September 2011

Jumping the Broom  •  The Great Dictator  •  Rio  •  Jane Eyre (2011)

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


Jumping the Broom

Jumping the Broom is a charming, funny romantic comedy about an upwardly mobile young couple (Paula Patton and Laz Alonso) getting married at her family’s estate on Martha’s Vineyard — at least for the first half.

 

The rest of the film is a melodrama that squanders most of its potential. It touches on class divisions among African-Americans and what responsibility people have to honor history, but does so in a completely superficial way. Director Salim Akil seems more interested in cheap culture-clash jokes, putting the groom’s blue-collar family on an immediate and unrelenting collision course with the bride’s snooty clan. Meanwhile, producer T.D. Jakes, the famous pastor-turned-filmmaker, is intent on heavy-handed spiritual messages. The two styles do not mesh well, nor do they illuminate the interesting issues the movie raises.

 

The cast is gorgeous and talented, with Angela Bassett and Loretta Devine lighting up the screen as the dueling matriarchs. That’s a lucky, thing, because they aren’t playing especially sympathetic characters, and the mandatory happy ending is a little hard to accept. At least Patton and Alonso are a sweet, believable couple, and the scenery is lovely (if actually Canadian). All this makes Jumping the Broom a much more shallow film than it wants to be — or should be.

 

Extras: Commentary with Akil, Patton and Alonso; a standard making-of doc; a history of the title practice, with originated during slavery. (PG-13) Rating: 3 —LL

 

Killer’s Kiss/The Killing

Stanley Kubrick was only 28 years old by the time he’d completed these two low-budget noirs, but they demonstrated that his later masterpieces like Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove were hardly flukes. Both of these movies have been available before, but the new Criterion Collection edition of these films finally gives them the deluxe treatment they deserve.

 

The first film, Killer’s Kiss, from 1955, is a thin story by Kubrick and an uncredited Howard Sackler (The Great White Hope) about a punch drunk boxer (Jamie Smith) who gets between a dance hall girl (Irene Kane) and her domineering boss (Frank Silvera).

 

Even though the tale has long periods where nothing seems to happen, the highlights demonstrate that Kubrick had a great visual sense and a remarkable imagination. He also makes great use of seedy New York locations that no longer exist. Kubrick had been a still photographer for Look magazine, so his visual skills are pretty much a given. The finale in a mannequin factory is tense and a bit surreal, and the film feels like an achievement because the director did all his own photography and editing. The dancer in a strange ballet interlude was Kubrick’s second wife Ruth Sobotka.

 

The Killing, from 1957, features a script that Kubrick wrote with legendary hard-boiled novelist Jim Thompson (The Killer inside Me, The Grifters) from Lionel White’s book Clean Break. The resulting collaboration results in a movie that has all the bite and clever dialogue of Thompson’s books and all the cinematic finesse of Kubrick’s subsequent movies. While the tale of a heist at a horse track heist initially seems familiar, Kubrick expertly toys with the story’s chronology and gets his camera into places that seem impossible. If you look closely, you see that it gracefully slides through walls.

 

The thieves are a group of men led by a crafty ex-con (Sterling Hayden, who would later star in Dr. Strangelove). None know each other, and all could ruin the perfect robbery by getting a little greedy. If the setup gives you déjà vu, Quentin Tarantino freely admits to borrowing it for his debut movie Reservoir Dogs. To Kubrick’s credit, his movie is just as nail biting as the films that borrowed from it.

 

Extras: For Killer’s Kiss, a critical appreciation. For The Killing, there’s an insightful interview with the film’s producer James B. Harris and a jaw-dropping conversation with Hayden, who was quite a character in real life. There’s also a good featurette on Thompson. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL

 

Rio

 

Brazilian animator Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age) shows off a cartoon version of his native country in Rio, a (literally) colorful spin on the old “domesticated animal walks on the wild side” plot that seems to dominate the genre. Jesse Eisenberg voices Blu, a rare macaw who has lived his entire life as a pet in Minnesota. When an ornithologist convinces Blu’s owner to return him to Brazil so he can propagate his species, it leads to a crazy adventure, right in the middle of Carnival.

 

What Rio lacks in originality, it easily makes up for in pure joy. From the opening musical number onward, there’s an energy to this film that never lets up. Even when it portrays more serious topics like crime and homelessness, it never loses its hopeful, family-friendly perspective. The voice cast (which includes George Lopez, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Mann) is offbeat, with plenty of what feels like improvised humor.

 

It doesn’t measure up to the standards of, say, Pixar’s best (what does?), but Rio is a lovable, visually stunning example of how much fun a good animated film can be.  Especially when it’s got such a great beat.

 

Extras: Loads of making-of material, with particular focus on the terrific musical score; profiles of the real Rio and how it inspired the film; interviews with the voice cast and animators; a deleted scene. (G) Rating: 3.5 —LL

 

Jane Eyre (2011)

Works of art do not become classics because they are moldy or because they are forced on unsuspecting students in school. They earn that title because they can still shock or delight audiences centuries after they were created.

 

American director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) treat the Charlotte Brontë novel as if it were anything but a relic. Their new take isn’t revisionist (it’s still set around the time that Brontë conceived it), but it emphasizes aspects of the story that previous adaptations have shortened or haven’t explored. As the title character, Australian actress Mia Wasikowska plays her more as a survivor of a litany of misfortunes than a victim. With all the bad luck that comes her way, it’s hard to imagine a waifish lass emerging the way that Wasikowska does.

 

Buffini and Fukunaga don’t introduce Rochester, the enigmatic tycoon who hires Jane as the governess for his daughter until relatively late in the film. Because he is magnificently played by Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), the character still dominates the film. Fassbender has an easy time with the brooding, but he also has a sexiness that makes it easy to believe why Jane would fall for him.

 

Fukunaga doesn’t burden Jane Eyre with 21st century thinking or attitudes, but he keeps enough passion in the tale to keep it from feeling like Mark Twain’s definition of a classic: “A book which people praise and don’t read.” (PG-13) Rating: 4 —DL

 

 


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.