DVD 11/1/11: Crazy, Stupid, Love, Nine Nation Animation, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, An Invisible Sign, Cars 2, Water for Elephants, Tabloid
Crazy, Stupid, Love (PG-13, 2011, Warner Bros.)
Emily’s (Julianne Moore) request for a divorce from Cal (Steve Carell) serves as the opening ceremony for “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” which then pans away in what initially resembles the beginning of an attempt to tell us multiple, slightly interconnected stories about love gone right or wrong. But everything that happens in “Love” — a playboy’s (Ryan Gosling) pickup technique, a law grad (Emma Stone) settling for less than she deserves, a 13-year-old (Jonah Bobo) in love with the babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) who loves his dad — has some second- or third-degree tie to Emily and Cal. Without spoiling too much, those ties only grow tighter as the minutes tick by, and when one character’s appearance pulls the knot shut, it results in one of recent comedic history’s better utterances of the age-old “Is this a bad time?” question. “Love’s” plotline is too perfectly sit-comedic to feel authentic, but many of the things its characters say and feel between the lines are dead-on terrific and come at no price to a script that’s funny even at its most contrived. Give credit to Cal: He pulls double duty as both the sympathetic hero and funniest character, and his durability rubs off on the rest of the cast. Marisa Tomei and Kevin Bacon also star.
Extra: Deleted scenes.
Nine Nation Animation (NR, 2011, The World According to Shorts/New Yorker Video)
Yes, there exists no shortage whatsoever of unusual and often brilliant animated shorts freely at your disposal on the Internet. But there also remains plenty of room for a hand-picked collection of shorts that sometimes have a better chance of finding you than you do them. To that end, “Nine Nation Animation” — a properly-named compilation that collects award-winning shorts from the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Croatia, South Africa, Ireland, Turkey, Belgium and Sweden — is an extraordinary validation of both the unifying power of animation and the limitless variety of storytelling methods at its disposal. No two shorts look alike. Some speak another language, some let sound and music speak in place of words. Some are hand-drawn while others use rendering, stop-motion or even photography in ways you may never have seen before. The different cultural representations are plain to see, but the most striking thing about “Animation” is the way all of these shorts from all these corners of the world are instantly, universally relatable — sometimes poignantly, sometimes hilariously — regardless of the language they speak or the country from whence they came. If you love the art form, you’ll adore this.
Extra: Additional animation short “The Runt” (which, coming from Germany, bumps the nation count to 10 and invalidates the DVD title in a wholly welcome way.)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (R, 2010, Oscilloscope)
It’s Christmas Eve, and for young Pietari (Onni Tommila) that means one thing: He gets to assist his reindeer-herding father (Jorma Tommila) in the field for the first time. That’s Christmas in isolated Korvatunturi for you. Or at least, that’s how it would play out were it not for a suspicious cadre of English-speaking scientists guarding an excavation site one of them regards as a bigger discovery than the Pyramids of Egypt. “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” doesn’t immediately come right out and say what that discovery is, but it doesn’t need to: Pietari is convinced it’s related to Santa Claus, whose birthplace is right beneath their feet according to legend, and the movie makes no attempt to discourage us from buying what he’s selling. Magical, yes? Actually, once you get past the rifles, dynamite, mysteriously disappearing children, dead reindeer, and blood of a man who nearly has his ear bit off… once you get past that, it really kind of is. “Exports” is a dark, sometimes bleak film about a pitch-black interpretation of Christmas legend, but it’s a terrible mistake to dismiss it as horror or yet another case of holiday movie irony. The twisted picture it paints is far from fun for the whole family, but the extraordinary payoff it delivers is as rich with its own off-kilter holiday spirit as any other Christmas movie. Provided you’re of age and open mind, this almost certainly will be the most unique new holiday film you see this season. In English and Finnish with English subtitles.
Extras: Two shorts, “Rare Exports Inc.” and “Rare Exports Inc.: The Official Safety Instructions,” that led to the creation of this film. Also: Three-behind-the-scenes features, production photo gallery and an entire second feature film, 1964′s “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”
An Invisible Sign (PG-13, 2010, MPI Home Video)
When her mathematician father (John Shea) suddenly took ill, Mona (played by Bailee Madison and eventually Jessica Alba) found comfort in the numbers he taught her to love. She certainly didn’t find it in people, which is how she stumbled clumsily into adulthood and similarly tripped and fell into an elementary school math teacher job she had no desire to take and almost certainly no business taking. The terrifyingly rowdy children who greet her on day one certainly don’t ease these concerns. If you’re wondering whether we’re headed for “Stand and Deliver” or “Beautiful Mind” country next, just put the map away, because where “An Invisible Sign” heads next is weirder and more easily misunderstood than either of those destinations. One could even argue, following a scene that sees blood drawn for reasons that won’t be spoiled here, that the movie is a bit of a mess. But beneath the human calamity on the surface is a very clear and perfectly relatable story about people — Mona, her students, her dad and her own former math teacher (J.K. Simmons) — whose desire to connect with other people isn’t nearly as hard to understand as the occasionally awkward path they take toward doing so. “Sign” doesn’t always make it easy to get to the heart of what it’s saying, but it means awfully well, and if you’ve ever been charmed by someone whose intentions belie their methods, there’s an excellent chance you’ll find a soft spot for the odd bunch you meet here. No extras.
