THIS WEEK’S THEATRICAL RELEASES:
“Monsters University”: Ever since the release of “Toy Story” (1995), the folks over at Pixar have striven to equal (or surpass) the breathtaking excitement of that ground-breaking film. Although they’ve rarely fallen on their faces, it’s been pretty hard to match the humor, kindness, warmth, love and sense of adventure of the three “Toy Storys.” They’ve never really had a flop, but some of their outings have failed to stir the imagination and have fallen somewhere between the redundancy of “Cars 2” and the creativity of “Finding Nemo.” “Monsters University” lands somewhere in the lower portion of that continuum, a weak prequel to 2001’s “Monsters, Inc.” Where that film came up with the brilliant story of Monsters, Inc., a company that sends “Scarers” into bedrooms to generate their city’s power by frightening children, “Monsters University” breaks no new ground but instead comes off as a bland animated buddy film created to cash in on and take advantage of Disney’s merchandising juggernaut. (That being said, of course, I have to note that even a lackluster Pixar outing is still more entertaining than 90 percent of what passes for family product on the big — and little — screen). The story here revolves around college-bound monster Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal), who’s dreamed of becoming a Scarer since a little kid. Knowing that the best Scarers come from Monsters University, he enrolls in the school, but his plans go awry when he meets natural-born scarer James P. Sullivan, “Sulley” (voice of John Goodman). The two begin to compete with each other, and their outrageous shenanigans get them kicked out of the university’s elite Scare Program. It’s then that they realize they’ll have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right. There’s a wealth of extras on both the DVD and Blu-ray versions, including commentary; “The Blue Umbrella,” an animated short film from Pixar Animation Studios about two umbrellas who fall in love during a rain storm; a variety of behind-the-scenes featurettes; deleted scenes; set flythroughs; an art gallery; and more. Also features the voices of Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Julia Sweeney, John Krasinski, Aubrey Plaza, Bonnie Hunt, Frank Oz, Steve Buscemi and Charlie Day.
I really wanted to like “R.I.P.D.” It had gotten such bad buzz before it opened, and then such a lukewarm reception by the critics, that I wanted to give the film the benefit of the doubt and be generous with what — in concept — sounded like a great idea: A police force made up of dead cowboys and deceased cops whose mission was to return to the “other side” monstrous spirits still roaming the Earth (the screenplay was based on the Dark Horse graphic novel). Unfortunately, however, the whole affair came off as a re-purposed “Men in Black,” right down to the use of secret entrances to the agents’ headquarters, the pairing of a grizzled veteran (Jeff Bridges as a long-dead old West gunslinger) and a newbie (Ryan Reynolds as a recently dead cop), and outlandish bodies for the evil spirits once their human facades are stripped off. The plot: Reynolds, on the verge of becoming a dirty cop, is killed in the line of duty and in order to redeem himself, he’s forced to join the Rest in Peace Department and, with veteran dead sheriff Roy Pulsifer (Bridges), has to track down criminals trying to escape final judgment. They soon uncover a plot to open a tunnel between Earth and the afterlife that would begin sending angry souls the wrong way, an action that could end life as we know it. Despite sporadic spectacular special effects, the film drags, especially in lengthy “talky” scenes between Bridges — here making a mockery of his “True Grit” persona — and Reynolds. And the one original bit — both men have avatars that represent them when they’re seen by the living, a Chinese man for Reynolds, a sexy woman for Bridges — falls flat because of stilted acting and pacing. Co-stars Kevin Bacon and Mary-Louise Parker. Extras include deleted and alternate scenes, a gag reel, and several making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes. From Universal.
From the opening shots of “La Notte” (1961), you know you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker. The stark black-and-white images contrast old and new Milan from a street-level camera view of a pre-war building and a modern skyscraper, them moves to the top of a newly constructed high-rise, finally descending to earth as an outdoor elevator moves to the ground floor. The contrasts between the values of the old and the new, between love and lust, and between ennui and happiness continues in this psychologically acute, visually striking modernist work — director Michelangelo Antonioni’s follow-up to the epochal “L’avventura.” Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau star as a novelist and his frustrated wife who, over the course of one night, confront their alienation from each other and the achingly empty bourgeois Milan circles in which they travel. Antonioni’s muse Monica Vitti smolders as an industrialist’s tempting daughter. “La notte” is an indelible illustration of romantic and social deterioration. In a gorgeous looking new 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition. From where else — The Criterion Collection … “The Beauty of the Devil” (1950), directed by master filmmaker Rene Clair (“Under the Roofs of Paris,” “A Nous la Liberte,” “I Married a Witch,” “And Then There Were None”), is a retelling of the Faust legend. An aging professor of alchemy makes a bargain with the Devil that will give him youth, fame and riches in exchange for his soul. Clair creates an allegorical fantasy that is both whimsical and tragicomic in this rarely seen masterpiece. Stars Michel Simon and Gerard Philipe. On DVD and Blu-ray Disc, newly remastered by Cohen Media Group.