Wondering what might make a nice holiday gift or a good selection to add to the queue to watch during the season of sugarplums and latkes?
Look no further; over two dozen reviews after the jump including some holiday specials, big Hollywood movies and some obscurities as well.
Hangover Part II (Blu-ray Combo)
Warner Home Video / Released December 6, 2011 on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD
Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), Alan (Zach Galifianakis) and Doug (Justin Bartha) travel to exotic Thailand for Stu’s wedding. What could go wrong? Director Todd Phillips’ explosively funny follow-up to his award-winning smash hit demonstrates that though what happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, what happens in Bangkok can hardly be imagined!
Comedy movies are a tricky thing.
One of the markers of success, in my opinion, is rewatchability.
The Hangover shares this important trait with such films as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers, Dumb and Dumber, and Beverly Hills Cop.
And like those films, the sequel is pretty crappy.
Director Todd Phillips has not only reassembled his cast from the 2009 film, he’s also reassembled the plot, retreading the same exact structure without any of the joy and surprises that the original film held, but this time substituting Bangkok for Vegas. The movie is funny, and often, inappropriately so. But ultimately unsatisfying as the characters walk through the same scenario with often the same results. The cast seems bored, and like Ocean’s 12, you often feel like their vacation has been interrupted while being called to set. Extras include a gag reel, featurettes, a digital copy and more.
The Hangover Part II delivers what it’s supposed to; be funny. Unfortunately, I’ve seen all of the jokes before.
Crazy, Stupid, Love (Blu-ray Combo)
Warner Home Video / Released November 1, 2011 on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD
Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling lead an all-star cast in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Fortysomething straight-laced Cal Weaver (Carell) is living the dream—good job, nice house, great kids and marriage to his high school sweetheart, Emily (Julianne Moore). So when Cal learns that his wife has cheated on him and wants a divorce, his “perfect” life quickly unravels. Cal, who hasn’t dated in decades, stands out as the epitome of un-smooth so handsome player Jacob Palmer (Gosling) takes him on as wingman and protégé, opening Cal’s eyes to the many options before him: flirty women, manly drinks and a sense of style. Despite Cal’s makeover and his many new conquests, the one thing that can’t be made over is his heart, which seems to keep leading Cal back to where he began.
A sweet and warm film, anchored by strong performances and an albeit, predictable plot, Crazy, Stupid, Love is just that; a reminder of just how important love is in life and the lengths one would go to find it, preserve it and save it.
One of the most admirable qualities about the film is that as funny as it is, the humor is grounded. No joke is made at the sacrifice of the verisimilitude of the film’s reality. By the end of the film, you’ve fallen in love with the characters and are in no hurry to say goodbye. Extras include featurettes, deleted scenes and an alternate ending.
Crazy, Stupid Love is smart, funny and endearing and a must see. Highly recommended.
Warner Archive / Released November 1, 2011
The screen’s great Schnarzan (Jimmy Durante) wants to wow the visiting Baron Munchausen (Jack Pearl, reprising his familiar vaudeville and radio character) by throwing him a big, bustling Tinseltown bash. Hollywood Party – 8 directors and 8 writers (2 credited) strong – is the wild, wildly inconsistent but ever fun musical-novelty result, packed with kicky dance montages offering pre-Code chorines and Berkeley-like kaleidoscopic shots, spiked with a color cartoon insert from Walt Disney, muscled up with Schnarzan’s lion-wrasslin,’ and thronged with notables (including Mickey Mouse, Ted Healy and his Stooges and Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, who put an egg in Lupe Velez’s shoe and are duly repaid). Dress to impress!
Running a taut 68 minutes, Hollywood Party manages to pack in an awful lot of entertainment. Plotless, but the true definition of “a cast of thousands,” is non-stop schtick, music and laughs. Durante parodies Tarzan, playing a jungle movie star who throws a lavish party filled with musical numbers, vaudeville routines and even a color Disney cartoon (and an appearance by Mickey Mouse). As a fan of many of the actors within, I wasn’t even aware this film existed and it truly is an experience that should be had by every cinegeek. Extras include a trailer and deleted songs.
