This week: A Pixar sequel strictly for the wee ones, Robert Pattinson gets a chance to play a living person for a change in a period romance, and a smart ensemble makes anything but your run-of-the-mill rom-com.
The curious thing about Cars 2 is that the only people it will captivate are children years and years away from getting a driver's permit. The original Cars is not exactly the jewel of the Pixar canon—it stinks of crass consumerism and doesn't tug on the heartstrings as much as films like Up and Toy Story seem to—and this sequel has the same feeling.
Switching gears from the ode to small-town Americana that was the first film, Cars 2 is a spy thriller parody that is set at an international racing tournament. Although NASCAR racer Lightning McQueen, the "star" of Cars, is back, the leading character on four wheels is the tow truck named Mater. Mater is mistaken for a spy and unwittingly discovers a plot by lemon cars for revenge after years of being left for scrap metal.
Cars 2 drives off the assembly line in three models: DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D. The animation, as with all Pixar films, is colorful and computer clean featuring lots of googly-eyed, expressive characters. Will this keep anyone's attention who is actually old enough to drive? Probably not, but it's got a lock on the preschool demo.
Best extras: The DVD and BD contain an audio commentary and two short Pixar films. The combo pack with the Blu-ray 3D includes an interactive map featuring nine locations used in the film and sneak peek at the Cars Land attraction at the Disney California Adventure theme park.
Verdict: Buy Me (if you need an animated babysitter for 106 minutes), otherwise Forget Me
Water for Elephants
Think of this shameless tearjerker as Titanic under the big top. Instead of an old woman reminiscing about how her heart will go on, Water for Elephants opens with an old man wandering into a circus office and chatting up a surprisingly receptive stranger about his life. The story then flashes back to the Great Depression where we meet Jacob Jankoski (Robert Pattinson), a dreamer from the wrong side of the tracks who is forced to abandon his veterinary studies at Cornell University and stows away on a train transporting the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. He falls in love with the star of the show, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who also happens to be the wife of the abusive ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz). As the circus begins to crumble under August's tyrannical rule, Marlena and Jacob are strengthened by their love of the animal performers, especially an elephant named Rosie.
Besides Rosie, who is played to pachyderm perfection by a veteran elephant performer named Tai, the most irresistible presence on-screen is Waltz who, like in Inglourious Basterds, steals the show by getting to play a deliciously evil character. Twilight fans might get a thrill out of seeing Pattinson play a romantic lead with a pulse and a tan, but he finds little chemistry on-screen Witherspoon, whose character comes across as frosty. This period romance is strictly for the seriously sentimental.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain audio commentary and a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes. The BD adds several additional making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
Verdict: Forget Me
Crazy, Stupid, Love
While out at dinner, Emily Weaver (Julianne Moore) tells her husband, Cal (Steve Carell) that she wants a divorce in lieu of dessert. After he finds out that Emily has had an office tryst with one David Lindhagen (Kevin Bacon), Cal tries to move on by drowning his sorrows at a swank local bar. He attracts the attention of Jacob Palmer (Ryan Gosling), a sharp-dressed playboy who effortlessly scores with the ladies and offers to help Cal find his game. Jacob spruces up Cal's wardrobe and tutors him on how to seal the deal with a woman, which Cal eventually does with a randy schoolteacher played by Marisa Tomei. The more women that Cal sleeps with, the more he realizes that his first love—his only love—is the one he should be fighting for.
Meanwhile, in a strange twist of fate that only happens in a romantic comedy, Jacob the unapologetic lothario has started to fall for Hannah (Emma Stone), a law student who initially blew off his advances but who went back to pick him up at the bar after her dull boyfriend questioned the longevity of their relationship. Both Cal and Jacob are exploring new romantic terrain after meeting each other, but neither of them realizes just how intimately intertwined their lives have become until the film's third act.
With a lesser cast, Crazy, Stupid, Love would be just another rote romantic comedy, but everyone here exudes an effortless chemistry that makes it easier for you to swallow the plot contrivances and coincidences that bring all the storylines together. Crazy, Stupid, Love is rated PG-13, so if you're checking it out just to check out Gosling's package in that picture that is posted all over the Internet of Gosling standing naked in front of Carell in a locker room, move on…it doesn't go there. Instead, see it for a few laughs and some spirited performances, especially by Stone, that might sell you on the idea of a higher love.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain "Steve and Ryan Walk Into a Bar," a silly featurette in which Carell and Gosling sit on the bar set and chat about their characters, costars and the atmosphere on set. Also included are 14 deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, as well as a short featurette called "The Player Meets His Match" about the characters played by Carell and Gosling.
Verdict: Rent Me
Also New This Week: Californication: The Fourth Season, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Scrooged (BD), Hook (BD), Cop Land (BD), Trespass, Bunraku, Phantom of the Opera (1925) (BD), Toy Story (BD 3D), Toy Story II (BD 3D), Toy Story 3 (BD 3D), Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (BD), The Grateful Dead Movie (BD) and The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series (BD)