DVDs for 04/20/10 – Summer Hours, Crazy Hearts, Lovely Bones and a little thing called Avatar

Avatar (Fox), the top-grossing movie of all time, hits DVD and Blu-ray, albeit without the 3D glory that helped make it such a theatrical experience (no surprise here: Cameron waited a decade to the technology to catch up with his vision, he’s certainly not going to put it through the primitive 3D processes available to most home theater owners today).

Zoe Saldana in virtual action

Fox is keeping a lid on review copies—critics don’t get a copy until everyone else does on the April 22 Earth Day release date (it’s a Thursday)—which means I can’t comment on the quality of the image and sound (with Cameron behind it, I’m sure it’s stunning), but it turns out I don’t have to worry about the supplements. There aren’t any on this initial release. Cameron stripped all extraneous material to give a higher bit-rate to the film, which ostensibly should provide the highest quality image, and a portion of the proceeds from the DVD and Blu-ray sales will go toward planting one million trees around the world by the end of 2010. I review the film for MSN here and report on the Earth Day tie-in at MSN here. A “Special Edition” release is planned for November (just in time for the holiday shopping season).

Olivier Assayas’ Summer Hours (Criterion) is an amazing film, an impressionist work with a wise understanding of human nature and a bittersweet portrait of a family going separate ways as siblings grow up, move away and have families of their own. Family matriarch Helene (Edith Scob) has preserved the country home of her famous painter uncle and it’s been the family vacation home ever since, but when she dies there are hard decisions to make. Frédéric (Charles Berling), who lives nearby in Paris, can’t bear to see the home broken up and sold off, but with his sister (Juliette Binoche) thriving in New York and younger brother (Jérémie Renier) settling in China with his wife and kids, the holiday family home no longer has the same meaning to them all, let alone their children. There is a painful tension in the sibling scenes as they discuss selling the house and the art, painful because it’s authentic and honest in the way they try to avoid the inevitable disagreements, and it’s just as painful to watch Frédéric see the few illusions he’s held on to (against all evidence to the contrary) slip away along with the family legacy, artworks with personal connection that, for Frédéric, far outweighs the monetary value. I previously reviewed the film for my blog here.

Criterion’s “Director Approved” release includes the French-language documentaries Making of by Raphael Duroy (a 26-minute portrait with Olivier Assayas, Charles Berling and Juliette Binoche) and Inventory (a 50-minute doc about the film’s unique and personal approach to art) and an original 28-minute, English-language interview with Assayas discussing his inspirations and aspirations for the film. Also includes a booklet with an essay by critic Kent Jones.

Jeff Bridges finally won his Oscar for Crazy Heart (Fox) and it was well-earned indeed. His performance brings a reality to the story of Bad Blake, a one-time country music name (if never quite a full-fledged star) on the downhill slide of a career. He drinks his way through a series of one-night stands revisiting his old songs while one member of his old band, Tommy Sweet (Colin Farrell), has become a country star in his own right. Bad is not quite angry and can be unexpectedly magnanimous, but he’s not ready to be roused out of self pity, especially when it’s Tommy Sweet trying to give him a second chance. Bridges brings a lived-in authenticity to Bad, a man who coasts between shows and drinks yet manages to rouse himself for his performances, where he comes alive to inhabit his songs, send out the dedications and call out the members of his pick-up band for the local audiences. That’s the best part of the film, and where it avoids the familiar potholes of tales of alcoholic performers who harden into bitterness and rage. Bad isn’t able to remains angry, but he’s too soused to motivate himself to do anything but stay on the road. Maggie Gyllenhaal co-stars as a single mom who interviews him for a local paper and ends up falling madly in bed with him, an adoring younger woman thrilled to be desired by her hero, even if he has baggage older than she is (the May-December romance works only because it’s a fantasy for both of them that is doomed to failure). Robert Duvall has a supporting role that brings to mind Tender Mercies, another story of an alcoholic country music legend on the road to redemption. This film isn’t quite as rich as that one, but Bridges’ unforced charm and easy-going presence makes Bad’s journey just as authentic and moving as Duvall’s in Mercies. The DVD includes deleted scenes and the Blu-ray features additional deleted scenes (including alternate musical performances by Bridges) and a featurette with stars Bridges, Gyllenhaal and Duvall..

After the epic moviemaking of Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson turned to something more intimate with The Lovely Bones (Paramount), his adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel of loss and love and stasis. Though full of fine actors and beautiful images, Jackson never seems to get to the heart of the characters. I review it for MSN here. The DVD features no supplements. The Blu-ray edition features a bonus disc with a nearly three-hour documentary that takes the viewers week-by-week through the production, from the first day of principle photography to the final day of visual effects photography, with Peter Jackson and co-writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens as our hosts, tour guides and narrators. Whether you like the film or not, this is a revealing portrait of how a film gets shot and how the realities of shooting conditions challenge the filmmakers and affect the finished production, and joins the growing list of superior documentaries on filmmaking created specifically for home video releases.

44 Inch Chest (Image) – A chamber drama of a tough guy movie, a reunion of former crime partners, but the occasion is personal vengeance: get the guy dating the estranged wife of Ray Winstone’s hopelessly in love bastard. Or perhaps cunt is the better term, since it’s the favorite word for these essentially impotent blokes. It’s not so much that it’s tired, it’s just so disappointing to hear this all-star British cast (John Hurt, Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Dillane and Ian McShane) try to give create variety in the delivery when they have all made music out far more inventive and engaging profanity (especially Ian McShane; see Deadwood for a primer on how to swear).

Beginning of the End (Hen’s Tooth) – Bert I Gordon, the kitsch master of nature gone giant cinema, created this bargain basement spectacle of supersized locusts eating their way through Illinois to Chicago as his answer to the atomic ant classic Them! This isn’t quite as classic or convincing (the special effects are limited to extreme close-ups of grasshoppers matted into live action footage or, even better, skittering up and sliding down photos of Chicago skyscrapers) but where else can you see Peter Graves machine-gunning a giant grasshopper with teeth gritted as in a comic book drawing? Peggy Castle is the reporter after a really big scoop and Morris Ankrum co-stars. Yes, it’s been out before in both original and Mystery Science Theater 3000 versions, but this is a well-mastered anamorphic version of a film that doesn’t normally get much respect. Features commentary by Susan Gordon, Flora Gordon and Bruce Kimmel.

I review Criterion’s new edition of Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre sa vie on my blog here here and the Kino’s Blu-ray edition of the restored Battleship Potemkin on the Turner Classic Movies website here.

Also new this week: The Young Victoria (Sony) (reviewed on MSN here), The Horse Boy (Zeitgeist) (I previously reviewed the film on my blog here), the reunion performance film Cheech & Chong’s Hey Watch This (Vivendi) (reviewed on MSN here), Lucas Moodysson’s Mammoth (ICF) and the documentary Tales From the Script (First Run).

For TV on DVD for the week, see my wrap-up here. For the rest of the highlights, visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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