DVD 3/29/11: Tangled, Treme S1, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, Who’s the Caboose?, Fair Game, Arthur and the Invisibles 2 and 3: The New Minimoy Adventures, Dennis the Menace S1, Upstairs Downstairs CS 40th AE, The Complete Sherlock Holmes CollectionBy billyok | Tuesday, March 29th, 2011
Tangled (PG, 2010, Disney)
Disney made a fuss a few months back by exclaiming that “Tangled” might be the last animated princess movie it ever makes. But whether it was a legitimate declaration or simply a ploy to sell more tickets, the announcement is just about the only connection “Tangled” has with anything resembling faulty judgement. “Tangled” doesn’t reinvent the princess fairytale wheel: To the contrary, this is just a computer-animated re-imagining of Rapunzel’s story, and while the healing powers of Rapunzel’s hair provide a new twist, most everything else — evil not-quite mother keeping her in captivity, handsome but slightly bumbling prince stumbling to her not-quite rescue, cute animals doing as cute animals do — is classic Disney. But this stuff isn’t classic by accident, and while “Tangled’s” outline may be more of the same on paper, some extremely sharp tricks of animation and some equally shrewd humor join forces to make it feel brand-new all over again. The animation is wonderful, the soundtrack is first-rate, the twist at the end is genuinely clever, and Pascal the chameleon ranks among the finest of Disney’s anthropomorphic sidekicks despite never saying a word. (Maximus the horse deserves an honorary mention as well.) Between this and 2009′s “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s princesses are at the top of their game, and with respect to old cliches, there’s no good reason to quit while you’re ahead when the lead is this large.
Extras: Alternate storybook openings, deleted scenes, extended songs, behind-the-scenes feature, a compilation of tongue-in-cheek promotional materials.
Treme: The Complete First Season (NR, 2010, HBO)
An HBO drama set three months after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward sounds like a downer. But so does five years in the life of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhoods and most crooked offices, which “The Wire” portrayed with wryly dark comedy every bit as much as it did with solemn attention to authenticity. “Treme” comes courtesy of some of the same brain trust, and if the presence of two “Wire” stars (Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters) in standout roles isn’t a giveaway, the obsessive attention to character design and brilliant mix of so many moods — anger, affection, pride, stubbornness, resignation, reflection and yes, dark comedy — sure feels like one. If anything, the setting and cast gives “Treme” an extra spring in its step: Instead of cops, politicians and drug dealers, we’re treated to musicians, entrepreneurs and ordinary residents whose only agenda is pulling their lives, family and community back together. The spark is palpable even in the show’s darkest hours, and when all else fails, the soundtrack — courtesy of those same characters we’re rooting for — is second to none. Khandi Alexander, John Goodman, Steve Zahn, Melissa Leo, Rob Brown, Kim Dickens and numerous others also star.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus cast/crew commentary, music commentary on select performances from Josh Jackson and Patrick Jarenwattananon and three behind-the-scenes features.
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (R, 2008, Music Box Films)
When we last saw French gangster Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), in “Mesrine: Killer Instinct,” he had completed a spectacular rise from desperate nobody to France’s most wanted criminal and capped it off with a prison break for the ages. “Mesrine: Public Enemy #1″ represents the second half of a two-film biopic based on true events, and while it begins with Mesrine back in handcuffs, the captivity doesn’t last very long before he’s back on the run and his profile back on the rise. That leaves “Enemy” with two-plus hours to both detail Mesrine’s time at the top and finally reveal the full details of the misstep that the first film’s very first scene teases. But life as France’s most wanted means continually being painted into corners, and whether on purpose or by accident, the film reflects that. Compared to “Instinct’s” meticulous depiction of Mesrine’s ascent, “Enemy” feels disjointed as it whisks its namesake from one chase, escape and escapade to the next, and the supreme character growth that defined the first movie is mostly traded in for a lot of action punctuated by the occasional meltdown or moment of reflection. But while “Enemy” isn’t the pristine film its predecessor was, it’s still a darkly fantastic ride that roars, disjointed or not, through the back half of Mesrine’s life. Just make sure to see the first film first: “Enemy” is loaded with entertaining moments either way, but the context and buildup “Instinct” provides is immeasurably beneficial. In French with English subtitles, though an English dub is available as an option. No extras.
Who’s the Caboose? (NR, 1997, Flatiron Film Co.)
