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New DVD and Blu-Ray Releases – February 9, 2010

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

These are the movies being released on DVD and Blu-Ray this, Tuesday: A Serious Man, Couples Retreat, Good Hair, The Stepfather, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

A Serious Man

Synopsis: Imaginatively exploring questions of faith, familial responsibility, delinquent behavior, dental phenomena, academia, mortality, and Judaism – and intersections thereof – A Serious Man is the new… Imaginatively exploring questions of faith, familial responsibility, delinquent behavior, dental phenomena, academia, mortality, and Judaism – and intersections thereof – A Serious Man is the new film from Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen.

A Serious Man is the story of an ordinary man’s search for clarity in a universe where Jefferson Airplane is on the radio and F-Troop is on TV. It is 1967, and Larry Gopnik (Tony Award nominee Michael Stuhlbarg), a physics professor at a quiet Midwestern university, has just been informed by his wife Judith (Sari Lennick) that she is leaving him. She has fallen in love with one of his more pompous acquaintances, Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), who seems to her a more substantial person than the feckless Larry. Larry’s unemployable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is sleeping on the couch, his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is a discipline problem and a shirker at Hebrew school, and his daughter Sarah (Jessica McManus) is filching money from his wallet in order to save up for a nose job.

While his wife and Sy Ableman blithely make new domestic arrangements, and his brother becomes more and more of a burden, an anonymous hostile letter-writer is trying to sabotage Larry’s chances for tenure at the university. Also, a graduate student seems to be trying to bribe him for a passing grade while at the same time threatening to sue him for defamation. Plus, the beautiful woman next door torments him by sunbathing nude. Struggling for equilibrium, Larry seeks advice from three different rabbis. Can anyone help him cope with his afflictions and become a righteous person – a mensch – a serious man?

Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Adam Arkin, Sari Lennick, Richard Kind, Aaron Wolff, Jessica McManus; Directed by: Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Consensus: Blending dark humor with profoundly personal themes, the Coen brothers deliver what might be their most mature — if not their best — film to date.

Couples Retreat

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synopsis: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Malin Akerman, Kristin Davis, Kristen Bell and Faizon Love star in Universal Pictures’ upcoming comedy Couples Retreat. Based on an original idea of Vaughn’s, the comedy follows four Midwestern couples who embark on a journey to a tropical island resort. While one of the couples is there to work on their marriage, the other three set out to jet ski, spa and enjoy some fun in the sun. They soon discover that participation in the resorts couples therapy is not optional. Suddenly, their group-rate vacation comes at a price. What follows is a hilarious look at real world problems faced by all couples. The film also stars Kali Hawk and Jean Reno.

Cast: Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love, Kristin Davis, Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kali Hawk, Jean Reno; Directed by: Peter Billingsley

Good Hair

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Synopsis: In the movie SCHOOL DAZE, Spike Lee staged a dance number in which two bands of African-American college students debated the merits of “Straight and Nappy” hair in song, and now comedian Chris… In the movie SCHOOL DAZE, Spike Lee staged a dance number in which two bands of African-American college students debated the merits of “Straight and Nappy” hair in song, and now comedian Chris Rock and filmmaker Jeff Stilson have extended the conversation to a full-length film in this witty documentary with serious undertones. Rock says he was inspired to make the film when his young daughter asked him, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” and he and Stilson examine black America’s obsession with their hair. They visit the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show, an annual trade show for the African-American haircare industry which includes fierce competitions among stylists from around the country and demonstrations of new hair products and techniques. Along the way, Rock also talks to a number of African-American luminaries about their hair issues (including Maya Angelou, Reverend Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Raven Symone, Ice-T, and Paul Mooney), researches the dangers of many common hair-straightening treatments, reveals the surprising expense of regular hair “relaxing” and weaves, and ponders what the pursuit of straight hair says about African-American cultural identity. GOOD HAIR received its world premiere at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

Cast: Chris Rock, Raven Symone, Kerry Washington, Meagan Good, Ice-T , Nia Long; Director: Jeff Stilson

Consensus: Funny, informative, and occasionally sad, Good Hair is a provocative look at the complex relationship between African Americans and their hair.

The Stepfather

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Synopsis: Michael Harding (Penn Badgley) returns home from military school to find his mother (Sela Ward) happily in love and living with her new boyfriend, David (Dylan Walsh). As the two men get to know each other, Michael becomes more and more suspicious of the man who is always there with a helpful hand. Is he really the man of her dreams or could David be hiding a dark side?

Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Sherry Stringfield, Jon Tenney, Paige Turco, Amber Heard; Directed By: Nelson McCormick

The Time Traveler’s Wife

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Synopsis: Based on the best-selling book about a love that transcends time. Clare has been in love with Henry her entire life. She believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated: Henry is a time traveler — cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

Cast: Eric Bana, Rachel McAdams, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean; Directed By: Robert Schwentke


Movie Review: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

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Let’s get this out of the way right up front – The Time Traveler’s Wife is first and foremost a love story. Author Audrey Niffenegger put it all right there in the title of the book on which the film is based. If it were a more intellectual or scientific exploration of the theories of temporal displacement, it would have been called The Time Traveler (and it would have been written by somebody else). But, as the title indicates, there are two protagonists in this story. The well-worn plot device of time travel is used as a metaphor for the emotional distance that often creeps into even the most solid of long-term relationships. The film asks the audience to engage with the story and characters using their hearts, not their brains. If you know that going in, you’ll undoubtedly be able to enjoy the film more for what it is.

