Editor’s Notes: The Dresser, LEGO: Gotham City Breakout, No Men Beyond This Point, Stressed to Kill, Van Gogh, With Child, & The Preppie Connection will be released on their respective formats July 12th.
The Dresser (Anchor Bay), starring Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins, is the second screen adaptation of the play by Ronald Harwood. During a night at a small English regional theatre during World War II, a troupe of touring actors is about to stage a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Though the night is filled with the sounds of war — bombs falling and air raid sirens wailing — the curtain is going up in one hour. However, Sir (Hopkins), the actor playing Lear, is nowhere to be found. His dresser, Norman (McKellen), does his best to assure the company that the show will go on as scheduled. As the minutes tick by, Sir reflects on his lifelong career accomplishments and seeks to resolve shaky friendships with those in the company before the final curtain.
This marks the first performance featuring both Hopkins and McKellen, and it’s sheer pleasure watching these two veterans. Though the film doesn’t open up the stage play’s action much, the performances are sufficiently riveting to sustain our attention. The plot works both as a literal look at an acting troupe dealing with myriad problems all in the service of putting on a performance and as a parallel to the play being staged. Both Lear and Sir look back over their lives, pondering their worth and the effect they have had on those close to them. As we watch Norman get Sir ready for his performance, we see not merely an actor and his employee, but a deep relationship carved over many years.
The DVD release contains two featurettes that chronicle the movie’s journey from its theatrical origin (From Stage to Screen) and the relationship of the main characters (Master & Assistant).
LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes - Justice League: Gotham City Breakout
LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes - Justice League: Gotham City Breakout (Warner Home Video) is an animated feature in which Batgirl and Nightwing take Batman on a long overdue trip to visit Madame Mantis, a mentor from his formative years, leaving Gotham City under the watchful eye of the Justice League. However, nothing goes as intended. The Bat team encounters old enemies on their adventure, and the Justice League members are overwhelmed as they discover how incredibly busy Batman is on a regular, day-to-day basis. Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing take on Bane and Deathstroke while the Justice League, assisted by a few Teen Titans, stave off an assault on Gotham City by many of Arkham Asylum’s most villainous inmates.
The animation style here is an extended sales pitch for LEGOs (Warner’s producing partner). All characters have that distinctive Lego square-character look. The voice talent is in most cases forced and exaggerated, making the film more a kids’ flick than a serious installment in the DC canon of super heroes. Having grown up with Superman, Batman, Robin, The Joker, and other DC characters, I’m used to seeing them portrayed dramatically rather than comically. Even the so-called villains here are cute and funny rather than intimidating. Kids will probably enjoy the ample action and stylized personifications of well-known comic book characters.
The unrated 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Limited Edition Gift Set comes packaged with a Nightwing Lego mini-figure. A single-disc DVD edition is also available with the Nightwing mini-figure.
No Men Beyond This Point
No Men Beyond This Point (Sony Pictures Entertainment) is a mockumentary that imagines a world where, since 1953, women have been able to reproduce without men and they are no longer giving birth to male babies. Now, over 60 years later, this deadpan film follows the youngest man still alive — 37-year-old Andrew Myers (Patrick Gilmore), who works as a caretaker for a family of women. Though it’s not the best job in the world, it beats living in one of the men’s sanctuaries and eating estrogen-laced pork chops to suppress their desire to revolt. Andrew finds himself at the center of a battle to prevent men from going extinct.
Director Mark Sawers has put together a hit-and-miss picture that starts with an intriguing premise. Several of the set pieces are clever, but there are far too many “talking head” segments that fail to fully exploit cinematic technique. The movie’s spoof archival footage sequences are smart and very funny, but sustaining the central idea is tricky, and the film’s 80-minute running time overstays its welcome.
The unrated widescreen DVD contains no bonus features.
Stressed to Kill
“Stressed to Kill” (MVD Visual) stars Bill Oberst, Jr., as Bill, a constantly angry middle-aged guy who suffers a near-fatal heart attack and is ordered by his doctor to identify and eliminate stresses from his life. So Bill begins killing the people who upset him. His weapon: poison darts. Pretty soon, Bill’s blood pressure drops and he begins to enjoy life again, but complicating his new lease on life is a cop (Armand Assante) who begins to close in on Bill after he connects him with the “Dartman” killings sweeping the city.
Reminiscent of Death Wish, Stressed to Kill has a vigilante justice plot with a twist. Though Bill seeks out some criminals, he also kills merely annoying or inconsiderate people. As he eliminates them one by one, he does so content in the belief that he’s following his cardiologist’s orders. The film works as an action drama as well as a clever commentary on modern-day stress, which most viewers can relate to. If the film exaggerates the remedy for stress for dramatic effect, it highlights the fact that there is a great deal of pent-up, seething rage among us.
