DVD Tuesday: ‘Up’ & ‘The Ugly Truth’

by W. Andrew Powell

Pixar's Up

Pixar's Up

New this week on DVD and Blu-ray: Pixar’s Up flies to new heights as an old man journeys to South America with one young stowaway; Gerrard Butler and Katherine Heigl star in the comedy The Ugly Truth; and Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut delivers a whole new cut of the epic film for rabid fans. I also take a look at G.I. Joe A Real American Hero, the complete collection; plus Logan’s Run and Heat debut on Blu-ray.

Whether you’re talking about Pixar’s films, or the company itself, Up seems to be an apt word for the company that has simply become one of the best studios in the world. Producing hit after hit, Pixar has the odd distinction of being able to work strictly in the realm of animation, while reaching out to audiences with intelligent, thoughtful, and ultimately entertaining films.

Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter takes to the helm again with Edward Asner voicing the crotchety Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old balloon salesman who has dreamt of visiting the fabled jungles of South America for most of his life. After the death of his wife, Carl takes his chance as a housing developer threatens to put him into a nursing home. Attaching thousands of balloons to his house, he goes on the trip of his life, but it’s only once he is in the air that Carol discovers a little too late that he has a stowaway in the chubby shape of eight-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell, voiced by first-time actor Jordan Nagai.

Traveling to the Venezuelan jungle, these two characters are the perfect odd couple for a new animated era, dealing with their fears and feelings, and the wonders of the jungle, all at once. The film is funny, poignant, and bittersweet at times, and filled with charming characters including talking dogs, a giant bird, and a villain that actually feels quite menacing. The only difference with this Pixar film is that the story feels more like something adults will enjoy more than children, although I don’t doubt that kids will get a kick out of it. That’s not a complaint in any way, but it proves just how far Pixar can take their animated stories.

With it’s stunning visuals, and often picture-perfect scenes, Up is another delight from Pixar. It’s not the stunning success that we’ve seen in films like Finding Nemo, or The Incredibles, but it’s still vastly superior to most of the other films released this year, and I’m not just talking about the animated ones either.

The Ugly Truth
Date movies can be wonderful things… when they’re done right. The problem is that so few directors, or writers, seem to really know what to do with them. In the case of The Ugly Truth, a film that desperately wants to be a little different, the whole movie comes across as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or even a failed crass crossover between Superbad and Serendipity, rather than a real romantic comedy.

Katherine Heigl stars as lovelorn morning show producer Abby Richter, the kind of woman who has to point out every flaw, never knowing that she’s actually turning off every potential date. With her show tanking in the ratings, life gets a bit worse as her boss forces her to work with the crass, but insightful, Mike Chadway, played by Gerard Butler. Mike is the kind of guy who somehow seems to know all the ins and outs of relationships, without really believing in the idea himself.

They form an uneasy alliance, bringing Mike’s late-night cable show, The Ugly Truth, to the morning show crowd. It’s only when Mike is able to help Abby win over the cute guy next door that she realizes Mike may not be such a bad guy after all.

While the premise is sometimes entertaining, and some of the jokes are funny, The Ugly Truth is a contrived, obvious bore that leaves you rolling your eyes, especially as the climactic scenes play out near the end. For anyone who has ever seen any romantic comedies before, the story also hits all the major points you would expect on the path of Mike realizing the obvious.

In all fairness, I blame the film’s biggest faults on director Robert Luketic, who just didn’t know how to inspire his actors. Heigl goofs her way through the film’s silliest scenes, but it is always very clearly acting work for her, she simply never inhabits her character, coming across as someone who was forced to do the film. Meanwhile, Butler delivers a few great scenes, but rarely rises above the “average misogynistic guy” routine.

Watchmen: The Ultimate Cut [Blu-ray]
Initially released to Blu-ray and DVD in July, Watchmen is conveniently getting a second release a little closer to the holidays, but this time it’s with a brand new director’s cut of the film that also includes elements from the Watchmen Black Freighter direct-to-video film.

Set in an alternate-reality when superheroes wait around every corner and America is at the height of cold-war tension with the Soviet Union, Watchmen is a different kind of hero story from the likes of Spider-Man or The Dark Knight. It’s a story that brims with intellectual and philosophical concepts, while giving way to plenty of action and over-the-top fight scenes.

At press time the release hadn’t arrived on my doorstep, so I can’t tell you a lot about the package except that it includes a new commentary track with original Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons and director Zack Snyder, in addition to other features provided on the previous releases.

While this does sound like an interesting cut of the film, I can’t help but peg this as another cash grab by Warner Bros., the same studio that has so far brought us almost a dozen different editions of the Matrix films.

Ultimately, if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a version of Snyder’s epic Watchmen film, this might just be the right time to go out and buy it.

Other new releases…

G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: Complete Collectors Set
Children of the ’80s, particularly the ones who played with action figures, may want to celebrate a bit today with the release of G.I. Joe: Real American Hero – the complete cartoon collection.

This wonderful boxed set includes all 95 episodes on 17 DVDs, restored to look their best, plus over two hours of features and add-ons. The collection is a must-have for the serious G.I. Joe fans out there, and it will also make for a great gift if you’re planning your holiday shopping already.

The package retails for around $125 at most stores in Canada and also includes fun extras, like a USB thumb drive that looks like military dog tags.

Logan’s Run [Blu-ray]
Director Michael Anderson’s ’70s-era dystopian science fiction film debuts on Blu-ray this week, starring Michael York as Logan 5, a man on the run for his life in a city that doesn’t allow anyone to grow old.

Set in a future where mankind has sealed itself off from the ruined ecosystem, the film is kind of silly, even by today’s summer blockbuster standards, but it’s also quite entertaining. The effects are frequently incredibly cheesy, and cheap, but if you’re a fan of retro sci-fi, it’s definitely worth a watch.

Heat [Blu-ray]
And finally, fans of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro will no doubt be thrilled to get their hands on a copy of director Michael Mann’s Heat, which arrives on Blu-ray today.

Representing one of the last great films that these once powerful actors appeared in, Heat is a deftly-paced crime drama about a cat and mouse game played between a thief (De Niro), and a cop (Pacino). While the two actors have very few scenes together, they make their key ones count, and the film is otherwise a wonderfully acted, taunt drama.

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