Criterion Collection DVD Review: Black Orpheus (1959)

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Black Orpheus provides a stark contrast to the seemingly endless entertainment diversions being dished up at multiplexes across the country, which allow viewers to remain passively numb for two hours. Simply put, to watch Black Orpheus is to be overwhelmed by the experience of it as you lose yourself in the sensuous rhythms and vibrant sights of Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival.

Even fifty-one years later, the work generates a sheer cinematic contact high that infuses you with an invigorating jolt of adrenaline, making you want to dance along with the sea of authentic, amateur Brazilian performers turned debut actors in Marcel Camus’ breathtaking film.

Structurally reminiscent of an opera given its slightly surreal style that punctuates some of the highs and lows it presents, the heightened nonetheless potent interpretation of the Greek myth of Orpheus immediately transports you to a distinct place and time.

And although it foreshadows and delivers tragedy just as effectively as another summer 2010 Criterion Collection release – The Red Shoes – Black Orpheus replaces the more serious timbre of the Powell and Pressburger classic by imbuing their work with lush, intoxicating passion, and a true zest for living life to the fullest during each moment in time captured in the work.

Famous for its usage of samba laced Bossa Nova which inspired Americans to embrace the musical craze with open arms in the early ‘60s given Orpheus’s influential soundtrack, the work which received an Oscar, BAFTA, and Golden Globe in 1960 as the Best Foreign Film of the previous calendar year first made an international splash by receiving the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Set during the course of a feverish Carnival weekend, Orpheus centers on a swoon-worthy trolley driver Orfeu (Breno Mello) whose gentle strums on the guitar can persuade the sun to rise.

Shortly after becoming engaged the beautiful but tempestuous flirt Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), Orfeu discovers his true love in the form of the newly arrived Euridice (Marpessa Dawn), who’s come to Rio to escape the personification of Death, portrayed by two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Adhemar da Silva.

And despite the impending doom that pervades the two lovers swept away by the “madness” of Carnival in the sun-drenched community of impoverished yet proud residents, Orfeu and Euridice are unmistakably drawn to one another with an unstoppable force.

Enhanced not just visually and sonically with a debris and grain free crystal clear film to digital restoration and transfer that rivals some recent Criterion efforts even in Blu-ray format, while the second disc of supplemental material is predictably excellent, enthusiasts of the film should be sure to peruse Michael Atkinson’s wonderfully rich accompanying essay as well.

Similarly fascinating to revisit today to see the impact the work had on both foreign and domestic efforts that would follow – particularly in titles such as West Side Story which were themselves updates of classically revered literary material – Black Orpheus is also of notable importance for its forward thinking treatment of not only South American settings but also all black casts. With this in mind, it makes an interesting companion piece to Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, which transported Georges Bizet’s Carmen to ‘50s black America.

Avoiding pretentious techniques found in other subtitled efforts of the time that had the potential to alienate foreign film phobic viewers, Black Orpheus changed the face of both international and art films forever by using an upbeat approach to an eventually (and predictably) dour storyline. One of the highest performing foreign imports to arrive in American cinemas for decades, this bold work from director Marcel Camus continues to dazzle today thanks to Criterion's fantastic two disc set.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Hamlet (1996)

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The definitive version of Shakespeare's most famous tragedy performed from Act 1, Scene 1 right through the very end and clocking in at more than four hours, Kenneth Branagh's breathtaking adaptation of Hamlet bursts off of the screen in full old-fashioned 70mm glory like a David Lean epic from the '60s.

And although Branagh fast-forwarded the time-line a bit to set the play in the 19th century to take advantage of the impressive production and costume design, nothing about 1996's Hamlet is dated.

Rather everything about the work feels timeless, visceral, visual, and incredibly alive from Hamlet's introductory sequence captured alone in profile wearing all black as the camera panned away from a crowd up through Branagh's brilliant usage of mirrors in the famous “To Be or Not To Be” speech since his character is actually talking to himself and a scene at Ophelia's grave that could make one weep in an instant.

