Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: DVD Roundup: Two New Releases

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

DVD Roundup: Two New Releases

One of the Oscar nominated performances now available to watch at home is the one from Best Supporting Actress nominee, Penelope Cruz, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cruz (Volver) has never really demonstrated the full range of her talent in English-speaking roles like she has when acting in her native tongue. But Woody Allen's latest comedy finally allows her to steal the show. Here, Cruz plays Maria Elena, the volatile ex-wife to Javier Bardem's Juan Antonio. Juan Antonio has approached two young Americans, Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson), to join him in a threesome while the women summer in Barcelona. Strait-laced Vicky is taken aback while the flighty Cristina jumps at the chance for a summer romance. While things get dicey when Maria Elena returns into her ex's life, eventually a threesome is formed between Cristina and the two Spaniards, leaving Vicky full of regret at the lost opportunity for adventurous romance. Maybe because much of the film allows Cruz to speak in her native tongue often, she is at her least self-conscious. Though her character's manic depression enlivens the film's story, Allen (Match Point) wisely restrains her from overpowering the film. Her presence is always felt, though, as Juan Antonio constantly compares the titular American women to his ex-wife, or more precisely, the spectre of her that still haunts him. In a handful of scenes, we realize the destructive cycle that she and Juan Antonio are locked in, and sympathize with her for putting up with the irresponsible Lothario. Cristina, who's been living with Juan Antonio, is now forced to be gracious to their new houseguest, Maria Elena, who is recovering from a suicide attempt. In an exchange that best sums up Maria Elena, the three of them discuss Cristina's hobby, photography, while on a picnic:
Maria Elena: You take beautiful photographs. Juan Antonio: That's true. She always takes pictures that she hides from me. Cristina: That's... no... that's... that's because they're nothing. How do you know I take pictures? Maria Elena: I found them in your luggage. Cristina: You went through my luggage? Maria Elena: Of course I went through your luggage. The first night I was in the house I didn't trust you. I didn't believe you were who you said you were. I wanted to know who was really sharing the bed of my ex-husband. Cristina: What? Maria Elena: Who knew what I would find there? How could I be sure you were not going to hurt me? After all, I have thoughts of killing you.
Allen guides the rest of his cast to some charming and realistic performances, especially Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as the masochistic artist at the center of all the jealous fireworks, and Hall (Frost/Nixon) playing the typical Woody Allen stand-in (usually reserved for male actors), making Vicky one of the most enjoyable works from the director in years. If Woody Allen is a little too high-brow for your taste, then consider this next one for the geek in you. Hulk vs. is a direct-to-video trifle from Marvel Studios. The surprise is how fun and entertaining it actually is. While DC Comics has had more success capturing the feel of their comic books in their home video offerings [Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) and Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)], Marvel's attempts at the same have been hampered by their obvious goal of cashing in on upcoming live-action tie-ins. Hulk vs. is actually two movies in one. One is Hulk vs. Wolverine, and the other is Hulk vs. Thor. And while both may still be trying to lay the foundation for upcoming movies, they are both true to the Marvel books each is based on. Both movies capture the pure child-like excitement young and old fanboys look forward to when their favorite superheros are pitted in hand-to-hand combat against each other. And with little character development to slow things down, this pair of films has room to be creative in the visual arena. While neither will ever be mistaken for theatrical quality animation, the short movies are a cut above the typical Saturday morning fare. Hulk vs. and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are available today on standard DVD and Blu-ray.

1 comment:

Joel Bocko said...

I actually didn't know Cruz was nominated, but the nomination is well-deserved and makes me kind of happy, in a way the Oscars rarely do.

I used to love the X-Men cartoon as a kid. My antipathy to live-action comic book adaptations is well-known but I think I have a largely untapped fondness for animated adaptations. It may be partly to do with my uneasiness with live action trying to emulate the one-dimensionality of the page, but it's probably also tied to the tendency of cartoons to embrace the pulpiness of their comic book origins rather than try to gloss it up with a smug Pop Art veneer.