Is your Christmas money burning a hole in your pocket? Look no further than these three enjoyable DVD releases!
Ted (Universal) – the movie debut from TV renaissance man Seth MacFarlane – tells the story of John Bennett, a lonely boy from Boston who, back in 1985, wished for his new Christmas teddy bear, to come to life and become his best friend. The wish came true, and although Ted briefly went on to carve out a career as a minor celebrity, his friendship with John endured, and the pair remain firm friends 27 years later.
However, after John’s long-suffering girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis, Black Swan) discovers Ted frolicking in their apartment with four prostitutes, she gives her 35-year-old slacker boyfriend (Mark Wahlberg, Contraband) an ultimatum, forcing him to choose between her and his lifelong companion. John plumps for Lori, but even after Ted moves out the incorrigible double-act remain inseparable, and John is forced to fight for his relationship, or risk losing Lori to her slimy boss Rex (Joel McHale, Community).
While Seth MacFarlane has dominated TV schedules for years with cult animations Family Guy and American Dad, Ted is his live-action directorial debut. Happily, it is chock-full of the kind of crude humour and retro pop-culture references that his fans have come to expect over the years, adding a sweet rom-com-esque slant to the plot. That said, while Family Guy has come unstuck in recent years, Ted feels reassuringly fresh, and contains some of MacFarlane’s best material in years. Not only that, but with an impeccable gag ratio, Ted arguably ranks as one of the year’s funniest films full stop. With a hilarious extended cameo from Sam ‘Flash Gordon’ Jones underlining MacFarlane’s penchant for retro tomfoolery, the creator sticks to his guns throughout, and delivers a warped, memorable and frequently hilarious comedy experience. Heavily recommended.
Snow White & the Huntsman (Universal) is a bleak new take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy-tale, which explores new territory by featuring an expanded role for the Huntsman. In the fairy-tale, he is ordered to take Snow White into the woods and kill her, but instead lets her go. Interestingly, in this version, the Huntsman (Chris Hemswoth, Thor, Ca$h) is not reimagined as a stereotypical love interest for the heroine, but instead acts as her mentor, teaching Snow White (Kristen Stewart, Twilight) to fight and survive, and ultimately claim back her heritage from her wicked step-mother.
The idea of the Snow White fairy-tale re-tooled to appeal to the ‘Twilight generation’ is arguably a fairly hideous one, but Snow White & the Huntsman is actually far better than that grim characterisation suggests, with first-time director Rupert Sanders delivering a rollicking action-adventure movie that combines slick, evocative visuals with an appealingly hard-edged narrative. While leading lady Kristen Stewart is unwilling/unable to shake off her terminally glum demeanour – and falls well short of the impressive physicality demonstrated by Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games – the strong supporting cast, led by Charlize Theron’s impressively wicked Queen Ravenna, more than compensates. Also worthy of note are the seven dwarves (all actors whose faces were digitally transmuted onto small bodies), whose ranks include the reliably impressive Ian McShane (Deadwood), Ray Winstone (The Departed), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz), Eddie Marsan (Junkhearts) and Toby Jones (Infamous).
The film’s theatrical release may have been overshadowed by press reports of an affair between Stewart and director Sanders, but SW&TH is actually far more interesting than such tawdry gossip suggests, and easily trumps Tarsem Singh’s sickly Snow White reimagining, Mirror, Mirror.
The Baytown Outlaws (Universal) follows the adventures of theOodies, a trio of redneck brothers – Brick (Clayne Crawford, Rectify), Lincoln (Daniel Cudmore, Twilight) and McQueen (Travis Fimmel, The Beast) – who earn their keep by acting as off-the-books enforcers for corrupt local cop Sheriff Henry Millard (Andre Braugher, Homicide: Life On The Street). When their latest job goes disastrously wrong, and ends in a massacre at the wrong address, the brothers are approached by Celeste (Eva Longoria, Desperate Housewives), a witness to the carnage, with a compelling proposal. She is willing to pay them $25,000 for the safe return of her handicapped godson, who has been kidnapped by her ex-husband Carlos (Billy Bob Thornton), who hopes to raid the boy’s substantial trust fund when he reaches legal age. Determined to get the boy back from the Oodies, Carlos hires an assortment of violent miscreants to track them down and violent mayhem ensues.
Despite its strangely low profile – to date the film has only mustered a solitary straight-to-DVD release in Germany – The Baytown Outlaws is a slick, violent blast that makes good use of its eclectic ensemble cast (also including stunt-woman Zoe Bell and Prison Break’s Michael Rapaport). As is often the case with movies of this ilk, the influence of Quentin Tarantino looms large over the proceedings, but the film that The Baytown Outlaws most resembles is Joe Carnahan’s bullet-strewn Smokin’ Aces, with its wacky, tongue-in-cheek feel. Unfortunately, like Smokin’ Aces, Baytown is guilty of over-egging the pudding, with a non-stop supply of supporting characters stretching the narrative to breaking point.
While Billy Bob Thornton understandably claims top billing, the lesser known actors playing the Oodie Brothers comfortably dominate proceedings, and are easily capable of shouldering the hinted at (and arguably deserved) sequel. A quirky, under-the-radar thriller.
All titles are available now through Universal.