Tonight! We visit in with some of our favorite whacky Brits as they power through the seventeenth season of one of the greatest reality television programs in the history of time, space and everything else. We explore a historic, beautiful look at cinema’s start through the eyes of contemporary film’s biggest nerd. We watch a 9-foot tall man roundhouse kick an entire country. And we watch Rowan Atkinson continue to spit in the face of reason, churning out more laughs. Also, James May talks to a gurrrl.
Top Gear: The Complete Season 17
If you are anything like me, then you’ve never really been much of a gear head or a car freak. That’s okay, we’re simply the kind of people who would rather be in the living room watching a movie than in the garage tinkering around with engine parts. That said, there’s nothing more magnetic to me than the musings of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. This triumvirate odd couple of motorist journalism is the most consistently entertaining group of hosts you’ll find anywhere on TV. Forget about Idol or The Voice, it’s all about these three middle-aged British men and their clear overcompensation issues. The fact that the BBC allows them to smash up expensive cars, light segments of Sweden on fire and hold monumental tributes to the Jaguar E-Type is all just a bonus in the end. Did I mention that they let celebrities drive around in reasonably priced cars? If you’re not giving Top Gear a shot by now, there isn’t much I can do to help save your soul. So get it done, people.
The Pitch: Find the heart key, receive the greatest gifts that cinema has to offer…
Why Buy? Those who watched this past week’s Oscar telecast will note that while The Artist won plenty of the big daddy awards, a great number of technical achievements were recognized in Martin Scorsese’s tale of a boy who lives inside Paris’ Grand Central Station winding the clocks, only to find himself face to face with a mysterious old man (Ben Kingsley) and a connection to the beginnings of cinema. No other film of 2011 celebrated the experience of loving film quite like Hugo. In fact, no other film in many recent years does as much for our love of film as this one. Scorsese, best known as the world’s biggest film geek, goes out and plays with some brilliant live-action 3D all while telling an endearing story about discovery and the realization of one’s dreams. On Blu-ray, Hugo gets a modest set of extras — six featurettes in all — including some extra love for Georges Méliés and plenty about the design of the film’s unique world.
The Pitch: A seventy foot tall Chilean man who is 130% muscle goes on a vengeful bounty hunting rampage in a suit an tie.
Why Rent? “The martial arts sequences will drop your jaw.” The back cover quote accredited to Film School Rejects — as pulled from the review of our own Brian Salisbury — does not lie. Chilean martial artist Marko Zaror stars as a tortured man whose parents were brutally murdered at a young age, driving him to become a ruthless bounty hunter who can high kick the will to escape out of anyone. There’s something sort of wild about Mandrill, with deep stylistic roots in the spy movies and exploitation cinema of the 1970s. But it’s hard to say that any of that matters. Having seen several times, including a screening at Fantastic Fest, I can’t honestly say that the story matters at all. The first time Zaror winds up and destroys a bad guy, his character’s motives no longer come into play. And no matter how hard the film tries to wedge in character development — often to its detriment — it always comes back to the meat and potatoes: big, ridiculously choreographed Zaror stunts. And for that alone, it’s worth your time. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, looks great but offers little beyond the movie. If you’ve already experienced and enjoyed the wonder of Mandrill, it may be worth picking up. Otherwise a rental it shall be.
Johnny English Reborn
The Pitch: Mr. Bean saves the world from a shadow organization while applying lipstick.
Why Rent? There’s something so effortlessly funny about Rowan Atkinson. Even when the plot that strings together his physical comedy gags doesn’t make us sit up and take notice, he still somehow manages to make us laugh. In Johnny English Reborn he brings back his second most beloved character to stop a group of international assassins from taking out a world leader and throwing the world into a state of chaos. It’s well over the top, completely silly and mostly stupid. But again, Atkinson finds a way to make it work and bring out the laughter. It’s no wonder this guy’s films make massive amounts of worldwide box office money. His latest Bond-esque slice of parody is enjoyable and the Blu-ray extras selection does not disappoint. There’s a gag reel, which feels like an extension of the film itself, some deleted scenes, a commentary track and a featurette called “The Wheelchair Chase.” The latter of which is exactly what you think it is.
Vanya on 42nd Street
The Pitch: It’s about a play with Wallace Shawn in it. Inconceivable!
Why Rent? As any reader of this column would know, I’m usually the last person to express disappointment with a Criterion release. I’m a collector of their collection at heart, so it’s tough to bring myself to a point of objectivity and be truly critical. In the case of Vanya on 42nd Street, however, the folks at Criterion wear the shortcomings of their latest release on their shoulder. Seemingly proud are they about the less than perfect digital transfer, which adds a bit to nuance of the production captured by the late Louis Malle. Full-hearted are they in pouring out a slim quantity of high quality extras, including interviews with the likes of Julianne Moore and Wallace Shawn. It’s the story of an off-Broadway production of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, a film as much about the creative process itself as it is about the struggles of life on an old Russian estate. It’s a beautiful story that shows some youthful talent from some very recognizable names, but it’s tirelessly inaccessible. I’d recommend a watch, but when it comes to adding this to your collection, you probably already know if that’s going to happen.
Warning: The following review contains spoilers. It’s very angry and very spoilery. Read at your own risk.
I Melt With You
The Pitch: Four 40-something friends resist coming through on a years-old suicide pact, and all the while we root for them to just do it already.
Why Avoid? Mark Pellington’s acid-washed tale of four friends who struggle to hold their own lives together and fight the urge to give into a pact they made years ago may not be the most original use of a suicide pact storyline, nor does it lack star power with the likes of Jeremy Piven, Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Christian McKay and Carla Gugino, but it is, however, easily the most boring, abrasive suicide movie I’ve seen in a while. It takes true talent to make a movie in which the audience is able to stand so firmly on the side of death, but Pellington pulls it off seemingly without expending much effort at all. In this regard, and countless others, I Melt With You is a complete waste of time. It lacks any redeeming qualities, squanders the talent it worked so hard to assemble and will, if it draws any emotional reaction at all, make you want to join in the death pact and at the very least, stop watching movies for the day. And nobody wants that.