Wednesday, March 07, 2012

DVDs: HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Bloody Fun But Not Great


GAME OF THRONES FIRST SEASON ($79.98 BluRay; HBO) -- Game Of Thrones may be the biggest roll of the dice in TV history. It's based on a series of novels that tell one long story...and they haven't even all been written yet. In fact, if author George R.R. Martin continues at his new slow pace, the show may have to go on hiatus for a number of years before the series can reach its finale. And that finale will take seven seasons to satisfy fans. It's also one of the most expensive shows in TV history, telling a story laced with fantasy and set in a medieval era with all the lavishness of a feature film. Now that's bold and I look forward to future seasons. I just wish the first one were better. The story is one of intrigue, based loosely on the War of the Roses. Numerous royal families are vying for power while a supernatural threat from the North slowly works its way towards the "civilized" world. You get backstabbing, scheming, incest, swordplay, lots and lots of nudity and a clutch of fine actors. The problems? Casting and costuming. No expense was spared but the costumes and makeup quite often fall far short. Hair, makeup, clothing -- they should all invisibly denote the power and prestige of the wearers (or the lack). Instead, too often the costumes look just like that: costumes. Jaime Lannister is meant to be the most handsome, dashing man in the world but his clothing often looks like a Members Only jacket and the haircut and demeanor of actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau remind you of Malibu Ken, not Lancelot. Harry Lloyd also falls quite short as the intended to be menacing Viserys Targaryen. With his bleached white hair and petulant manner, he seems like Draco Malfoy's cousin, not a threat to the throne. These weaknesses continue for other minor characters and illustrate an unusual feature of GoT. Except for Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, almost all the "bad" guys in the series are far less interesting than the "good" guys. That's rarely the case for a genre piece like this where the villains often get the best lines and the most dastardly deeds. In contrast, the Stark clan is well cast up and down the line, from Sean Bean as the family head to Maisie Williams in the challenging role of Arya (with a special shout out to an excellent Kit Harington as the bastard Jon Snow). TV rarely tackles fantasy and almost never does it well, so that and the appeal of the books will keep me watching. Stronger tech work and some better casting (luckily, lots of people die so the show always has a chance to inject fresher, stronger talent) could turn GoT from a guilty pleasure into a genuine one. P.S. Maybe it's the slowdown in DVD sales, but it's great to see the cost to consumers for an entire season of a show like this come down in price, especially on sale. Less than $40? That used to be a fantasy, but no more.


MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE ($39.99 BluRay; FOX) -- This intriguing drama stars Elizabeth Olsen as the wayward sister who shows up looking for a place to crash but unwilling to talk about where she's been or what she's done. In flashbacks, we see her get slowly drawn into a cult led by John Hawkes (in another excellent performance). Then the phone calls and the mysterious strangers make clear that this cult doesn't let its members take off so easily. More quiet tale than thriller, the film isn't an out of the park success but delivers on its quiet premise quite nicely.


HUGO ($44.99; Paramount) -- I enjoyed the graphic/novel by Brian Selznick, which had the much more evocative title The Invention Of Hugo Cabret. Changing that to just Hugo was the first sign this movie wouldn't deliver. The second was hiring director Martin Scorsese, a man not known for gentle family fare. But it's not entirely his fault. The appeal of the book rested entirely on how the story was told: a clever combination of images a la a graphic novel (sometimes dozens of pages would go by without any text at all, just pictures advancing the story) and text (at other times the images would stop and the text would dominate a la a traditional novel). The story itself was rather flat and unimaginative, with very little action or change of any consequence: in essence, a kid hiding in a train station discovers the man running a toy store used to be a film director. That's about it. To bump up the action, lame subplots are introduced to the movie like a romance between two older characters and a bumbling cop given a greatly expanded role and his own attraction to a flower girl. That's interspersed with all sorts of chases and fancy camerawork. The movie looks just as artificial on 2-D at home as it did in 3-D at the theater though it's a blessed relief not to have to wear those bulky glasses when the effects were so minimal. Heavy-handed touches (like mixing the sound of a film projector unspooling early on in the movie to subliminally remind us of the pleasures of movies) can be found throughout. Dramatically static, cartoonishly acted, Hugo is not one for the ages, though a number of critics enjoyed it far more than me. Well, they're wrong.


PUSS IN BOOTS ($39.99 BluRay; DreamWorks) -- I've never been a huge fan of the Shrek films (my favorite one is their made-for-tv Christmas special; the movies I find too enamored with random pop culture references).  But thank goodness they spun off Antonio Banderas's witty character Puss In Boots. I would not want to have sat through a movie about Eddie Murphy's Donkey. This movie breathed a little creative life into a very tired franchise. It wasn't the massive success of the Shrek movies, but $535 million is probably enough to guarantee another adventure.


