AMELIE (2001). After making his mark with the delightfully deranged films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet made the ill-fated mistake of going Hollywood by overseeing the disappointing Alien: Resurrection. Amelie found Jeunet back in his element: as the creator of enchanting, quirky comedies that, like their central characters, march to their own (off)beat. An international sensation upon its release, Amelie is an absolutely disarming piece about an eccentric young woman (irresistible Audrey Tautou) who takes it upon herself to improve the lives of those around her. Her methods are unorthodox but effective, yet in the midst of her busybody schedule, she slowly realizes her own life could use some assistance when it comes to romance. On paper, Amelie doesn't sound much different than Emma, Hello, Dolly! or Chocolat (three other works about matchmakers unlocking their own passions), but Jeunet and co-writer Guillaume Laurant never run with the conventional, preferring instead to pack their movie with unexpected literalizations (when Amelie spots her intended, she actually dissolves in a puddle of water), wildly original comic set pieces (keep your eye on that garden gnome), and the sort of touching asides that will bring sighs of recognition from appreciative viewers. This nabbed five Oscar nominations, including Best Foreign Language Film; unfairly overlooked was Yann Tiersen for his wonderful score.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Jeunet; a 13-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; a 25-minute Q&A with Jeunet; a 6-minute Q&A with Jeunet and his cast; Tautou's screen test; a 13-minute piece on the film's visuals; and a gallery of French poster concepts.
ARTHUR (2011). Here's the dirty secret about 1981's Arthur: It's no classic. So the fact that Hollywood has dared to serve up a remake is hardly an earthshaking scandal; after all, it's not like somebody foolishly decided to remake Citizen Kane or The Godfather or Psycho (oops; scratch that last one). The result is that the new Arthur is a minor guilty pleasure, a freewheeling comedy that offers a fair number of laughs for those who haven't yet grown tired of Russell Brand (a rapidly shrinking demographic, admittedly). Brand is (dare I say it?) the equal of Dudley Moore, who enjoyed a career high mark (and an Oscar nomination) for the original but whose luster dimmed once it became apparent that he tackled every role as if he were portraying a drunk. For his part, Brand draws upon his own party-animal status to play the childlike millionaire, a perpetually inebriated ne'er-do-well who's blackmailed into agreeing to marry a strong-willed socialite (Jennifer Garner) but instead finds love with a sweet girl (Greta Gerwig) from the wrong side of the tracks. Certainly, the best component of the original was John Gielgud's hilarious, Oscar-winning turn as Arthur's droll butler, Hobson. Here, the character has been reconfigured as Arthur's long-suffering nanny, and while Helen Mirren conveys the role's requisite bite, she simply doesn't make the same impact as her predecessor. Also detrimental to the film is its lurch toward contemporary political correctness (the '81 model was cheerfully, unapologetically rude), most obvious in the dreary attempts to show Arthur learning about the dangers of alcoholism and the joys of a hard day's work. These sequences prove to be a real drag; like its protagonist, Arthur is at its best when making a spectacle of itself.
Blu-ray extras include an 11-minute making-of-piece; 10 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes; and a 2-minute gag reel.
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS (2008). Movies about the Holocaust seem to automatically earn R ratings, yet perhaps because it's based on a novel (by John Boyne) that was originally targeted to teen readers, this one escaped with a PG-13. That's the appropriate rating, I think, since children who can handle (and learn from) the material shouldn't be denied the chance to see it. The film is told from the viewpoint of a young German lad who unwittingly has a front-row seat to the horrors instigated by the Nazi regime during World War II. Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield, just perfect) is saddened when his father, a Nazi officer (David Thewlis), moves the family from Berlin to a remote country estate. Bored and lonely, Bruno defies his parents' orders and checks out what his mother (Vera Farmiga) has told him is a farm, a mysterious place where all the prisoners wear pajamas and billowing smoke from the chimneys constantly blackens the sky. There, he strikes up a friendship with Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish boy residing on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Credibility takes a serious beating in this picture, which is acceptable since this is clearly intended as a fable about how hatred can destroy even the most innocent among us. Bruno's naiveté provides the picture with its initial childlike charm, yet the movie is complicated enough to explore the conflicting emotions among the adult characters. But even in its lighter moments, it never downplays the horror of the situation, and the devastating ending is potent enough to affect even those viewers who write it off as nothing more than a sensationalist stunt.
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