Dropping the affected rhythms of iambic pentameter to abandon clumsier line readings of the work altogether, while Branagh's wide-ranging ensemble cast varies in their knack for the now oft-quoted turns of phrase, he ensures throughout that the meaning of the lines is routinely enhanced by some truly imaginative wordless cinematographic sequences.

Knowing when to let the dialogue stand alone by not overpowering the scene with conflicting edits or quick cuts and when to color in the vagueness by depicting the precariousness of the situation with invading forces and the ways that characters are all plotting against each other, Hamlet becomes a complete sensory experience.

While it's inhabited by an auspicious cast, Hamlet features an absolutely mesmerizing turn by a young Kate Winslet as Ophelia who one year earlier had been Oscar nominated for her emotionally potent portrayal of Marianne Dashwood in Ang Lee's adaptation of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility that was penned by Branagh's ex-wife Emma Thompson.

Exploring new subtextual terrain by offering flashback evidence that Ophelia and Branagh's Hamlet had been involved in a sexual affair and additionally removing the Oedipal reading of the mother/son relationship as witnessed in various adaptations by Olivier and Zefferelli, Branagh therefore manages to truly build up the tragic figure of Ophelia in a way that makes her descent into madness seem less rushed and not without warrant.

While of course, he's assisted greatly by having the full text at his disposal, Branagh never relies far too much on the words alone to carry the work. However even when the characters swing for the fences, he anchors the saga of a man told to avenge the murder of his father by his father's ghost with authenticity through and through to make the rather extreme paths taken by characters in the play feel not only logical at times but also predestined.

And even though I am inclined to agree slightly with the charges of stunt casting as Branagh filled some of the smallest roles with “name actors” or celebrities including Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Jack Lemmon and Charlton Heston, I've never understood the criticism that Branagh's performance itself was “too stagey” which was leveled at the picture upon its release.

While in addition to Winslet, the film's most valuable supporting player is definitely Derek Jacobi's devious Claudius, seeing the film once more in its entirety for the third time with this Blu-ray premiere, I was dazzled yet again by the at incessantly shocking passion, conviction and intensity that Branagh delivered in every single scene.

And despite the fact that the film itself is greatly inferior to this production, I still feel that perhaps Branagh showed us his greatest work as an actor so far in Othello, his Hamlet is nonetheless the most convincing portrayal of the Danish prince that I've had the good fortune to see onscreen.

Given the tendency for the character to suffer from madness – either put on or real – along with his alternately manic and melancholic demeanor, Hamlet has always been the most difficult Shakespearean part to tackle since there are so many interpretations one could make of single lines let alone whole speeches.

An exhilarating picture that stands head and shoulders above all other Bard adaptations brought to the big screen, Hamlet looks better than it ever did in widescreen high definition with this back-to-school Warner Brothers release that could serve as a Shakespearean litmus test.

For, if you're not riveted by the action onscreen as well as the exquisite marriage of visuals with dialogue that warrants an examination of the film in cinematic editing courses around the globe, you either will never appreciate Shakespeare or you may be a ghost. "To Be or Not to Be..." indeed.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: The Polo Kid (2010)

Whether it's Pretty Woman Julia Roberts whooping it up alongside Richard Gere in the box office smash or depicted in advertisements featuring the likes of genetically gifted Nacho Figueras as “the face of Polo Ralph Lauren,” the sport of polo seems to be synonymous with the luxurious wealth enjoyed as an upper class privilege in these United States.

Hoping to change the elitist, playboy perception of one of the oldest games in the world, that is enjoyed by everyone from royal families to small children running to and from matches in its Argentine home, both Figueras and filmmaker Nathaniel McCullagh took part in this touching and eye-opening personal portrait of polo on American soil.

Fittingly given the title of The Polo Kid and tagline of “An American Prodigy” the documentary's main focus centers on the promising, naturally talented thirteen year old player Santiago Torres.

