DVD Tuesday: ‘Tamara Drewe’ and ‘Middle Men’

by W. Andrew Powell

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

Gemma Arterton as Tamara Drewe

New releases this week on Blu-ray and DVD include: the steamy Tamara Drewe, starring Gemma Arterton as a journalist looking to say goodbye to her home town; Middle Men, with Luke Wilson as a problem solver trying to make a fortune off of the early days of Internet pornography; the light drama, The Romantics, with Katie Holmes and Anna Paquin; plus a look at the comedies You Again, and Life As We Know It.

Tamara Drewe
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Roger Allam, Bill Camp, Dominic Cooper, Luke Evans, Tamsin Greig
Director: Stephen Frears

Rated: 8/10

Welcome to the fictional British town of Ewedon, a rural community that is about to get a social awakening as the titular Tamara Drewe, played by Gemma Arterton, returns to say goodbye to her family home and move on for good.

Director Stephen Frears’ latest film is a fun, fanciful romp based on the graphic novel of the same name, which is oddly enough based on Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd. In this dramatic comedy, Frears modernizes Hardy’s romantic tale, filling the rural town with upper-middle class writers, vacationers, and even a rock star, all stumbling over themselves as Tamara starts causing trouble.

Trying to fix up her deceased mother’s home so she can sell it, the steamy, young journalist has no trouble landing men in bed, turning heads everywhere she goes and raising eyebrows with her cocky attitude. At the same time, one of the resident writers is facing off against infidelity and heartache, and two teenage girls spy on Tamara while doing their best to be pests.

Charming, lively, smart, and funny, Tamara Drewe is a wondeful modern comedy that still feels like a British classic from a decade or more past, and I mean that in the best way possible. Although few of the performances are terribly noteworthy, aside from the very notable Tamsin Greig, the film is still lots of fun with memorable characters and dialogue by screenwriter Moira Buffini.

Following Frears’ 2006 hit, The Queen, this film is more obviously in the vein of the director’s earlier comedy, Mrs. Henderson Presents, although with a touch more clever dialogue. Tamara Drewe does not live up to Frears’ more popular predecessors though as the film is simply not that clever, neglecting a deeper connection with the characters and the overall themes of love, lust, and ambition.

The film is beautifully shot by cinematographer Ben Davis, but for anyone who has seen Arterton in anything else, it’s difficult avoiding comparisons to much more mundane films that featured her in far more interesting roles, where she also gave more compelling performances.

The Blu-ray includes three extras, with two featurettes, plus a commentary track by Arterton and co-star Lucas Evans, all of which are worth checking out if you enjoyed the film.

Middle Men
Starring: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, Jacinda Barrett, Kevin Pollak, Laura Ramsey, Rade Sherbedgia
Director: George Gallo

Rated: 7.5/10

In this dark, sleazy morality tale, Luke Wilson plays Jack, an insightful problem solver who continually finds himself fixing things for other people, while never really getting very far ahead. Fighting to pay the mortgage and feed the kids, Jack may be able to do a lot more for his family when one chance encounter leads him to meet Buck and Wayne, played by Gabriel Macht and Giovanni Ribisi, two drug-addled pornography peddlers who may have the ticket to millions of dollars in the early days of the internet.

Jack will just have to face his own demons, and a cesspool of morality decisions if he’s going to earn his fortune, which might work out as long as he doesn’t mind dealing with the Russian mafia, loads of porn, drugs, and maybe murder.

Taking a fictionalized look at how porn became profitable on the internet, Middle Men is a sometimes funny but tense dramedy that is refreshingly different from just about everything I’ve seen in the last year.

Riding high on the film’s sleaze-factor, Wilson is compelling as this would-be family man who just can’t climb back out of the pit he’s dug himself, but his performance barely registers next to the sleaze that is Buck and Wayne. Macht and Ribisi are perfectly awful as these two soiled degenerates, to the point that at times it’s hard to remember where the actors end and the characters begin.

Middle Men could have been a lot better–it’s a solid film that meanders a lot of the way through the story, which takes some of the edge off–but, it’s still well worth checking out, as long as you can handle the skin and the random violence.

Included on the Blu-ray are a couple of extras, but nothing outstanding: deleted scenes, outtakes, and a very funny slap montage.

The Romantics
Starring: Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Anna Paquin, Adam Brody, Malin Akerman, Dianna Agron, Elijah Wood
Director: Galt Niederhoffer

Rated: 4/10

Author, producer, and director Galt Niederhoffer takes his popular book and turns it into a big screen bore in what I can only call a sad day for his otherwise interesting cast.

Katie Holmes and Anna Paquin star as Laura and Lila, two of a hand full of friends who have come together for Lila’s wedding day. While Lila and Tom, played by Josh Duhamel, prepare for their big day, all of the friends have to contend with the history that exists between Laura and Tom, and one incident could bring the two together again just hours before the wedding.

Sadly, even with such a great cast of young actors, Niederhoffer’s story is lost between the utterly dull plot and a pile of weak performances. Niederhoffer missed opportunities with his cast, clearly failed to inspire them, and turns his own story into a boring visit with some of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever had to watch.

As a fan of most of the cast, but particularly Holmes, this is a disappointing example of why authors shouldn’t be allowed to direct their own work.

You Again
Starring: Kristen Bell, Odette Yustman, Jamie Lee Curtis, Sigourney Weaver, Kristin Chenoweth, Betty White
Director: Andy Fickman

Receiving the worst reviews of the week, Kristen Bell stars as a budding PR professional who heads home to discover that her brother is marrying her high school nemesis, played by Odette Yustman.

At the same time, the duo’s rival mothers, played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Sigourney Weaver, have to come to terms with their feud, and find a way to deal with their children’s rivalries as well.

“A parallel track for two generations of women to play out petty grudges and pratfall their way through the mud and muck to the inevitable group hug,” wrote Glenn Whipp for the Los Angeles Times.

While Andrew Barker of Variety commented, “Those bemoaning the lack of quality female roles in modern-day Hollywood will find a key cause celebre in You Again, which manages to squander three generations of formidable actresses.”

Life As We Know It
Starring: Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, Alexis Clagett, Brynn Clagett
Director: Greg Berlanti

Life As We Know It is a romantic comedy with a premise that sounds more like it’s a tear-jerking drama.

Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel star in the film as would-be lovers who find themselves caring for an orphaned girl after her parents are killed in a tragic accident.

Trying to steady their careers, and social lives, the two will have to find a way to make it work so they can give their new bundle of joy a good home.

The film has received rotten reviews from the majority of critics, coming in at just 29% fresh on RottenTomatoes.com.

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