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DVD Releases: J. Edgar, Drive, & Puss in Boots (online only)
March 2012
By Mark Glass

J. Edgar **½ (R) Anyone who remembers J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as America’s  “top cop” for about half of the past century is unlikely to associate him with Leo DiCaprio. So the idea of the romantic hero from Titanic portraying this human bulldog (looks and demeanor - no offense intended to our canine compadres) seems pretty outlandish. Yet director Clint Eastwood seems to have nailed the casting with his selection.

The film is long and melodramatic, covering Hoover’s and the FBIs origins in 1919, through his death during the Nixon years. Some of the historical context is interesting. The depiction of the man and his times sparks plenty of controversy across the political spectrum. Hoover’s  fans will be upset about the presentation of his dark side (raging paranoia, gaining and keeping power by coercion and intimidation of presidents and congressmen, mother issues, closeted homosexual tendencies). His detractors will claim that the screenplay glosses over many believed abuses and excesses, while underplaying those psychological determinants of who he was, and all that drove him. Everyone curious enough to watch will find something to gripe about, reaching the hallmark of success for biopics. As in most dispute settlements, if everyone winds up somewhat dissatisfied, the deal was probably fair.

Answering the most likely questions - yes, the cross-dressing and presumably intimate relationship with Clyde Tolson are addressed, though minimally; his dogged pursuit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and  clashes with the Kennedys are also covered. DiCaprio’s performance is remarkable, regardless of how one feels about the man he’s representing, or the perspective on him and his legacy offered in the script.

Drive *** (R) This crime drama opens as if it will be a home-grown, blue-collar version of Jason Statham’s high-octane Transporter flicks, with Ryan Gosling calmly managing all sorts of evasive actions behind the wheel for some robbers during their getaway through the streets of Los Angeles. We next learn that he moonlights such gigs between chances to do stunt driving for movies and working as a mechanic for a minor criminal (Bryan Cranston) with ties to the Big Boys.

Mark Glass is an officer and director of the St. Louis Film Critics Association

But the story slows down into more of a noirish tease between romance and more crimes when Gosling starts spending time with his lovely neighbor (Carey Mulligan) and her kid. Her ex returns from jail, hoping to go straight, but unable to sever the old ties. Gosling tries to help, running afoul of those Big Boys - notably Ron Pearlman and, in a surprisingly effective stretch from his norm, Albert Brooks. No kidding. That Albert Brooks. The funny, brainy one. 

Once you adjust your adrenaline levels for the somber tone shift with long pensive stretches for its principals, you can savor a moody, compelling suspense yarn that defies more conventions than casting Brooks so far against type. The number of plot twists requires more concentration than usual, but most should feel rewarded for the effort.

Puss in Boots ***½ (PG) Sequels are often disappointing. Spinoffs are relatively rare in movies, compared to TV series, and also hard to predict. Here’s one of the good ones. The swashbuckling cat from the animated Shrek franchise, voiced by Antonio Banderas, gets his own vehicle, and thrives in the process. This adventure bonds him with childhood pal Humpty Dumpty, giving both a fanciful backstory that sets up a superbly drawn escapade, with plenty of punch lines to keep adult viewers as entertained as the kids in the house.

Salma Hayek, Zach Galifianakis and several other stars add their vocal skills to this quest for redemption by climbing Jack’s beanstalk to repay an old debt with the goose and/or its golden eggs. Jack and Jill are portrayed quite differently than what you’d expect from their nursery rhyme.

 

  

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