And while the elements of an underdog sports drama are there from the start as Santi journeys further away from his native California in his quest to play polo professionally, ultimately the work morphs into truly compelling study of a determined, supportive family doing their best to build their own American dream.

Training, playing and working alongside his eighteen year old brother Miguelito, both Torres sons strive to make their Argentinean immigrant father's polo dream a reality.

In addition to school and taking part in local matches, the brothers help out with the family business of training horses to become top polo ponies that they can sell to our country's finest clubs in order to stay afloat.

Of course, this is in stark contrast to some of the other players with whom they ride that have enough old family money in their bank to buy purchase the opportunities, horses, etc. that the Torres family works twice as hard to obtain on their own as a far cry from the stereotypical well-to-do polo scene.

Yet all the equipment and lessons in the world can't replace the one thing that Santi Torres possesses naturally which is amazing potential and talent.

At just thirteen years old when the film begins, the quiet dutiful son who lives to make his cancer riddled father proud on the field, Santi Torres is already on the international polo radar as McCullagh films some of the sport's most renowned and revered athletes who analyze his ability and pontificate about his future.

Since Santi isn't overly talkative, the work benefits considerably from extensive interview footage as McCullagh pieces together the puzzle of the talented lad with stories served up by family and friends alike as we follow Torres during triumph and tragedy by traveling to Mexico and Argentina when he joins the U.S. team and later gets the opportunity to explore his father's homeland with another club.

Admittedly at times the documentary threatens to wander into entirely different terrain as certain interviewees discuss what Santi's mother calls “polo-tics” (analyzing the sport's future and addressing charges of Argentine favoritism), overall it's an exceptionally well-crafted and fascinating snapshot of an extraordinary young man.

Similarly, it's one that's sure to make you discover the simple, beautiful truth behind the game of polo once you look beyond the facade of the rich and the snobs.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.


Movie Review: The Desert of Forbidden Art (2010)

As a patron wandering through the usually air-conditioned, quiet hallways, sometimes it's easy to lose yourself in the world of art that surrounds you by taking for granted the fact that somebody actually took the time out to acquire, collect and hang the works found in your local museum.

And while the art itself or the lives of those who created the masterpieces is often the biggest draw, it isn't too often that you find yourself taken in by the saga of the curator... largely in part because it isn't readily available for you to explore.

Fortunately in this eye-opening award-winning documentary fresh off the film festival circuit, art enthusiasts and history buffs uncover that for unsung champion Igor Savitsky, the story of building the collection is both fascinating as well as integral to fully appreciating the works themselves.

Additionally, because the now deceased Savitsky's renowned museum is situated in the Uzbekistan desert, it makes filmmakers Amanda Pope and Tchavdar Georgiev's extraordinary eighty minute portrait that much more vital.

Namely, not only are most of us minus the means to undertake such an excursion but also because Savitsky's collection and plight offers new insight and understanding into the history of the former Soviet Union following the revolution in the early twentieth century, their venture The Desert of Forbidden Art can therefore be appreciated on a more global level.

Essentially the Oskar Schindler of Soviet artwork, after aspiring artist Igor Savitsky received overwhelmingly pessimistic and negative feedback about his paintings from one of Russia's most revered artists, Igor Savitsky focused his creative energy on celebrating the work of others by eventually rescuing more than 40,000 forbidden or hidden pieces of art during his lifetime.

Although he initially tracked down beautiful folk art criticized by the Communist party, eventually Savitsky sought out the breathtakingly colorful brushstrokes captured on canvases by daring artists sent to the Gulag or mental institutions because they didn't fit in with the socialist Soviet realsim style that romanticized workers and leaders.

Brilliantly but dangerously acquiring government funding to amass a staggering collection of items that had been banned by the state, Savitsky benefited immensely from his shrewd decision to build his museum in the middle of nowhere.

Thus hidden from the overly watchful eyes of the KGB, Savitsky made more than twenty trips journeying seventeen hundred miles to develop a collection so large that to this day not everything can be displayed yet nothing will be sold since culture continually usurps commercial interests for those in charge.

