New on DVD and Blu-Ray: ‘Darjeeling’ Criterion and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’

The Darjeeling Limited – Criterion Collection

Wes Anderson is a brilliant director. A few have gone as far as labeling him and auteur. He has his fault of being repetitive in his material, but he also supplies the tender subject of dysfunctional families with warm, genuine emotion and light-hearted humor time and time again. So, as a film buff and a critic, I don’t judge him for treading the well-worn path that best suits him.

With Darjeeling Limited, Anderson was coming off of his worst film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and many saw the film as only a minor step forward. I however disagree and see it as a solid addition to a great body of work. The plot follows three siblings who meet up in India following the death of their father. While the three desperately attempt to patch up the family holes while revealing slowly to one another all of their new problems, they also search for their mother. The film is arguably one of his most serious in its plot, dealing with death, suicide, and estrangement. He handled these subjects carefully always sprinkling in his characteristic dry humor. The performances are stunning to say the least. Jason Schwartzman, Adrian Brody, and Owen Wilson all give off a similar vibe of being awkward and well-worn siblings. The spark of life, or lack thereof, is deliberate, and beautifully executed.

Darjeeling Limited is also one of Wes Anderson’s most visually appealing films. India provides a collage of bright colors and exotic locations that often forcibly reflect their emotions, or else juxtapose with the events around them. Hues of green and yellow are emphasized to lighten the tone and mood of the film.

The film attempts, and perhaps too forcibly, to be an emotional rollercoaster. The level at which it succeeds is certainly debatable, but the film certainly offers up a wide range. It is tragic to see Brody attempt to save a local boy, yet raw, dry humor is present when they attempt to perform a ritual at night or when the train gets lost and they question how something on a specific track could end up in the wrong place.

This is a criterion release, so it goes without saying that it is going out in style. As always, we get a full second disc of features including several interviews which are very revealing regarding the unusual nature of the film. It was apparently shot in open public locations, the actors did their own make-up and all the train scenes are shot on a real Indian train. But the best addition here is the inclusion of the short film Hotel Chevalier which labels itself Part I of Darjeeling Limited. It is an excellent short background clip that adds a bit of substance to the film. It is a remarkable release, as we’ve come to expect from the folks at Criterion who have so far collected six of Anderson’s films. How long until we see the Criterion Fantastic Mr. Fox?

How to Train Your Dragon

This film came as a surprise to me. I am generally fairly accurate in predicting what critics will think of a movie. But I completely missed the boat on this one. Sitting in the theater watching Alice in Wonderland, I found myself mocking out the trailer as a pathetic attempt to capitalize on 3-D technology and a children’s series. I didn’t see how this film would garner any more attention than, say, Percy Jackson and the Olympians. You can imagine my surprise when I saw 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.

I, however, stick to my guns regarding the actual quality of the movie. Okay, maybe I’ve budged a little bit. It isn’t awful. But I just don’t see what the fuss is. Granted this film can satisfy anyone under the age of ten and it is very well done and very visually appealing, none of this changes the fact that it has no depth what-so-ever. This is not a pixar-quality movie. Not by a long shot.

The plot follows a young gentleman, voiced by the excellent Jay Baruchel, who believes that Dragons should be our friends since they haven’t done anything wrong and they are really cool.  Our hero fulfills what is the now-cliché Michael Cera-type protagonist, a true underdog that is somewhat socially misunderstood. Alas, if all losers could ride around on dragons the issue of social status would be forever resolved. I have a feeling I should stop before I make more enemies by trashing this film. It is a fun film, I just find it hard to praise and easy to make fun of.

How to Train Your Dragon is given an over-the-top double disc release that includes a bonus movie called Legend of the Boneknapper Dragon. I have not taken the time to view this film in its entirety, or at all. But I appreciate DVD releases taking the extra effort to offer more than just one single-disc, single-feature releases; although that option is available as well. Deleted scenes from both movies are present as well as director’s commentary. All in all, pretty good for a first release.