There are no bonus features on the DVD release.
Van Gogh (Cohen Film Collection) is Maurice Pialat’s look at the last 60 days of the artist’s life. After leaving an asylum, Vincent van Gogh (Jacques Dutronc) settles in Auvers-sur-Oise in the home of Dr. Gachet (Gerard Sety), an art lover and patron. Vincent keeps painting despite conflicts with his brother, Theo (Bernard Le Coq), and his failing mental health. He has an affair with Marguerite (Alexandra London), his host’s daughter. However, she soon realizes that he doesn’t love her; art is his true love.
Dutronc plays the artist as good-humored, opinionated, and deeply troubled. He is dependent on his brother, an art dealer who doesn’t believe in Vincent’s art. Mentally fragile, Vincent pursues sex, booze, and excitement. We see Vincent swing from depression to elation with amazing speed.
This film is very different from Lust For Life, Hollywood’s treatment of Van Gogh’s life, starring Kirk Douglas as the artist. Lower-key and without the broad strokes and melodramatic scenes of the Douglas film, Van Gogh gives what appears a more realistic — if less engaging — portrait of the artist’s final days. Director Pialat doesn’t follow the usual trajectory of movie biopic. There aren’t many scenes of the artist painting. When we do see him with brush in hand, Dutronc’s Van Gogh is passionately involved, compelled to paint yet frustrated that the canvases will never be worth any money.
Bonus features on the Blu-ray release include an interview with actor Jacques Dutronc, interview with actor Bernard Le Coq; interview with cinematographer Emmanuel Machuel; deleted scenes; and trailers. The film is in French, with English subtitles.
With Child (MVD Visual), written and directed by Titus Heckel, is a comedy-drama about a grieving widowed father trying to raise his child as best he can while navigating — not always smoothly — through a new romantic relationship.
After his wife dies, blue-collar construction worker Auden Price (Kerry van der Griend) is left to care for his 4-month-old daughter, Riley. Against the advice of his overbearing sister-in-law, Karen (Lori Kokotailo), Auden decides to go it alone. After trying to drum up some work, Auden finally lands a job renovating a basement. His new boss, Petra Dell (Leslie Lewis), allows him to bring Riley to work but he is soon overwhelmed and often unwittingly puts Riley in danger while on the job. Petra takes advantage of Auden’s vulnerable state and strikes up an awkward romance with him just as Karen files for full custody.
This is the kind of film that piles one conflict after another on top of its protagonist, complicating his life to a point where you feel he’s going to snap. The circumstances are not uncommon, though movies have traditionally favored stories about single mothers struggling with day-to-day challenges. It’s novel and fascinating to see the roles reversed. Auden is a down-to-earth, unassuming guy who’s beset by a myriad of responsibilities all at once. He’s a sympathetic character because his heart is in the right place though his hormones might be out of whack when Petra makes her moves. With single-parent households more common now than in previous decades, the film is contemporary and moving.
There are no bonus features on the unrated DVD release.
The Preppie Connection
The Preppie Connection (IFC Films), based on an actual 1980s news story, focuses on Toby Hammel (Thomas Mann, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), a middle-class kid who lands a scholarship to a posh Connecticut prep school. Though he lives at home and has a secret hatred of his snobbish schoolmates, he wants to fit in with them. Among this group is Alexis (Lucy Fry) and obnoxious, snooty Ellis (Logan Huffman). Toby insinuates himself into their hard-partying circle with marijuana and cocaine, and even takes the rap for a campus drug bust in which they were all involved. His friendship extends to Fidel (Guillermo Arribas), an ambassador’s son, with whom he goes home repeatedly to Colombia and — unbeknownst to Fidel — smuggles large quantities of cocaine back into the States.
As the central character, Mann’s Toby never convinces us he has the smarts or courage to pull off — repeatedly — the smuggling of large amounts of cocaine. It also defies reason that customs agents would never think to check carefully a young male coming in from Colombia. Joseph Castelo’s direction is uninspired, and most of the cast looks as if they’re going through the motions, without any real connection to their roles. The movie has the look of a low-budget made-for-TV flick, with few exceptional scenes, no inventive cinematography, and a script that doesn’t hold any surprises.
Bonus features on the R-rated widescreen DVD include commentary with director/co-writer Joe Castelo; commentary with actor Logan Huffman; making-of featurette; and trailer.