Cuddle up with Paddington, puff and pass on Inherent Vice, make a bet on The Gambler and watch Alec Baldwin kick butt in Topsiders: @Home entertainment for the week of April 28
By Katherine Monk
Three and a half stars out of five. Starring Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Waters and the voice of Ben Whishaw. Directed by Paul King. Running time: 95 minutes.
Teddy bears are so much more than stuffies. They are personal mascots, true blue friends and a magical savings bank for childhood memories. Pick up your old bear and you’ll be swimming knee-deep in nostalgia, so if you happened to cuddle a bear in a duffle coat and a red hat back in the day, Paddington will prompt a welcome regression as it offers up the origin story of the little bear who lives in London. Taking us back to deepest, darkest Peru, we learn Paddington comes from a rare line of bears that can talk and befriend humans. Tragedy forces Paddington out of the family tree, and in a bid to save his species, he ends up at Paddington Station with a little tag around his neck that reads “Please look after this bear. Thank You.” It’s a nod to operation Pied Piper, and the mass relocation of school children from London during the Second World War, and it strikes a chord. In times of war, people act together for a common cause, but in times of peace, people tend to be more selfish, which is why the Brown family is reluctant to care for the bear they see at the station. Playing up every shred of Dickensian orphan lore, director Paul King phrases this seductive kids’ movie like a furry version of Oliver Twist, with Nicole Kidman making an excellent cameo as the de facto Fagin – a taxidermy enthusiast who wants to turn Paddington into her personal trophy. Sally Hawkins takes full advantage of her kindergarten teacher screen presence to balance the human side of the score sheet, but it’s really the animated bear and the velvet voice of Whishaw that makes this kids movie a welcome throwback to old-fashioned orphan stories, and the idea that family isn’t about blood or genetics, but shared love.
Special features: Meet the Characters, When a Bear Comes to Stay, From Page to Screen, Shine Lyric Music Video by Gwen Stefani and Pharrel.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Three stars out of five. Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Jena Malone, Benicio Del Toro, Martin Short, Eric Roberts, Owen Wilson. Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson.
Joaquin Phoenix finds the role he was born to play, but he’s still too weird to embrace on any emotional level as Doc, the drug-addled anti-hero standing centre-frame in Inherent Vice, the latest yard sale from Paul Thomas Anderson. Based on Thomas Pynchon’s 2009 book, we float back in time to 1970, when having long hair and flashing a peace sign was enough to land you a night in jail. As a barefoot hippie, Doc’s so familiar with the routine of getting booked and beaten, he’s developed a love-hate relationship with Bigfoot Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), the LAPD detective who sucks on chocolate covered frozen bananas while spouting homophobic remarks. It’s all a bit too obvious to be funny, and that’s Anderson’s biggest challenge with this smarmy, noir-inspired material. Part of it feels like watching an episode of Bugs Bunny, with Phoenix doing his best impression of a carrot-chomping rabbit, but the rest of it feels like half-baked Coen brothers and low-rent Tarantino. Phoenix doesn’t possess the innate warmth or the unspoken largesse of a Jeff Bridges, which makes his attempt at being a big Lebowski feel small. More urgently, Anderson’s humour never comes to a clean point the way a Coen brothers script can. There are too many elements on the page, too many characters in the mix, and one too-many plot twists to keep us vested in the gratuitously tangled action. It’s a complete mess, but there’s enough visual and thespian resin to roll into a little black ball of vacant distraction.
Special features: Los Paranoias, Shasta Fay, The Golden Fang, Everything in this Dream, Ultraviolet content.
The Gambler (2014)
Three stars out of five. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jessica Lange, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Michael Kenneth Williams. Directed by Rupert Wyatt. Running time: 111 minutes.
If you’d told me the former frontman from the Funky Bunch would become an A-list actor a quarter century after donning Y-fronts for Calvin Klein, I would have wagered a kilo of kielbasa sausage you were wrong. Yet, here he stands in the middle of Rupert Wyatt’s take on James Toback’s book, playing Jim, a spoiled trust fund brat with such coiffed elegance and unspoken entitlement, it takes a while to sink in because Wahlberg comes with some tacky baggage: that moronic Transformers movie, his status as a running joke on Saturday Night Live, and the fact his crotch loomed over Times Square for close to a year. Yet we buy into Wahlberg’s character from the minute we meet him indulging his addiction at the local card parlour. He’s a man who’s grown accustomed to losing, which immediately ramps up the suspense value. He’s getting desperate. He needs money to pay his debts and his uptight mother, played with pursed perfection by Jessica Lange, refuses to bail him out, forcing him to seek financing from less-savory characters, including John Goodman – who plays a gentle heavy. The side characters are entertaining, but they feel two-dimensional, leaving Wahlberg to find the dimensions of the drama on his own. He does an admirable job, losing a lot of the muscle that defined his look to assume a leaner, hungrier appearance, but even though we can buy him as the titular gambler—we can’t go all-in on the movie because the plot feels fixed.
Special features: DVD Blu-ray combo, Extended scenes, deleted scenes, behind the scenes.
Miami Blues (1990)
Two stars out of five. Starring: Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Ward. Directed by: George Armitage. Running time: 97 minutes.
The pastels may leave you feeling a little woozy, but the sight of Alec Baldwin in his prime will help you regain focus. Wearing sculpted sweaters, oversized tortoise shell glasses and deck shoes, Baldwin looks like someone who studied Don Johnson’s wardrobe and recreated it in a lab. In fact, the whole movie feels like a bit of a Frankenstein exercise as it stitches different bits and pieces of early ‘90s pop culture together to create a dusty rose-coloured monster. Baldwin is cast as Frank, the sexy anti-hero and ex-con who knows how to survive using every dirty trick, including the use of a policeman’s badge to appropriate personal property. Fresh out of the can, Frank meets a nice hooker with a heart of gold (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and the two begin a new life together, but when a snooping cop (Fred Ward) comes around and his new fiancée starts to ask questions, Frank becomes increasingly desperate. The violence is wonderfully dated, and so is the neon-coloured blood, but there’s just something about watching Baldwin plant his Perry Topsider into the jaw of a bad guy that never gets tired – no matter how many times we see it.
Special features: Available on Blu-ray.