On the Art of DVDs:

Once again, I send my praise to the folks at Criterion. With Wes Anderson’s films, they have created an excellent series of cartoon sketches for the five films admitted. And they are truly glorious cartoon covers. Not that I ever really minded Darjeeling Limited’s advertisements. They offer a solid depiction of the films and the three protagonists’ indifferent expressions.

How to Train Your Dragon may benefit from having a wonderful title, but the cover art for each DVD and every poster I ever saw of it is nothing above average. Which I guess makes it an accurate depiction of the film according to my assessment. But accurate in quality does not represent accurate in tone. The film is funnier and flashier than its bland, popping 3-D title on the poster. It really gives the film a video-game look. Even though I didn’t care for the film, I feel like they had a lot to work with in this department that they let slide. But who am I to criticize? The film did quite well.

In celebration of Grindhouse being released on Blu-Ray, I caught a glimpse of this cover art for some version of the Death Proof single. It reminded me a lot of A Clockwork Orange. Check out the pair of them, is it just me?

Other Ventures:

Well we have a lot here this week. First let me reiterate that Grindhouse was made available on Blu-Ray last week (as was Beauty and the Beast) and I forgot to mention it (thank you Jose).  This is significant because of the controversy of the initial DVD release which separated the two films. I am glad they have been reunited in their initial form; but I wish it were available on DVD as well.

Also this week we have the abominable Jonah Hex. I can’t imagine what inspired John Malkovich to do both Jonah Hex and RED in one year, or at all. Also, we get a few that I am looking forward to checking out, Leaves of Grass and I am Love. I have been a huge fan of Edward Norton since I first saw him in Fight Club and Roger Ebert called this film the best film at Toronto last year. And who is to complain about Tilda Swinton seductively speaking Italian with a Russian accent?

Film Misery Recommends: Darjeeling Limited on Criterion and How to Train your Dragon make for great mainstream releases, while Leaves of Grass and I am Love will satisfy the arthouse fans.

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  • “it has no depth what-so-ever. This is not a pixar-quality movie. Not by a long shot”

    Care to elaborate?
    I think it was pretty “deep” by Pixar standards.

  • I find it to deal with basic, surface level morals, whereas Pixar films go much deeper.

    A few examples: Up deals with coping over the death of a significant other, the inability to have kids, and modernization. Toy Story 3 gave one of the most accurate depictions of the college transition I have ever seen. Ratatouille’s catchphrase “Anyone can cook” vs. “A great cook can come from anyone.” That juxtaposition can be applied to any area of success, truly remarkable.

    Granted, you could make certain claims about “How to Train Your Dragon” elaborating on Hiccup’s social inequality or the friendship of dragons as some kind of symbolism, but it isn’t the same, not too me at least.

    As far as not being a pixar quality movie, I will admit throwing out a lot of personal problems into that statement, but I honestly feel like it is not much more than an adventure movie for kids at heart. It lacks the quirkiness, original personality, and artistic integrities that I see from filmmakers like Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, John Lasseter. Watch five minutes of Wall-E and you will see visual intrigue than you will in the entire run-time of How to Train Your Dragon.

    It isn’t a terrible movie, it’s not even bad one, it just didn’t click with me and holds no repeat value to me.

  • I loved Life Aquatic, I love all Anderson films. He is probably my favorite director. No doubt in my mind though that Royal Tenenbaums is his masterpiece.

  • The cinematography in ‘The Darjeeling Limited’ is probably the best in Wes Anderson’s canon. I think we might have to do a Wes Anderson marathon soon.

    I finally get to see ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ after months of people telling me how great it is.

  • Jose

    “Dragon” is no “Toy Story 3”, but it definitely holds up on its own.

    And I too wish that “Grindhouse” was available on DVD, seeing as how I still refuse to buy a blu-ray player.

    You’re welcome by the way.

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