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INTO THE WILD
Based on the book by John Krakauer, Into The Wild is director Sean Penn’s drama about the real life travels of Christopher McCandless (an amazing performance by Emile Hirsch). We follow him as he shuns a privileged life for one of adventure, struggle and danger out in the wild. The film is visually incredible and a good reason for fans to own it on Blu Ray, but the story does ramble on a little too long and fails in its attempt to portray this kid as a hero, when he is more likely a loon. Still, nature lovers will enjoy the journey.
This is another inspirational sports flick along the lines of Hoosiers or Remember The Titans to add to your collection. It tells the true story of former basketball hot-shot Ken Carter who returns to coach at his lower-class high school. He tries to teach the team respect for the sport as well as themselves by drawing up a contract that requires them to maintain a 2.3 GPA, sit in the front of class and wear a tie on game day. As the season goes on the team starts a winning streak, but their grades also begin to slide. Maintaining that education is the highest priority, Coach Carter holds his end of the bargain by locking up the gym and cancelling practice and games until the students raise their grades. This causes a media frenzy with students, parents and the school board getting upset. Will they force Coach Carter to allow the games or will the students take it upon themselves to get their grades up? Despite the predictable ending, Samuel L. Jackson gives a strong performance and the message is a good one. The Blu Ray looks good (the print had some artifacts on it), but the sound mix is great. A particularly interesting special feature besides a music video and deleted scenes is the documentary “The Man behind the Movie” about the real life Ken Carter. Sports fans may want to own this, but most people should at least give it a look as a rental.
OLD SCHOOL (UNRATED)
The 1978 teen comedy Animal House sparked a wave of low-budget college comedies about drugs, sex and rebellion against authority. Most of the copycats failed because they lacked characters college kids could somewhat relate to, but Old School at least comes close. The story is about a guy named Mitch (Luke Wilson) who just lost his girlfriend and is about to lose his house, so his married friends (Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn) have the idea of turning the house into a fraternity to relive their college glory days before the house is gone. All three actors manage to create some likable (though pathetic) three-dimensional characters that provide us with a lot of humor. Will Ferrel’s portrayal of the aging Frank offers some interesting insight, while also offering some go-for-broke zaniness that had me rolling with laughter. The picture looks good on Blu Ray and the audio is basically the typical stereo mix found in most comedies (rear speakers rarely used), and the special features (while good) are what we’ve seen before on the DVD release. There is an audio commentary with director Todd Phillips and the star-studded cast. There is also Will Ferrel’s “Inside The Actor’s Studio” spoof as well as some funny deleted scenes and bloopers. Overall, this is a tastelessly fun comedy that college students (and those who wish they still were) will enjoy.
THE HEARTBREAK KID
The Farrelly Brothers are the masters of gross-out comedy. In this film they re-teamed with their There’s Something About Mary star Ben Stiller to deliver another twisted tail of a character struggling in love. After years of sitting at the single’s table at weddings, he finally meets a girl named Lila (played by the beautiful and quirky Malin Akerman) who seems too-good-to-be-true. It’s only after they marry, while on their honeymoon, that her true colors come through. She actually volunteers for her job, is in debt, and has a problem with her nose that causes severe nosebleeds. This leads Ben Stiller’s character Eddie to reconsider things with Lila and start pursuing another woman named Miranda he meets while on his honeymoon. Unfortunately, the laughs aren’t any funnier in high definition. A few scenes will have you rolling, but ultimately the story’s gross-out, but predictable humor may only justify a rental rather than owning for repeat viewing.
I miss the late Chris Farley. This was essentially his first lead role in a film (after many smaller film roles and success on Saturday Night Live) and he is in top form. This story follows daddy’s boy Tommy and his smarmy friend Richard in their road trip across the USA as they try to sell enough break pads to keep his now deceased father’s company in operation. The interaction between Chris Farley and co-star David Spade ranks up there with other comedy duos like Laurel & Hardy. Every scene has at least one nugget of hilarious dialogue such as “Fat guy in a little coat” or “shut up Richard!” For a comedy, there is also a lot of heart about this kid who misses his dad and his friend Richard who doesn’t know how to be a good friend. The Blu Ray contains an audio commentary from director Peter Segal along with four featurettes. An enjoyable piece was “Growing Up Farley” that has his two brothers sharing childhood stories about Chris. Also, there are deleted and extended scenes that show Chris Farley’s improv skill. This movie was a favorite of mine in high school and is still memorable today.
Saturday Night Live actor Andy Samberg stars as Rod Kimble, an aspiring stuntman trying to emulate and live up to the reputation of his father, who was the hidden genius behind Evel Knievel. To make his father issues worse, he is constantly getting beat up by his stepfather who refuses to respect him until he can fight back. When the stepfather Frank discovers he is suffering from a life-threatening illness, Rod hatches a plan to sell tickets to a death-defying hot rod stunt in order to raise money to provide an operation that would save his stepfather, all so he can have one last chance to beat him up and earn his respect. Unfortunately, at 87 minutes, this film feels very long. The opening scene has Rod falling off a moped and running his face into the ground. A variation on this unfunny joke is repeated numerous times in the film. The transfer to Blu Ray looks average. Special features include an audio commentary with the director as well as deleted scenes and outtakes. There is little reason to suggest you buy this “comedy” that fails to produce any real laughs.