DVD Tuesday: ‘No Strings Attached’ and ‘Blue Valentine’

by W. Andrew Powell

Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in No Strings Attached

Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman in No Strings Attached

New releases on Blu-ray and DVD this week include: director Ivan Reitman’s romantic comedy, No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher; the intense drama, Blue Valentine, featuring Michelle Williams’ Oscar-nominated performance opposite Ryan Gosling; plus a look at Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and the 25th anniversary release of Legend on Blu-ray.

No Strings Attached
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Cary Elwes, Kevin Kline, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig
Director: Ivan Reitman

Once upon a time, director Ivan Reitman was a revered director, but the days of Ghost Busters are a long way off now, and it’s a little harder to defend the Canadian filmmaker after so many sub-par comedies.

This time out, Reitman directs Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in the story of two long-time friends who decide that their relationship would be a lot better if they were having sex, but without any commitments.

Problems arise for the duo when they start falling in love, and all the things they promised they wouldn’t do come back to haunt them as they try to save either their friendship, or their budding relationship.

Based on RottenTomatoes.com, which has the film at a mere 49% fresh, No Strings Attached is not the kind of movie you probably skipped in theatres, but may finally want to check out on home video. But take this warning from Rex Reed of the New York Observer who wrote, “Portman is herself partly to blame. Nobody with an upwardly mobile career who is suddenly being taken seriously should co-star in a movie with Ashton Kutcher.”

Blue Valentine
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman, Mike Vogel, Faith Wladyka, Marshall Johnson
Director: Derek Cianfrance

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star as Dean and Cindy in writer and director Derek Cianfrance’s dramatic story of a couple’s relationship as it forms and then falls apart under the strain of their lives.

Falling in love while Cindy is at school for pre-med, the lovers quickly decide to get married when they realize she is pregnant, but across the year’s of their relationship we watch as they quickly slip apart.

Watching the final moments of their relationship, interspersed between the early days of their lives together, Blue Valentine is a heart-rending, tragic love story that earned Michelle Williams an Oscar nomination for her performance. Although there are some critics who found the story overly sentimental, the majority of critics praised the film’s performances and the story’s overall realism.

“The best of it plays like an acting exercise that serves the intimate,” wrote Michael Phillips for the Chicago Tribune, “often bruising relationship at the core. Gosling seems to be pulling from an impressive bag of performance tricks, Williams from a deeper well, drawn from life.”

Mary F. Pols wrote for Time Magazine, “The scenes cut so close to the emotional bone that you can understand why they might cause a panic amongst MPAA boardmembers, although of course, it’s nothing to be afraid of: just the realism of love in its varied forms.”

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Starring: Justin Bieber, Boyz II Men, Miley Cyrus, Sean Kingston, Ludacris, Jaden Smith
Director: Jon M. Chu

What is there to really say about a Justin Bieber movie? You’re either a thirteen-year-old fan of the overexposed teen sensation, or you’re a parent of a thirteen-year-old fan and you’re being forced to get the film for them.

While most people are probably completely tired of hearing about Bieber, just as some of us are just as tired of hearing about Lady Gaga, this was a major film release, and it’s sure to be just as big on Blu-ray and DVD.

Who knows, maybe you’ll even want to check out the film to see how Bieber went from a YouTube sensation, to being one of the biggest artists in the world?

As the Toronto Star’s own Peter Howell wrote of the film, “You don’t know whether to damn Bieber and [director Jon M.] Chu for manipulating our emotions or praise them for trying to put some essence into this effervescence.”

Nick Pinkerton of the Village Voice aptly wrote, however, “There’s no scrimping on the Bieber here, but he’s a curiously vague presence, obscured in the shadow of this monument to his brand.”

Legend [Blu-ray]
Starring: Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, Tim Curry, David Bennent, Alice Playten, Billy Barty
Director: Ridley Scott

Despite all reason, and the plethora of fantastic movies from this era, a lot of people have very fond memories of Legend, and I really can’t imagine why.

After creating the classics Alien and Blade Runner in 1979 and 1982, respectively, famed director Ridley Scott went on to direct Legend in 1985, and it was a disaster at the box office, earning just $15 million of its $30 million budget. On VHS and DVD though, the story was quite different, and Legend became a cult classic, and now, for the film’s 25th anniversary, 20th Century Fox has put together an “Ultimate Edition” of the film on Blu-ray that should please a lot of fans.

Legend stars Tom Cruise as Jack, a forest-dweller who must take on a quest to save Princess Lily, played by Mia Sara, from the Lord of Darkness, played by Tim Curry. Jack’s quest means more than just saving the princess though, because if he can save her he will also stop unending night from sweeping across the world.

Although I know lots of people who love this film, I’m simply not a fan, and I think Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com sums it up the best when he wrote, “The movie is enchanting and has moments of magic, but it’s an utter train wreck, overwhelmed by cheesy special effects, dialogue writ insanely large, and a kind of goofy plot.”

For the fans out there though, there are lots of extras on the anniversary Blu-ray, including a feature-length commentary by Ridley Scott on the director’s cut of the film, plus making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, trailers, photo galleries, and the music video for “Is Your Love Strong Enough” by Bryan Ferry.

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