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DVD Releases: Burlesque, Faster, Get Low

Burlesque (on DVD March 1st): Burlesque is about the least believable small town girl in the history of small towns, Christina Aguilera, working for the least believable face in the history of faces, Cher, at the least sexy burlesque theater in the history of burlesque theaters. The only thing that saves a cliched storyline is a strong script– which makes this a shame, since the script is perhaps the weakest of the year, riddled with terrible one-liners and characters without dimension. Worst of all, as a hot-blooded male seeing a film with beautiful girls called Burlesque… I can safely say the movie is defiantly unsexy. It’s like they went out of their way to make sure every girl was as covered as possible and moved as awkwardly as can be. Every song, dance, and transition stumbles. In all honesty, I can’t think of a less successful musical in recent memory. That this movie was nominated for more Golden Globes than Razzie Awards is the craziest turn of events that I can fathom.

The plot is terribly familiar, so let’s break down what doesn’t work: Christina Aguilera can’t really act. She has a screen presence, but her performances look more like Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls than Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. Cher can act, but her face is so clownish and stiff that she gets unintentional laughter merely by appearing. Her big performance, “You Haven’t Seen The Last Of Me,” is set up to be like Jennifer Hudson’s big number in Dreamgirls, but it’s dimly lit and she can’t emote (then again, maybe the dim lighting does her a favor). Kristen Bell is so insanely hammy and miscast as the bitch– her final scene is a classic example of how to poorly act being drunk. On the plus side, Stanley Tucci is slumming it here as a fabulous gay man, but his mere presence improves the proceedings. Julianne Hough does great in a limited role, and she’ll clearly be a leading lady star one day. The guy who loves Christina, Cam Gigandet, is charming and appealing despite his horribly written role. Yet a few decent performances do nothing for the big picture: the script is atrocious, the songs are all really bad, the Chicagoesque use of the numbers is ineffective, and Aguilera screaming half of her numbers becomes really tiresome. It’s a better film than Showgirls– but Showgirls is at least more fun to watch. Burlesque is just boring.

Faster (on DVD March 1): I’ve been waiting for Dwayne Johnson a.k.a. The Rock to take his proper place on the throne as the king of action films. When I saw the trailer for Faster, when he plays a man hellbent to kill everyone who was involved in killing his brother, I was excited. (Most exciting part of the trailer: Jennifer Carpenter screaming, “I know what you’re doing! AND I HOPE YOU KILL THEM ALLLLLL!”) The problem with the film is… he barely kills anyone. In fact, there’s not that much action at all. It’s hard to complain… the film is compelling if predictable for its short run time, the acting all around is pretty strong, and there’s really nothing wrong with the film’s execution. The issue is expectation: you name your film Faster and you set up a triangle of characters pursuing one another, yet there’s not much action to speak of– one or two brief shootouts and a car chase. Hopefully this is a stepping stone for The Rock to get back to badass action films and a stepping stone for charismatic Oliver Jackson-Cohen to become the movie star that he showed flashes of becoming here.

We follow Driver (The Rock) as he leaves prison. He’s mostly silent as he leaves the facility, and when he uncovers his car at the junkyard, he finds a list on the passenger seat. He drives to the first address, walks into the crowded office building, and shoots the first man in the head. This puts Cop (Billy Bob Thornton)– yes, they’re only referred to by their occupation– on his trail. Cop is two weeks from retirement; this will be his last case. At the same time, Killer (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is a former computer mogul turned assassin, because the world bores him. He’s mastered everything, including hunting and killing people, so he lives perpetually looking for a challenge. In Driver, he’s found one: it’s revealed that Driver is an ex-bank robber who worked with his brother, until they were set up, the brother was murdered, and Driver was shot in the head. He was dead on the table, until he miraculously sat up at the hospital– “like he willed himself to live,” someone says. This is a fantastic set-up for car chases and shootouts, since they all drive great cars and all three actors are enormously charismatic. Even one of the victims, played by the always terrific Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, is very watchable: while all of these characters are familiar, they’re painted with a thick layer of moral ambiguity, keeping them interesting. Unfortunately, the action rarely comes. Why give the film an action star and all the materials for an action film and then deliver a drama? It’s a fine film, watchable and diverting enough… but it’s hard to avoid imagining a better, stronger, and yes, faster film.

Get Low (on DVD February 22nd): Aaron Schneider’s Get Low is the type of humble little film that is made or broken by its performances. It’s so low key and quaint that at times it becomes boring, even though you see its value and humanity. Still, Schneider does the smart thing and keeps his camera pointed squarely at the outstanding stars of his film: Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. Lucas Black and Sissy Spacek hold their own and do nice work, but the film belongs to the trademark deliveries and unique honesty of the main pair. It’s really hard for your film to fail when you cast two guys who would be compelling reading the phone book. They suggest so much with the mere turn of a phrase or a sideways glance. Even though we get the formula of the story, we understand the way the characters will inevitably develop, and we predict the lessons we’ll learn, Duvall and Murray keep us engaged in their characters’ arcs and little quirks in the storyline help keep it from becoming mundane. If you’re looking for something notably funny or dramatic, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a human story depicted by great actors, you’ll dig it.

Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) is a hermit with a shady past. The entire county has hearsay stories about the sins he’s committed. Still, no one knows much about him or why he’s locked himself up in his house. Strangely enough, he comes into town and asks for a funeral– even though he’s alive and wants to be present for the ceremony. He gets Frank Quinn (Bill Murray), the owner of a funeral parlor that’s going out of business, to invite everyone in town to come tell a story about him. What’s more, he’ll hold a raffle: anyone who buys a five dollar ticket gets a chance to win the considerable stretch of land he owns. Frank and his young protege Buddy (Lucas Black) set out to get everyone to come. Among those is Maddie (Sissy Spacek), who knew Felix in the old days. Schneider reveals the truth about Felix’s past very slowly, even though we suspect early what happened. The film is a little too folksy and laid-back for its own good at times, and the score felt like it was beating me over the head with its backwoods vibe. We get it: it’s a film about smalltown country folk from America’s past. Still, watching these actors play off each other is a lot of fun to watch, and in the climactic scene of the film, where Felix speaks at his own funeral, it’s easy to see how he got a Golden Globe nomination. Here’s an all-time great reminding us that he’s still doing strong interesting work. This film isn’t for those who think it sounds slow or boring– they’ll likely find it to be so. But if this style of flick is your drug of choice, you’ll get high on Get Low.

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~ by russellhainline on February 10, 2011.

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