DVD Corner

Posted May 29, 2009, at 9:23 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“Defiance” DVD, Blu-ray: From Edward Zwick, a film based on the true story of a group of Jewish brothers who witnessed the murder of their family and friends at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. They fled Poland, escaped to the woods of Belarus, and decided to fight back when their numbers swelled to more than 1,000 as more Jews escaped for their lives. Sometimes the movie is so subtle and well-done, you admire Zwick for his reserve and tact. At other times, however, the director’s heavy hand pushes it into parody. Daniel Craig is Tuvia, Liev Schreiber is Zus and Jamie Bell is the boyish Asael, are the brothers who at first planned to escape into the woods alone. Their strategy was simple — wait out the Nazis by surviving in a dense forest. Trouble is, hundreds of others literally trickled out of the woodwork (all of whom eventually would form the Bielski Otriad resistance). The growing numbers of Jews brought promise of strength, but also complications, not the least of which was how the brothers would feed these people as winter settled in, and how they could keep so many people hidden, since the Nazis were patrolling nearby. With tensions rising between the more passive Tuvia and the headstrong Zus, the movie manages a few solid scenes between Craig and Schreiber, with each actor happy to take on the other while ambushing his share of Nazi troops until the plot works to separate them. For his part, Bell’s Asael is apparently here to flirt with a pretty girl and have a chance at a first kiss. In the right hands, such a situation could have been profound given the grim circumstances at hand. But Zwick is too unfocused to ground it with the weight of meaning. His talented cast came to act and while they find pockets in which to do so, the shallow script proves too slight and too hobbled by stock dialogue for the characters to be anything more than just casually interesting. Rated R. Grade: C+

“Air Force One” Blu-ray: Features an engaging script, genuinely gripping scenes, and well-acted performances by Harrison Ford as the president of the United States, and Glenn Close as his vice president. When Air Force One is taken hostage by a group of terrorists led by Ivan Korshunov (Gary Oldman), the president is thought to have slipped through a special escape pod. He hasn’t. Hiding on board, Ford finds himself fighting to keep himself, his family and his country safe. A former Vietnam veteran, he proves a formidable opponent to Oldman’s equally formidable terrorist, who relishes killing off hostages in an effort to get what he really wants — the release from prison of Gen. Ivan Radek (Jurgen Prochnow), a powerful man who will threaten a communist return to power in Russia if he is set free. Who has the power to free Radek? The president, of course. Audiences likely will have a grand time watching this particular war between terrorist and president play out. Rated R. Grade: B+

“The Graduate” Blu-ray: Few movies compare with “The Graduate” when it comes to communicating the anxiety, dark hilarity and potential misery of one’s first sexual experience. In 1967, just as the sexual revolution was nearing its bed-shaking peak, the sexually naive Benjamin Braddock brought all of his angst, confusion and bumbling humanity to the screen. For Dustin Hoffman, it was a career-making performance. In popular culture, his character defined two separate eras as he grew out of the repression of the past, and into a man reflecting a more sexually free and aggressive time. The movie features a great performance by Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, the older woman who seduces Benjamin, a dull, self-centered cur with nothing interesting to offer and who is going nowhere. Still, it’s easy to like him because of his naive charm. It’s easy to relate to him because we see in him ghosts of our younger selves — that’s the point of the movie, the reason it works. His faults rest in youth, which can be forgiven. Thus, when you watch him onscreen, you have faith that he will emerge into the better, more interesting person he needs to become — if only for the sake of those people who will enter his life in the future. Rated PG. Grade: B+

“Rollerball” Blu-ray: John McTiernan’s thriller is one of those movies you never quite forget — which is why, I suppose, some of us have psychotherapy, mood-enhancing prescription drugs and neighborhood bars to help us cope. Based on the 1975 original starring James Caan and Maud Adams, this 2002 version is determined to overlook everything that made its inspiration so prescient. Instead of exploring why pop culture is fascinated with extreme sports, it’s only content to exploit the violence and the blood within the sport. Instead of focusing on how these sports are shaped and fueled by major corporations, it overlooks their influence in favor of featuring a string of head-banging, heavy-metal riffs. The film stars Chris Klein as Jonathan, a fresh-faced kid from San Francisco who leaves his meaningless life in the States to become a meaningless sports star in Kazakhstan, Russia, a post-communist bloc country that’s absolutely certain its ticket to free trade rests with the game of Rollerball. I want you to think about that for a minute — it’s a revelation that will make you either laugh or cry. With Jean Reno as the evil Petrovich, a mustache-twirling, nouveau capitalist who is determined to turn Rollerball into a smash success, LL Cool J as an accountant-turned-Rollerball superstar and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as a Russian minx whose performance suggests she worked for scale and a case of Stoli, “Rollerball” takes its place beside “Battlefield Earth” as one of the worst movies Hollywood has shucked out in years. As “Roller Boogie” is my witness, they don’t make them any worse than this. Rated R. Grade: F

“Spy Game” Blu-ray: Tony Scott’s “Spy Game” spans 16 years, from 1975 to 1991, although you’d never know it judging by the faces of its stars, Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, who don’t age a day as the film ricochets among the decades. In the film, Redford is Nathan Muir, a weathered CIA agent whose retirement from the agency is interrupted when his protege, Tom Bishop (Pitt), botches a risky attempt to free a political prisoner (Catherine McCormick) from a heavily guarded prison in Hong Kong. Now facing certain execution in 24 hours, Tom’s only hope is Nathan, who must outmaneuver several high-level CIA operatives determined to sacrifice Bishop so they can protect a pending trade agreement the U.S. is entering into with China. Instead of focusing on this story, which gets off to a rousing start and hints at what might have become of Redford’s character in 1975’s “Three Days of the Condor,” “Spy Game” splits into shards of vignettes. For the next 90 minutes, it reaches into the past to play a game of global Ping-Pong, bouncing among the United States, Vietnam, East Berlin, West Berlin, China and Beirut in a series of extended flashbacks and flash-forwards designed to underscore the importance of the relationship between Muir and Bishop. What’s created is a sort of reverse momentum, and while parts of the movie are lively and a few scenes are chilling, particularly a terrorist bombing that blows apart a Beirut high-rise, too much of the film is bogged down with reams of exposition — most of which keep it from going anywhere. Rated R. 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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