DVD Corner

By Christopher Smith,
Posted Aug. 01, 2009, at 12:02 a.m.

“Race to Witch Mountain” DVD, Blu-ray: A tepid remake of 1975’s “Escape to Witch Mountain,” which the brass at Disney now are calling “Race to Witch Mountain,” a title that makes perfect sense since the movie itself appears to have been made in a rush. The film is a bland retelling of the already so-so source material. In it, Dwayne Johnson is Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas taxi driver with former ties to the mob (not to mention to prison) who finds himself protecting two alien children. They are Seth (Alexander Ludwig, awful) and Sara (AnnaSophia Robb, horrible), two white, blond-haired, blue-eyed youths who are just plain creepy. Since FBI agent Henry Burke (Ciaran Hinds) is after them, it’s up to Jack to keep them out Burke’s hands while also figuring out a way to get them to Witch Mountain, where their spaceship is being held for examination. If they don’t reach their ship and make it back home in time, trouble will ensue for all of us since Seth and Sara’s “people” are planning to take over Earth. Naturally, all of that can be prevented if Jack, Seth, Sara and a sexy scientist (Carla Gugino) … race to Witch Mountain! Unfortunately, that exclamation point isn’t really deserved, particularly given the lax direction, which shows no finesse for moving the action forward at the quick clip it deserved. The best part of the movie turns out to be Johnson himself, who once again comes through with a game performance, but beyond him, nothing here is remarkable, nothing especially worth recommending. It’s just an old relic with new clothes and a weaker heart. Rated PG. Grade: C-

“Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 2”: Forbidden? There was a time when some wanted them to be, but those people likely now are dead and these hardboiled movies live on, proving just as necessary as ever. The five films in this blue collection from Warner all came before the Hays Code began its corrupt squeeze of censorship. As such, these films are more racy, free and entertaining than many that came after it. Included are Norma Shearer in 1930’s “The Divorce” and 1931’s “A Free Soul,” with Shearer winning the Academy Award for the former; 1931’s harrowing “Night Nurse,” with Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell and a sleazy Clark Gable taking each other out; and 1932’s “Three on a Match,” in which Blondell appears opposite Ann Dvorak and an impossibly good-natured Bette Davis. Rounding out this satisfying set is 1933’s “Female,” with Ruth Chatterson taking her share of male secretaries to bed, and then coldly ditching them to the curb when she’s finished with them. Lovely woman. Fine collection. Commentaries abound. Grade: B+

“Literary Classics Collection”: Six movies, all adapted from their respective books — 1962’s “Billy Budd,” with Peter Ustinov successfully tackling Melville; 1950’s “Captain Horatio Hornblower,” with Gregory Peck and Virginia Mayo drenched amid the swashbuckling madness; and the 1937 and 1952 versions of “The Prisoner of Zenda,” the former a classic, while the latter is a shot-for-shot, Technicolor remake. Also included is 1948’s burlesque version of “The Three Musketeers” with Gene Kelly, Lana Turner and Angela Lansbury, and Vincente Minnelli’s 1949 version of “Madame Bovary,” with Jennifer Jones of all people battling famously against Bovary’s unwanted provincial life. Every one of them holds up. Grade: B+

“Sculptures of the Louvre”: For those who have visited Paris’ sprawling Louvre Museum only to come away feeling as if a bottle of absinthe is in order, this set is for you. But it’s also for those who haven’t visited but always have yearned to. This seven-part series offers a satisfying look into some of the most famous sculptures housed in one of the world’s most chaotic, comprehensive museums — it allows for a measure of clarity to cut through the clutter and the hype. If there ever is a museum that needs the focus, clarity and steadiness offered here, it’s the Louvre. Grade: A-

“Sling Blade” Blu-ray: In this rich, deeply moving film, Billy Bob Thornton is Karl Childers, a man released from an Arkansas mental institution 25 years after he committed two violent, bloody crimes. Now, having done his time, Karl is forced to face his freedom with enormous trepidation — how can he possibly survive in a world he knows so little about? With the help of Frank (Lucas Black), a young boy he befriends by accident; the boy’s kind-hearted mother, Linda (Natalie Canerday); and her gay friend, Vaughan (John Ritter), Karl finds his way. But he also finds himself thrown into the middle of Linda’s abusive relationship with Doyle (Dwight Yoakam), an alcoholic who beats and threatens this family Karl has come to love — and will protect at any cost. With strong performances from all members of the cast, “Sling Blade” is a triumph of humanity over evil. It shakes by stripping away the surface of our society and exposing the rotten marrow at its core. Rated R. Grade: A-

“The Tennessee Williams Film Collection”: Five films, some among our best, all inspired by the great playwright Tennessee Williams. Included are 1951’s “A Street Car Named Desire,” with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh; 1958’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” with Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman and Burl Ives’ Big Daddy faced with big secrets among an ongoing run of mendacity; 1964’s “The Night of the Iguana” with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr; Elia Kazan’s 1956 film “Baby Doll,” with Karl Malden; 1961’s “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone,” which smolders with Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty; and 1962’s “Sweet Bird of Youth,” with Paul Newman, Geraldine Page and Rip Torn. Includes a bonus DVD, “Tennessee Williams’ South,” that makes great strides in getting to the core of a complicated, fascinating man. Grade: A

Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc:

Given the dated, unbridled kitsch that is “The Love Boat: Season Two, Vol. 2,” there’s no waiting for this series to hit its stride. Amid the romantic dilemmas offered by the love-pushers aboard the Pacific Princess, the show has lost none of its corny, Club-Med vibe. The guest appearances are a throwaway of has-beens, and they are reason enough to watch. In this edition, look for Bob Denver, Cyd Charisse, Sonny Bono, Nanette Fabray, Ethel Merman, Randolph Mantooth and Abe Vigoda, among others, to take to the high seas for messy adventures in love, limbo and loss, all of which naturally are fueled by the incessant grind of the show’s looping laugh track. Beyond this, on Blu-ray disc, several titles are just out, the least of which is Adam Sandler’s low comedy “The Waterboy” — skip it — and “The Soloist,” a tepid drama that goes for the heart strings and pulls so hard, they snap. Based on a true story, the film stars Jamie Foxx as the homeless and mentally ill musician Nathaniel Ayers and Robert Downey Jr. as the writer who comes to champion him in his columns for the Los Angeles Times. Their good performances are undone by a sodden script. Better fare can be found in the full-length feature “Prison Break: The Final Break,” which likely will appease fans unhappy with the series’ final season as it ties a ribbon on its loose ends. Two titles from the BBC are especially noteworthy. First is “Wild Pacific,” a gorgeously shot documentary the explores the world’s largest ocean and all the riches actively at unrest within its niches. Typical of the BBC, the photography is stunning. Second is “Torchwood: Children of Earth,” a suspenseful, well-done sci-fi extension of the “Torchwood” series in which the end of humanity is nigh as every child on Earth suddenly stops. Just — stops. It’s up to John Barrowman’s Capt. Jack and his team of alien investigators to save the world — and its children — from certain extinction. The result is brisk and intense, with the show’s exploration of human sexuality deftly complicating matters in ways that will alienate some, and likely titillate others.

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.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/01/living/dvd-corner-21/ printed on December 29, 2014