DVD Corner: Little Miss Sunshine, W, and more

Posted Feb. 09, 2009, at 3:34 p.m.

“Drumline” Blu-ray: This surprise hit from Fox finds a cocky kid from Brooklyn winning a drumming scholarship to Atlanta’s fictional A&T University, and quickly learning that he’ll have to grow up and work hard in order to keep it. Nick Cannon and Orlando Jones star in a movie that’s as exhilarating as it is formulaic, with the rival intercollegiate marching bands at its core cranking up the heat and sustaining it. Includes several featurettes, one of which is worth watching, “Anatomy of a Drumline,” as well as commentary by director Charles Stone III. Rated PG-13. Grade B+.

“A History of Violence” Blu-ray: Some history – some violence. From David Cronenberg, this lean, expertly conceived thriller is the story of Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen), owner of a small-town diner in Millbrook, Ind., who is just minding his own business when into his business come a couple of murderers eager for a little trouble. What they don’t understand is what they’re up against – Tom, an otherwise gentle, easygoing man who displays the sort of violent heroics that raise their share of questions, particularly when the media get involved, and then the Mafia, and then the uncomfortable situation of Tom’s rather circumspect history. A terrific movie. Rated R. Grade: A

“Little Miss Sunshine” Blu-ray: A dark comedy that follows the beleaguered Hoover family, a seemingly hopeless wreck of losers who reluctantly back their one shred of hope – endearing, 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin, terrific) – when this goofy, bespectacled girl is chosen by default to participate in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant in Redondo Beach, Calif. Since the Hoovers live in Albuquerque and have no money, that means an unforgettable road trip is at hand, with everybody in the family climbing aboard a dilapidated Volkswagen bus, which itself is a metaphor for their broken relationships. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Paul Dano and an unforgettable Alan Arkin all do fine work, but it’s the amazing Breslin who steals the show. Rated R. Grade: B+

“Melrose Place: Fifth Season, Vol. 1″: Strife! Sex! White-hot madness! This fifth season of the popular, long-running series has nothing but ugliness in mind for the glossy residents of Melrose Place, with the show offering just what you want from a nighttime soap opera – backbiting, infighting, greed, recklessness. To that end, it’s a success, at least as these things go, with one of the brighter high points being Heather Locklear’s conniving Amanda Woodward – she rarely disappoints. Also fun is revisiting Marcia Cross before she became Bree on “Desperate Housewives” and Kristen Davis before she switched gears and became sweet Charlotte on “Sex and the City.” Grade: B

“Office Space” Blu-ray: A film about the hell of temporary employment in a full-time world. But “Office Space” suggests that full-time employees have it even worse: Their sentence isn’t temporary – it’s for life. This solid satire focuses on white-collar slavery, which cannot only be ugly, but also charged with comic possibilities. This is the kind of film that finds Jennifer Aniston being criticized for not wearing enough “flair” at her restaurant job, one character having to bear the humiliation of being named Michael Bolton, and three corporate computer grunts exacting revenge on a system that loves to deliver pink slips – but no respect. As one character puts it, “Since I started working here, every single day has been worse than the day before, so that every day you see me is the worst day of my life.” When he and his office mates destroy a fax machine midway through, the vindication and the glory is not only theirs, but ours. Rated R. Grade: B

“W.” DVD, Blu-ray: From Oliver Stone, a movie based on the unlikely rise of George W. Bush (Josh Brolin) to the presidency of the United States. As such, it has one massive feast on its plate, but since it oddly isn’t hungry, it doesn’t eat. Going into it, you think that because the film is coming from Stone, it’s going to be one biting vilification of Bush. Instead, “W.” takes the high road and too often is a movie with heart. It doesn’t want to attack Bush so much as it wants to understand him, humanize him and hell, even pity him. While some will agree that’s an admirable position to take, the trouble is that in the process, much of the insight Stone tries to glean from Bush is lost. We are, after all, dealing with a president and an administration who – with the help of Congress – drove us recklessly into our current dire situation. And yet in spite of the mess they made of our country and the world itself, there’s no rage on display here, nor much sense that great damage has been done. Stone is so determined to offer a fair and balanced film, he neuters it. Rated PG-13. Grade: C-

Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc:

Other titles available this week include two television throwbacks, each of which is recommended. First up is the “Partridge Family: Fourth Season,” in which there remains something comfortingly surreal about watching Shirley Jones riff out on an electric keyboard while her television family (David Cassidy, Susan Dey, Danny Bonaduce, that forgotten little blond girl) join her on drums, guitars, tambourine and vocals. Here, we get all of the fourth season’s episodes remastered, thus allowing the viewer to delight fully in the complexity of all those Peter Pan collars. I think I love it. Same goes for “Bewitched: Complete Seventh Season,” with Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) creating her share of entertaining bombast with the help of Endora (Agnes Moorehead), Uncle Arthur (Paul Lynde), Dr. Bombay (Bernard Fox), and others. On Blu-ray, look for a slew of new releases, the best of which are Spike Lee’s war drama, “Miracle at St. Anna”; Peter Sellers in his terrific 1979 dramedy “Being There”; Richard Gere and Julia Roberts in the film that turned Julia Roberts into Julia Roberts, “Pretty Woman”; and the full-length feature film “Stargate: The Ark of Truth,” which successfully continues where the sci-fi series “Stargate SG-1″ left off. For those seeking old-school horror thrills, turn to the deluxe edition of “Friday the 13th Uncut,” which boasts an additional 10 seconds of footage axed from the film’s original 1980 release. Apparently back in the day, those 10 seconds were too graphic. Now, in this brave new world of torture porn, where guttings are the mainstay, those additional seconds are akin to spending a pleasant summer day at the lake. Only, in this case, with a machete in your head.

WeekinRewind.com is the site for BDN 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 on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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