In bringing the story of Savitsky, Uzbekistan painters and craftsman as well as the area to life, the filmmakers make great use of archival footage, photographs and the art in question and balancing it out with extensive video clips of interviews conducted with the children of artists, friends, relatives and colleagues along with voice over narration from Ed Asner, Sally Field and Ben Kingsley.

Nonetheless, there are a few times in the first half of the documentary where it seems like it's jumping all over the place in struggling to maintain a fluid balance and natural transition between the political, artistic and personal realms of its subject matter.

Yet over all it's an extremely impressive piece of work that is sure to make you curious to learn more about some of the individuals whose colorful canvases nearly jump off the screen.

Moreover, it inspires you to think about the effort, sleuthing and passion that exists outside the frames as curators like Savitsky put their lives on the line in the pursuit to showcase art that breaks down barriers and gives a voice to all regardless of language barrier, life/death, or geographic location by reminding us that creative freedom must be celebrated at all costs.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: $5 a Day (2008)

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AKA: Five Dollars a Day

Forget The Boy who Cried Wolf. Instead, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola) must deal once again with the dad who cried wolf in the opening act of Calendar Girls and Saving Grace director Nigel Cole's winning dramady.

Having lost both his job and his longterm girlfriend (Amanda Peet) in a matter of hours, Flynn struggles to respond to the latest plea from his estranged father who'd phoned his leaving lover earlier in the day to inform Flynn that he's dying.

And needless to say because his dad's a morally flexible con man who lives to lie and repeatedly smooth talks his way into and out of a wide variety of ridiculous situations that routinely work to his benefit, it's no wonder that Flynn has some serious trust issues.

This is especially hard for Flynn who, having gone to jail in the place of his father Nat (Christopher Walken) by taking the blame for a con gone wrong years earlier has actually moved to the other side of the U.S. to escape his schemes.

Yet of course, blood is thicker than bother so Flynn travels out to Atlantic City where once again his dad breaks down his guard within minutes, managing to talk Flynn into being his “wheel man,” by driving them cross country for an experimental treatment Nat is hoping to obtain in New Mexico.

Up to all of his usual tricks, Nat prides himself for his ingenious but not altogether legal knack of getting by on no more than five dollars a day from driving a Sweet & Low promotional vehicle to get free Chevron gas and IHOP meals for a year to crashing work conventions in banquet halls and staying in empty homes that are currently for sale.

Purposely mapping out the journey so that they'll find themselves retracing key steps they took in their relationship gone wrong in an attempt to try to build a solid father/son bond once again, while the road trip begins as an obligational chore for Flynn soon it evolves into an adventure back in the past where he can finally learn the truth about his dysfunctional family.

On the surface, Nigel Cole's $5 a Day may resemble a dime a dozen independent road films as well as quirky family portrait movies we've all seen before where characters are too heightened to be real that have filled the multiplex following the success of breakout indies like Little Miss Sunshine and Sideways.

Yet thanks to the unpredictable twists of the screenplay penned by Tippi and Neal H. Dobrofsky along with a refreshingly whimsical turn by Walken that's balanced by Nivola's likable straight man routine, $5 also works in unexpected bursts of laughter, warmth and no shortage of surprisingly touching moments to balance out the obvious eccentricities.

Landing across the desk of everyone from Sam Rockwell to John Curran to Nick Cassavetes for five years since the delightful script first appeared in Tinseltown in 2003, eventually the right cast and crew came together five years later to give it the right low-budget yet highly entertaining approach it deserved.

And while I honestly don't know why the endearing Nivola still remains one of cinema's best kept secrets, predictably Walken is the one you can't help but keep your eye on from start to finish as he gets another cinematic opportunity to deliver bittersweet monologues, move from one emotional extreme to the next and even dance.

Famous for his ensemble work in Saving Grace especially, Nigel Cole holds our interest even further generating solid supporting turns by Sharon Stone who seems to be playing a companion of her character in Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, along with Dean Cain, Peter Coyote and Cole's A Lot Like Love leading lady Amanda Peet.

