Thursday, October 6, 2011

DVD/Blu-ray: "Submarine," "Fast Five," "Jane Eyre"


Submarine (2011)
97 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

It would be easy to dismiss "Submarine" as yet another quirky, calculated coming-of-age comedy with an ironic, hipster vibe. And first-time writer-director Richard Ayoade probably worships Wes Anderson all over his bedroom walls because between his precise shots and overall deadpan attitude, he wears his influences on his sleeve. But "Submarine" is so bracingly inventive, wryly funny, understatedly sweet, and confidently directed with adolescent truth and verbal and visual wit. Think "Rushmore" in 1986, Wales with nods to "Harold and Maude." 

"We all travel underneath the radar without being detected," says our unreliable narrator, self-aware 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) who has it tough at high school from being an outcast and on the homefront from being an only child. From afar, he crushes on Jordana Bevan, (Yasmin Paige), a cynical, poker-faced girl, and tries winning her over. Since she, too, is moderately unpopular, this makes a romance with Oliver more likely. For seven months, Oliver has noticed his uptight parents are no longer happy with one another, so he tries a little intervention to save Mum and Dad's strained marriage. 

Starring in the British sitcom "The IT Crowd," Ayoade previously directed music videos, which then makes sense why there's such a delicate, arty style on screen and a measured fluidity in the editing. "Submarine" never gets too snarky or gooey but finds a steady tone in the middle that makes it irresistible. Based on the prize-winning novel by Joe Dunthorne, Ayoade's screenplay has sharp characterizations and manages to make familiar teenage anxieties ring true. The details are quite witty (Oliver knows his parents have stopped having sex based on the light dimmer in their bedroom). Roberts is smart and precocious as Oliver without being annoyingly self-conscious or too arrogant, and as Jordana, Paige is such a bluntly amusing delight that she can get away with playing moody and anti-romantic. 


The whole cast matches in terms of fast, dry delivery, even down to the adult roles (!). Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins are wonderfully on point as Oliver's sexless parents, and surprisingly aren't shoved into the background but actually figure into the story. Paddy Considine hits his mark as a New Age windbag neighbor, Oliver's mom's former flame, but a little of him goes a long way. Without relying on a lot of plot pushing, the cast and writer-director bring enough life to a coming-of-age story that actually feels fresher than most. Take a chance on "Submarine." 





Fast Five (2011)
130 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B -

The more the "Fast and the Furious" movies go on, the more you think, "What title are they going to come up with next?" By now, you'd think these characters would have a glove box full of speeding tickets or be in a grave somewhere from all the drag racing. "Fast Five," the (yup) fifth installment, is actually one of the better ones in the series and lives up to its "fast and furious" moniker. Less of the same, "Fast Five" is still dumb as a box of hair and has no reason to be a whopping 130 minutes long. Being the designated driver of the previous two (2006's "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" and 2009's "Fast & Furious"), director Justin Lin has been up, down, and around this street before and in doing so, he makes what used to be a drag-racing series into an "Ocean's Eleven" or "The Italian Job" heist movie, with touches of "Bad Boys II," that doesn't take itself so damn seriously. 

Things get off to a vrooming start, a prison bus with Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) aboard being ambushed by Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) and Dom's sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster). The bus doesn't just go off the road; it flips over Brian's car and tumbles…with no fatalities and Dom somehow breaking free. Wanted on posters everywhere, Brian and Mia hide out in Rio de Janeiro to meet up with Dom, where they're given the opportunity to go through with one more "clean gig." There's nothing clean about it: steal $100 million from Brazilian crime lord Herman Reyes (Joaquim de Almeida). Of course, that means rounding up a crackerjack team of grease-monkey specialists, including Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej Parker (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), Han Lue (Sung Kang), and Gisele (Gal Gadot). Not only are Reyes and his henchman after them, but a special crew of FBI fugitive hunters, led by gung-ho agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), is out to arrest Dom and the gang. 

The "One Last Caper" plot is nearly incidental, and for dramatic tension, we get talk about the gang "buying their freedom" and Brian and Mia getting preggers. But when it comes to the high-speed chases and stunts, "Fast Five" delivers some of the most over-the-top, ridiculously entertaining action this running-on-fumes franchise has seen in a while. Nobody goes to a muscle-car flick tallying the times the laws of physics and plausibility are broken anyway. Shot and choreographed with some √©lan and actual excitement rather than incomprehensible chaos and boredom, the coolest stunt occurs on a moving train, as Dom and Brian first rip off the side of the box car and then speed a Corvette Grand Sport off into a river canyon. The cheekiest? When our two action-figure antiheroes drag a hefty vault by their muscle cars around Brazil, smashing into buildings, cars, and people on sidewalks. 

More memorable series alumni Gibson and 'Ludacris' return for fans, whipping out idiot-macho lines like, "This just went from 'Mission: Impossible' to 'Mission: In-freakin'sanity'!" to "Where did you get that [blue car] from? Papa Smurf?" Series newcomer 'The Rock' Johnson's sweaty, bicep-flexing hard-assing is more than welcome next to the husky-voiced fuel of Diesel. "Fast Five" is a big, silly bag of popcorn, empty calories that are fun to consume while they last but will have you watching your diet later when a teasing post-credits coda promises "The Fast and the Furious 6." 


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Jane Eyre (2011)
120 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +

Since 1910 before talkies even existed, there has not been a deficit in screen adaptations of Charlotte Bronte's literary classic "Jane Eyre." Even though this is yet another edition in adaptations of the oft-filmed 1847 Bildungsroman/Gothic horror novel, director Cary Fukunaga plays up the Gothic elements of the story but implements a reserved restraint, working from Moira Buffini's screenplay that juggles the narrative chronology. 

As a ten-year-old orphan, the headstrong, self-composed Jane Eyre (sharply played by Amelia Clarkson) has a hard-knock life. No home at all would be better than living at Gateshead Hall with her spiteful aunt, Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins), cousins, and maids. Solitary and despised, she's given the boot to Lowood School for Girls, where mistreatment continues. Now a teenager, Jane (taken over by Mia Wasikowska) goes to Thornfield Hall to live a quiet life as a governess for the brooding, ill-humored Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender). Jane is much younger than her employer, something that is looked down upon by the housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), but the naive teenager's loyalty to Rochester turns to love which turns to a marriage proposal. Just as she's beginning to love herself, Jane discovers Rochester's big secret to why a mysterious fire starts in his bedroom and why she hears loud noises inside the house at night. 

Making a career move out of putting a face to Victorian heroines (first it was Alice in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"), Wasikowska now dons the frock of Jane Eyre. There's a no-nonsense poise and steely determination about the fair-skinned young actress, carrying "Jane Eyre" on her own petite shoulders. Wasikowska expresses so much emotion in her face and Fassbender is as dashing as Rochester should be, but there's more of a coolness than firey passion between them. As a result, their courtship is really kind of lifeless and the least compelling element of the film, especially after Rochester's secret is introduced and then swept under the rug. 

Fukunaga makes a handsome production, a sumptuous tapestry of muted colors and Victorian atmosphere with howling nighttime winds. "Jane Eyre" begins as a haunting tale of woe, but as we realize Jane and Rochester belong together because they both suffer personal demons, it ends a dull Harlequin romance. 

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