DVD Corner: “Gran Torino”

Posted June 05, 2009, at 6:32 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“Gran Torino” DVD, Blu-ray: Clint Eastwood, decked out in full Dirty Harry mode, directs himself as Walt Kowalski, a proud American, a recent widower and a die-hard racist who lives in a part of Detroit that is becoming increasingly diverse. Walt is having none of it. He is aggressive about his dislike of the growing Asian community around him, and he’s not above walking over to his neighbor’s lawn and spitting on it even while one of them, an elderly Asian woman, looks on in disgust. Not that she’s having any of him either; the movie is charged with an unexpected sense of humor, and in this scene the woman spits back. Walt hurls a few racial slurs at her and on he goes about his day, which usually involves spending time on his porch with his dog and drinking beer. From this perch, Walt observes the world around him with contempt. Since nobody can live up to his standards, his sour face and ugly disposition are constants (often humorously so), turning into a full-boiled rage in a conflict that develops with one of his neighbor’s kids, a sensitive teenager named Thao (Bee Vang). Thao, coaxed by a neighborhood gang who want to turn him into a “man,” tries to steal Walt’s vintage Gran Torino. When the effort fails, the thugs confront Thao at his home. Since their struggle crosses onto Walt’s lawn, out he comes with rifle in hand. What springs from this is predictable, sure, but no less satisfying. The Asian community Walt long has vilified starts to lift him up as a hero of the neighborhood for helping Thao. Walt wants none of it — he can’t stand these people, or anybody else. But when Thao’s sister, Sue (Ahney Her, excellent), works her no-nonsense magic on him, lives begin to change, even as gang threats intensify. Eastwood has said that this will be his last acting role, and if it is, what a way to go out. He’s excellent here, boiling into one character all of the elements we’ve come to love about the actor during his storied career. But here’s the catch: “Gran Torino” turned out to be Eastwood’s biggest box office opening ever for a movie in which he was the lead. So, while that sounds like it has all the makings of a swell swan song, maybe it’s also enough to keep Eastwood right where he needs to be for a while longer — on the screen. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Inside Man” Blu-ray: Another movie filled with racial tension, this time in an enjoyably convoluted heist movie from Spike Lee. The director’s mind, steeped in post-9-11 New York City, wraps around a handful of characters who never quite are who they appear to be. For that matter, you sometimes have no idea who they are at all. For instance, to discover exactly what it is that Jodie Foster’s chilly Madeline White does in this movie would indeed take somebody from the inside (her role never is fully explained), but my, how she bristles with evil. Denzel Washington and Clive Owen co-star, with “Inside Man” glossing over its plot holes with wit and charisma. Rated R. Grade: B+

“My Bloody Valentine 3-D” DVD, Blu-ray: A remake of the 1981 original, with the gimmick being that it was shot in 3-D. The story itself is a mixed-bag at best, but you have to give it up for the technology, which uses the 3-D platform to such a successful extent, it takes a mediocre horror movie and turns it into a reasonably fun, camp contender. Without diverting much from the original, director Patrick Lussier takes us back to Harmony (the irony!), a mining town in which a massacre happened 10 years earlier on Valentine’s Day, when 22 people were slain. Now, it’s all happening again, with a host of suspects offered up as to who might be the pickax-wielding maniac behind the gas mask. Whoever it is (and audiences will figure it out in spite of the film’s trick ending), the good news is that Lussier manages to offer a genuine genre throwback. All of the staples are here. The movie sports over-the-top gore, go-go girls on the run, flashes of tension, and a key ingredient for any slasher film — appealingly bad acting. Rated R. Grade: B-

“Waiting for God — Season 4”: Tom (Graham Growden) and Diana (Stephanie Cole) might be waiting for God, but they aren’t doing so quietly. At the Bayview Retirement Village, where death is everyone’s last visitor and the food is notoriously bad, these two refuse to go out gracefully, particularly Diana, whose last breath, one senses, will be spent sticking it to somebody with a complaint. Tom exists more in the ether, but he’s far from out of it. Together, they’re a team, occasionally taking breaks from their long conversations in an effort to grow old disgracefully, all while igniting panic in the impossible staff. From the BBC, which usually comes through, as they do here. Grade: A-

“Weeds: Season Four” DVD, Blu-ray: What’s a suburban mother to do when her husband drops dead and leaves her and their two sons saddled with debt? For Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), the answer is to pick herself up and to sell a little weed on the side. OK, a lot of weed on the side. This smart, darkly comic Showtime series echoes “Six Feet Under” in that its grim comedy is laced with just enough drama to give it depth. This is, after all, the season in which Nancy and family move out of their home in Agrestic, which burned to the ground in the last season, and head straight to the Tijuana border, where the bud is plentiful — and dealing with Mexican drug lords can be a wee bit dicey. The writing is as sharp as the excellent cast, with Elizabeth Perkins especially good as Nancy’s friend Celia, who is so cynical, she makes for one of the best desperate housewives on television. Grade: A-

Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc:

“Perry Mason: Season Four, Volume One” now is available from Paramount and 50 years out, the series still proves addictive. Here, Raymond Burr once again bulldozes his way through his iconic role as Mason, the Los Angeles defense attorney who, along with his assistant, Della Street (Barbara Hale, wonderful), takes people to task at the stand and lets them have it by drawing them into webs from which few could flee. Also available and recommended are the seventh season of Fox’s Emmy Award-winning cop drama “The Shield”; the very good second season and first volume of that iconic cartoon “The Jetsons”; the second season of the medical/family melodrama “Everwood”; the first season of the vampire series “The Hunger,” and William Conrad at his cool best in “Cannon: Season Two, Vol. 1.” New on Blu-ray are disappointments. Clive Owen and Naomi Watts fail to pull off a so-so thriller in “The International,” and Annette Bening, Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis fail to do the same in the 1998 thriller “The Siege.” A hive of well-known actors (Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, others) star in the fractured romantic comedy “He’s Just Not That Into You,” which audiences might feel about the movie itself, and then there’s “Predator 2,” which finds Danny Glover and Gary Busey dipping back into a franchise that’s as stale as their own careers. Finally, for those seeking something edgy on DVD and Blu-ray, turn to “Prison Break: Season Four.” Here, the conspiracy deepens, the pace quickens, the series finds its legs and, man, does it run. The show can be a kinetic ride, and in ways that remind you of the old Saturday matinee serials — at every turn, there’s a cliffhanger.

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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