To watch “Who’s the Caboose?” with no working knowledge of the film might be to dismiss it as yet another product of its time. It’s a mockumentary, its primary source of humor is a self-aware skewering of Hollywood, and its primary means of humor is the same bone-dry comedy that’s permeated everything from a thousand Christopher Guest homages to half of NBC’s primetime schedule. But “Caboose’s” sendup of pilot season — the annual 100-day period in which television networks cast for new shows and desperate actors flock like ants to a picnic for a piece of the action — is now 14 years old, and its most remarkable achievement is that it’s aged so incrementally that you could very easily dismiss it as a product of this rather than that time. No doubt, “Caboose” will be funnier to those who have been there: The aforementioned skewering is no joke, and the undercurrent of contempt for the entertainment machine — and the obnoxious agents, managers and actors it churns out — is bitter enough to turn neutral viewers against these characters and, subsequently, the movie. But there’s something to be said for a mockumentary that inspires feelings like that instead of just a few laughs. Maybe, even in 2011, “Caboose” is ahead of its time after all. Sarah Silverman (in her first movie role), Sam Seder, Andy Dick, Kathy Griffin and David Cross star. No extras.
Fair Game (PG-13, 2010, Summit Entertainment)
It is potentially fruitless to bother reviewing “Fair Game” — which dramatizes the Valerie Plame autobiography that itself detailed her viewpoint of the events that led to both the Iraq War and her outing as a covert CIA spy — on traditional movie review terms. “Game” arrives long on the heels of preconceptions about who’s telling what truths with regard to both the war’s justification and the dangerously petty tactics that sabotaged Plame’s (Naomi Watts) career in the wake of husband Joe Wilson’s (Sean Penn) widely-read questioning of that justification. And if you’ve already picked a side in this fight, this stands almost no chance of changing your mind or meaningfully enhancing your existing stance. But providing the last word in a story already responsible for millions of them isn’t the job of a Hollywood movie, no matter the source. So “Game” is better off judged as a side of the story and purely that, and it’s on that level — and simply as a relatable drama about how pettiness can potentially corrupt the most powerful among us — that it works.
Extra: Commentary with Plame and Wilson.
Arthur and the Invisibles 2 and 3: The New Minimoy Adventures (PG, 2009/2010, Fox)
Critics disliked it and moviegoers were lukewarm, but enough people cared about 2006′s half-animated, half-live action “Arthur and the Invisibles” to not only give it a sequel, but knock out a third movie to make it a nice, neat trilogy. For better and worse, the two films (“The Revenge of Maltazard” and “The War of the Two Worlds”) that comprise “The New Minimoy Adventures” certainly feel like sequels to the movie that preceded them. Freddie Highmore resurrects his role as Arthur, most of the human cast (Mia Farrow, Ron Crawford, Penny Balfour) returns intact, and while most of the voice cast has changed, Snoop Dogg at least is back to voice Max, one of the microscopic Minimoys Arthur vows to protect a second time. But just like the original movie felt a bit crammed, so, too, do these. Stories in Arthur’s world compete for time with stories in the Minimoy world, and some unintentionally funny bits of self-seriousness clash with your typical serving of computer-animated-character wackiness to create an odd disjoint in mood. Ultimately, though — and, again, like the original — “Adventures” as a sum is better than its issues and inconsistencies would suggest. The design of the animated world is unique, the characters in both worlds are likable and (mostly) funny when actually trying to be, and the two-movie arc allows “Adventures” to have its “Empire Strikes Back” moment and achieve closure that movies of this renown rarely receive. No extras.
Worth a Mention
— “Dennis the Menace: Season One” (NR, 1959, Shout Factory): The comic strip may have come first and the animated series and movie may have come since, but the “Dennis the Menace” brand name never thrived more than when Jay North (as Dennis) and Joseph Kearns (as perennially tormented neighbor Mr. Wilson) were at the controls. In addition to finally bringing the show’s first 32 episodes to DVD, “Season One” includes a new interview with Gloria Henry (who played Dennis’ mom) and Jeannie Russell (who, as Margaret, was able to torment Dennis in a way Mr. Wilson never could). Also included: original promotional spots, and a crossover episode of “The Donna Reed Show” in which North and Kearns appear.
— “Upstairs, Downstairs: The Complete Series: 40th Anniversary Edition” (NR, 1971, Acorn Media): The title is a debatable misnomer, because the BBC resurrected “Upstairs, Downstairs” — which chronicles the lives of a wealthy family who lives a floor above their less well-to-do (but arguably more well-off) servants — for a sixth season last year after a 35-year-hiatus. But if you can get over the temptation to nitpick and can appreciate the five seasons that constitute one of Britain’s most celebrated dramas, this makes for a nice 40th birthday party favor. In addition to all 68 episodes, this 21-disc set includes 24 episode commentaries, an alternate pilot episode, the 25th-anniversary retrospective “‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Remembered,” cast and crew interviews and an essay by Jean Marsh, who co-created and starred in this series and resumed both roles for the 2010 resurrection.
— “The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection” (NR, 1939-46 MPI Home Video): Basil Rathbone’s eight-year tour of duty as Sherlock Holmes makes its Blu-ray debut in this set, which compiles 14 films on five discs and stuffs it inside a package that’s no thicker than a standard DVD case. You’ve come a long way, packaging technology.