DVD Corner

By Christopher Smith,
Posted April 03, 2009, at 5:10 p.m.

“Doubt” DVD, Blu-ray: A church melodrama of the highest order that has so much going for it, it’s a shame it’s ultimately as hollow as it is. The film stars two of Hollywood’s best working actors — Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman — as well as Amy Adams, who grounds the movie in ways that led to an Academy Award nomination. Joining her, Streep and Hoffman in receiving that honor is Viola Davis, who gives the movie a necessary shot of substance amid the sideshow that is Streep’s cliched but marvelously overheated performance. Set in the Bronx in 1964, the film follows Streep’s Sister Aloysius, the pinched principal of St. Nicholas School who has some rather antiquated beliefs about how to lead her charges. Vicious Aloysius is all about inciting fear — she’ll literally smack you down if she thinks you’re out of line — which is in direct contrast to how the more liberal and kind Father Flynn (Hoffman) leads. Given the way Streep plays Aloysius, plenty will be reminded of her performance in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Here, she obviously came to play “The Devil Wears a Habit.” We’re often better for it, particularly in a movie that questions whether Flynn did something inappropriate with altar boy Donald Stewart (Joseph Foster). Doubt fuels the situation, with Aloysius eagerly wanting to take Flynn to the mat when Sister James (Adams) spills what she knows. What builds between Flynn and Aloysius is the potential for one massive showdown, which the movie comes close to providing, but which it fails to deliver with any real guts or substance when it counts. It’s discouraging. The whole moment the movie builds to just evaporates onscreen. The good news? It’s still fun to watch Streep come to a full boil. It’s also a treat to watch her spar with Hoffman, even if they don’t fully come through when they must (the script lets them down). As for Adams, she’s offered her meat and potatoes in this movie, and she eats them up with a trembling relish. But it’s Davis’ brief appearance as Donald’s mother that’s so powerful, it comes very close to stealing the show. Rated PG-13. Grade: B

“Collateral Damage”

Blu-ray: Apt title. Arnold Schwarzenegger is Gordy Brewer, an L.A. firefighter whose wife and son are killed by a terrorist’s bomb in a scene that can’t be viewed without recalling the terrorist attacks of 2001. Otherwise, it’s just what you expect from a Schwarzenegger movie — one filled with a string of unlikely scenarios featuring our pumped-up hero. Furious that the CIA isn’t doing enough to catch the terrorist who murdered his family, Gordy sets out to bring the man, identified as an American-hating Colombian named The Wolf (Cliff Curtis), to justice on his own. Predictably, it’s a journey peppered with peril and danger, but surprisingly little suspense or tension. As an actor, Schwarzenegger still has the emotional range of a cube steak, which serves him well in such films as, say, “Terminator 3,” in which he plays a defunct robot programmed to have no emotions. But in a movie whose subject demands he showcase a range of pain and rage, Schwarzenegger proves he’s not our wartime Everyman — or what this clumsy movie needs. Rated R. Grade: D

“The Matrix: 10th Anniversary Edition”

Blu-ray: Choose the blue box. Visually stunning and at times genuinely harrowing, 1999’s “The Matrix” is an idea movie hampered by a ridiculously complex plot, which requires viewers to pick through the rubble of the film’s literary references, New Age ideas and slang to fully grasp what’s unfolding on screen. So, it goes without saying that all this clutter is good news for the film’s star, Keanu Reeves, who actually is saved by the plot — the film’s dense, messy writing diverts attention from his one-note performance as Neo, a computer hacker-techno-messiah anointed by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the leather-clad Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) to help save the remnants of authentic humanity from the Matrix, which, as Morpheus archly puts it, “is the wool that’s been pulled over your eyes to keep you from the truth!” Paralleling John Bruno’s “Virus,” “The Matrix” suggests that humans are the real virus destroying Earth, yet, like “Virus,” it never fully explores that question. With all of its considerable dogma and rhetoric, the film certainly pretends to be more than entertainment, but it’s ultimately just a poseur, surrendering time and again to the easier explosion, the cliched gunfight, the computer-generated special effects. But what special effects. The 10th anniversary edition includes Blu-ray’s interactive In-Movie Experience, which is a nice distraction, as well as many commentaries and documentaries, which rally to bolster the film’s presumed greatness. Rated R. Grade: B-

“No Country for Old Men: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition”

Blu-ray: This Academy Award-winning, modern-day Western hails from Ethan and Joel Coen, who arm themselves with Cormac McCarthy’s fantastic 2005 book and craft a violent, engrossing movie that never telegraphs or condescends — it keeps its twists and its surprises close to its bleeding heart, which is significant because in this movie, that heart often is hemorrhaging. Set in 1980, the film stars Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran hunting one day near the Texas-Mexico border when he comes upon a grisly mass murder in the desert. He also finds a stash of drugs and, later, $2 million in cash sandwiched within a black case. It’s when Moss takes the money that everything goes wrong. After all, working against him is the formidable psychopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem, perfect), a man determined to track Moss down and get that money for himself — God help anyone who gets in his way. One person who does is Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who completes the film’s deadly triangle by going after Moss and Chigurh. This superb movie is about the sly weaving of skill and chance that unfolds among them all, with the characters crisscrossing in and out of each other’s reach with such mounting heat, they create a knot onscreen that tightens deep in your gut. The collector’s edition includes a digital copy, featurettes, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Rated R. Grade: A

“Winged Migration”

Blu-ray: Jacques Perrin’s film — a documentary of sorts about the migration of nearly two dozen species of birds — is outstanding, an Academy Award-nominated effort from the director of 1996’s “Microcosmos” that offers something for all audiences, not only those who love birds. Shot over the course of four years on all seven continents by a crew of 450, including 14 cinematographers and 17 pilots flying anything from hot-air balloons to custom-designed airplanes, the film is filled with scenes of such breathtaking awe and stomach-turning chills, it is one of those movies that the high-definition movement is all about. In the film, it’s tough to match the showy hustle of the greater sage grouse, which could be called the Mae West of the bird world. Likewise, you’d be hard-pressed to find a scene more haunting than “Migration’s” scores of rock crabs overcoming a bird with a broken wing and then methodically plucking it bare. That gruesome reality aside, the good news for many is that capturing beauty and determination is what “Migration” is about. With Perrin’s brief narration, the film provides the ultimate bird’s-eye view, soaring alongside these birds — which were trained from birth to accept Perrin and his crew — as they sweep the globe in search of food. Aligned in symmetry, their necks extended like exclamation points, they are driven to destinations that can span an astonishing 12,500 miles, as is the case with the arctic tern, which somehow travels twice a year from the Arctic to Antarctica. It’s that often perilous journey, boosted by the world as its backdrop and hindered at seemingly every turn by man and his quest to hunt or destroy the environment, that makes “Winged Migration” the best Blu-ray disc to see this week. Rated G. Grade: A

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 Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/04/03/living/dvd-corner-29/ printed on September 22, 2014