Recently released on disc in a solidly transferred Blu-ray edition, much like the charismatic conman Nat in Nigel Cole's sweet, succinct sleeper, $5 a Day is sure to steal your heart.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: The Last Song (2010)

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As a novelist, Nicholas Sparks has never met a character he hasn't wanted to murder. Simply put, the man has a penchant for cutting short relationships and turning smiles upside down to destroy happy endings with a few clicks on his keyboard.

And even without giving his latest endeavor the spoiler heavy title of The Last Song, within the first five minutes of the film you're already guessing which individual will be deleted by the final credits.

Luckily before we get too emotionally attached, it's pretty obvious given the film’s set-up that finds two kids (Miley Cyrus and Bobby Coleman) being driven to Georgia to spend the summer with their estranged father (Greg Kinnear) who coughs suspiciously at least twice in the first act. Alarm bells, anyone?

Unlike mysteries that inspire you to sleuth out the suspect, Sparks' melodramas encourage you to identify the victim in the quest for tearjerker success.

By now he's become a genre all his own considering the montage heavy moments punctuated by pop songs, beautiful beach set sensuous fests in the south as the male answer to Danielle Steel, publishing variations of his breakthrough novel The Notebook for over ten years.

Assuredly this has resulted in cinematic highs (Dear John, Message in a Bottle) and movie lows (Nights in Rodanthe which prompted me to stage an online intervention), mostly Sparks' work falls right into the middle as benignly pleasant Hallmark Hall of Fame style family dramas seasoned with second chances and a side of unexpected love.

The Last Song easily falls into the middle category as a slightly awkward but nonetheless promising adult star vehicle for Miley Cyrus, who, hoping to put Hannah Montana behind her to show her improved range as a performer sought out a generational crossover picture in the vein of Mandy Moore’s Sparks cry-a-thon A Walk to Remember.

Having given up the piano around the same time that her parents' marriage fell apart and her father (Kinnear) moved back to Georgia, Cyrus' rebellious musical prodigy Ronnie grudgingly ventures from New York City along with her younger brother Jonah (Coleman) to spend the summer with their father.

Despite a passion for classic Russian literature and for protecting baby sea turtle eggs from being attacked by raccoons on her dad's beachfront property, the angry vegetarian with a shoplifting record keeps up the tough act for as long as she can.

Of course, it's summer in a Sparks screenplay after all so, following a “meet cute” consisting of the go-to romantic contrivance of the “bump into” when Ronnie's love interest crashes right into her only a few minutes after her Doc Martens hit the sand, eventually the volleyball playing mechanic manages to melt her icy exterior.

To this end, it comes as a surprise to no one with a pulse that Australian actor Liam Hemsworth's good-natured Will will be the one to show up on Ronnie's property to help her save the baby turtle eggs from harm.

However, Sparks impresses us all the same with one of his most creatively written romantic scenes in recent onscreen memory as the two teens guard the eggs all night, taking turns chatting and sleeping in their lawn chairs in a beautiful twist on a first date that puts most teen and tween friendly movies (including some 2010 adult romantic comedies) to shame.

Unfortunately from truck sing-alongs to mud-fights and family misunderstandings spawned by prejudice and economic differences and parental expectations, the rest of the romance between Ronnie and Will goes through entirely familiar terrain.

Nearly abandoning all traces of the original premise of trying to reconnect a father with his children in favor of a teen romance, ultimately the film is bogged down by too many subplots that are unable to be given the attention they deserve in the limited running time.

An inauspicious and slightly sloppily edited effort from first time feature filmmaker Julie Anne Robinson, The Last Song shortchanges not only the relationship between the father and his teenage daughter (aside from one forced heart-to-heart exchange) but also thanks to Sparks' inclusion of a church fire mystery adds another uneven element into the overcrowded work.

