It's another slow week on the home entertainment front as we slide into summer awaiting the big guns (so to speak, with 'True Grit' arriving June 7) to come to DVD. In the meantime, this Tuesday brings us an adult tragedy disguised as a kids animated comedy, and a teen coming-of-age drama disguised as a sci-fi actioner. The former is the animated 'Gnomeo and Juliet,' based on William Shakespeare's romantic tale of star-stuck lovers; the later is 'I Am Number Four,' based on the young adult novel by Pittacus Lore. Read on.
'Gnomeo and Juliet
What It's About: Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' is recast in this modern computer animated update of the classic tragedy -- with garden gnomes as the star-crossed lovers. Mr. Capulet and Miss Montague are feuding neighbors and their lawn ornaments (Reds and Blues) are caught up in the same battle; they come to life when the humans are gone and stage water fights and lawn mower races. Amidst this turmoil, gnomes Juliet and Gnomeo fall in love at first sight, and must overcome the battling clans and near garden armageddon to find lasting happiness.
It's Kinda Like: 'West Side Story' meets 'Toy Story'
What We Say: The idea for this film must have looked pretty good on paper, but its execution leaves something to be desired: The movie can't decide if it's for kids (with plenty of silly slapstick and an anti-Shakespeare happy ending) or for adults (with inside jokes and some risque behavior). The computer animation is fabulous but can't overcome a story line that basically devolves into a pitched battle between opposing gnome clans -- with a little romance thrown in for good measure. The much-touted Elton John soundtrack is just a water-downed rendition of his greatest hits. In 3D, with the voices of James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine, Jason Statham, Ashley Jensen, Patrick Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne(!) and Maggie Smith.
• Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurettes with Elton John; the Blu-ray version adds two alternate endings, deleted and alternate scenes and "The Fawn of Darkness" featuring Ozzy Osbourne.
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Watch a 'Gnomeo and Juliet' trailer:
'I Am Number Four'
What It's About:Alex Pettyfer plays a teen fugitive from another world on the run from alien hunters out to kill him (and eight others like him) as they prepare to mount an attack on the Earth. Actually, he's No. 4 on the Mogadorian hit list (the first three having been dispatched by the bad guys) and he moves from city to city with his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant). It seems that he has super telekinetic powers that, when tapped, will be the only force to resist the aliens who massacred his home planet. But before the battle begins there's high school bullies, romance and a whole lot of teen angst.
It's Kinda Like: 'Battle Beyond the Stars' meets 'Push' and 'Escape to Witch Mountain'
What We Say: Turning young adult novels into major motion pictures is all the rage and this one (based on the book by Pittacus Lore) probably looked like a no-brainer: A good-looking teen hero whose coming of age includes developing super powers to match his surging testosterone. Loaded with some nice action sequences, special effects and a lot of explosions, this sci-fi thriller came in for some hard knocks by most critics for being mindless and derivative but it works because that's what it's shooting for. It's so predictable: You just know that our hero is going to get even with both the high school and outer space bullies, but, hey, it's just like that roller coaster you've been on dozens of times before; no matter how often you do it, you still get a thrill from the ride.
• Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted scenes.
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Watch a trailer for 'I Am Number Four':
Other New May 24 DVD Releases:
'Anton Chekhov's The Duel': English-language adaptation of Anton Chekhov's 1891 novella about romance, betrayal and violence between a restless philanderer looking for something new, his beautiful but emotionally empty married mistress and his impassioned but unhinged former friend.
'The Big Bang': Pseudo-noir thriller about a private detective hired by a hulking ex-boxer (shades of 'Farewell, My Sweet') to find a missing stripper; his job turns complicated when the clues send him to a Hollywood action star with a dirty little secret, an enterprising porn producer who takes a personal interest in his own work, a kinky waitress with an unusual fetish for particle physics, and a reclusive billionaire and his physicist intent on recreating The Big Bang underneath the New Mexico desert. Antonio Banderas plays the not-thoroughly believable gumshoe.
'Burning Palms': An anthology of five dark yet comic stories that take place in the underbelly of Los Angeles; A father's (Dylan McDermott) relationship with his precocious teenage daughter (Emily Meade) is too close for comfort for his fiancee. A woman (Jamie Chung) becomes undone by her boyfriend's kinky bedroom request. A gay couple (Peter Macdissi and Anson Mount) brings home the ultimate lifestyle accessory: an African child. A young boy involves his brothers in disturbing games. A lonely woman (Zoe Saldana) confronts her attacker (Nick Stahl) with a bizarre request.
'Lionsgate After Dark Originals': 'Fertile Ground,' in which a couple is haunted by ghosts at the woman's family home in the country; and 'Seconds Apart,' in which telekinetic twins wreck havoc on their high school classmates, killing them in twisted and bizarre ways until jealousy divides them and they face-off against each other.
'Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies': Documentary look at how early filmmaking influenced the Cubist painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. From Arthouse Films.
And ... need more of the Royal Wedding? BBC Video has 'The Royal Wedding of William & Catherine' and PBS will release a documentary on the ceremony, 'William & Kate: Planning a Royal Wedding.'
May 24 Blu-ray Debuts:
'The Firm' (1993): Can't go wrong here: Sydney Pollack's take on the John Grisham book (with script by David Rabe) pushes all the right thriller buttons in a story about a young lawyer (Tom Cruise) snapped up by a prestigious law firm that, it turns out, caters to sinister clients. Also stars Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook, Holly Hunter, David Strathairn and Gary Busey.
'Grand Prix' (1966): John Frankenheimer puts you behind the driver's seat in this beautifully shot homage to Formula 1 racing, filmed around the world with an all-star cast and an involving script; only shortcoming -- the film takes almost three hours to cross the finish line. Stars James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand and Toshirô Mifune.
'Le Mans' (1971): Spectacular racing action overlays an ultimately boring story line about a loner race car driver at the famous 24 Heures du Mans. Steve McQueen is at his stoic, noncommunicative worst.
'Papillon' (1973): Steve McQueen as Papillon is wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on a remote island off the coast of French Guiana, where he attempts to escape ... many times. Dustin Hoffman plays his sidekick and friend Louis Dega. At times painful to watch. Available as a Blu-ray book with fascinating film information, archival photos, and an examination of the controversy surrounding the film.
'Platoon' (1986): The film that put Oliver Stone on the cinematic map; a no-holds barred, grueling look at the horrors of the Vietnam War with a cast that includes Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Keith David, Forest Whitaker, Kevin Dillon and Johnny Depp. Available as a Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack. Watch an exclusive Blu-ray clip:
And from The Criterion Collection: Charlie Chaplin's 'The Great Dictator' (1940) and Andrey Tarkovskiy's Soviet sci-fi adventure 'Solaris' (1972), based on the famous novel by Stanislaw Lem.
Check out other new May 24 DVD releases at OnVideo.