Cars 2 (G, 2011, Disney)
Even the Globetrotters lose to the Generals now and then, and Michael Jordan eventually clanged a dunk off the rim. So if you’re a realist, you knew it was a mere matter of time before Pixar took a shot and air-balled it. Fortunately, that blunder happens in a sequel to what previously was its weakest effort and not a new story with fresh potential. On one level, “Cars 2″ is exactly what you expect — another challenge for Lightning McQueen, more racing, and a whole lot more (too much, really) of Mater, the tow truck who is Pixar’s answer to Jar Jar Binks but also the closest thing the “Cars” movies have to a real character. But the other half of “Cars 2″ — a spy story, machine guns and explosions aplenty (how did this get a G rating?), the sabotage of an alternative fuel company (kids love that stuff, right?) — is pretty out of left field, and not in a pleasant way at all. “Cars 2″ upholds Pixar’s standard of visual brilliance, and all that racing and shooting at least looks awesome. But the script and everything inside it is devoid of ingenuity. Kids who can deal with the gunfire might enjoy it simply for how good it looks, but adults expecting to laugh and be moved will find surprisingly few opportunities to do so.
Extras: Animated shorts “Air Mater” and “Hawaiian Vacation,” director commentary and a World Tour feature that collects deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes features, image galleries and more and themes them by country.
Water for Elephants (PG-13, 2011, Fox)
In case today’s your first day on Earth, you should probably know that some books remain best experienced as books than movies. And while “Water for Elephants” holds up reasonably well as a movie, you need not even glimpse at the book to realize the story of Jacob (Robert Pattinson) — a veterinary student who serendipitously ends up working at a traveling circus when the Great Depression and a familial tragedy join forces to drop-kick his best-laid plans off a cliff — is best told on paper. “Elephant” is visually vibrant, and on top of being crucial to the story, Rosie the elephant is a real treat to watch. Furthermore, the forbidden romance between Jacob and Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) — who pulls additional duty as star of the show and wife of mercurial ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz) — is classically Hollywood. But “classic” sometimes is just a nicer word for “predictable,” and “Elephant” has a tendency to drag when it’s obvious where the story is slowly headed. In book form, these bits of downtime give “Elephants” a golden opportunity to lose itself in details and perspective that are more the domain of that medium. But on film, with those details often impossible to translate efficiently, the stall often feels simply like a stall, leaving “Elephants” as something best enjoyed as a companion piece than the definitive presentation.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.
Tabloid (R, 2010, Sundance Selects)
Your respective thirst or intolerance for the current tabloid golden (or dark) age will likely dictate whether Errol Morris’ latest documentary is enthralling entertainment or worth barely a shrug. “Tabloid” revisits the life of Joyce McKinney, a former pageant queen whose fame arises from her (alleged) kidnapping of the Mormon missionary she loved and the (alleged) sexual coercion that took place in a remote cottage shortly after. Joyce deemed it a rescue from religious brainwashing; the British tabloid press called it criminal sexual enslavement and painted her as a prostitute of the most prolific order. “Tabloid,” for its part, lets Joyce and her adversaries each tell their sides of the story more than 30 years after it happened. The result is entertaining — in part because of how bizarre the story (allegedly) is, in part because of how crazy and devoted everyone remains to their respective versions of the truth. For that same reason, “Tabloid” also frustrates, because it ultimately goes nowhere past entertainment. The man at the center of the story has refused to tell his side of it, and without him to help set the record straight, what are we doing here if not using rusty bows to sling bent arrows? The entertainment factor is high enough to carry “Tabloid,” which catches a fun second wind with a wholly different story in the last act, but if you have a history with Joyce’s story and are hungry for answers, the fridge is as bare as it has been for decades. No extras — which is a shame, because it’d be fun to hear some fallout from Joyce’s very public dissatisfaction with how the film turned out.