Monday 21 June 2010


Slacker on DVD's is a round-up of this weeks most notable releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, along with some of the less notable ones too.

More after the jump...

Desperate to extend the lives of his two sick children, businessman John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) joins forces with maverick doctor Robert Stonehill (Harrison Ford) to find a cure for Pompe disease. Sufferers rarely live above 9 years old, and his children are fast approaching that.
It's a sickly, shmaltzy, TV movie of the week story that offers little to all audiences. Featuring Harrison Ford as a rock and roll listening, no prisoner taking scientific researcher, he just about stops short of shouting 'I'm a doctor dammit! I don't have to explain my methods!' throughout the entire time he's on screen. Perculiarly, Ford always seems to be doing these deeds for his own personal and financial benefit, his compassion unconvincing, creating a strange atmosphere of distrust for these characters. Look at the cover; it's the same scowl he carries throughout the movie, looking disinterested constantly. Brendan Fraser does try to raise the quality as the father trying to keep his family alive, but he's a bit wet. It's a big bland mess that fails in its message that the US needs drug reform. Beyond ordinary.

Enigmatic novelist Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) lives as a powerful figure within a community of his strongest followers. The Tolstoyian movement that argues against owning material things is a growing trend in Russia, yet his wife Sofya (Helen Mirren) rejects the celebrity that has been flung upon their household and is angry about the sacrifices she has had to make. Young idealist Valentin (James McAvoy) arrives to be Tolstoy's new secretary, and hopes to learn from the man who wrote War and Peace, but discovers a lot of Tolstoy's followers only subscribe to the practices that suit them. With appearances in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Up, Christopher Plummer is becoming quite prolific in his twilight years, and he and Helen Mirren are both excellent at encapsulating the tumultuous relationship this husband and wife had over his legacy. But McAvoy is the lead here, and he's pleasant enough as the man who doesn't know what is really important in life yet. Tolstoy was an important figure in early 20th Century Russia, and he is given a quite elegant and charming biography here.

An interesting look at the challenges that face the modern generation of Aborigine teenagers, we see their boredom at living within such a beautiful but sparse countryside. After a family tragedy, they lash out at the constraints of their society and go on the run to the big city. Can the duo survive better within a modern society, or will things go from bad to worse? There's been scores of teenage runaway films before, but this story has an interesting spin on the move from small town drudgery to the chaos of city life. It deserves to find an audience, but will frustrate regular audiences with its pacing. The naturalistic acting is quite believable from the two unknown leads, and it's an interesting sociological statement if viewed as the reverse of Walkabout. An original but cheerless vision of life on the streets and what the future holds for Australia's young Aborigines.

After being released from prison, troubled sex offender Bill tries to reconnect with the family he betrayed. His ex-wife has started a new relationship and his young son Timmy is confused about why the other boys at school are saying these things about his father. It acts as a sort of sequel/filmic experiment for Happiness, the 1998 black comedy about a family of sisters going through some seriously dark relationship problems. Largely as an artistic choice, director Todd Solondz has chosen to recast all the main actors, similar to his film Palindromes that featured multiple actors playing the same part. An attempt at an interesting film with some rather objectionable subject matters, it features some shocking lines of dialogue regarding paedophilia and child molestation, and the young actor playing Timmy is made to say some awful things. Shirley Henderson brings all her door mouse qualities to her role, and Paul Reubens has his own personal demons written all over his face. Ciaran Hinds offers none of the wit that Dylan Baker had offered in the same role as Bill, and for the most part I didn't find it to be darkly funny, just dark. A difficult and not particularly rewarding watch.

After falling foul of a voodoo curse, hard working New Orleans waitress Tiana is transformed into a frog. She must team up with Prince Naveen, the frog who accidentally passed on the curse, to find the cure and stop the dastardly shadowman Dr Facilier. Could she possibly find romance along the way? Is she going to be stuck as a frog forever? 
Yes, it's a slight step forward for Disney to have a black lead, but setting it in the slums of New Orleans and having Voodoo as a major plot device shows a questionable grasp of political correctness. But if you overlook that odd use of stereotypes, it effectively wins the argument that hand drawn animation can co-exist peacefully with CGI animation. Surprisingly, they haven't took too much inspiration from the world of Pixar, known for having winning storylines. Instead they've rejuvenated the formula that has been used by Disney many times over. Like a lot of Disney classics the 'princess' and her beau are the blandest characters, but this film succeeds with its supporting characters of Louis the crocodile and Ray the bug from the bayou, and it has an effectively creepy villain in Dr Facilier. From the directors of Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, this film could have been made in the golden era of Disney animation, and for that earns its place among the ranks of Disney classics.

Up until now average loser Bazil had lived his life quietly in Paris without purpose, but after being hit by a stray bullet in a bizarre course of events, he joins forces with a group of eccentric weirdos to bring down the weapons manufacturers. Jean-Pierre Jeunet certainly has a visual style, and this film features all his usual hues and tints, like an autumnal scrapheap challenge heist movie. Jeunet makes exquisite fantasies, the likes of which Terry Gilliam can only dream of; except he doesn't. Jeunet's Paris seems to exist alongside or within the real Paris, just tucked away in a quiet corner that only gets visited in his films.
Using the heightened sense of imagination he gained from his gunshot wound, Bazil seeks revenge on the rival weapons men that have destroyed so many lives, getting help along the way by a ragtag group of misfits that quickly become his new family. They're an oddball gang of outcasts and circus freaks who, when on their own their powers don't amount to much, but when they act together they are a superhero group to rival the X-Men. There's a Gondry-esque charm to all their missions, as they use what they have at hand to create makeshift cannons or convincing illusions. Though not as consistently winning as Amelie, this film is high on whimsy and thoroughly entertaining.

DVD of the week? In an interesting week for World Cinema/Art House fans, it has to be MicMacs.

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