Mini DVD Reviews: 8/12/08

I’ve been watching a bunch of review copy DVDs lately but, unfortunately, have not had a chance to write up any sort of reviews for them because of traveling and just a pile-up of work stuff. While I’ve been pushing to keep up on my MMM columns, reviews have just fallen off the table.

So here are some all-too-brief reviews of the movies I’ve been watching recently in a blatant attempt to catch-up so I can move forward un-encumbered by the past

The Bucket List

Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholsen do indeed have palpable chemistry in this story of two dying men who meet and forge a powerful friendship as they go on a trip to try and do it all before shuffling their respective mortal coils. But honestly, if these two can’t do this sort of un-forced relationship then I don’t know who can.

While the performances are perfect for the roles, they’re not quite enough to overcome the script’s weaknesses, which too often come in the form of substituting a glorious sunset for genuine exploration of emotional issues. More than once in the movie the characters have some sort of emotional breakthrough as a result of being in the middle of a work of wonder or other startling vista.

Still, the movie is more or less enjoyable if you expect from it no more than what it has to offer. The two lead actors make it very much worth watching, but I advise quickly getting past the all-too-convenient situational settings.

[Buy The Bucket List at Amazon]

Funny Games

This one is pretty much the polar opposite of The Bucket List. This story of two sociopaths who take an unassuming family hostage – just one such act in a seeming string of such moves – is both offbeat and completely unsettling. The performances, from Tim Roth and Maria Bello to Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are uniformly excellent, bringing you completely in to the story and getting you very much emotionally involved with either their actions or their plight.

Thankfully the script the actors are given is both interesting and unique, containing an equal mix of dramatic conventions and twists and turns on those conventions to keep things fresh and engaging for the active viewer.

This is not for an audience that likes its stories nice and tidy. Everything is left open and the usual redemption that comes at the end of such movies is completely missing. So don’t expect anything other than relentlessly downbeat turns, with things going from worse to worse to worse and so on throughout the film. It’s unsettling and disturbing and not for the casual viewer.

[Buy Funny Games at Amazon]

Bruce & Lloyd: Out of Control

This direct-to-video movie parallels the events of the big-screen Get Smart but instead of following Maxwell Smart and Agent 99 it focuses on Bruce and Lloyd, the two tech geeks from the movie who here get their own adventure.

Out of Control feels very much like a direct-to-video toss off, but has a few genuine laughs that mostly occur when it’s not trying to so hard to be “out of control.” Larry Miller appears as the underchief of the technology division and provides most of those with his wildly inappropriate phraseology and alternate agendas.

There’s really not much to say about the movie. It’s only about 1:15 long, so there isn’t really time for character development or anything along those lines. It’s meant to capitalize on the buzz surrounding the parent film and does so ably. Certainly not something to go out of your way to see, but enjoyable enough if you approach it from the right mindset.

[Buy Bruce & Lloyd at Amazon]

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

There are a half-dozen laughs scattered throughout this sequel, but they’re few and far between, coming mostly when Kal Penn and John Cho are riffing off each other without what passes for “plot” in the film.

The story, such as it is, follows the same outline as the first one, right down to their meeting some weird character in the woods who seems like he’s going to help them but really turns out to be just screwed up. All the characterizations are the same as before, which I guess makes sense since the movie is supposed to take place essentially right where the previous one left off. But that leads to an unsatisfying viewing experience since there’s no growth that’s taken place or which occurs during the movie itself.

Once again, the most consistently enjoying part of the movie is the brief segment that Neil Patrick Harris appears in as himself. He’s drugged and inappropriate and a lot of fun in a small role, providing the lion’s share of the laughs. One of these days Kal Penn is going to realize he’s better than this and hopefully appearing in the new Star Trek movie will break Cho of this habit.

The DVD contains both the theatrical version and one that’s un-rated, containing a lot more naked women and other content that didn’t make it past the MPAA.

[Buy Harold & Kumar 2 at Amazon]

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