Looking for something to rent this week? Here's what we had to say about the films out now on DVD/Blu-ray today:
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" - Newly awarded Best Documentary by the New York Film Critics Circle, and fortunately available on 3D Blu-ray for those of you with the necessary equipment, Werner Herzog's documentary exploration of the Chauvet Cave paintings is one of our favorite films of the past two years (I listed it last year in my best to watch for section). Here's what Daniel Walber wrote for us back in April:
The eccentric and visionary director’s new documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” is not just a visually stunning masterpiece of 3D but also a film that turns the third dimension into an artistic necessity. Herzog’s focus is the Chauvet Cave in southern France, an otherworldly place filled with some of the world’s oldest works of art. Yet this ancient masterpiece is not simply the collection of images on stone, but rather the experiential journey through the cave itself as light moves about the various ochre tones. A simple print of a horse or lion from Chauvet would not begin to replicate the effect of its original location. On the contrary, to attain the full artistic impact one needs to walk through the cave itself, watching the paintings seem to shift in the darkness. A few scientists, Herzog and his crew have had this opportunity, but for the rest of us to even come close we need a work of cinema shot in 3D.
"Another Earth" - This film also received some sparks today, as the film was nominated for Spirit Awards for Best First Feature and Best First Screenplay. I prefer writer/star Britt Marling's other Sundance sci-fi flick, "Sound of My Voice," and I definitely love "Melancholia" more in the competition for best movie about the sudden appearance of another planet, but that doesn't mean I don't still occasionally think about "Another Earth." At Sundance I noted that it was one of the most divisive films of the festival. Here's part of my review from January:
As a moody romance drama, it kind of works, though it’s highly predictable and never feels entirely believable. However, the sci-fi stuff requires much more suspension of disbelief, and any intelligent fan of the genre is going to be counting plot holes and asking questions by the score. Even the last minute, viewed by some as the best or only good part, left me more frustrated in how gimmicky and wannabe-twisty it is.
[...] if anything “Another Earth” is most like a super low-budget M. Night Shyamalan film without any of the suspenseful moments that have made his films tolerable in the past. The way we learn significant things regarding the discoveries of and communication with the other planet could have been more thrilling (parts of the film had me wanting it to actually be more like "Signs," which should say something), and the address of counter-earth theory and the philosophical ideas associated with it should have been more in-depth.
"The Smurfs" - Even though it's just a big tourism advertisement for New York City, I actually enjoyed this. Interestingly I recommended it to people who like "The Muppets Take Manhattan." I guess I was surprised by this movie and disappointed by the new "Muppets" movie, but I'm not sure I'd say this is better than that. Still, I apparently had positive things to say back in July:
It is true, "The Smurfs" is one of the more tolerable movies to rape your childhood in a long time. The characters are cute and only minimally obnoxious. The scatological and pop culture references are at a minimum (though "Rango" proved that a lot of both doesn't have to be terrible). And it's self-aware in a respectful fashion more reminiscent of "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" than "The Brady Bunch Movie," so the adults who grew up on the little blue creatures have something to appreciate, and not in too campy a way. Sure, it's basically a rehash of "Enchanted," which was itself basically a rehash of "Splash," and I guess I was too hopeful in thinking some of the reflexivity would involve accusations of communism, but I found the movie to be a slight improvement on at least the more recent of those NYC-set fish-out-of-water fantasies.
"Friends With Benefits" - Partly, necessarily, as compared to the similar "No Strings Attached," Daniel Walber pans this rom-com and says the genre itself might just be broken beyond repair. But he does claim it starts out as the best R-rated comedy since "Bridesmaids." From his review back in July:
boy, is that last half-hour terrible. Once they put their clothes on and start acting serious the movie completely loses its gusto and falls back into the rom-com doldrums. To be fair, “No Strings Attached” falls apart around the same time. That film may not have nearly as much nudity, but Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher have better chemistry outside of the bedroom than these two. Both films chug along relatively effectively for an hour or so.
"One Day" - While we didn't actually review this movie, Daniel Walber saw it, hated it and used it as a bit of comparison in his review of "Like Crazy" at Toronto back in September:
What if “One Day” had been a good film? Better yet, where are all of the good romance movies? Romcoms included, every love story with big stars on screen seems to turn into a predictable disaster. Even the more interesting ideas and creative scripts seem forced into rote conclusions and overdone plot elements by the time they make it to theaters. What if for every mismanaged romantic movie there were an edgier, more provocative romance that spun from the same original notion? A “Friends with Benefits” with real danger of heartbreak, for example. For “One Day,” the alternatively intriguing film is the brutal yet endearing “Like Crazy.” If only all long-distance relationships on screen looked like this dynamic Sundance hit.
"30 Minutes or Less" - A fine black comedy that's worth watching as relevant to the current economy, in spite of being based on (and maybe exploits) a tragic story from years ago. Also, anyone who enjoyed "The Social Network" will get a kick out of how it is in complete contrast to that film. Part of my review from August:
To a great extent, "30 Minutes" is an excellent antithesis to "The Social Network," and the movie doesn't shy away from reflexively alluding to the earlier Eisenberg movie. Right away his character, named Nick, actually says he's not on Facebook. A winking joke, sure, but also a good way to get us thinking about the characters at hand. Contrary to Mark Zuckerberg, Nick is entirely lacking in ambition. If he's smart, we don't get wind of it, though his job as a pizza delivery boy seems beneath him, yet also sort of too much of a bother. He means to quit the job in spite of having no other prospects. Somewhat fortuitously, it takes two unemployed idiots (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) with worse cases of arrested development to force some sort of motivation onto him. It's motivation to commit a crime, but along the way he also gets nerve to tell a girl (Dilshad Vadsaria) how he really feels about her. Of course, that's partly motivated by the fact he thinks he might die.
"The Future" - Another film we didn't have a full review of (and which I'm still anticipating watching and not hating), but Daniel Walber made no attempt to hide his dislike for it while discussing Miranda July's early short films back in July:
I don’t entirely understand this new wave of Miranda July enthusiasm. She does have a film coming out this weekend, but that alone can’t fully explain this rush of good will for the director/writer/actress/performance artist. The New York Times Magazine just gave her quite the feature and even Michael Idov has changed his mind after previously dissing her in song. Not that I’m bitter, but I’m not the biggest fan of “The Future” and as it turns out July’s early short films are mildly stress inducing.
Also on home video this week: "Our Idiot Brother" and documentaries "Becoming Chaz," "Reel Injun" and "Sons of Perdition."