DVD Corner

Posted April 30, 2009, at 6:20 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” DVD, Blu-ray: From David Fincher, well-done wackery. Here is the story of a child born into a wealthy New Orleans family, but who upon his birth is so hideous to behold (he looks like a cured loin of pork, only wiggling, screeching and alive), that his father leaves him on stairs that lead to the woman who will become his surrogate mother. Her name is Queenie and she’s played by Taraji P. Henson in a no-nonsense, Academy Award-nominated performance that’s among last year’s best. Loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story, “Button” reveals its curiosities the moment Queenie pulls back the child’s swaddling blanket and finds inside the oddity of an old man caught in an infant’s body. Since she can’t have children herself, she decides to make this one her own. She names him Benjamin and enters into a bittersweet journey that questions what it must be like to live one’s life while aging backwards. The answers are the usual suspects —triumph and tragedy, happiness and despair, love and loss — only turned on its side in ways that allow for an unusual kind of cruelness to creep in. For a narrator, the movie offers Caroline (Julia Ormond), who is given a memoir from her dying mother Daisy (Cate Blanchett) and asked to read it aloud. As Caroline reads, she provides the thread that strings us through Benjamin’s fantastic journey. At nearly three hours, the movie is too dense to fully explore here, but as Benjamin (beautifully played by Brad Pitt in a bittersweet performance) ages in reverse, we find him meeting along the way all those people who will become important to him. Daisy is one of them, and he falls in love with her. Tilda Swinton appears on scene as a kinky, married socialite so fascinated by Benjamin’s metamorphosis, she soon is sleeping with him. Another key figure is Mike (Jared Harris), a hard-drinking tugboat captain who gives Benjamin his first job and becomes one of his closest friends. Throughout “Button,” there’s an ache to the proceedings that’s palpable, particularly as Benjamin slowly turns into the man we eventually recognize as Brad Pitt while those close to him move into the old age he already has experienced. As he grows younger and younger (the special effects are masterful), he watches those closest to him slip away while he himself is fueled by a vitality they have long since forgotten. It’s tempting to say more, but the movie is, after all, about one man’s curious case. So, best not to say another word about those curiosities, and how they conspire to make for one haunting film. Rated PG-13. Grade: A-

“Dallas: Eleventh Season” DVD: Proves once again that where there’s oil, there’s drama. Here, the usual doses of death, destruction, barbed tongues, backbiting, law suits, giant hair and swift kicks to the groin are the mainstay, but the focus mostly is on J.R. (Larry Hagman), who was destroyed at the end of the 10th season, and who fights back — in all sorts of underhanded ways — this season. Barbara Bel Geddes returns as Miss Ellie, and the show is better for it. Setting herself on auto-pilot, she grimaces through the fireworks, the alcoholic benders and all those appealing little adulteries — and remains the force that keeps this show together. Grade: B

“Dexter: Complete Second Season” Blu-ray: What’s a serial killer to do when he also happens to be a forensics expert for the Miami Police Department? For Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), the answer is to literally take a bite out of crime. In this show, that’s the hook as Dexter routinely slaughters criminals he can’t bring to justice. Thing is, he’s so likable, just try not cheering him on. Beyond that slick sleight-of-hand, this second season finds Dexter struggling with two women in his life. First is his girlfriend Rita (Julie Benz), with whom emotions are strained, and then there’s Lila (Jaime Murray), with whom Dexter finds a complication he might just pursue. The result is smart and engaging, a savage little television show that’s at once human and darkly comic, with the daring writing and fine cast making the unusual work. Grade: A-

“Hawaii Five-O: Sixth Season” DVD: The challenge is obvious — how to make each episode as energetic as Morton Stevens’ iconic theme song? For this sixth season of the long-running series, the good news is that most episodes come through. Set in Hawaii, the show finds Jack Lord bringing back and the heat and the cool as Steve McGarrett, the pompadoured leader of an elite four-man police team that finds Kono Kalakaua (Zulu), Chin Ho Kelly (Kam Fong) and Danny “Danno” Williams (James McArthur) again working to bring down the evil Chinese agent Wo Fat, among others. Highlights include the episodes “Banzai Pipeline,” “Mother’s Deadly Helper” and “Try to Die on Time.” Grade: B+

“Place Vendome” DVD: A seductive film that stars Catherine Deneuve as a gorgeous, troubled woman of a certain age who finds herself caught in the throes of an international diamond intrigue. Here, she’s Marianne Malivert, a drunk who has lost her enthusiasm for life, but who is startled into sobriety after the family diamond empire hits the skids; her husband, Vincent (Bernard Fresson), takes his life; and a number of Russian Mafiosi close in on Place Vendome, the Parisian square where much of the film takes place. There, they plan to stake their claim on the diamonds Vincent stole. But Marianne, who knows nothing of Vincent’s theft because, frankly, she’s been too soused for too long to notice, is forced to piece together facts that eventually lead to a number of revelations, reawakenings, surprise reunions — and, if Marianne has the courage to see it through, perhaps even her own rebirth. Midway through the film, there’s a line that’s meant to encapsulate the essence of Deneuve’s character, but I think the comment really is the director’s attempt to try to pinpoint Deneuve’s own screen appeal: “It’s not that she’s gullible, but that she’s malleable.” For a woman who has struck envy in so many women and lust in so many men, those words may be an oversimplification of Deneuve’s appeal, but they do help to explain the root of it. Not rated. Grade: A-

“Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1” Blu-ray: It never gets old. That’s the thing about the original episodes of “Star Trek,” which Paramount has just released on Blu-ray disc in time for the May 8 release of J.J. Abrams’ upcoming movie. Here, the images are so bright and clear, Trekkies likely will faint at the quality of the print. Also enhanced are the special effects, which have been updated, though not at the cost of the show’s tongue-in-cheek charm. The 1966-67 season was memorable, featuring such episodes as “A Taste of Armageddon,” “Operation—Annihilate!” and “Amok Time.” Set your phasers to stun, because that’s pretty much the effect these remastered, high-definition episodes will have on their legions of fans. Grade: A

“The Waltons: Complete Ninth Season” DVD: Goodnight, indeed. Set mostly in Depression-era Virginia, the ninth and final season of this genial drama follows the Waltons through yet another season of hardships, with Michael Learned’s Olivia having none of it — the actress bailed from the show. Meanwhile, a robust Robert Wightman continues on as John-boy, since Richard Thomas also bailed two seasons ago, presumably to move on to better things. So, with the show winding down and with major cast members gone, it all seems off-track and strained. In this season, we get such episodes as “The Outrage: Part 1” and “The Outrage: Part 2,” neither of which is as engaging as their titles suggest, as well as these winners — ”The Lumberjack,” “The Hostage,” “The Hot Rod” and “The Victims,” the latter of which has everything to do with how viewers might feel after slumming through this sorry season. In spite of its dramatic backdrop of war, the show remains flat and overtly earnest, an acquired taste that’s little more than an antiseptic balm of family highs and woes. Grade: C-

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

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