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Blu-ray Review: Arthur (2011)

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Arthur is a re-imagining of the 1981 romantic comedy, which starred Dudley Moore as the very rich foppish heir to the Bach fortune—irresponsible as he is generous. The new film, now available as a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack from Warner Brothers starring comedian/actor Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), opens with Arthur on his way to his mother’s big benefit gala, a black-tie affair. Dressed up in authentic original Batman attire and riding in the actual Bat mobile—complete with rocket-propelled engine—he is driven by faithful Chauffeur Bitterman (Luis Guzman, Oz) before they are halted by NYPD, who know the reckless wreck Arthur quite well. 

Our hero is a spoiled brat, who sees the world from inside a bottle of Makers Mark. His only companions are Bitterman and his nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren), who seems to have been the bit of stability in man-child Arthur’s life since his father died when he was young.

Intelligent but childlike (and childish), but irresponsible, his mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) threatens to cut him off financially if he doesn’t straighten up and marry a woman of her choosing—the heiress to an equally important fortune. Arthur agrees, albeit very, very reluctantly with a lot of arm twisting and manipulation to marry Susan (Jennifer Garner). But the proposal is more like a business agreement; neither of them have any illusions that this is anything but a marriage of convenience.

But Arthur by chance meets Naomi (Greta Gerwig), a young, penniless New York tour guide and falls in love. As Arthur grapples with the direction of his life (as well as he can in his constant drunken state, caught in this conflict of newfound love and his obligation to marry Susan, Vivienne provides a constant reminder that if he calls it off, he will be disinherited of $950 million and left penniless.

Arthur even tries (comically) to declare his independence from Mom, securing a job in a candy store—something for which he has absolutely no skill or life experience. (Not to mention the fact that he’s simultaneously drowning his sorrows in a flask of Makers Mark.)

But maybe—just maybe—this is the moment for Arthur to finally grow up—and get straight. And when Hobson falls gravely ill, Arthur rises to the occasion, caring for his caretaker—like the adult he is. Is this the chance at redemption Arthur desperately needs?

Arthur 2011 is updated for the times; his love interest, a waitress played by Liza Minnelli in the original, is a tour guide without a license. And he’s traded in his valet (Sir John Gielgud) for a nanny. Russell Brand imbues Arthur with a wounded bitterness lying millimeters beneath the silly drunkenness and recklessness. He’s sympathetic, but only barely. But when his sweetness does come through, it’s enough to make him not completely unlikeable. Helen Mirren is, well, Helen Mirren. Always dignified, but with an ever-present sense of irony and dry wit. Her scenes with Brand are really the best reason to watch this film.

I’m not entirely sure why this film was remade; but it’s enjoyable and frothy as a love story (yeah, okay, I got a bit teary-eyed at the end), and the relationship between Hobson (Mirren) and Arthur is genuine and interesting to watch. Brand is a much more frantic and wired Arthur than Moore (and that’s saying a lot), and that’s not necessarily a good thing. And, unlike the original, which played heavily on the exuberant chemistry between Minnelli and Moore, the remake relies upon the interesting (and more interesting in this adaptation) relationship between Mirren’s Hobson and Brand’s Arthur.

The Blu-ray presentation in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 works especially well in the outdoor shots, which burst with crisp color, and in the wedding scene, with its stark blacks and whites. The title sequence as well, with its primary color-comic book styling looks smashing in high definition. The 5.1 DTS audio track does a good job with the often-frenetic alcohol-laced tongue of Mr. Brand’s Arthur. The dialogue is crisp and the musical soundtrack is well blended into an excellent backdrop.

The Blu-ray release comes complete with a standard definition DVD, as well as access to a digital version, suitable for playing on your favorite movie-viewing device. Several extras are also included in two-disc set:

“Arthur Unsupervised!” provides outtakes as wells as the usual behind-the-scenes stuff, and interviews with the cast and creative team—and of course more of Brand’s high-energy antics.

“Additional Footage” includes deleted scenes, including Arthur’s efforts in acquiring a real job and moments between him and minder Hobson.

“Gag Reel” is just what you think: more riffing—and give and take between Brand and Mirren.

If you are a fan of Russell Brand and his type of comedy, you’ll enjoy this 2011 take on the original Arthur. It plays as a wild comedy, a chick flick, and has touches of heartfelt character drama, especially between Hobson and her Arthur.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.