June 2010

The Road  •  Collapse  •  Tooth Fairy  •  Mary and Max

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger

The Road

The Road dvd coverCormac McCarthy’s award-winning novel The Road is almost unbearably bleak. Set in an America devastated by an unspecified disaster (possibly nuclear), it follows a father and son as they travel across the ravaged landscape, searching for hope, which may not exist.

The movie version, directed by John Hillcoat (The Proposition), doesn’t back away from McCarthy’s vision, which may explain why its release was held up for a year and it got left out during awards season. There are faint rays of hope here and there, but what little  relief the audience gets comes from the relationship between the lead  characters, played by a terrific Viggo Mortensen and newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee. The tenderness of their bond makes the film’s intensity easier to handle, even if it’s hard to understand the father’s determination to keep them both alive in such boundlessly horrible circumstances.

Brilliant as it often is, The Road descends into schmaltz at the end, taking a somewhat oblique reference from the book and turning it into melodrama. Toning that down — along with the overblown musical score — would have brought The Road to near perfection. Dark, depressing,  emotionally wrenching perfection.

Extras: Commentary by Hillcoat; deleted scenes; a making-of doc. (R) Rating: 4 —LL


Collapse dvd coverSince the economic meltdown of 2008, there’s been a proliferation documentaries and books indicating that a more profound disaster is just around the corner. When former Los Angeles cop Michael Ruppert, the subject of Collapse, is making the predictions, however, they seem eerily credible. Despite the way he unsettlingly devours cigarettes, Ruppert can explain credit default swaps and why they floundered better than any pundit on CNBC or Fox Business.

For years, Ruppert has been writing newspaper articles and newsletters warning of situations that, in some cases, have come to pass. He explains with astonishing clarity how our incurable dependence on petroleum, which is in finite supply, will lead to the collapse of civilization because our economic systems are based on the false concept of continuous growth. With limited resources and a monetary system that he considers symbolic, it’s no wonder that Ruppert spends more of his time discussing how to adapt to the upcoming catastrophe instead of trying to prevent it. As far as he’s concerned, the latter is impossible.

Because Ruppert is the only voice heard through the film, it’s fortunate that he’s far from a typical fear monger. He dismisses typical partisan labels and isn’t trying to shill for bogus survivalist products. While his confidence in his findings is as unsettling as the data itself, Ruppert is also sometimes moved to tears at the potential impact of some the assertions he’s making.

Director Chris Smith, who gave us the comic documentaries American Movie and The Yes Men, takes an understandably more sober tone this time around, and he also poses some challenging questions to Ruppert that the former cop harshly scoffs at. At the end of the film Smith indicates that Ruppert has a troubled life of his own, but the writer also warns viewers that Ted Williams was possibly the greatest hitter in baseball even if he only made it to base 40 percent of the time. Even if only 2/5 of Ruppert’s conclusions are correct, the results won’t be good for anyone.

Extras: The outtakes are essential viewing and, in some cases, could have been included in the 80-minute film without harming its flow. They reveal Ruppert admitting predictions that have thankfully been wrong and incidents in his life that have influenced his thinking. There’s also an update where Ruppert reveals how his own life has improved greatly since the success of the documentary but that the law of supply and demand can’t be averted. (N/R) Rating: 4. —DL

Tooth Fairy

Tooth Fairy dvd coverDwayne “formerly The Rock” Johnson is has easily made the smoothest transition from the wrestling mat to the big screen. Charming and  smart, he’s also got natural comic timing, which has enabled him to steal movies from more experienced actors (witness Be Cool or Get Smart). Lately, Johnson has taken up family films, humiliating himself for the enjoyment of kids everywhere.

He does so with gusto in Tooth Fairy, as a professional hockey player whose anti-fantasy attitude gets him sentenced to community service by the actual Tooth Fairy organization.  Running around in wings and a tutu, Johnson finally learns the value of belief and wonder, while hiding his new identity from his girlfriend (Ashley Judd) and her kids.

Macho guys making fools of themselves is a staple of Hollywood comedy, and Johnson seems to be having fun with it. He gets backup from the likes of Julie Andrews, Billy Crystal and British comedian Stephen Merchant, making Tooth Fairy a textbook example of how a great cast can make an otherwise terrible movie worth watching. If Johnson would start reading the scripts before he signs on for these, he might actually find something worthy of his talents — and his co-stars’.

Extras: A kid-oriented workout feature; a sing-along with Johnson and Merchant; the Blu-Ray has a commentary by director Michael Lembeck, a making-of doc, deleted scenes, and a gag reel. (PG). Rating: 2 —LL

Mary and Max

mary and max dvd coverThis oddball stop-motion animated entry from Australia is disturbing and definitely not for tots, but at the same time it manages to be more amusing and touching than a lot of stateside toons. The latest entry from Oscar-winning writer-director-designer Adam Elliot tells the story of an eight-year-old girl named Mary Daisy Dinkle (Toni Collette) who tries to escape from her bleak existence with an alcoholic mother and a distant father by randomly writing a stranger in New York named Max Jerry Horowitz (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

While Max shares Mary’s soul crushing loneliness, he’s an odd choice for a pen pal because he’s 44 and has troubling neuroses. Because he’s got Asperger’s Syndrome, he often types about things that most middle-age men wouldn’t say to a child, like a long accounts of how he has been losing his personal battle of the bulge.

Despite the difference in their ages and the physical distance between them, the two become each other’s closest friend over a course of 20 years. While there are lots of sordid subjects lurking in Mary and Max, the film succeeds because it’s primarily an account of how people can have meaningful friendships even if they initially seem mismatched.

Elliot and his crew have an astonishing eye for detail. The story starts in the 1970s, and you can spot period books and props in the characters hands. The color schemes are also fascinating. New York is presented in black-and-white save for the red of the characters’ tongues, and Mary’s world has muted colors with an emphasis on brown. It seems she’s obsessed with the hue of her own birthmark.

Incidentally, American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman recorded his lines through a computer hookup because it would have cost the modest production too much money to transport him to Australia. Considering his typically fine work here, his casting was worth the gamble.

Extras: A commentary track, alternate scenes, a hilariously tongue-in-cheek making of segment and Elliot’s entertainingly warped Oscar-winning short Harvie Krumpet. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL

Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.