While it's a structural mess, the always solid Kinnear manages to add poignant dignity and tenderness to his underwritten role. And even though this Song is a step down from Sony's unexpectedly excellent recent adaptation of Sparks' Dear John, Cyrus' mature debut sans Hannah Montana is augmented by its beautiful lensing and solid technical specs in a flawless Blu-ray transfer.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.


Blu-ray Review: Date Night (2010)

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If Baby Mama was a big screen version of a comfortably predictable Odd Couple style TV series, then 30 Rock creator, writer and star Tina Fey's Date Night is roughly the equivalent of a traditional married with children family sitcom that hits the Fall schedule every year but fails to get picked up for a full season run.

And like Baby, this particular Date also gives off a distinctly Neil Simon inspired flavor with a set-up that recalls The Out-of-Towners rather than The Odd Couple by focusing on a married New Jersey couple who are too dull to be odd.

Additionally, given the fact that Fey joins forces with NBC Thursday night schedule mate Steve Carell from The Office, it initially comes as quite a surprise that Universal Studios isn't behind the film as a brilliant marketing strategy to help boost both TV ratings and box office.

However after seeing the film, I understand the reason the network known for comedy didn't aspire to step up and attach their brand name to this half-baked effort that -- unlike stories shared with friends about disastrous dates -- doesn't inspire empathy or much laughter.

Overall it's as awkward and embarrassing as a bad date where the supporting cast goes above and beyond the call of duty to try and make it work like a blissfully happy group of friends trying to encourage a love connection during a blind double date.

An all around misfire, Date's main duo looks visibly bored with the weak material as Night at the Museum franchise director Shawn Levy unsuccessfully marries action packed Blues Brothers meets The Fast and the Furious style CGI car chases with unrealistic domestic jokes.

Hoping to add some excitement and romance back into their marriage, rather than journeying to the same restaurant to order the same food every week for “date night” away from their two rambunctious kids, Phil and Claire Foster (Carell and Fey) impulsively travel into New York City to visit a trendy seafood place in Manhattan.

Unable to secure a table on a busy Friday night, Phil startles his wife by impersonating a no-show couple, taking the reservation of the unseen Tripplehorns which works well until they reach the end of the meal when Phil and Claire are hustled into the alley at gunpoint by two criminals wanting to know where a stolen incriminating flash drive is located.

Yet even though they temporarily manage to escape from the clutches of the kidnappers who assumed the Fosters were the ones in possession of the mysterious flash drive that may or may not have something to do with a mobster and a district attorney, Phil and Claire's night is far from over.

Turning to one of her old real estate clients for help (Mark Wahlberg) and eventually tracking down the real Tripplehorns (James Franco and Mila Kunis), the Fosters go from one adventure to the next.

Driven less by humor and more by its stepping stone style predictable plot as each set piece and situation becomes even more outlandish than the previous one, Date Night culminates in a just plain pitiful sequence at a strip club that made me feel incredibly bad for the actors involved as if they'd wandered into a cheesy SNL skit from hell.

Relying far too much on bodily function one-liners than any original wit, one of the main problems with Date Night is that it misgauges the strengths of its stars by trying to ratchet up physical gags in place of the conversational humor they do best.

Fey and Carell are very funny, likable performers but they don't excel at pratfalls, which makes sure that the two are never all that comfortable in their parts as Date Night should've played toward their natural skills rather than just aiming for mediocrity in uninspired trailer-ready jokes and way too many scenes of the same clumsy behavior.

And even though I do applaud any attempt to go for the same anything goes, funny and flirtatious subgenre of screwball romantic comedy, unfortunately Date Night is an extraordinarily weak update, recycling gags from other movies and never offering Fey or Carell anything remotely interesting to do onscreen.

While Fox's technically stellar Blu-ray ensures that some of Shawn Levy's big action sequences play just as well on the small screen as they did in the theatre, unfortunately the disc can't hide the fact that at its best, this is one predominantly unfunny Night that even at less than ninety minutes still feels endlessly long.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: The Joneses (2010)

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Hindsight really is 20-20... and worth much more than twenty dollars. When I look back on my adolescence, I'm amazed by the degree to which consumerism played a role in popularity. Whether it was carrying your books in Esprit bags or wearing Girbaud jeans, the cliques in my school all reinforced the messages that brands paid millions to deliver.

