DVD Reviews – “Hope Springs” & “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry”

Published at KCActive.com on December 7th, 2012

Hope Springs


The marketing for Hope Springs makes it look like a comedy, but don’t be fooled.  While it contains plenty of humorous moments, this is a serious film about the difficulty in reviving a stagnant relationship.

Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones play Kay and Arnold, whose long marriage has become a hell of routine and detachment. At least it’s hell for Kay – Arnold is completely unaware of any problem. In a last-ditch attempt to get her husband’s attention, Kay books a trip to the town of Hope Springs, where Dr. Feld (Steve Carell) runs a renowned counseling clinic. Arnold is a jerk through the early part of the sessions, but as he realizes he may actually lose his life partner, he begins to see that he and Kay really do need help.

Much has rightly been made of the performances in Hope Springs.  It’s a given that Streep will be wonderful in any role she tackles, including that of an otherwise bland housewife, and she gives Kay touching emotional depth. Jones is playing a variation on his usual grouchy persona, but he also reveals more vulnerability than he’s shown onscreen in years, if ever. Anyone who has been in a long relationship, or knows someone who has (and let’s face it, that’s pretty much everyone), will recognize these characters and sympathize with even their most difficult qualities.

Carell is the real revelation here, playing it completely straight as the understanding therapist. Dr. Feld is never the script’s focus, but his presence is a comforting counterpoint to the many awkward moments between Arnold and Kay. Director David Frankel is known for light fare like The Big Year and The Devil Wears Prada, but he handles the drama in Vanessa Taylor’s script extremely well. Hope Springs may not be groundbreaking cinema, but it says important things about the nature of long-term relationships, and does so with warmth and wit.

Extras: Commentary by Frankel; several making-of features; alternate scenes; a gag reel. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 - LL

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei is either brave, crazy, suicidal, or a combination of all three.  In a country where dissent is a crime, Ai speaks boldly against the government’s treatment of its citizens, and has become world-famous for doing so.

Alison Klayman’s documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry offers both a biography and a fly-on-the-wall look at Ai’s provocative artistry. He doesn’t get overly emotional, but he does get passionate, especially when he sees harm done to everyday citizens.

Klayman zeroes in on Ai’s attempts to draw attention to the number of children killed in shoddily constructed schools during a 2008 earthquake. He literally flips off symbols of oppression (like Tiananmen Square) then sends the photos around the world, to the delight of his fans and the dismay of the government.

Ai has been doing this sort of thing throughout his career, earning constant harassment from Chinese authorities. His fame protects him somewhat, but his apparent fearlessness remains astonishing. When he’s beaten by police, he doesn’t stay quiet – he files aggressive, formal complaints, bringing cameras with him everywhere. He’s been criticized, in fact, for making himself the focus of his art, and there may be some truth to that. But when he literally risks his life exposing the misdeeds of a massive, powerful government, you can see that this self-aggrandizing eccentric is also a true patriot who loves his country, if not its leaders.

Extras: Commentary by Klayman; deleted scenes; filmmaker interviews. (R) Rating: 4 - LL


“The Viral Factor” – Review

Director: Dante Lam
Writers: Dante Lam & Jack Ng
Cast: Jay Chou as Jon Man, Nicholas Tse as Man Yeung, Lin Peng as Dr. Kan, Andy Tien as Sean, Liu Kai-chi as Man Tin, Crystal Lee as Champ
Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2063011/
Note: The advance screener I viewed was in multiple languages: English, Mandarin, Malay & Arabic (those were just the ones I could differentiate)
Plot: Jon Man, a Chinese security officer, travels to Malaysia to stop a former colleague, who plans to unleash a deadly virus, hoping to profit from sales of the vaccine and antidote. While there, Jon meets up with his long-lost brother and father, who are local low-level criminals.


I have no idea what the hell happened in this movie.  There’s a super-virus, a bunch of crooks and corrupt cops, a few honest cops, multiple kidnappings, and some sappy family melodrama. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to care about all those details, so I won’t worry about them.

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