ANTICHRIST (2009). Lars von Trier's Antichrist so offended one of the juries at Cannes that its members gave it an "anti-award" for its dire views of humanity in general and women in specificity. Frankly, I think the jury was simply grandstanding, but there's no denying that this is one troubling — and troubled — work. The main characters are simply called He (Willem Dafoe) and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and the film opens with them making love even as their infant child is plunging to his death from an open window high above the snow-covered street. Both are wracked with grief, but She also grapples with feelings of guilt, explaining that she feels responsible for the tragedy. A therapist by trade, He attempts to analyze her, finally deciding that they need to leave the city and retreat to their isolated cabin in the woods. The first half of the movie, the city half, is one long haul, a prolonged bull session between two people experiencing marital discord. Ingmar Bergman's superb Scenes from a Marriage offered a couple that felt real as they dealt with their circumstances in a raw and often uncomfortable manner, but von Trier's pair never rise to that level, merely functioning as mouthpieces for the auteur's arch noodling. Once the spouses reach their cabin, the film picks up, albeit not always in appreciable ways. Where von Trier comes closest to succeeding is in showing how unbearable grief can lead anyone to act out in bizarre and unimaginable ways. Unfortunately, this seed of a viable idea is lost as the filmmaker clumsily throws in religious parallels and awkward fantasy sequences (the appearance of a talking fox made me wonder if I was suddenly watching Fantastic Mr. Fox again) in an effort to stir the pot as much as possible. But it's a losing battle, with his chilly, self-important presentation keeping audiences at bay.
Extras in Criterion's two-disc edition include audio commentary by von Trier and film scholar Murray Smith; a 7-part, 64-minute making-of piece; over an hour of interviews with von Trier, Dafoe and Gainsbourg; and 22 minutes of footage from its Cannes world premiere.
GROWN UPS (2010). Adam Sandler's worst film since the one-two punch of Little Nicky and the inexplicably popular Big Daddy a decade ago, Grown Ups marks the umpteenth collaboration between the comedian and director Dennis Dugan. Dugan is to screen comedy what the atomic bomb was to Nagasaki, and with this film, he and ostensible writers Sandler and Fred Wolf serve up a mirthless affair in which the only people laughing are the ones on screen. In fact, that's basically the plot of the movie: As five school chums reunite 30 years later to honor the passing of their former coach, Lenny (Sandler) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. Then Eric (Kevin James) makes a bad joke and the others laugh. And so on through Kurt (Chris Rock), Marcus (David Spade) and Rob (Rob Schneider). As they're laughing, many of us watching are cringing. Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph are wasted (in arrested-development movies like these, nerdy schlubs always have hot wives), yet even these actresses don't escape the script's indignities, as evidenced by the scene in which Bello squirts Rudolph in the face with milk from her tit. Countless sequences like this one reverted me back to my own infancy, as I wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a fetal position and block out the screen.
DVD extras include a 4-minute behind-the-scenes featurette; a 4-minute gag reel; and a 7-minute piece with cast and director interviews.
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010). It's probably not a stretch to say that any movie at least 15 years old that's vaguely remembered by the general public is now called a "classic" whenever it comes up in conversation or print (Howard the Duck excepted). But make no mistake: The original 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street is hardly a classic — it wasn't even the best entry in the never-ending Freddy Krueger franchise (see 1987's A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors). But it did contain an interesting premise as well as a new horror icon in Robert Englund's demonic dream weaver. This new Nightmare, on the other hand, doesn't boast of a single thing it can call its own. Another soulless horror remake, it's dull more than anything, furthered hampered by unappealing teen protagonists (at least the original had a memorable heroine in Heather Langenkamp and a future star in Johnny Depp), clumsy direction by Samuel Bayer (there's nothing even remotely resembling a scare in this thing), a slack script full of risible moments (such as the clod who somehow falls asleep while swimming laps in the school pool!), cheesy CGI effects and, most disappointing of all, a letdown performance by the talented Jackie Earle Haley, who possesses neither Englund's enervating energy nor his way with a quip.
There are no extras on the DVD included in the Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, digital copy) sent for review.
TOY STORY 3 (2010). Threepeats may be rare in the sports world, but they're even harder to achieve in the cinematic realm. Yet here's Toy Story 3, bucking the odds and satisfying sky-high expectations to emerge as the perfect final chapter in a trilogy that's guaranteed to live on for generations (to infinity and beyond?). In this outing, Andy is set to go to college and has to decide what to do with the few remaining toys from his childhood, all stuck in a box that has been gathering dust under his bed for years. Through miscommunication, the gang ends up at a daycare center that promises to be a playhouse paradise. But things aren't quite what they seem, and Woody (Tom Hanks), ever loyal to Andy no matter the cost to his own future, plots a great escape. In most respects, this gem is careful to avoid repeating its predecessors. There are some memorable new characters (including the immaculately groomed Ken, voiced by Michael Keaton), and the four screenwriters superbly tap into the feelings all of us have encountered during our respective childhoods, when we employed our toys as a passageway to new worlds and new experiences. Toy Story 3 may look like a family film, but as it tackles issues of loss, identity and self-worth, it reveals itself as perhaps the most adult movie of the year.
DVD extras include audio commentary by director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson; Day & Night, the short that preceded Toy Story 3 during its theatrical run; a 7-minute look at creating the film's wide array of toys; a 10-minute behind-the-scenes piece with Hanks and the other voice actors; and a 5-minute featurette on the filmmaking process at Pixar.
THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS (1984) / BARBARIAN QUEEN (1985). Here's another double feature DVD from the Roger Corman's Cult Classics series, with both titles dividing their running times between sword fights and bare breasts. It takes less than 10 minutes after its opening to figure out that The Warrior and the Sorceress is a rip-off of Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars, although it goes without saying — err, typing — that star David Carradine is no Toshiro Mifune (or Clint Eastwood), and director John C. Broderick is clearly no Kurosawa (or Leone). Here, Carradine plays Kain (the same name as his Kung Fu character, albeit with a different spelling), a taciturn swordsman who stumbles across a village fought over by two different factions and decides to alternately offer his services to both sides. This OK fantasy flick takes place on a planet with twin suns, though it's unlikely that Luke Skywalker lives on the other side of the world. And yes, the rumor is true: Lead actress Maria Socas does indeed play her entire role topless. For all its mediocrity, The Warrior and the Sorceress looks like a Lord of the Rings entry when compared to Barbarian Queen. A potent "girl power" message is all that this amateurish action yarn has going for it; otherwise, this is one wretched movie, with a bride and her BFFs (all sporting decidedly 1980s hairdo's) turning into kick-ass warriors after their village is destroyed and their menfolk taken as slaves. Barbarian Queen is often amusing in its ineptitude, yet more interesting are the trivia points behind the film: 1) Corman reportedly referred to the title character as "the original Xena"; 2) the music score was co-created by James Horner, who later won two Oscars for Titanic; and 3) the lead actress was Lana Clarkson, who was fatally shot 18 years later by Phil Spector in his California home.
The only extras on the disc are deleted and extended scenes from Barbarian Queen and theatrical trailers.
The Warrior and the Sorceress: **
Barbarian Queen: *