Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both John and Michael comment on the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Movie According to John:
You remember 1981's "Arthur," with Dudley Moore playing the irresponsible but irrepressible millionaire drunk with the personality of a mischievous ten-year-old. While hardly a comedy classic, it has remained a well-loved favorite. So, naturally, Hollywood did the only thing they know how to do when a 1988 sequel failed to live up to expectations: They remade the original. Thus, we get the 2011 version of the same story with the same characters, only this time with bad-boy comic Russell Brand playing the title character and Helen Mirren playing the old John Gielgud role of the butler, in this case nanny, Hobson. Was it worth the trouble? Not really.
WB's opening logo sets the tone for the film by soaking it in champagne bubbles. Isn't alcoholism fun? The sheer idiocy of the tale then compounds with a wild ride through the streets of Manhattan as Arthur and his chauffeur (Lois Guzman), dressed as Batman and Robin and speeding in a replica of the Batmobile, crash into the Wall Street bull. Not funny; just silly and juvenile.
Jason Winer directed this one, his first feature film after several years directing comedy on television ("Modern Family"). His idea of humor is to make every laugh as obvious as possible and telegraph every chortle a scene or two in advance. Arthur is no longer so lovable; with Brand he's now a sloppy, obnoxious, self-indulgent drunk on the edge of mental instability. This does not appear to be Brand's fault because he is actually pretty good in a hopeless role. To Brand's credit, when Winer is not directing him to mug and carry on to the extreme, he appears to be a nuanced actor. Helen Mirren, on the other hand, is the best thing in the picture, her understated composure as funny as we might expect. However, her mature, upright nanny compared to the thirty-something man-child makes poor Arthur seem all the more pitiable.
The story remains the same as in the original: Arthur's mother (Geraldine James) will cut off all of Arthur's money (close to a billion dollars) if he doesn't settle down and marry the domineering daughter, Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner), of a rich, rival family. Coincident with this event, Arthur meets a commoner, Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig), an NYC tour guide without a license, and falls in love with her. The "however" here is that despite Ms. Gerwig being cute and sensible in the part, she's no match for Liza Minnelli's free-spirited (if somewhat annoying) character in the original. Instead, as with the rest of the movie's characters, Ms. Gerwig's role is almost a throwaway, with Arthur's boozing always central to the story.
And speaking of throwaways, Nick Nolte plays Burt Johnson, Susan's tough-guy father, who threatens to saw off Arthur's tongue, or worse, if he doesn't marry his daughter and treat her right. Nolte is in about three scenes, a waste of his talents.
There is one cute touch: Arthur, who spends his money lavishly on selfish, personal extravagances, in one scene spars with ex-heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield. The champ's vacant, underplayed expression throughout the scene is among the more subtly humorous parts of the film. Then, my first (and almost only) big smile came during Arthur's date with Naomi in Grand Central Station. That came about forty minutes into the film.
Of course, Arthur can be charming when he's sober; that's from the original, too. He just isn't sober very often. Plus, there are a couple of clever lines, although not enough of them to build a movie on.
Finally, "Arthur" is just as sentimental as the original was, probably more so. It only makes a mediocre film all the more inferior in trying so hard to play to our emotions after insulting our intelligence. This new "Arthur" does nothing to improve upon the old "Arthur" in spite of a few attempts to bring it up to date; it seems merely another way to capitalize on a known product name.
John's film rating: 5/10
The Movie According to Michael:
It is becoming clear that either Hollywood isn't quite sure what to do with Russell Brand, or that Russell Brand isn't quite sure what to do with himself in Hollywood. He's a stand-up guy primarily, but he looks like he should be a rock star. Combine that with the fact that he is British and the comedic sensibilities that go along with that, and you get that strange "I'm not sure how I feel about this guy" vibe that Brand has been giving audiences since his first notable role in 2008's "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
Another British comedian, Dudley Moore, didn't seem to have as many issues transitioning into American culture. In fact, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Moore for an Oscar for his depiction of alcoholic ladies man Arthur Bach, in the 1981 original "Arthur." It was a defining role for Moore and it must be assumed that one reason he made it work is because, for at least a period of his life, he lived the part. But is it possible that Russell Brand is just too similar to Arthur Bach for the role to resonate? Or maybe it's that Russell Brand hasn't had the time to warm up to American audiences the way Dudley Moore had by the time he donned the top hat as Arthur.