SUPER BOWL XLVI CHAMPIONS ($34.93 BluRay; NFL/Vivendi) -- More. That's my sole comment about this highlight DVD, which does a good job of recapping the entire season of Super Bowl champs  the New York Giants and (finally) includes the extras you'd expect like post-game ceremonies, media day and the like. NFL Films really does excellent work in capturing unlikely and striking footage of games that's superior to what you see in a live game and during most movies about football. BUt why just recaps? This should be a 2 DVD set with one DVD including the entire Super Bowl game day hoopla (with commercials that aired as a bonus feature -- why not?). That should be the cheap option. But they should also offer a boxed set with every regular season game of the Giants plus the 2 DVD Super Bowl package as well. And for about $70. Max. Finally, why not have a release for the Patriots. The heartbreaking story of the losers can make for compelling drama too. They've got the footage. Why not? This one-disc release is more complete than in past years but still feels skimpy compared to the goodies lying in their vaults unused and unseen.


TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE ($29.99; Zeitgeist) - Multi-director omnibuses -- with multiple short films strung together around an over-arching theme -- are one of the least-loved ideas in movie history and rarely worth the bother. But this one comes from Romania, one of the most innovative and exciting sources of movies in the past few years. Overseen by Cristian Mungiu (director of the acclaimed 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days), this pulls together urban myths and legends that sprang up around the final years of the brutal Ceausescu regime, a terrible era the government propaganda machine defiantly dubbed "The Golden Age." Mungiu teams with other talented filmmakers to spin multiple, mordantly funny tales. It's funny how suddenly a country can become a hotbed of filmmaking for no discernible reason, but that's exactly what's happened in Romania, making even a project like this seem a tantalizing prospect. Yes, when it comes to cinema, Romania truly is in a Golden Age.


IMMORTALS ($39.99 BluRay; FOX) -- Director Tarsem Singh has a remarkable ability to create striking imagery and it's on full display in this 300-ish epic tale of a Theseus (Henry Cavill), a young villager handy with weapons who takes on the mad king (Mickey Rourke) threatening to destroy the world. It looks amazing, if you just turn off  your mind and glance at the screen in a daze. But story? Characters? Dramatic involvement in their fates? Tongue in cheek fun? Nope. Not on the menu. But what you do find on the DVDs menu are tons of extras like an alternate beginning and two alternate endings, which should tell you something right there.



MIDSOMER MURDERS SET 19 ($59.99 BluRay; Acorn) -- Alan Davies of the gently charming Jonathan Creek series paired with the team behind TV's Inspector Morse about a barrister with a messy personal life (gambling debts, an affair with the wife of a politician, etc) and far more successful legal one. Nothing groundbreaking, but Davies does have his appeal. Meanwhile, Midsomer Murders -- the long-running British cozy mystery series (that is, crimes set in a village setting that are gently humorous) -- continues along wit no signs of stopping after its latest four installments, each one a self-contained movie of about 100 minutes. Unlike most "cozys," the murders are rather brutal in nature at times, but the general tone is still amiable if not quite Murder, She Wrote.


THE SKIN I LIVE IN ($45.99 BluRay; Sony Pictures Classics) -- One of the most baroque plots in director Pedro Almodovar's history (pulled from a not terribly interesting novel) is unfortunately treated with deadly dull seriousness. Almodovar long ago started making the movies he used to lovingly send up and this is a prime example, with Antonio Banderas as a plastic surgeon who has a mysterious but beautiful woman trapped in his home. It's silly from the stilted beginning to the ludicrous finale, but unfortunately the movie doesn't realize how silly the story is and we never get to have any fun.





JOHNNY ENGLISH REBORN ($34.98 BluRay;  Universal)
JACK AND JILL ($40.99 BluRay; Columbia)
FOOTLOOSE ($44.99 BluRay; Paramount)
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD VOLUME 4 ($26.99 BluRay; Paramount) -- Do we need another James Bond spoof? No, we do not, but Rowan Atkinson's non-Bean creation Johnny English is a lot more popular overseas so he will return. Are Adam Sandler's fans unthinking automatons? No, they are not because even they handed him a rare commercial flop with this tepid comedy about an annoying sister who comes to visit. Did anyone want to see a remake of the dated-the-day-it-was-released movie Footloose? Do they did not. I know it's nominally based on a true story but I always felt this story would have worked better set in the 1950s.Will I laugh at Beavis and Butt-head? No, I will not. Hey, I like South Park and even enjoyed Beavis and Butt-head Do America, probably because they played actual characters and had an actual story of sorts. But their TV show I find relentlessly...well, I can't say stupid because they would laugh at me and say "duh!' Dull? Yes, dull. No change but fans will enjoy these all new episodes. I guess.


Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available  for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and  gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free copies of DVDs and BluRays with the understanding that he would be considering them for review. Generally, he does not guarantee to review and he receives far more titles than he can cover.

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