance knowledge of the scheme, seems like a surefire Oscar-bait type of film. “The Conspirator,” though, is bloated, dreary and inert — and definitive proof that some real-life stories are simply not intrinsically suited to big screen dramatic adaptation, no matter their thematic relevance to modern day. The story unfolds in post-Civil War Washington, where Union war hero Frederick Aiken (James McAvoy) is asked to put his burgeoning career on the line defending Mary Surratt (Robin Wright), the lone woman of a group of seven arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the president and others. Pleading his case before a military tribunal, Aiken encounters all sorts of frustrating bureaucratic hurdles — not the least of which is a Secretary of War, Edward Stanton (Kevin Kline), who wants chiefly to reach a quick verdict, for the sake of “public reassurance” — and nasty public judgment, eventually coming to realize that Surratt is effectively being used as bait in the ongoing manhunt for her fugitive son.

the conspirator

“The Conspirator” is essentially a courtroom drama, but Redford works from a screenplay that never misses a chance to instruct its audience how to feel. This tack becomes old very quickly, and there isn’t enough snap to any of the performances or set-ups — save one charged scene between Kline and Tom Wilkinson — to rescue this two-hour slog. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the movie’s two-disc DVD release is actually much, much better than the movie merits. In addition to a nice slate of production-related supplemental features (an audio commentary track with the august, always-interesting Redford, inclusive of an optional play-in-picture video function; a photo gallery and TV spots; a 10-minute making-of featurette inclusive of cast interviews and behind-the-scenes material), there’s also a nice collection of mini-featurettes that spotlight the historical background of the movie. And, best of all, there’s a same-named 65-minute documentary about the plot to kill Lincoln. History buffs and Redford fans will still want to give this a chance, but even casual filmgoers could benefit from spinning the nonfiction flick of accompaniment. It’s worth one’s time.

While “Scarface” remains Brian De Palma’s signature work, “Dressed To Kill,” from 1980, is probably the clearest distillation of his cinematic interests, influences and stylistic means of expression. A psychological thriller about a sexually unhappy housewife, Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson), her therapist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine), and the high-end call girl, Liz Blake (Nancy Allen), whose life intersects with theirs when she witnesses a brutal murder, it’s a rigged ride all the way through — a juiced-up homage to Hitchcock, with a bloody terror copped from the slasher/horror flicks of the same era, and a sense of erotic sensuality nipped from the softcore Italian sex dramas making their way particularly through New York City grindhouse cinemas at the time.

Does this mean “Dressed To Kill” isn’t engaing, just because one can see the seams of its construction? No, quite the contrary. For those not hip to its plot, the big twist still plays, and some of the more notable passages (the movie’s art museum pick-up, for instance) are still striking in their set-up and execution. Allen (married to De Palma at the time) is in truth not exactly a good fit for her character, and the idea of a kid (Keith Gordon, now a director himself) getting sucked into a murder investigation works more in theory than in practice. Still, Caine is fantastic here, Dickinson is quite good, and the movie as a whole remains an important work in the filmography of its writer-director.

The movie’s unrated cut Blu-ray debut is also extremely well done. The high-definition 1080p 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is gorgeous, preserving the rich, creamy hues of the film’s cinematography. A 44-minute making-of includes interviews with De Palma, Allen, Dickinson and producer George Litto, who details running a silent end-around on financier Sam Arkoff when the production abandoned New York City for Philadelphia, to shoot the aforementioned art museum sequence. Dickinson, meanwhile, confesses her confusion regarding binary numbers (a minor, early plot point) and details the selection of her body double as well as the awkwardness of an afternoon spent shooting a sexual liaison in the back of a yellow cab, which was all her. A separate break-out appreciation featurette with Gordon talking up De Palma is nice, as are an animated photo gallery and two other slightly overlapping featurettes spotlighting editorial trims needed to secure a R rating upon theatrical release and differences in versions of the movie (R-rated, unrated and television) over the years.

The Sentiment of the Flesh

Finally, for even more prurient (but definitely arthouse-friendly) tastes, there’s Roberto Garzelli’s French import “The Sentiment of the Flesh,” a sexually-flavored, slow-burn tale of perversity in the mold of early David Cronenberg. Mostly a dramatic two-hander, the story centers on anatomical drawing student Helena (Annabelle Hettmann), who, stricken with back pain, crosses paths with Benoit (Thibault Vincon), a young radiologist who is similarly obsessed with the human body and exacting in his work. They strike up a torrid romance, but when Helena presses Benoit to explore her body in medically-enhanced ways, unintended consequences change the landscape of the relationship and respective occupational futures.

Garzelli elicits brave yet understated performances from his co-leads, and for a long time the movie courses along on the strength of their edgy interplay. An audience knows something “bad” (or consequential) is eventually going to happen, but when? The film is essentially about what happens when someone with extreme proclivities or fetishes, let’s say, meets the person who helps push them out beyond even the extended boundaries of their comfort zone. To that end, Garzelli’s movie could use a bit more pruning and focus, to place this pair in a more fully realized world. Still, the movie’s ending, which tangentially recalls something like Takashi Miike’s “Audition,” is edgy and shocking. If you really want to freak out your significant other, slot a Netflix rental of this the same weekend as Pedro Almodovar’s forthcoming “The Skin I Live In.”

“The Sentiment of the Flesh” comes to DVD presented in widescreen, with a subtitled Dolby digital 5.1 surround sound French language audio track. There are unfortunately no supplemental bonus features, apart from a dozen chapter stops, a trailer for the movie, and previews for three other Strand home video releases.

Written by: Brent Simon

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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