Namely, if you wanted to be happier, cooler, thinner, prettier or healthier, you would buy whatever it is they were selling so you could be accepted or be loved... at least until the next product came along. The only difference was that unlike the international companies that shelled out money to PR firms and commercial directors, the kids in suburbia weren't being paid to peddle goods.

An old sociology professor of mine said it best: “Why spend forty-five dollars to buy a shirt with a logo on it? Why should I be a walking billboard? Why would I ever advertise something unless I was being paid?”

Well, what if you were?

In commercial director turned debut feature filmmaker, scripter/helmer Derrick Borte comes up with an ingenious premise as he introduces audiences to a surface level picture perfect upper middle class family – the kind everyone would want to emulate because they're living the American dream, or at least that's what they want everyone to think.

And because we're currently living in a society where everyone is shuffling around credit cards to “keep up with the Joneses” as the old adage goes, Borte aptly applies the same surname to the smiling family of four, who aren't exactly a family as in related by blood but rather part of the same corporate family.

Paid to become the “pack leaders” of their community by taking the up-and-coming concept of stealth marketing to a whole new level, the Joneses start new trends as soon as their feet touch the pavement on moving day from innocently posing for a video for grandma to pitch the gadget to passersby to offering a certain brand of beer to those stopping into welcome them.

Others quickly buy all of their fabulous accessories ironically to assimilate with the Joneses rather than following the trend of most transplanted families who struggle to fit in with their new surroundings.

While to the outside world, Kate (Demi Moore) and Steve (David Duchovny) appear to be the blissfully happy and proud parents of teens Mick (Ben Hollingsworth) and Jenn (Amber Heard), in reality the four successful salespeople are virtual strangers taking Kate's lead as their boss in order to skyrocket sales in time for their next corporate review.

Yet even though this is Kate's sixth consecutive year as a different Mrs. Jones, whom we gather has probably worked with Mick and Jenn before, it's former Scottsdale, Arizona car salesman Steve's debut as an undercover marketer.

And despite the fact that he pumps up the others with the vow to “do some damage in this town,” Steve struggles with coming on a little too strong via fake compliments and sales pitches, striving to develop the killer instinct that company head Lauren Hutton tells him can land him anything, perhaps even the object he's most longing to acquire in the form of Kate.

Although Borte may have shown his hand a little early by revealing the truth about the Joneses, the development of their two friendly but economically struggling neighbors played by Glenne Headly and Gary Cole manages to add a nice balance to the work.

Unfortunately I'd hoped that Borte would've offered us a little more background on the real lives of the Joneses to ensure that we were more emotionally invested in the individuals to best appreciate the third act twist and unraveling of their facade.

Without more to share with us, the otherwise fascinating and intelligently entertaining film transferred to technically flawless Blu-ray fails to deliver fully on its darkly satirical Truman Show style premise. Yet even its flaws can't detract from the quality of the work and the surefire fuel for post-film discussion given the concept.

Ultimately augmented by terrific characterizations from its charismatic leads, The Joneses marks an incredibly promising debut for the filmmaker, considering the timely work that eerily enough does have some roots in reality as average Americans are paid to chat about products or push a brand under the guise of being their friendly, popular selves.

Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

TV on DVD Review: Gossip Girl -- The Complete Third Season (2009-2010)

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Season 2 Review

Most sudsy teen targeted dramas lose their footing when their main characters exchange hall passes for dorm rooms after the ensemble cast breaks apart into a fragmented dynamic once high school is replaced with college.

Regardless of the genre, from Dawson's Creek to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Gilmore Girls, viewers typically tune out while waiting for the writers to figure out exactly how to believably reshape their show so that we don't lose the same connection to the group when they begin going their separate ways.

