DVD reviews
April 2008

 

 

All reviews by Loey Lockerby


No Country for Old Men

Joel and Ethan Coen have never shied away from unusual, provocative material. They especially love upending familiar genres, and with their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel, they take a hybrid of western, action film and chase movie and turn it into something wholly unique — and wholly award-worthy, as a shelf-full of Oscars attests.

Set in the rugged landscape of West Texas, No Country for Old Men follows three taciturn men trying to survive in an ever more hostile world. Josh Brolin plays Llewellyn Moss, a good ol’ boy who sees the aftermath of a botched drug deal and impulsively steals the money left at the scene. He soon becomes the target of Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), a calmly amoral hitman who will literally stop at nothing to retrieve the cash.

Both are being pursued by Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), the local sheriff who finds himself bewildered by the depravity around him. The story is set in 1980, just as the cross-border drug trade was escalating in both frequency and destructiveness, and Bell’s dilemma reflects an entire generation’s sense of displacement (hence the title).

Despite its dark tone, No Country for Old Men is simply too good to be depressing. Even the most disturbing scenes carry the thrill of great filmmaking, with a bleak sense of humor that eases some of the tension. The lead actors are so ideal, it’s a miracle they didn’t all win Oscars (only Bardem did).

The Coens have crafted a thoughtful meditation on violence and aging, dressed up like a thriller, which explains why so many people didn’t like the last scene, in which Bell relates a meaningful dream to his wife. When you think about what came before it, however, it’s the perfect way to end the film — not with a bang, but with a slow, melancholy fade.

Extras: Three making-of features, which combine fluff interviews with genuinely interesting discussions of the story’s themes, the casting process and the Coens’ directing style. (R) Rating: 5.


August Rush

It’s hard to argue with the premise of August Rush. Kirsten Sheridan’s fable is about the beauty and power of music, and how it can bring people together in the most unlikely circumstances.

The execution is the problem. Sheridan (the daughter of director Jim Sheridan) is great with actors and atmosphere, but she never quite pulls all the elements together.

Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) plays the title character, a young boy living in an orphanage in upstate New York. Convinced that he can communicate with his long-lost parents through his music, August runs away to the big city to find them. Meanwhile, the parents themselves (Keri Russell and Jonathan Rhys Myers) go through their own journeys, leading them over closer to the family they should have had before they were separated.

The cast is impeccable, especially Highmore, who is one of the best child actors in the business (if not THE best). The movie’s use of music is fascinating, and will certainly appeal to any musicians who watch. Sheridan even manages to sustain the story’s sweet, slightly magical tone, at least for a while.

Eventually, however, August Rush becomes so completely divorced from reality, it turns into mushy nonsense. The spectacular plot holes are bad enough — when Robin Williams appears, as a sort of Fagin to August’s Oliver Twist, it’s like he wandered in from a completely different movie. This inability to stay focused derails August Rush in spite of its great soundtrack and good intentions.

Extras: A collection of deleted scenes, most of which focus on Williams’ character. Strangely, there are no features on the music, which is easily the most interesting element of the film. (PG) Rating: 3.


Dan in Real Life

Given Steve Carell’s popularity, it’s surprising that this likable comedy wasn’t a bigger hit. It did all right, but it should have been a success on the level of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Or maybe its modest, respectable box office is fitting, given its low-key nature.

Carell plays Dan Burns, an advice columnist and single father who takes his three daughters to a family gathering in Rhode Island. He’s having a hard time with the kids, especially the middle one (Marlene Lawston), who is launching headlong into a dramatic adolescence.

Dan’s large, boisterous family (headed by the great Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney) assumes that he can follow his own level-headed advice, so it comes as quite a shock when he falls for Marie (Juliette Binoche), the new girlfriend of his brother (Dane Cook). Suddenly, Dan goes from paragon of (occasionally self-righteous) virtue to unstable hypocrite.

Carell finally gets the chance to play a relatable, grown-up character here, and he gives one of the best comedic performances of the past year. Dan can’t handle his own crises as well as he handles everyone else’s, but he’s a decent guy who learns from his mistakes. He also has loving relatives who won't abandon him, even when he screws up in a major, hurtful way. Nearly every character has at least one chance to shine, and the whole ensemble works together as smoothly as if they really were a functional family.

Director Peter Hedges gives Dan in Real Life a rare warmth and realism even if he sometimes makes the Burns clan a bit over the top. These are people who have organized activities about every 10 minutes (doesn't anyone just sit by the beach and read a good book?). Amazingly, no one ends up being truly annoying. Just human.

Extras: A lively, personable commentary from Hedges; two making-of docs; several nice deleted scenes; a pretty average blooper reel. (PG-13) Rating: 4.


Enchanted

Everybody else parodies Disney movies, so why shouldn't they get in on the fun? That seems to be the motivation behind Enchanted, a clever, if slight, riff on the studio's classic "princess" tales.

Amy Adams plays fairy-tale heroine Giselle, who gets whisked away from her perfect cartoon world to the mean streets of (where else?) New York City. Pursued by her handsome prince (James Marsden) and his evil stepmother (Susan Sarandon), Giselle tries to find refuge in a place where purity and innocence aren't exactly valued. She meets Rob (Patrick Dempsey), a lawyer who helps her out at the urging of his young daughter (Rachel Covey), and it soon becomes apparent that her true love might not be the pretty boy with the castle.

Enchanted is full of winking references to past Disney efforts, and director Kevin Lima has fun with the studio's famous clichés. It's all done very gently, of course, as Lima carefully treads the fine line between ridicule and homage. Can't offend the corporate bosses, after all or the legions of princess-obsessed little girls who pay for their yachts. This is still the kind of inoffensive fluff Walt would approve of.

Adams exemplifies the film's title, making Giselle so adorable, it's impossible not to fall in love with her. The other actors are fine, but this is her movie all the way. She is totally convincing, whether dancing gracefully with Dempsey or singing to a roomful of trained rats and CGI pigeons. It's the kind of magic no animator could hope to create — the magic of a truly star-making performance.

Extras: Three excellent features on the logistics of the production numbers; a few outtakes and deleted scenes; a cute little "pop-up" adventure starring one of the film's animated critters. (PG) Rating: 3.5.


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


              
              
                 

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