DVD reviews
February 2008

 

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby


3:10 to Yuma

For a while, it looked like the movie western was dead. This adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s 1953 short story proves that it was merely comatose, and it’s waking up fast.

Filmed once before, in 1957, 3:10 to Yuma is one of those gritty, thoughtful westerns that raise moral questions well beyond the “white hat/black hat” clichés that were popular for so long. Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is an Arizona rancher whose land is about to be taken from him after a bad year. Desperate for cash, he agrees to join a posse escorting outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) to a train station, where Wade will be transported to a prison in Yuma.

Naturally, the trip is not an easy one, as Wade’s gang (led by a terrifically cold-blooded Ben Foster) is close behind, ready to take any measures necessary to rescue the boss. Wade himself is a master manipulator, and he finds a perfect target in Evans, who is filled with self-doubt over his inability to provide for his family and earn the respect of his son (Logan Lerman). As the final showdown nears, the two men form a connection that could never be friendship, but approaches a strange kind of respect.

Director James Mangold (Walk the Line) stays out of the way, avoiding showy filmmaking techniques in favor of a steady, more traditional style. The movie drags in places but the impeccable cast enlivens even those scenes. Alongside the always-reliable Bale and Crowe, and the scene-stealing Foster, are Peter Fonda, Dallas Roberts and Alan Tudyk, all of whom inhabit their supporting roles with appropriate Old West style.

Extras: The usual deleted scenes and director commentary; one feature on the film’s production, a very short look at westerns in general, and a slightly longer one on real-life gunslingers. (R) Rating: 4.


Sunshine

Danny Boyle is turning out to be one of the world’s most versatile filmmakers. In the past five years, he has gone from a terrifying apocalyptic zombie flick (28 Days Later) to a sweet story about two young brothers (Millions) to this somber science fiction drama. Next thing you know, he’ll be tackling Shakespeare.

With Sunshine, Boyle is closer in spirit to Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky, whose classics 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris are obvious influences. Set about 50 years in the future, Sunshine tracks a group of scientists on a mission to literally save the world. The sun is dying and a previous attempt to “re-ignite” it with a massive bomb met with failure. The crew of the new ship, dubbed “Icarus II,” is the last hope of humanity. All of the characters know this could be a suicide mission, and it becomes even more dangerous when a distress signal is received from the long-missing Icarus I.

Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland are not interested in creating a special-effects extravaganza or a pretentious meditation on our place in the vast universe. Both of those elements are present, but they are handled with a no-nonsense ease that makes Sunshine watchable without being dumbed down.

The cast is filled with recognizable character actors, including Cillian Murphy, Michelle Yeoh and Chris Evans. Their roles aren’t particularly well fleshed-out, but they come across as real people with legitimate emotions. The big finale is a bit overwrought, but Boyle is too good to let it ruin anything. By turns creepy, witty and thought-provoking, Sunshine is one of the best sci-fi efforts of the last decade.

Extras: Commentaries from Boyle and physicist Dr. Brian Cox focusing on the film’s production and its science, respectively; some interesting deleted scenes and choppy making-of featurettes from the website. Boyle also includes a couple of unrelated short films, generously using the DVD format to give upcoming directors a showcase. (R) Rating: 4.


Sydney White

Amanda Bynes is one of those cute, polished teen TV stars who has been in the business so long, she can crank out mediocre comedies in her sleep. This college-themed update of Snow White is a perfect case in point.

Bynes gets to alternate between slapstick and sincerity as the title character, the geeky daughter of a plumber (John Schneider) who tries to pledge the sorority to which her late mother once belonged. Raised around construction workers, Sydney has no idea how to be the girly-girl her new “sisters” expect, and she ends up being hounded out by the evil Rachel Witchburn (Sara Paxton). Sydney finds a home with the “seven dorks,” campus outcasts who share a rundown cottage on Greek Row. There is also, of course, the handsome Tyler Prince (Matt Long), who defies Rachel and her followers by showing an interest in Sydney.

It all culminates in the expected battle between lovable misfits and shallow snobs, wherein the nice guys finally fight back against their oppressors. It’s always nice to see a movie that so openly celebrates nerd-dom, especially when the head nerd is played by an attractive young woman with a sizable fan base. The supporting roles are all played by solid young comic actors, and they seem particularly subtle when compared to Bynes, who still hasn’t outgrown the hyperactive mugging that passes for acting among the Nickelodeon/Disney Channel set.

That’s the problem with the whole movie. Much like its star, Sydney White is likable, but it tries too hard and accomplishes too little.

Extras: Deleted scenes with introductions by director Joe Nussbaum (these are actually kind of interesting); several short behind-the-scenes features; a blooper reel that provides a few laughs. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5.


Persuasion

When the BBC adapts great literature, it usually does so with class and restraint. Which is nice, but it could potentially suck the life out of an author like Jane Austen. For all their formality, her novels are filled with deep feeling and take-no-prisoners satire. You need an irreverent touch for that.

Fortunately, Persuasion has Adrian Shergold, a veteran TV director who understands Austen’s work without worshipping it. Sally Hawkins plays Anne Elliott, the middle daughter in a struggling aristocratic family. Her vain, status-obsessed father (Anthony Head) has nearly bankrupted them, and he and Anne’s older sister move to a smaller house and rent their mansion to an admiral. While Anne stays with other relatives nearby, she discovers that the admiral’s brother-in-law is none other than Frederick Wentworth (Rupert Penry-Jones) with whom she had a romance several years earlier. Her family, concerned about Frederick’s lack of money, persuaded her to break up with him, and she is mortified at his renewed presence in her life.

This being Austen, there are many complications and misunderstandings before Anne and Frederick resolve the situation, and Shergold includes enough of them to keep the story moving without making it confusing for novices. Meanwhile, he nails the little things that make Persuasion such a rich experience. There is humor and heart in this story, but there’s also an undercurrent of resentment. Austen isn’t just making fun of pompous idiots — she’s showing how they can ruin people’s lives.

Hawkins and Penry-Jones beautifully convey their characters’ mix of regret, frustration and repressed passion. This is serious material, and they don’t flinch from it. Most of the lighter material comes from the great supporting cast, although they aren’t just playing comedy, either. This is one of the few Austen adaptations that can make you chuckle AND cry.

Extras: None, which is unfortunately typical for PBS/BBC releases (it aired in America on Masterpiece Theatre). A look at the making of the film would have been nice considering the quality of the cast and excellent final product. (Unrated) Rating: 4.


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.


              
              
                 

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