DVD Tuesday: ‘The King’s Speech’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

by W. Andrew Powell

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech

New releases on Blu-ray and DVD this week include: Tom Hooper’s Oscar winning historical drama, The King’s Speech, starring Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush; the modern comic remake of Gulliver’s Travels, with Jack Black; the drama Rabbit Hole with stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart; plus a look at Mortal Kombat on Blu-ray and Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure.

The King’s Speech
Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Guy Pearce, Timothy Spall, Derek Jacobi
Director: Tom Hooper

Rated: 8.5/10

Speeches can be nerve-wracking, difficult things, and if you’ve ever had to stand up in front of a crowd, you know what it’s like feeling that fear of being dull or looking foolish. Now, just imagine you have a stuttering problem, and think about how much harder that makes public speaking.

Based on the true to life story of Prince Albert, the Duke of York, who would one day become King George VI, The King’s Speech is a historical drama that stars Colin Firth in the role that would earn him an Oscar, while also earning Oscars for director Tom Hooper, screenwriter David Seidler, on top of the best picture statue.

We follow Prince Albert’s life as his older brother, King Edward VIII, played by Guy Pearce, takes the throne when their much-loved father, King George V, played by Michael Gambon, passes away. While Albert deals with his speech impediment, going to numerous doctors to deal with the problem as he is expected to make occasional speeches, his brother is effectively disgracing himself and the throne by chasing after a married woman, who he plans to marry once she gets divorced.

It’s only when Prince Albert meets the eccentric and uncompromising Lionel Logue, played by a never-better Geoffrey Rush, that “Bertie” as he’s known among family, starts to deal with the real root of his problems–deep-seeded issues with his family and his role in life.

Thanks to a perfect cast of characters, a thoughtful and affectionate script, and a fairly authentic rendering of historical events, The King’s Speech is a wonderful drama that has a frequently light hearted approach to Prince Albert’s story.

Firth and Rush match each other perfectly, playing these would-be best friends with chivalry, and wit, not to mention a certain level of gravitas at times. The cast is likewise filled with a wonderful mix of supporting actors that make this film feel totally authentic–from the surprising performance by Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill, to Helena Bonham Carter regal performance as Elizabeth, the Queen Mother to-be.

What I truly appreciate about The King’s Speech though is that you don’t need to be a fan of biopics or historical dramas to enjoy this film because it’s really more about the relationship between Prince Albert and Lionel, and how they would work together to turn the Duke of York into a full-fledged king.

Gulliver’s Travels
Starring: Jack Black, Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Chris O’Dowd
Director: Rob Letterman

Shark Tale director Rob Letterman takes to his first live-action film with star Jack Black for a modern-day retelling of Jonathan Swift’s satirical children’s story about a man who finds a land filled with tiny people.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a somewhat useless individual who manages to get himself a job as a travel writer. Taking on a job to write about the Bermuda triangle, Gulliver ends up stumbling on the island of Lilliput where he towers over everything and everybody.

The film co-stars Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, and Billy Connolly as Lilliputians, but despite the fairly impressive cast, the film has been torn apart by most major reviewers.

A.O. Scott of the New York Times aptly sums up the film in his review, writing, “I was but seldom inspired to peals of true laughter, though I did relish that part when Mr. Black, confronting a fire raging in the Palace of Lilliput, douses the blaze through heroic use of such means as Nature has provided him.”

Kyle Smith of the New York Post did enjoy the film, however, writing: “Black was already the world’s biggest little kid, and he might be the only actor who could have made this movie such nimble fun. No matter how thin the concept, Black always manages to make it his own.”

Rabbit Hole
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest, Tammy Blanchard, Miles Teller
Director: John Cameron Mitchell

Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart star in Rabbit Hole, a drama about a family coping with loss and turmoil in any way they can after their son is killed in a car accident.

Becca finds solace with her mother and the teenager involved in the accident, while her husband, Howie, tries to push away the pain with another woman. At the same time, the couple copes in very different ways, with Becca reaching to move away from the painful memories, while Howie tries to relive the past.

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell, of Hedwig and the Angry Inch fame, Rabbit Hole is a touching drama with wit that has earned lots of praise from critics.

Peter Howell of the Toronto Star called the film, “A perceptive and sympathetic film by John Cameron Mitchell that looks at grief by way of selfish reasonableness.”

Meanwhile, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “The canniest thing about it is that it carves shrewd and lively dramatic arcs out of souls who are too damaged to feel their own feelings.”

Mortal Kombat [Blu-ray]
Starring: Robin Shou, Scott Lee, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Rated: 6/10

Video game adaptations are by their very definition terrible ideas, but aside from Super Mario Bros., it doesn’t get much worse than director Paul W.S. Anderson’s Mortal Kombat.

The film is pretty much a straight-forward rendering of the classic video game, where three martial artists get summoned to compete in a tournament that will decide the fate of the world. If the trio of fighters should lose, the Emperor of the outer realms, Shao Kahn, will be able to take over Earth.

Because the film barely has a story to stand on, aside from what fans already knew in the original games, Mortal Kombat feels like a string of fight sequences strung together over a quick plot and a lot of editing. It’s the stuff that makes teenage fanboys quiver, but it doesn’t stand up too well to repeat viewings, and the fights aren’t even particularly mind-blowing either.

On Blu-ray it’s worth saying that the film does look better than I expected, and about the one thing Anderson got right was the renderings of the characters, but unless you’re a big fan of the film already, or don’t mind a vapid plot, I’m not really recommending Mortal Kombat to the uninitiated.

Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure
Starring: Ashley Tisdale, Austin Butler, Bradley Steven Perry, Lauren Collins, Cameron Goodman
Director: Michael Lembeck

Rated: 6/10

Ashley Tisdale stars in a direct-to video High School Musical spin-off as Sharpay Evans moves on after graduation to hit New York City as she hunts for a role in a big Broadway musical. Unfortunately for Sharpay, it’s her dog, Boi, who the producers want, and the best she can hope for is to work as a maid to the star of the show.

While I’m not all that familiar with High School Musical, or its characters, it’s safe to say that Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure is more than worth a watch for the kids and other fans of the series. It’s a cute romp in a kid-like version of New York City and Ashley Tisdale is a great star for this light-hearted story, but it’s also an inherently fluffy film that may wear a bit thin the second or third time around, at least for adults.

The Blu-ray includes a couple of extras for the kids, including a blooper reel, and two featurettes–Austin cam: Austin Butler student film, and Evolution of Sharpay.

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