The original 1981 script (also Oscar nominated) was dusted off and modernized for Brand in what is likely hoped by all involved to be the role that brings him leading man status and makes him the heir apparent to the man-child forced to grow up roles that Adam Sandler has gotten too old for.
"Arthur" (2011) is the story of a too rich for his own good man who, in order to receive his inheritance, is pushed into an arranged marriage with his mother's employee (Jennifer Garner), who in turn will run the family megacorporation. The story is simple and true to the original. We've seen it before, not only in the original "Arthur," but also the rich guy with no ambition role is nothing new, in fact Adam Sandler has done it twice ("Big Daddy," "Mr. Deeds").
The laughs in "Arthur" come frequently, but they are more light chuckles with maybe one or two true laugh out loud moments in the film. If Russell Brand brings anything to the table, it's his delivery. He has a talent of getting the full potential out of one-liners and his quick-witted reactions. Maybe it's the accent.
Greta Gerwig plays Naomi, the woman Arthur really loves while planning a wedding with the woman he doesn't. Having most recently played the quirky female sidekick to Natalie Portman in "No Strings Attached," Gerwig holds her own as a leading lady. She has a charm and accessibility that is a welcome contrast to the grandeur and outrageous nature of Brand's Arthur. One complaint would be there does not seem to be a clear motivation for Arthur to seek out a relationship with Naomi as it is made very clear in the early stages of the movie that Arthur has no shortage of women and no desire to settle down with just one, let alone a stranger he bumps into at the train station. This is, of course, no fault of Gerwig, but it is a flaw in the script that prevents an audience from fully investing in the character.
Helen Mirren supports as Arthur's nanny, Hobson. Hobson is Alfred to Arthur's Bruce Wayne. She plays it straight and lends some credibility to the film but, once again, we've seen it before.
"Arthur" is, in the end, nothing more than a test to determine if Russell Brand can carry a film both on the screen as a leading man and at the box office. With that in mind, it's no surprise that a proven script and concept were recycled for this project. With the box office results still to be determined, all we can comment on now is the performance on screen. Brand is definitely funny, there is no question there, but what is still in question is his versatility. We haven't seen much from Brand besides a rock star character or, in the case of "Arthur," a slight variation of a guy who just lives, acts, and looks like he's a rock star. In order for Brand to stick around and fill the void that Adam Sandler and the like are leaving behind, he's going to have to expand the kind of roles that he takes. It's that or accept that he'll only be considered for playboy roles, and at 35 years old, the window of opportunity for Brand to catch on is small.
"Arthur" is a satisfactory comedy with some good laughs but is not particularly memorable. It feels more like a Hollywood experiment with a potential new headlining star than something intended to be anywhere near as enduring as the original.
Michael's film rating: 6/10
Warner engineers transferred the film to Blu-ray in its native 1.85:1 aspect ratio using an MPEG-4/AVC codec and a single-layer BD25. Despite squeezing the film and its extras onto the least-possible space, the picture quality is fairly good. Colors look natural, black levels strong, and definition adequate, a light, inherent print grain providing body and texture to the image. The picture is a tad dark, to be sure, admitting less detail in duskier areas than most of us would like to see, and there is a very slightly gritty quality to the screen. Still, these matters should not concern too many viewers.
The disc uses lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio to reproduce the soundtrack. It's very clean, very clear, very ordinary. Occasionally, during musical interludes we hear a touch of bass and a little bloom in the surrounds. Otherwise, the sound is mostly dialogue, which comes through admirably.
The first of several bonus items on the disc is "Arthur Unsupervised," about eleven minutes of outtakes. After that we find some ten minutes of additional footage, deleted scenes, followed by a brief, minute-and-a-half gag reel.
The extras on the disc conclude with twelve scene selections; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages; French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
Lastly, because this is a Combo Pack, it includes the feature film in high definition on a Blu-ray disc, the feature film in standard definition on a DVD, and a digital copy of film for iTunes and Windows Media (the offer expiring July 12, 2012). The two discs come housed in a flimsy Eco-case, further enclosed in a cardboard slipcover.
The 2011 "Arthur" is yet another remake that nobody asked for and nobody probably needed. It's not Russell Brand's fault the movie doesn't succeed; it just doesn't add anything new or important to a film premise that wasn't all that brilliant to begin with. In fact, Brand is quite good; he's smart, confident, amiable, and amusing. He simply seem to need the right vehicle to showcase his talents. With luck, it will come.