And Gossip Girl was no exception in terms of ratings as the CW series based on Cecily von Ziegesar's bestselling books plummeted to its lowest audience on record when its six most popular characters graduated from the elite Constance Billard prep school to venture onto NYU, Columbia or the business world during the third season of The O.C. creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage's Monday night soap.

Despite the fact that – similar to the weak kick-off to the second season -- Gossip predictably required three to five weeks to develop some of the major themes, love triangles and plot points that would arise during the total twenty-two episode run, ultimately season three evolved into quite possibly the show's most addictive, ambitious and cohesive installment so far.

Following up the shocking death of Bart Bass in the second season, the writing staff managed to incorporate the same yearning, isolation, frustration and confusion felt by the show's most valuable scene stealer Chuck Bass (Ed Westwick) and build that into numerous storylines for his fellow Upper East Siders.

After being stalked throughout Europe by the paparazzi while she tried to reach out to her illusive doctor father, Serena (Blake Lively) returns to New York determined to get his attention any way she can, ultimately putting off attending Brown for a year so that she can find herself in the process of finding her father.

While unfortunately for the lovely All-American Lively, Serena mostly finds a series of short-lived relationships in the process, coupling with a few familiar faces and facing her own Lewinski situation in the interim, as she falls for a married politician and predictably dons a beret for a climactic moment.

However, it takes a majority of the season for us to finally ascertain just why her father remained so aloof and why her mother Lily (Kelly Rutherford) lied to her latest husband Rufus (Matthew Settle) about her extended absence at the start of the season which comes to a head in another fabulously confrontational Thanksgiving.

Still it's none other than Chuck Bass who is in for an even greater shock when he stumbles on a woman who may very well be his deceased mother. And along with the progression from high school to college, one of the other most trying creative challenges faced by a long-running series is how to keep a romantic relationship interesting once the two leads have finally gotten together.

Yet even though they each have their moments, per usual, Gossip's writers just can't seem to fully sustain our interest in one of Dan (Penn Badgley), Nate (Chace Crawford), Jenny (Taylor Momsen), Eric (Connor Paolo), Vanessa (Jessica Szohr) or Serena's relationships for very long.

Nonetheless, the best written coupling on the show fittingly centers on the two strongest characters (and actors) as Chuck and Blair (Leighton Meester) continue to keep things sizzling, moving from their Cruel Intentions (or more accurately Dangerous Liasions) styled gameplay to face some compelling curveballs in terms of relatives, business ventures, an indecent proposal and a killer infidelity that I'm sure will set up a great plot twist midway through the fourth season.

Of course it'd be nice to see the writers allow some of the other characters to break out of their ruts by creating a worthwhile plot for Eric aside from offering him a new boyfriend, giving Jenny a personality and physical makeover since the Courtney Love routine is growing stale and ditto for Vanessa's ongoing struggle with her role as “the hipster Blair” because more often than not Blair and Chuck have the most fascinating storylines.

Likewise while it's always up to Prince Charming Nate to save Jenny or Serena and it seems as though there's just nothing – not even a threesome – that's capable of making Dan as exciting as some of the other series regulars, one major strength is that it utilizes the personalities of the actors well particularly in its gala filled season as scandals and intrigue abound at various openings, auctions, and dinners throughout the year.

And because the show was often criticized for the depiction of a party lifestyle for its underage ensemble, considering the fact that a majority of the characters are actively participating in real life away from SAT preparation, the series is able to freely move about the globe without worrying as much about school nights, which makes Gossip Girl far more entertaining as industries, careers and far more serious relationships are now at stake.

To this end, I truly hope that we haven't seen the last of some of the surprising characters and revelations encountered in a much better than anticipated third season WB five-disc set.

Augmented by the incredibly talented, hard-working production and costume design departments that continually make CW's sinfully satisfying Girl the most gorgeous series on television even without its genetically gifted cast, perhaps now that Constance Billard is mostly a thing of the past, if the third season is any indication then the best may be yet to come for Savage and Schwartz's Upper East Siders.

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.