Packed with production numbers, jokes, familiar faces of classic Hollywood and the all important man in a gorilla suit, Hollywood Party is highly recommended.
Elizabeth Taylor ventured but once into the scarified world of Grande Dame Guignol, and Night Watch is the striking result. Taylor’s matron in menace role is that of Ellen Wheeler, a lonely insomniac trapped in a loveless marriage and by an obsession with a creepy gothic manse next door. One night while indulging in her alcohol fueled ramblings, Ellen spots a corpse inside the vacant house. A corpse that resembles her deceased, two timing first husband…a corpse that no one else thinks exists. Adapted from a play by suspense mistress Lucille Fletcher (Sorry, Wrong Number, The Hitch-Hiker, Night Man), Night Watch re-teams Liz with her Butterfield 8 co-star Laurence Harvey, playing Ellen’s emotionally distant second husband in one of his final film performances. Genre stalwart Billie Whitelaw rounds out the cast.
Liz Taylor plays crazy in Night Watch.
But not just mentally “off” crazy, I’m talking full bat-shit, tasting colors, nuts. With a sporadic British accent and an over the top performance that seems more geared for the stage than for in front of the camera, Taylor is nevertheless captivating to watch. Unfortunately, for as intense her performance is, the rest of the cast isn’t quite as electric. It is a solid genre picture, and the thrills are in full force with a heavy helping of melodrama and a legitimately surprising twist ending.
Night Watch is a fun, suspenseful film that delivers. Recommended.
By 1935, every movie fan in the world knew Jean Harlow as both a blonde bombshell and a delightful comedienne. To expand her range, the studio gave her a dramatic role in Reckless – and Harlow was a hit. She plays musical star Mona Leslie, the bride of a champagne-stewed blueblood. When he blows his brains out, Mona is suspected of his murder, igniting media frenzy. The film is also notable for its Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein title tune (Harlow, whose considerable skills didn’t extend beyond acting, was dubbed and body doubled in the musical numbers), plus a cast that includes Franchot Tone, Rosalind Russell, and as a hotshot promoter, William Powell, who would become the last love of Harlow’s tragically short life.
It takes awhile for the plot to kick in and unfortunately by the time it does, it’s a little late. Disjointed, unfocused and a bit of a mess, with the tone shifting dramatically halfway through. For cinegeeks, there are a number of brief appearances by future familiar faces including Rosalind Russell, Mickey Rooney and Ted Healy. Extras include a radio promo and an on stage pre-recording session.
Reckless is a mess of a film, and offers little other than a footnote on the career of Harlow and Powell.
The Smurfs Holiday Celebration
Warner Home Video / Released October 4, 2011
In these two delightful tales, our little blue friends touch the lives of those in need and spread Christmas cheer to everyone around them, as they impart valuable lessons about the spirit of giving and sharing.
I spent many Saturday mornings watching The Smurfs and despite losing my affinity for the characters, I jumped at the chance to revisit them with this DVD, The Smurfs: Holiday Celebration, which contains two fairly average holiday specials, The Smurfs’ Christmas Special and Tis The Season To Be Smurfy. My problem with both of the specials is the presence of human beings. I’ve always thought The Smurfs worked best in their own environment, but to younger fans who enjoyed the movie, this release is full of good lessons and morals, and will likely be a perennial holiday favorite.
Frosty’s Winter Wonderland Deluxe Edition
Warner Home Video / Released October 4, 2011
Andy Griffith, Shelley Winters and Jackie Vernon lend their voices to this captivating cartoon about the Snowman’s winter return to the children of a small town for a winter season of fun and games. But he’s lonely at night when left by himself. So the grateful kids build him a beautiful snowlady companion. Jealous of the attention given Frosty, Jack Frost blows up a blizzard and swipes Frosty’s magical, life-giving hat. Only true love can bring Frosty back to his old fun-loving self.
