DVD reviews: Quirky 'Beginners' examines family, love relationships
Filmmaker Mike Mills used his own life in finding inspiration for "Beginners," a terrific dramedy that should gain some attention during awards season. Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Melanie Laurent star in this film that spreads moments of levity and emotion even over a screenplay — penned by Mills — that should resonate with just about anybody. The film's quirkiness and lack of solid narrative will turn some folks away, but Mills has succeeded in delivering a beautiful movie specializing in relationships. The inspiration from Mills' life came from his father, who announced, at age 75, that he was gay. In "Beginners," Plummer stars as the father, and the son is portrayed by Ewan McGregor. The story is told from the son's point of view, and he takes on two relationships in "Beginners." The first one is with his father as he adjusts to the new gay lifestyle and the effects of the cancer slowly taking his life. These aspects of the relationship with the father are told in flashbacks. In the present, the son, who has a history of relationship failures, is involved with a French actress named Anna (Laurent). Standard and Blu-ray packages share similar extras, and the highlight would be a short featurette about the making of "Beginners." The making-of featurette shares top billing with Mills' commentary, which also is fun. R; 2011. 3.5 Stars
Filmmaker Evan Glodell's apocalyptic vision was the foundation for "Bellflower," a blast of a film that runs on searing heat and sparkling originality. Made on a shoestring budget, "Bellflower" is the story of two buddies who are obsessed with "Mad Max" films and looking toward the eventual apocalypse. They work on a flamethrower and a car built for destruction. That is until Woodrow (Glodell) meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), the girl of his dreams. His buddy, Aiden (Tyler Dawson), is a forgotten man, and projects are put off. Things go from bad to worse when Milly and Woodrow end things on a horrible note. The breakup crushes Woodrow, and he returns to Aiden. Working on the car, Aiden tries to distract Woodrow. But it doesn't work, because Woodraw is in a destructive mood that might bring everyone down. Consider "Bellflower" one of the top independent pictures of the year with a blend of darkly hypnotic players working through a gritty, explosive story. Some great extras are available on Blu-ray and standard discs. A behind-the-scenes featurette explores the processes behind the making of the film. Also on board are a slick featurette on the apocalyptic car created by Woodrow and Aiden, and a nice collection of crazy outtakes. R; 2011. 3 Stars.
Luckily for Julia Roberts, she is only a lead actress in this dreadful romantic comedy. Co-star Tom Hanks is all in as the director and a member of the screenwriting team with Nia Vardalos. "Larry Crowne" brings absolutely nothing new to the genre, and plays out in a predictable and boring storyline littered with poor jokes. The film focuses on Larry (Hanks), who is fired from a beloved department store job and has no luck with an exhausting job search, so he decides to go for his college degree. Once in college, Larry some new friends including the bubbly Talia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who takes the new student under her wing. Larry reinvents himself, taking on a different look, and attracts the attention of Mercedes (Roberts), an unhappily married professor who wants nothing to do with anybody. The special features are OK, and pretty much similar with standard DVD and Blu-ray sets. A making-of featurette gives the viewer some aspects of production, but it's mostly members of the cast summarizing the film's plot. "Fun on Set" is another extra featuring the cast. Deleted scenes are also included. PG-13; 2011. 1.5 Stars.
OTHER MOVIE RELEASES:
• "The Tree" (Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marton Csokas, NR, 2010, Zeitgeist Films): The Australian countryside is the setting for filmmaker Julie Bertuccelli's film about a mother and her four kids trying to find stability in life after the death of their husband and father. Extras.
• "Rio Sex Comedy" (Charlotte Rampling and Bill Pullman, NR, 2010, FilmBuff): A stellar cast stars in this film written and directed by Jonathan Nossiter. The film centers on tourists finding their way through the Brazilian city. Extras.
• "Superheroes" (Documentary, NR, 2011, Docurama Films): Fans of the 2010 action hit "Kick-Ass" will certainly find director Michael Barnett's film appealing. It documents the lives of people around the United States that take matters into their own hands in an attempt to knock down the criminal element. Extras.
• "The Wavy Gravie Movie: Saint Misbehavin'" (Documentary, NR, 2009, Docurama Films): An important figure during the Woodstock era, Wavy Gravy wears plenty of different hats including poet, activist and entertainer. Michelle Esrick's picture sheds light on where Wavy Gravy has been, and where he's going. Extras.
• "The Warring States" (Zige Fang and Enhe Feng, NR, 2011, New Video/China Lion): Set during a particularly violent time in China's history, this epic focuses on the rivalry between brothers and military strategists who fight on the battlefield. Extras.
• "What Women Want" (Andy Lau and Gong Li, NR, 2011, New Video/China Lion): Based on the 2000 motion picture starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt and directed by Nancy Myers, this Asian picture centers around an advertising executive who suddenly has the ability to hear what women are thinking. Extras.
• "When Strangers Click: Five Stories from the Internet" (Documentary, NR, 2011, The Disinformation Company): Accomplished documentarian Robert Kenner takes on Internet dating in this film that originally aired on HBO. As the title states, the picture tells the tale of five individuals looking for love online. Extras.
• "The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls" (Documentary, NR, 2009, The Disinformation Company): Viewers have the opportunity to meet the Topp twins, Jools and Lynda, in this quirky documentary from Leanne Pooley. Jools and Lynda are yodeling and country music performers, and lesbian comedians. Extras.
• "Enemies of the People" (Documentary, NR, 2009, Old Street Films): Winner of a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, "Enemies of the People" takes a brave and harrowing look at Cambodia's killing fields from award-winning journalist Thet Sambath's exclusive testimonies. Extras.
• "Money Matters" (Terri Abney and Aunjanue Ellis, NR, 2011, Image Entertainment): The emotional story of a mother and daughter facing adulthood together is the focus of this film written and directed by Ryan Richmond. The relationship faces another difficult hurdle when a family secret is revealed. Extras.
• "Evil Dead II: 25th Anniversary Edition" (Bruce Campbell and Danny Hicks, NR, 1987, extras, Lionsgate Pictures)
• "West Side Story: 50th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray" (Rita Moreno and Russ Tamblyn, NR, 1961, extras, 20th Century Fox)
• "Delitto D'Amore" (Giuliano Gemma and Stefania Sandrelli, NR, 1974, extras, Raro Video)
OTHER TV RELEASES:
• "Farscape: The Complete Series Blu-ray Edition" (Ben Browder and Claudia Black, 20 discs, 88 episodes, extras, A&E Home Entertainment)
• "It Takes a Thief: The Complete Series" (Robert Wagner and Malachi Throne, 18 discs, 65 episodes, extras, Entertainment One)
• "Being Human: The Complete First Season" (Sam Witwer and Mark Pellegrino, four discs, 13 episodes, extras, Entertainment One)
• "Gabriel Iglesias Presents: Stand-Up Revolution" (Alfred Robles and Shawn Latham, two discs, seven episodes, extras, Comedy Central/Paramount Pictures)
• "Sea Rex 3D: Journey to a Prehistoric World" (Nature presentation, NR, 2011, extras, Universal Pictures)