DVD Corner

Posted March 27, 2009, at 6:27 p.m.

“Slumdog Millionaire” DVD, Blu-ray: Danny Boyle’s Academy Award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” proves that Boyle is among the most restless directors working in Hollywood today. He has tried his hand at so many genres, one has to wonder what’s left for him. A silent film? Don’t bet against it — or him. Here, the director comes through with an interna-tional drama underscored with suspense, torture, love and betrayal, a good deal of which are fueled with the unstoppable energy of Bollywood pop. The film is set amid some of India’s poorest locations, and yet this is one of last year’s richer movies. From Simon Beaufoy’s script, elements are predictable (a quibble), but the movie never is slight, in large part due to its superb cast — Dev Patel as Jamal, a young man who finds himself on the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”; Freida Pinto as Jamal’s love interest, Latika; and Anil Kapoor as Prem Kumar, the show’s cruel host who is at a loss as to how this uneducated “slumdog” has answered every question correctly. With only one question left — and 20 million rupees hanging in the balance if Jamal nails it — the show ends, the audience clears, and Jamal is abducted by authorities, who start torturing him in an effort to make him admit that he’s cheating. Only he isn’t. So begins this young man’s story, with Boyle showing that Jamal was educated the hard way — not from books, but from life on the streets. Rated R. Grade: A-

“American History X” Blu-ray: An unnerving movie that explores the violent worlds of neo-Nazi skinheads. Edward Norton gives an Academy Award-nominated performance as Derek Vinyard, a ruthless bigot and fearless gang leader who renounces his past after murdering two black men for attempting to steal his car. With Edward Furlong as Derek’s impression-able younger brother, the film sometimes feels pieced together and its conclusion is too neat to suit, but Norton is consistently watchable, charging this ugly, relentless film with one of the best performances of his career. Rated R. Grade: B+

“The Chronicles of Riddick: Unrated Director’s Cut” Blu-ray: A loose sequel to the 2000 breakout hit “Pitch Black,” “Riddick” is light-years away from that movie, whose tense mood of dread unfolded in the dark. “Riddick” wants to switch on the lights, which is fine since it reveals Holger Gross’ terrific set design that embraces a more-is-more sensibility that makes the film appear more interesting than it is, particularly in high definition, where it comes alive, at least visually. The story, however, is a mess. Riddick (Vin Diesel) must battle the vast army of the Necromongers, a fundamentalist group of leatherclad muscleheads determined to subjugate the universe. Should its inhabitants refuse to conform, they’ll have their souls sucked out of their bodies. Acting for those in the balcony are Colm Feore as Lord Marshal, Thandie Newton as the mincing Dame Vaako and Dame Judi Dench as Aereon, a ghostly ambassador of the “Elemental” race Riddick is trying to save. The moment she appears onscreen, it strikes you that the actress might have dementia. That quickly ceases to matter. At this point, “Riddick” already has become “The Chronicles of Arthritic,” so lame that it needs a cane to lumber into its final act. Unrated. Grade: C-

“Final Destination” Blu-ray: About as subtle as an amplified death rattle — only not quite as fun to listen to. It begins with Alex (Devan Sawa) and his classmates preparing for a doomed trip to France. We know the trip is doomed not only because Alex is clairvoyant and sees it happen before it happens, but because director James Wong tells us it’s doomed with foreshadowing so blatant it strips the film of suspense. When handled well, this sort of spoon-feeding can build tension — Hitchcock was a master at it. But Wong doesn’t understand restraint. He’d rather slice a woman’s throat, have her stumble around while she drowns in her own blood, electrocute her, and then have a set of butcher knives fall on top of her and pin her to the floor. As with each calamity that occurs in “Final Destination,” all of this happens while John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” warbles in the background. As unlikely as it might seem for the film’s target audience, this probably isn’t the sort of legacy Mr. Denver had in mind when he himself died in a plane crash. Rated R. Grade: D-

“Ghosts of Mars” Blu-ray: From John Carpenter, a movie that feels as if the World Wrestling Entertainment took over the Red Planet and gave it a pile driver. It’s the year 2176 and a band of Earth colonists is under attack by an army of zombies. Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge lead the onslaught of bad acting. The film does score a handful of well-conceived action scenes, but its story is so rote, most of it is a bore. Rated R. Grade: C-

“Marley & Me” DVD, Blu-ray: For those who love dogs, even the most ravenous, destructive types, here’s your movie. For those who prefer cats, here’s a good reason. “Marley & Me” is about a yellow Labrador named Marley, an unhinged wrecking ball of bad manners. The dog’s owners, John and Jennifer Grogan (Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston), are exasperated by him and, at least for John, who writes a popular newspaper column about Marley, also inspired by him. Beyond Marley, though, this is a movie about the ups and downs of marriage, the highs and lows of career and life, and how the Grogans and their three children grow up and apart and together again while Marley ages. The film is manufactured to the point of offering zero surprises, but Wilson and Aniston possess a swell, unexpected charm. As for Marley, he’s here to channel our own memories and emotions in ways best left for the screen. Rated PG. Grade: B-

“Pitch Black” Blu-ray: A fine addition to the world of high-definition. Here is a movie that knows what the best horror films know so well — real horror is best realized in the dark. The film is a good student that has learned from the pitfalls of the genre — weak premise, cluttered plot, nice special effects at the cost of thinly drawn characters — and uses that knowl-edge to create a world filled with believable characters, genuine suspense and moments of horror that grab within the gathering darkness. Director David Twohy has the ability to make the rehashed seem fresh. The opening shot of a spaceship slamming into an unknown planet with three suns is done especially well. The ship’s nine survivors, including the female pilot, Fry (Radha Michell), lawman Johns (Cole Hauser) and the dangerous prisoner Riddick (Vin Diesel), learn they must take cover from the darkness of a rare solar eclipse or else. Indeed, as they discover in one particularly bloody scene, this planet holds a carnivorous secret, and one that’s only let loose in the dark. Rated: R. 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 on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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