I remember seeing this when it premiered when I was a kid and absolutely fell in love with it. Christmas specials have become a rarity these days, and this one, although not nearly as iconic as the original, is a solid sequel. Narrated by Andy Griffith, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland is as warm and inviting as a cup of hot cocoa on a snowy afternoon. A featurette is included on the history of snowmen.
My only complaint with this relief (strangely called a “Deluxe Edition”) is that it’s pretty slim considering that it only contains a feature running 23 minutes. Nevertheless, it’s a must have for anyone who grew up with it who wants to share it with their own families or relive the magic for themselves. Recommended.
Twas the Night Before Christmas (Blu-ray)
Warner Home Video / Released October 4, 2011
For some unexplained reason, letters to Santa Claus are being returned to the children of Junctionville. It seems some sour soul has angered St. Nick, calling Christmas “a fraudulent myth!” The skeptical rodent Albert Mouse has to be brought to his senses “and let up a little on the wonder why.” How Albert is persuaded to change his tune paves the way for Santa’s jolly return to Junctionville — and the joyous finale of this charming animated fable inspired by Clement Moore’s poem. Joel Grey, Tammy Grimes, John McGiver and George Gobel are featured voices.
Another strange holiday solo release (this one on Blu-ray for a 23 minute special), Twas The Night Before Christmas is a fine effort, but forgettable in comparison to many of the other perennial favorites. It’s too talky, with Rankin Bass’ less desired animation (as compared to their iconic Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer or a Year Without a Santa Claus). The lone extra is a digital comic book feature on how the world celebrates Christmas. I certainly can’t understand why the Blu-ray of this title and it’s a mild recommendation at best.
Dr. Seuss’s Holidays on the Loose!
Warner Home Video / Released October 18, 2011
Fun is on the Loose with 3 Dr. Seuss Holiday Classics!
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot.” And every family likes How the Grinch Stole Christmas! a lot! This joyous, heart-tickling holiday event based on Dr. Seuss’ beloved book and featuring the voice of Boris Karloff has delighted all ages since its 1966 debut. Can the Grinch steal the town’s holiday spirit by stealing their holiday treats? Or does Christmas… perhaps…mean a little bit more? The answers to those questions unfold charmingly under Chuck Jones’ pitch-perfect direction.
The Grinch Grinches The Cat in the Hat
What happens when the mischievous Grinch decides to wreak havoc on the world, but the happy and ever-so-delightful Cat in the Hat stands in his way? The result is a triumphant story of an unlikely hero who uses a little caring and compassion to help save the world from an unfriendly and unbeautiful future. Watch and see if the Cat in the Hat can go from a peaceful picnic in the shade to helping the frightfully mean Grinch turn a new leaf.
Halloween is Grinch Night
The sinister Grinch who stole Whoville’s Christmas is back to declare Halloween as “Grinch Night”! While the Whos are caught in a horrible storm of Sour-Sweet Wind, the Grinch and his trusty pooch Max, take this opportunity to terrorize the little town. Unfortunately for him he is surprised by a young boy whose unexpected courage prevents the Grinch from unleashing his awful horrors onto their tranquil town. Grinch Night will never be the same!
This is what a holiday release should look like. Collecting the animated masterpiece, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, as well as the two other Grinch specials, this is a must have for viewers of any age. Extras are plentiful and include commentary, featurettes, pencil tests, interviews and more.
The only real downside to this release is that How The Grinch Stole Christmas has been re-released more times than Evil Dead 2. Dr. Seuss’s Holidays on the Loose! is a must have if you don’t have How The Grinch Stole Christmas already, otherwise it’s really for completists only.
The Adventures of Tintin: Season One
Shout! Factory / Released November 22, 2011
Adapted from the long-running graphic novels by the late cartoon artist Hergé (a.k.a. Georges Remi), the popular animated TV series The Adventures of Tintin, co-produced by Nelvana and Ellipsanime Productions, chronicles the young and intrepid investigative reporter Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy, along with Captain Haddock, the muddled genius Professor Calculus, and the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson as they embark on incredible globe-trotting adventures full of excitement, mind-boggling mystery and fun.