DVD Corner

By Christopher Smith,
Posted Aug. 07, 2009, at 6:46 p.m.

“The Ninth Gate” Blu-ray: Satanic librarians, unite! In the Blu-ray release of “The Ninth Gate,” Hollywood finally serves that long-overlooked niche market with a film that gives devil-worshipping bibliophiles real reason to fall from grace. The film stars Johnny Depp as a scurrilous rare-book dealer who hooks up with billionaire Boris Balkan (Frank Langella), a cool piece of work who’s interested in authenticating his copy of “The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows,” a 17th century satanic text whose engravings allegedly hold the power of hauling the devil straight out of the pits of Hell. Issuing Depp’s character a check, Balkan sends the man overseas to Europe, where he not only hunts down and studies the text’s two remaining copies, but also comes upon a flying nude model (Emmanuelle Seigner), the fiery death of a wheelchair-bound baroness, and a swanky hooded orgy reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Directed by Roman Polanski, “The Ninth Gate” has none of the depth and energy of his best films, nothing new or interesting to say about the occult ideas Polanski has explored for years, and it features an ending that’s the Antichrist of all anticlimaxes, though it nevertheless moves in its own groove. There are moments here when Polanski reveals his greatness — the way a room is lit, a scene is cut, the stage is stacked — but those moments are fleeting and they leave the viewer with only with a mildly satisfying whole. Rated R. Grade: C+

“Best Actor Collection”: A mix of excellent performances in five Academy Award-winning films. Included are 1928’s “In Old Arizona,” with Warner Baxter as The Cisco Kid; 1956’s “The King and I,” in which Yul Brynner took a shine to Deborah Kerr, danced her off her feet and won an Oscar for his trouble; and 1970’s “Patton,” which finds George C. Scott becoming the bigger-than-life general so convincingly, he never shook his association with the role. Also in the set is 1973’s “Harry and Tonto,” with Art Carney winning the Oscar for his portrayal of the retired teacher Harry Coombes, and the 1987 Oliver Stone film “Wall Street,” which teaches us other lessons about life. Through the vehicle of Michael Douglas’ cold, Oscar-winning performance, we recall that greed might have had a good time of it in the late ’80s, but just look where it’s gotten us now. Grade: A-

“Best Actress Collection”: Fox is hoping you’ll like it, you’ll really like it. The set, after all, features Sally Field in her Academy Award-winning turn in 1979’s “Norma Rae,” Joanne Woodward splitting into three personalities in “The Three Faces of Eve,” and Hilary Swank falling for a girl (Chloe Sevigny) in the moving “Boys Don’t Cry.” In the musical biopic “Walk the Line,” based on the life of Johnny Cash, Reese Witherspoon takes on the difficult role of June Carter Cash (and does her own singing), while in 1956’s “Anastasia,” Ingrid Bergman plays the title role opposite a devious Yul Brynner in an entertaining movie that’s nevertheless riddled with inaccuracies. Grade: B+

“Best Picture Collection”: Out of all of these collections from Fox, this is the one to own. In it are some of Hollywood’s best, starting with 1941’s timely “How Green Was My Valley,” with Donald Crisp and Sara Allgood struggling to keep their family together in the face of great hardship; 1947’s “Gentleman’s Agreement,” in which Gregory Peck plays a journalist posing as a Jew — and getting hit hard by prejudice in the process; and Bette Davis in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1950 masterpiece “All About Eve,” which isn’t just one of the finest films in Davis’ storied career, but also one of the finest films, period. On a lighter note, Julie Andrews twirls and twitters and deals with those von Trapps in 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” while on the far end of the spectrum is 1971’s “The French Connection,” a great action movie about a drug bust gone bad that stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, not to mention that unforgettable car chase through the streets of New York. Grade: A

“Cult Camp Classics Vol. 2: Women in Peril”: What the “Cult Camp” series continues to understand is that sometimes horror isn’t a boogeyman wielding a knife or a monster munching on a coed’s throat, but something never intended to be scary, such as a botched performance, the fiery end of a career, or a movie so bad you couldn’t beat it down with a wire hanger. All can give you the willies. Take Joan Crawford, for instance. In 1970, Crawford, having hit rock bottom at age 66, decided to throw back her shoulders and take the lead as anthropologist Dr. Brockton in “Trog,” a movie in which a troglodyte is discovered, feared, misunderstood and then goes berserk. Crawford’s great misfortune wasn’t just playing nursemaid to a man in an ape suit, but selling this sort of dialogue: “You’ve got Durando on the brain!” Crawford has been paying for those words for 37 years. Other films in the collection include the 1950 crime thriller “Caged,” in which a young woman (Eleanor Parker) is sent down to the big house and corrupted by a female prison tough. Finally, there’s “The Big Cube,” in which Lana Turner gets addicted to LSD. Poor Lana, sure — but in this tawdry movie, lucky us. Grade: A-

“The Lucille Ball Film Collection”: Includes five films, none of which is Lucille Ball’s best — missing is “Stage Door” and “Without Love,” and especially “Room Service” with the Marx brothers. Still, we do get a mix of those movies that helped to make Ball a screen star — ”Dance, Girl, Dance,” in which Ball leaves ballet for burlesque (and goes on to stardom as Bubbles), and “The Big Street,” which is about as far removed as one can get from the Lucy audiences know from “I Love Lucy.” Here, she’s a bitter ex-chanteuse in a wheelchair, with Henry Fonda starring opposite her. The collection also includes the slight “Du Barry Was a Lady,” with Red Skelton and Gene Kelly, and the 1963 comedy “Critic’s Choice,” with Bob Hope. Perhaps most interesting is Ball as Auntie Mame in “Mame,” in which she sings (sort of), dances (she tries), and goes for the jugular with cutting asides (she scores!). Ball has nothing on Rosalind Russell’s Mame, but with a bulldozing Bea Arthur joining her, the proceedings do become nicely unhinged. 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.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/08/07/living/dvd-corner-22/ printed on December 28, 2014