DVD 12/1/09: Paper Heart, Terminator Salvation, Pale Force, Toi & Moi, Death Warrior
Paper Heart (PG-13, 2009, Anchor Bay/Overture)
Charlyne Yi (Yi, playing an endearingly awkward parallel-dimension version of herself) is so convinced she’s incapable of loving anyone, she’s become the subject and emcee of a documentary in which she attempts to comprehend how others can do what she feels she can’t. But whatever plan she had goes off the rails when she attends a party with her filmmaker (Jake M. Johnson as Nicholas Jasenovec), meets Michael Cera (Cera), and Michael Cera takes an inexplicably sudden liking to her. Though it unfurls Yi’s story in the same fashion a genuine documentary would, “Paper Heart” also takes the kind of creative liberty that’s possible when the film knows we know these scenes are works of fiction. That’s not a bad thing, because the script is intelligently funny, the characters are clumsily lovable, and the story straddles an playfully hopeful line between cutely Hollywood and credibly authentic. But “Heart” actually shines brightest when, between these scenes, it has Yi interviewing regular people about how they met and fell in love. Sometimes, the stories feel too good to be true. Other times, “Heart” illustrates them using a so-cute-it-might-drive-you-crazy style that’s evocative of a grade school diorama. In all cases, though, the line between fiction and documentary blurs just enough to inspire some weird hope that these accounts are 100 percent truthful and real. Even if it turns out they aren’t, “Heart’s” disposition makes it fun to believe they are.
Extras: Deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, Yi musical performance, music video.
Terminator Salvation (PG-13, 2009, Warner Bros.)
Considering it isn’t a traditional sequel so much as an offshoot, “Terminator Salvation” arrives with a narrative head start few films of its nature have. The post-apocalyptic last stand between man and machine, following Skynet’s nuclear pounding of most of humanity, is a battle that has been teasingly dangled in front of “Terminator” fans since the first movie debuted 25 years ago, and “Salvation” has an entire feature film’s worth of time to dwell on its every last important detail. But with the can’t-miss plot comes a can’t-avoid caveat: “Terminator” has liberally played with time travel over the course of three movies and a two-season television series, and because all those hours ultimately alluded to the gist of what supposedly happens here, a good deal of the story feels predestined to the point of inevitable. “Salvation” would be foolish to rearrange the timeline and alienate its core audience just to pull off some contrived surprises, so there’s an overriding feeling of anticlimactic returns after waiting a quarter-century for the unabridged story. With that said, though, the movie makes the most of the hand it’s dealt — and, in terms of character development and a few story-within-the-story elements that fill in the unknowns that remained, manages a surprising amount of mileage in doing so. (Without spoiling too much, it’s pretty amazing what — and who — computers can render the way they can today.) Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Moon Bloodgood and Anton Yelchin, among others, star.
Extra: Digital Copy. Warner apparently wants you to purchase the Blu-Ray edition (review not available at press time), which contains a director’s cut of the film and three behind-the-scenes features in addition to the digital copy.
Pale Force (NR, 2005, New Video NYC)
With so much comic genius materializing over 16 years of “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” it’s kind of a shame there aren’t 50 more DVD collections like this already out there. But “Pale Force,” which chronicles the animated adventures of two pale superheroes (super-stud Jim Gaffigan and childishly weak sidekick Conan O’Brien) and their battle of attrition against archenemy Lady Bronze (voiced by Eartha Eartha Kitt), is as good a place as any to start. Being a “Late Night” skit rather than a standalone cartoon leaves “Force” with some predictable caveats: Each of the 21 “episodes” runs only a few minutes long, and as such the storytelling and humor flies by at a frantically overcaffeinated pace. Throw in the kind of animation typically reserved for an experimental Adult Swim or Flash cartoon, and the resulting explosion is a mess of purposely low-brow construction and brilliantly, stupidly funny storylines that serve their purpose with hit-and-run efficiency. Consequently, watching all 21 episodes in succession is a somewhat exhaustive experience despite the 84-minute total runtime. But that isn’t the fault of “Force,” which was never written with extended viewings in mind, and as long as you enjoy Conan’s brand of comedy and have enough restraint to hit the pause button whenever necessary, this is impossible not to recommend.
Extras: Gaffigan’s “Pale Force”-related appearances on “Late Night” (don’t mind the box, which mislabels it as “The Late Show”), deleted scene, rough sketches.
Toi & Moi (NR, 2006, Koch Lorber)
The bright colors, the corny character poses, the chipper title. If movies were judged strictly on outer appearances, “Toi & Moi” almost certainly would have to be a cutely silly film about relationships and the adorable misunderstandings they endure. On some level, it is that — at least, when the film enters the imagination of short story author Ariane (Julie Depardieu), who refashions the real-life trials of her and her sister Lena’s (Marion Cotillard) love lives into fanciful, digestible magazine fiction. But Ariane and Lena’s realities aren’t quite so neat, and when you tally it all up, neither is “Moi,” which rather believably manages to offset those fleeting moments of harlequin sunshine with a reality that’s muddy and authentic without resorting to cheap depressive tactics. Ariane and Lena are kind of a mess, but they’re a likable mess that in no way feels alien to the fleeting messes many of us have made of our own personal lives at one point or another. Some of the story turns are predictable and certain endgame hooks, perhaps intentionally, are telegraphed well ahead of time. But all of it exists for the benefit of its two main characters’ separate constructions, and considering how Ariane and Lena turn out, it’s a job well done. In French with English subtitles. No extras.
Death Warrior (R, 2009, Lions Gate)
Everything you need to know about what “Death Warrior” is doing here sits right there on the box — the Tapout logo, the gallery of mixed martial arts stars (Hector Echavarria, Quinton Jackson, Georges St. Pierre, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans) in the cast, and, for the few who pick this up and don’t know, a notice that the cast consists primarily of world-class MMA stars. Is it enough around which to make and market a film? It’ll have to be. “Warrior’s” storyline is ripped right out of the fighting movie and/or video game playbook: An underground consortium has placed a member of each fighter’s family in jeopardy, and the fighters must fight dirty and battle to the death to keep their loved ones alive. There’s something of a “Running Man” twist at play as well, but no matter: The object is to see fighters pound each other without rules running interference, and the plot certainly provides the means. Unfortunately, a mountain of trouble stands between means and execution, including laughably stock dialogue, titillation straight out of late-1980s Cinemax, a soundtrack that veers between torturously bad faux-metal and background music typically reserved for sex hotline commercials, and the kind of dramatic chops only a film full of untrained actors can deliver. Even the fighting suffers: It looks great, but it’s predictably scripted and thus cannot compare to the unpredictable real thing. “Warrior” is so clumsy as to be an ironic blast fun for a night of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, but that’s about the only level on which this can seriously merit recommendation.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, interviews, MMA training footage.