The star-crossed lovers in question are Claire Abshire (Rachel McAdams) and Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana). Henry, a research librarian, was born with a genetic anomaly, later dubbed Chrono-Displacement, which causes him to slip away from the present into the past or future. He can’t control where or when he goes, and his clothes and personal belongings don’t travel with him. So he often finds himself in compromising positions which require him to run, steal, fight and somehow survive until he’s pulled back to the present. One afternoon in the library he runs into Claire, an artist who not only knows everything about him, but tells him she’s been in love with him all her life.

Although none of this has happened yet for Henry at this point in his life, Claire first met him when she was six years-old. He continued visiting her at different points throughout her childhood, and she has grown up knowing that one day she’ll be his wife. By the time they meet in the library, although he doesn’t know her, she’s been waiting for that moment for years. Waiting will continue to be a theme for Claire as their relationship grows and develops into cohabitation, then marriage. His unannounced departures and arrivals begin to wear on her, as does a series of miscarriages which prevent her from carrying his child to full term. It turns out that happily ever after is not as simple as it may have once seemed, for both Henry and Claire.

The film does touch on the conflict between destiny and free will, but only in the most superficial ways. In this world, the future is seemingly predetermined. Henry explains to Claire that he’s never been able to change anything, including his own mother’s death in an automobile accident. There’s a lot of explaining going on in this film, actually. The old writer’s mantra of “show, don’t tell” seems to have been thrown out the window here in favor of dialogue describing action we never get to see (like Henry’s attempts to save his mother). A few more scenes and a little less dialogue would have gone a long way towards furthering the emotional resonance of the film.

To be fair, a big part of that may have been lost in the tricky translation of the book to the screen. It’s much easier to set up details like time, place and age in a novel. In the film, the audience is left to guess and fill in the blanks for themselves much of the time, which can make for a disjointed and confusing narrative. And this brings us to the part of the review that applies to those who read and loved the book. Fans of Niffenegger’s version would be well advised to bear in mind that the film takes a few liberties with the source material, as most films do. It glosses over some of the big moments in Claire and Henry’s history, makes only a passing reference to others and leaves a few things out entirely. Screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin does his best to translate the spirit of the book, though, with the same pathos he put into the supernatural romance Ghost.

Aiding in that emotional journey are McAdams and Bana, who make for a believable couple. McAdams in particular does a fine job of portraying Claire’s wide emotional arc, from the initial blush of infatuated youth to the tired exasperation of a long-suffering wife. Bana is more steady and reserved as Henry, which is appropriate for the character, but it makes it more difficult to identify with him. Ron Livingston brings some levity to the film as Gomez, a close friend who discovers Henry’s secret in a startling way. The other standout in the supporting cast is Arliss Howard as Henry’s father, whose deep sadness at the loss of his wife and conflicted feelings about his son’s condition are palpable.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the film is the ending, which felt superfluous and tacked on. It wasn’t until after seeing the film that I found out it was, in fact, tacked on after test audiences responded negatively to the original ending. It wouldn’t be the first time a studio has intervened, but it says more about director Robert Schwentke’s faith in his own storytelling that he allowed the film to be altered in this way. Without giving anything away, the new version betrays the pathos and emotional impact it would otherwise have with a coda that adds nothing to the story. This is perhaps the biggest affront to Niffenegger’s novel, but thankfully it isn’t representative of the adaptation as a whole.

Thankfully, The Time Traveler’s Wife is not at all the frothy romance the marketing campaign has made it out to be. The presence of McAdams may bring to mind comparisons to The Notebook and similar sappy, manipulative fare, but that’s perhaps a bit unfair. Yes, this is a love story, but one that doesn’t pull its punches or hesitate to portray romance as a difficult, painful and all-too-fleeting thing.


The Time Traveler’s Wife

Sunday, July 12th, 2009

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Release date: Friday August 14, 2009
Genre: Sci-Fi, Adventure, Drama
Director: Robert Schwentke
Studio: Alliance Films
Screenplay: Bruce Joel Rubin
Producer(s): Dede Gardner, Nick Wechsler
Cast: Rachel McAdams, Eric Bana, Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston, Jane McLean
Official Site: thetimetravelerswifemovie.com
Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, brief disturbing images, nudity and sexuality
Available film art: The Time Traveler’s Wife movie posters

Synopsis
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” is based on the best-selling book about a love that transcends time. Clare (Rachel McAdams) has been in love with Henry (Eric Bana) her entire life. She believes they are destined to be together, even though she never knows when they will be separated: Henry is a time traveler—cursed with a rare genetic anomaly that causes him to live his life on a shifting timeline, skipping back and forth through his lifespan with no control. Despite the fact that Henry’s travels force them apart with no warning, Clare desperately tries to build a life with her one true love.

The Time Traveler’s Wife” was directed by Robert Schwentke (“Flightplan”) from a screenplay by Academy Award® winner Bruce Joel Rubin (“Ghost”), based on the novel by Audrey Niffenegger. Nick Wechsler and Dede Gardner produced the film, with Brad Pitt, Richard Brener, Michele Weiss and Justis Greene serving as executive producers. The co-producer is Kristin Hahn.

Heading the film’s cast as Clare and Henry are Rachel McAdams (“Red Eye,” “The Notebook”) and Eric Bana (“Star Trek,” “Munich”). “The Time Traveler’s Wife” also stars Arliss Howard, Ron Livingston and Stephen Tobolowsky.

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes director of photography Florian Ballhaus (“Marley & Me”), production designer Jon Hutman (upcoming “My Sister’s Keeper”), Academy Award®-winning editor Thom Noble (“Witness”) and Academy Award®-nominated costume designer Julie Weiss (“Frida,” “12 Monkeys”). The music is by Mychael Danna (“Lakeview Terrace”).


 
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