DVD Corner

Posted May 22, 2009, at 11:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“A Bug’s Life” Blu-ray: An engaging story layered over a backdrop so richly drawn, its landscapes will remind some viewers of the great French documentary “Microcosmos.” The film follows Flik (voice of Dave Foley), an enterprising, luckless ant who accidentally puts his colony at risk when he upends a leaf filled with food meant for a band of ferocious grasshoppers. The grasshoppers, led by the wicked Hopper (Kevin Spacey), eventually storm Ant Island demanding the colony replenish the food — or else. But the colony needs what little food it has left to survive themselves. What to do? Fight back, Flik weakly proclaims, and then flees for the city, where he hopes to hire warrior insects to help fight their buggy war. Naturally — and comically — he doesn’t find warrior bugs but nine hapless, unappreciated performers at P.T. Flea’s Circus, including a walking stick named Slim (David Hyde Pierce), a rhino beetle named Dim (Brad Garrett), a cowardly caterpillar named Heimlich (Joe Ranft), and an irascible, tough-talking Lady Bug (Denis Leary) who loves to rumble. The rest, as they say, is a bug’s life — and what a thrilling life it is, proving to be so unceasingly charming, some children may think twice after seeing it before casually trampling on a bug’s world. Rated: G. Grade: A

“Children of Men” Blu-ray: From P.D. James’ novel, Alfonso Cuaron’s dark, superb thriller is a tour de force that’s so harrowing and thought-provoking, the hellish sink into dystopia it provides made for one of 2006’s more unforgettable trips. Now on Blu-ray, the film opens in the year 2027, we’re in London and the situation is chaos, though hardly only in Britain. The world has collapsed into ruin and the human race is facing its end. Women no longer are able to conceive children — for the past 18 years, they’ve been infertile. So when one woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) reveals that she is pregnant, an explosive situation ignites, with several special interest groups wanting control of her. A fantastic Clive Owen, Julianne Moore and Michael Caine sell the movie. Rated R. Grade: A

“Cinderella Man” Blu-ray: Also on Blu-ray is Ron Howard’s “Cinderella Man,” which begins on Nov. 30, 1928, with real-life boxer Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) in the ring and beating the daylights out of Gerald Ambrose “Tuffy” Griffiths. It’s a punishing fight, brisk and ferocious, with Griffiths struck dumb in the hail of Braddock’s blows. Behind the camera, Howard is just as aggressive, swinging around the ring with such finesse that the scene draws inward, boiling down to the swiftness of the man’s right hook, the jaw it repeatedly slams, the cheer of the crowd. A mere 48 seconds into the second round and Griffiths is flat on his back, with little X’s for eyes and a triumphant Braddock scoring a knockout win. For his trouble, Griffiths goes home with a broken face and a wounded spirit, but for Braddock and his manager, Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti), things are a bit rosier. They’re sharing a $15,000 pot. If history weren’t poised to have its way with them, you’d swear their immediate futures would remain as bright as this. But no. This smart, beautifully crafted drama wastes no time eroding into the next four years, where the bleak reality of the Great Depression has put down roots and pushed up thorns. It’s here, in this gray world of hard times and harder luck, that Braddock has become a has-been bum with a broken right hand and a dead career. At home is Mae (Renee Zellweger) and their three kids, who are drinking watered-down milk and wearing watered-down smiles. Even before the power is shut off, there seems to be no light in their flat, just a damp darkness that eats the light. With the bills piling up, they are a family nearly without hope, which is amplified when their youngest boy develops a cough that sends them and this movie into turmoil. But not syrup, not cheese. “Cinderella Man” plays by the rules of the genre, yes, but its saving grace is that it doesn’t condescend to the times with false sentiment. Howard believes in this tale and these people, and with the help of his excellent cast, he elevates his story into the real thing. Channeling Frank Capra, he gets strong, moving performances from Crowe, Giamatti and Zellweger while building his movie to an almost operatic second chance for Braddock. Rated PG-13. Grade: A

“Gunsmoke: Season Three, Vol. 2”: In Dodge City, Kansas, where smoking guns and shootouts are the order of the day, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness, superb) is up to his arms in the chaos brimming along the new frontier. This second volume of the show’s third season appeared during the 1958 television season. It isn’t as dark as what came before it, but within it, you nevertheless can see its influence reflected in other television shows, from “The Big Valley” straight through to “Deadwood.” The series is an appealing throwback, with Dennis Weaver as Dillon’s sidekick Chester and Amanda Blake as the formidable Miss Kitty, owner of the lively Longbranch Saloon. Blake is very good here — she’s tough and she’s pretty — but once you’ve seen Joan Crawford’s saloonkeeper in the camp classic “Johnny Guitar” (catch it this summer at the River City Cinema Society’s outdoor film festival, “Summer Camp”), all others come second. Grade: B+

“Seabiscuit: Blu-ray”: Unlike “Cinderella Man,” the tone here is completely wrong. The first 30 minutes are pure chicken-fried gravy, so laden with fat that the story can’t get off the ground. The initial scenes alone are a Norman Rockwell stomachache, reflecting images of impossibly rich autumnal hues, beaming families coming together to recite lines of Shakespeare over dinner, the romantic haze of lives grandly lived. Countering this on the backside of those 30 minutes are the disastrous stock market crash of 1929, the abandonment of a child and the death of another, a collapsed marriage, prostitution, poverty, gambling, heartbreak and — since there’s no sense in applying the brakes now — the delirious highs of a full-blown Mexican fiesta. It’s enough to make the afternoon soaps look downright sane in comparison. Now out on Blu-ray disc, “Seabiscuit” remains a sugarcube of good intentions that melts into saccharine mediocrity. Director Garry Marshall is so influenced by the documentaries of Ken Burns that he uses Burns’ own honey-voiced narrator, David McCullough, to narrate. From Laura Hillenbrand’s excellent bestseller, the film is heavy-handed and yet, to be fair, it’s also well-acted. Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and Chris Cooper join the horse Seabiscuit in forming a formidable team of Depression-era underdogs — each is good in his respective roles. The race scenes are even better and then there’s William H. Macy as Tick Tock McGlaughlin, a boozy radio reporter with a meticulous shtick and an ultra-smooth delivery that gives the film its much-needed jolt of humor. He is the standout. Still, the movie falls short of the spellbinding book, which didn’t romanticize the past into a shape it didn’t have, as the movie does, but respected it and honored it, which this movie doesn’t. Rated PG-13. Grade: C

“24: Season Seven” DVD, Blu-ray: In the wake of the writer’s strike, the show found its reprieve and obviously, as this solid season underscores, a shot of new life. Kiefer Sutherland is back as Jack Bauer, and this time he once again finds himself embroiled in typical defense issues, this one revolving around the infiltration of the nation’s computer infrastructure. Amid the intrigue, brooding glances and gunfire, several entertaining twists enter into the equation — not the least of which is Jack’s potentially deadly exposure to a bioweapon. What will save him? Since this isn’t a timid series, that would be the controversial use of stem cells. From the get-go, we’re off and running in a tighter, nastier production that begins at 8 a.m. one day and ends 24 episodes later at 8 a.m. the next day. The final episodes are harrowing, and they work to lift this fine season into a satisfying conclusion. Grade: B+

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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