Pick Of The Week: New
The Queen Of Versailles (Magnolia)
Orlando-based timeshare billionaire David Siegel became Orlando-based timeshare former billionaire David Siegel when the housing bubble burst and suddenly people couldn’t splurge on vacation destinations they couldn’t really afford anyway. Lauren Greenfield’s fascinating documentary The Queen Of Versailles catches the Siegels, David and his larger-than-life spouse Jackie, struggling to curb a lifestyle of gaudy excess, epitomized by their a yet-to-be-completed 90,000 square-foot mansion that would have been the largest single-family home in America. The Siegels are easy to caricature, but Greenfield treats their collapsing fortunes with nuance and finds, in Jackie, a figure of both stunning obliviousness and resilient spirit. (David, on the other hand, is a miser of Dickensian proportions.)
Pick Of The Week: Retro
Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy Of Life (Criterion)
In the early ’70s, Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini brought the libertine spirit of the times to bear on three adaptations of classic medieval literature, filling them with sex, bawdy humor, and commentary on contemporary social mores. The new Criterion box set Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy Of Life includes 1971’s The Decameron, 1972’s The Canterbury Tales, and 1974’s Arabian Nights, all of which are a deliberate affront to arthouse audiences, but also have the lushness expected from ace collaborators like production designer Dante Ferretti and composer Ennio Morricone. The special features contain three documentaries, scholarly visual essays, deleted scenes, and new interviews with Ferretti and Morricone.
Don’t Break The Seal
The Watch (Fox)
The stars were never aligned for The Watch, which was once called Neighborhood Watch until the Trayvon Martin shooting took the hilarity out of the concept of overzealous neighborhood watch guys. It was especially unfair because the film pivots quickly from that premise into a Ghostbusters knockoff, as a quartet of suburban dudes work to fend off an alien invasion. But the result is closer to Evolution than the Bill Murray comedy classic, a strained mix of comedy and special effects that finds stars Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn coasting on their overly familiar screen personas. (Less familiar: Richard Ayoade, who gets all the good lines.) It’s also a notably shameless plug for Costco and its amazing, alien-obliterating products. Deleted scenes, a gag reel, and making-of bits are included on the DVD/BD.
Brave (Disney): Though Pixar’s latest didn’t quite live up to the impossible standards set by the Toy Story movies, Wall-E, The Incredibles, and other instant classics, it represents a strong corrective to Disney princess stories where the heroines, no matter how tough, eventually yield to the love of a swarthy prince. Brave is about mother-daughter relationships and a young woman’s freedom to choose her own destiny, whether that involves a man or not. That’s progress.
Don Winslow’s bestseller about a pair of high-end, boutique pot dealers from California getting challenged by a vicious Mexican cartel may stuffed with clichés and overwrought language (e.g. “wargasms”), but it’s one hell of a ride. It would seem impossible to screw up, but Oliver Stone’s mediocre adaptation does its damnedest.
Pixar Short Films Collection Vol. 2 (Disney)
The shorts before Pixar features are often every bit as good as the movies that follow, so it’s nice to have them all in one place, rather than having to find them piecemeal on other DVDs. This compilation covers late 2007 to the present, starting with “Your Friend The Rat” from the Ratatouille home video release and ending with the Cars supplement “Time Travel Mater.” Full review coming next week.
Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (MGM)
Why do the time-traveling shenanigans of Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) and Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) continue to fire the imaginations of moviegoers 23 years later? Nostalgia may be part of it, but credit is also due to the affability of its stars and Joan Of Arc jazzercising.
Vamps (Anchor Bay)
The reunion of Amy Heckerling and Alicia Silverstone, the director and star of the beloved ‘90s Jane Austen reworking Clueless, would seem to be a momentous occasion. But Vamps, a light and gag-filled Borscht Belt comedy about vampire roomies in New York, made all of $500 on opening weekend. Too bad, because it’s disarmingly silly and sweet, with Silverstone and Krysten Ritter in fine form as coffin buddies who would rather drink rats’ blood with a straw than feast on humans.
Made at the height of his career, Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend depicts the collapse of civilization through the journey of a greedy, possibly murderous bourgeois couple who travel across a countryside that has fallen into chaos. It also features the most famous shot in Godard’s canon, an eight-minute track across an endless traffic jam. Full review coming next week.
2 Days In New York (Magnolia)
Writer/director/star Julie Delpy follows up her modest indie hit 2 Days In Paris with a fish-out-of-water comedy about a family of bickering Parisians that descend on Delpy and her put-upon husband (Chris Rock). The A.V. Club’s Tasha Robinson liked Paris’ Woody Allen-inspired neurotic comedy, but finds the sequel too sour, with “the stable of sniping couples and relatives openly hateful in ways that defy comedy.”
Astonishing X-Men Collection (Shout! Factory)
A compilation of animated versions of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s X-Men series may sound amazing in principle, but the four lame “motion comics” included here—“Gifted,” “Dangerous,” “Torn,” and “Unstoppable”—are significantly less exciting.
Pearl Jam Twenty (Sony)
Access is both an asset and a liability in Cameron Crowe’s two-hour tribute to the venerable Seattle grunge rock band, which spans back to footage from before Pearl Jam even existed and Crowe was able to recognize a movement in its infancy. While the documentary is a little too fan-friendly, The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray appreciates how the film gets into the band’s “struggle with maintaining artistic credibility while selling millions.”
Dark Horse (Virgil)
Since scandalizing the indie world with Welcome To The Dollhouse and Happiness—to say nothing of his Letterman appearances—director Todd Solondz has seen interest in his career decline over the years, as each new film seemed like a repurposing of the same material. Dark Horse isn’t exactly a fresh start, but it’s Solondz’s most compelling effort in years, the story of an overgrown child (Jordan Gelber) and the emotionally damaged loner (Selma Blair) he tries to court.
The Island President (First Run)
In 2008, Mohamed Nasheed of Madives, bolstered by his role in taking down the country’s dictatorial president in favor of democratic reforms, took over the presidency. But Jon Shenk’s documentary finds Nasheed dealing with the more immediate problem of climate change and its ruinous effects on the coastline and fishing trade of his low-lying nation. The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray finds the documentary “fascinating and frustrating” in how it reveals “international politics to be even more polarizing and mired in bureaucracy than local politics.”
Natural Selection (Cinema Guild)
Known to most moviegoers as Ed Helms’ haranguing wife in The Hangover, Rachael Harris thrives in the far richer role of a Christian housewife who has her faith tested in Natural Selection, an unusually thoughtful indie about a woman who reconciles her faith with its consequences. The A.V. Club’s Alison Willmore thinks “it’d be easy to thread this story through with condescension, but instead, it’s modest and compassionate, a midlife awakening for a woman long out of touch with her own needs.”