DVD reviews: An offbeat melodrama and a new Jackie Chan movie lead new DVD releases
An offbeat melodrama starring Mel Gibson, a new Jackie Chan action picture and a bizarre monster movie from Norway lead these films that are new to DVD.
"The Beaver" (Summit, 2011, PG-13, $26.99). To call this morose melodrama "offbeat" is to understate. And as much as I tried to avoid thinking of Mel Gibson's off-screen troubles as he plays a clinically depressed businessman who can only communicate through a hand puppet, it's just not possible.
Still, Gibson plays the part very well (too well?), and even better is Jodie Foster (who also directed) as his embittered wife, struggling to understand this strange "therapy" her husband has adopted. (The voice he uses for the beaver puppet is a sort of Michael Caine cockney.)
It's also hard on their two sons, especially Anton Yelchin as a high schooler who's making a career of writing other kids' papers. He also has a crush on a troubled cheerleader (Jennifer Lawrence) who asks him to write her valedictorian speech. Right.
About two-thirds in, the story goes so dark that it becomes a variation on those horror movies about the ventriloquist whose dummy takes over ("Dead of Night," "Magic"). An interesting but very odd misfire.
Extras: widescreen, deleted scene, extended scene, audio commentary (by Foster), featurette
"Little Big Soldier" (Well Go/Blu-ray, 2011, PG-13, $29.98). This new Chinese action-filled comedy/drama is a period piece from Jackie Chan, and easily his best film in some time. In addition to starring, Chan also wrote the story, choreographed the action sequences and co-produced.
He plays an older farmer who is the only survivor of a battle into which he was reluctantly drafted. The lone survivor of the opposing army is a young general (American-born musician Leehom Wang) whom Chan captures and plans to turn in for a reward. But it's an arduous trip that forces the pair to occasionally become reluctant allies as they encounter enemies along the way.
Although laced with a dark anti-war message and a high quotient of violence, the film is highlighted by action scenes that are often hilarious, with Chan proving that even in his late 50s he remains lithe and nimble as he leaps, kicks and climbs in that comic manner familiar to his fans.
Extras: widescreen, Blu-ray and DVD versions, in Chinese with English subtitles, featurette, music video, trailers and Chan's usual end-credits bloopers
"Trollhunter" (Magnolia, 2011, PG-13, $26.98). This surprisingly entertaining monster flick from Norway is a sort of wry spoof of "The Blair Witch Project," lifting that film's faux documentary "found footage" conceit, but, thankfully, not its shaky-cam technique.
The plot has a trio of college film students out to capture on film a hunter they believe is poaching bears. But he turns out to be the title character, a government worker who keeps the reality of trolls from the general public.
The film is filled with dry wit and steeped in troll lore (hey, it's no sillier than werewolves and vampires), with imaginative plot twists and a terrific central performance by Otto Jespersen as the hunter.
Extras: widescreen, in Norwegian with English subtitles, deleted/extended scenes, featurettes, photo galleries, bloopers
"Bambi II" (Disney/Blu-ray, 2006, G, $39.99). Unlike the original, this straight-to-video sequel is aimed squarely at small fry, which explains the silly slapstick and pop songs on the soundtrack (by Martina McBride, Alison Krauss, etc.).
Not unwatchable but it doesn't hold a candle to the original "Bambi."
Extras: widescreen, Blu-ray and DVD versions, deleted song, featurette, interactive games, pop-up text trivia
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