November is a weak month for new DVDs

By Gary Clift

I haven’t seen all of the movies scheduled for release as DVDs this month. I understand “The Brave” is an admirable Disney animated film, that “ParaNorman” was a little bit of a disappointment, and that the Vince Vaughn comedy “The Watch” and “Men in Black III” were exactly the sorts of less-than-stellar entertainments one might have expected.

But given the other half-dozen former general release films which will be available for rent or purchase by the end of November, this means that “Expendables 2” is the highlight. Friends, this is a weak month for new DVDs.

No. I take that back. I’d rather see “Arthur Christmas,” last fall’s product of the British Aardman studios (who did “Wallace and Gromit” and “Chicken Run”) than I would anything else on the list. It is a comic anti-technology story.

In it, Santa’s younger son Arthur uses old fashioned methods—flying a sled pulled by reindeer—to deliver a present after the high tech methods mislaid it. Arthur is backed by “Grand Santa” (with Bill Nighy’s voice). He sees this as a proxy fight over the mindless application of new ways for the sake of their newness.

The movie is funny and imaginative and no moment in it is wasted. So it may be a kids’ Christmas movie. But it didn’t have to be much to be more amusing than were the other new videos of the month.

“Expendables 2” is an action hero movie starring old guys who used to star in action movies, including ring leader Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis (who is still successful in this genre), and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sly and his little band of mercenaries has to stop the redeployment of dangerous weapons that are being taken from a Balkans mine. Luckily Dolph Lundgren is around to provide some intentionally comic diversion.

So that’s one good movie and one OK. And then we are forced to confront “Savages,” another “Step Up” sequel, “Lawless,” and “Sparkle.”

This last is a soap opera about three sisters who have a successful Motown-ish singing group despite the disapproval of their disappointed mother (the late Whitney Houston). Some of the retro-Soul is sort of fun to listen to. The story is just another version of “The Jazz Singer,” and that was a pretty poor plot to begin with.

“Lawless” is roots music brought to the screen in the form of a Depression era bootlegger’s tale. It is about a family of hill-dwelling, liquor-delivering boys, one of whom has his throat slit but manages to get stitched up and made all better. Viewers won’t like any of the characters and will find the action to seem phony, though all of it is based on things that supposedly actually happened.

I haven’t enjoyed any of the “Step Up” movies, which are about young people making ballroom moves into competitive sport. Actually this fourth movie merges the dancing with the idea of “flash mobs” to make its young Miami dancers into a sort of Red Hat ladies of protest. What are they protesting? Real estate development. When do we want it stopped? Now.

We’ve put off our recollection of Oliver Stone’s “Savages” as long as we could. It is not a good movie. But, then, has Stone ever made a good movie? “Savages” first half hour is bad, heavy with voice-over narration introducing a series of characters we can’t like. The film’s least bad menage is a trio of drug dealers who have to fight off a hostile take-over by a fractured Mexican cartel. And after the first half hour, the action flags.

So we may have to look at classics on DVD this month rather than at new films. At least we want to avoid “Savages.” And, now that this column is over, I hope never to have to think of it ever again.

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