DVD Corner: “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”

Posted Oct. 10, 2008, at 10:29 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:02 a.m.

“American Gangster” Blu-ray: Denzel Washington is real-life crime boss Frank Lucas, who from 1968 to 1975 built a drug empire in Harlem that rivaled anything built by his competition — the mob, with whom he eventually got into bed, and Harlem rival Nicky Barnes (Cuba Gooding Jr.), with whom you could say he had something of a falling-out. As with so many American movies focused on an individual who realizes the American dream, illegally or otherwise, “American Gangster” follows suit with a parallel story of those determined to bring that person down for achieving it. In this case, it wasn’t just Barnes who wanted Lucas gone. More significantly, it was Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), the New Jersey narcotics cop who wanted to undo a man actively undoing his own people. At nearly three hours, the film is too long and many of the supporting performances are so underwritten, they make only fleeting impressions, but not so for Ruby Dee as Lucas’ mother. She shares a scene opposite Washington that’s so good, it won her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Rated R. Grade: B

“Constantine” Blu-ray: Hell in high definition. On Blu-ray, this movie about a lost soul certainly looks good, but the problem, of course, is the movie itself. Based on the popular “Hellblazer” comic books and starring Keanu Reeves, “Constantine” is a convoluted mess. Elements are admirable, particularly the special effects sequences that dramatize hell (which, by the way, looks like one of those themed underground nightclubs in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, only hotter and without a mirror ball), and Rachel Weisz, Tilda Swinton and Djimon Hounsou all are fine in supporting roles. But story and characters are key to any movie and here, “Constantine” loses sight of both. Rated R. Grade: C-

“Eastern Promises” Blu-ray: From David Cronenberg, a movie arranged to engage, shake and provoke. The film explores the Russian mob’s stronghold over London, with Viggo Mortensen outstanding as Nikolai, a driver of few words (“I drive car”) whose employer is a powerful, corrupt family led by the coolly evil Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl). Typical of a mob story, Semyon is a hive of complexities (more Brando, less Gandolfini), perhaps more proud of his borscht than he is of his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel), a screw-up of the first order whom Semyon is working to contain. But when a nurse named Anna (Naomi Watts) comes into their lives with the diary of a Russian girl whose life ended while giving birth, Semyon’s focus wavers in an effort to protect his family from being taken down. What ensues is a fresh blast of toxic air that lingers. This is a movie about good and evil first, violence second, and while it might seem while watching it that I have that backward, it isn’t the slitting of throats you consider after leaving the film, but those who chose a life of violence, those who chose to resist it, and the vague reasons. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” DVD, Blu-ray: In Hollywood as in life, seeing an old friend after a time apart can go one of two ways: You’re either happy to see them again, or you realize there’s a reason you stopped seeing them in the first place. For Steven Spielberg’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” it’s nice to welcome back this particular friend, even if he doesn’t have the spunk he did when we last saw him 19 years ago. But who among us does? From David Koepp’s script, the movie finds Harrison Ford reprising his role as Jones in a story that offers just what you expect — plenty of sword fights, gun fights, double-crosses and chase scenes, the likes of which soon get tangled around a bizarre ending that recalls elements of Spielberg’s own “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Taken for what it is — an earnest attempt to please the series’ fans, itself an almost impossible task given the high expectations at hand — the movie comes through more often than not. Cate Blanchett, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, Karen Allen and John Hurt go a long way in assisting to that end. Rated PG-13. Grade: B-

“Sleeping Beauty: 50th Anniversary Edition” Blu-ray: Forget the Botox — turn to Blu-ray. Fifty years out, “Sleeping Beauty” never has looked so good. In this 1959, Academy Award-nominated extravaganza, Disney includes several worthwhile extras, including a new “Making Of” featurette, which offers a detailed analysis of the film that will delight fans as well as film purists. If your Blu-ray player is connected to the Internet, you also can enjoy all of the BD Live features the set offers, such as the ability to chat with other fans about the movie and also to play games. But really, the reason for owning it comes down to the movie itself. There‘s no sleepy time here. With its clean, bright restoration — the sound of which is phenomenal — and the genuinely scary throwdown between Prince Charming and Maleficent that erupts at the end, “Sleeping Beauty” has had its rest, and now it’s more alive than ever. Rated G. Grade: A

“The Ultimate Matrix Collection” Blu-ray: Choose the blue box. Visually stunning and at times genuinely harrowing, the three films collected here — 1999’s “The Matrix,” 2003’s “The Matrix: Reloaded” and “The Matrix: Revolutions” — are exercises in excess and restraint. They prove you can have each in a blockbuster without embarrassment, though it is fair to say that the films’ directors, the Wachowski Brothers, are more inclined to unleash the former than embrace the latter. For hardcore fans of the series, what’s so impressive about this set is how comprehensive it is — it includes 35 hours of extras, many of which aren’t filler but actually worthwhile. As for the movies, what began in 1999’s “The Matrix” as a fresh, interesting collision of New Agey ideas and religious retrotalk in a computer-fried world became in “Reloaded” a more literal, streamlined movie overloaded (in a good way) with excitement. “Revolutions” addressed our questions about Neo (Keanu Reeves) and his destiny, but since it’s the least compelling film in the set, it might have ended this otherwise fine series on a weak note if it weren’t for the inclusions of “The Animatrix” and “The Matrix Experience” on three separate discs. Grade: B+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as at bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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