Angels & Demons on Blu-ray

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 5:19 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“Angels & Demons” DVD, Blu-ray: Ron Howard’s “Chaos & Disorder” — sorry, “Angels & Demons” — is a sequel to 2006’s “The Da Vinci Code,” the latter of which helpfully inspired hunger strikes, picketing, accusations of blasphemy, prayer vigils, endless debates and hype beyond reason.

While “Angels & Demons” enjoyed none of that, at least the Vatican came through. Upon the film’s theatrical release, it gave the film its blessing by touting it as “harmless entertainment.” And what sells a movie like “harmless entertainment”?

Out of Paris and now in Rome, we once again are in a movie in which people are on the run. They run and they run and they run, and then they run some more — through streets, over rooftops, through the Vatican — if only to get to the next clue, and the clue that follows that clue, and then the next clue, until the lot of it leaves you clueless.

Back for more but minus the mullet is Tom Hanks as Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, who this time out finds himself up against the “Illuminati,” a secret group of scientists who have hired an assassin to do all sorts of unthinkable things in the wake of the pope’s death, such as blowing the hell out of Rome, the Vatican and St. Peter’s Square with one neatly packaged bomb filled with nuclear antimatter.

It’s up to Langdon, working alongside Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), to use a wealth of religious clues to find the bomb before it’s too late. Meanwhile, in busy subplots, cardinals are kidnapped and grotesquely murdered, and a priest (Ewan McGregor) and another cardinal (Armin Mueller-Stahl) come under close scrutiny. Are they doing God’s work — or advancing their own careers? You decide.

Beneath all this clutter is the framework for a good thriller that promises a heated collision of faith and science, but Howard’s top-heavy movie suffocates it. Throughout, most of the action is bogged down by uninteresting rhetoric and twists most will see coming long before the next clue is offered, the next chase scene ignited, the next revelation revealed. Rated PG-13.

Grade: C-

“Farscape: Complete Series”: A massive collection that includes all 88 episodes on 25 discs. Ben Browder is John Crichton, who leads the crew of the Moya on a sci-fi journey into the unknown. Aliens abound. Above-average special effects and action mark the series, as does its off-beat sense of humor. Included are interviews with the cast and crew, featurettes and commentaries, 90 minutes of deleted scenes, and the documentaries “In the Beginning: A Look Back with Brian Henson” and the inspired “Making of a Space Opera.” From the creators of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, which alone should sell it.

Grade: B+

“Frailty” Blu-ray: In spite of an unnerving first half that features an understated performance from Matthew McConaughey, Bill Paxton’s thriller is as superficial as a bruise.

Told in flashback by McConaughey to an FBI agent, the film is about a single father identified only as Dad (Paxton), who wakes one evening to find God glowing in the center of his bowling trophy. Instead of offering Dad the gift of a perfect game, God offers Dad something potentially more rewarding — the divine order to kill those demons living in his West Texas neighborhood.

Thrilled by the prospect, Dad wakes his two sons — 12-year-old Fenton (Matt O’Leary) and 9-year-old Adam (Jeremy Sumpter) — to tell them the good news. And it’s here that the ugliness starts. So intent is Dad that his sons connect with God as he has, he insists that they join him in the murders, a gruesome task that involves collecting those people on Dad’s divine list, taking them back to the family’s newly constructed dungeon, and then plunging an ax named Otis into their heads, throats, arms and legs.

The wildcard is Fenton, and he wants none of it, which generates fireworks. While there’s no denying that there is physical power when Dad swings his ax — and emotional power when he turns to his sons and orders them to do the same — by the end, what’s also clear is that “Frailty” has no interest in these boys beyond exploiting them for a few thrills.

We don’t learn anything about them beyond what serves the plot — or the ridiculous twists that come at the end — which are so stupid, they seem a more appropriate place for Dad to bury his ax. Rated R.

Grade: C-

“Funny People” DVD, Blu-ray: Judd Apatow’s most ambitious, serious-minded comedy to date also is his worst. The script is injected with unexpected jolts of substance, drama and life-threatening health issues for the main character, so much so that there are long stretches between the laughs. To accommodate the drama, the film wheezes in at a bloated 2.5 hours.

Adam Sandler is the comedy superstar George Simmons, who appears to have it all until you realize that he is faced with a life-threatening disease. Since an experimental drug might not cure him, George takes to the comedy circuit and delivers performances that are depressing, to say the least.

One night, he hires the up-and-coming comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), who starts to write jokes for George in a gig that leads to a full-time job. Meanwhile, George’s health declines, but when circumstances allow for love to re-enter his life, it’s via his one true love, Laura (Apatow’s wife, the excellent Leslie Mann), who now is married to a hunky Australian (Eric Bana) actively cheating on her.

How do these and the film’s other complicated elements make for a rousing comedy? They don’t. This isn’t a bad movie so much as it is an admirable failure. The performances are good. It’s also nice to see Apatow taking a risk and reaching for something more. But if that reach means sacrificing laughs in a movie billed as a comedy, there aren’t enough laughs in “Funny People” to make it a comedy worth recommending.Rated R.

Grade: C+

Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc:

The first season of the “The Sopranos” is out on Blu-ray, where in high-definition, it looks smashing — perfect given the violence of its content. Three additional titles are recommended, beginning with “The Untouchables: Season Three, Vol. Two,” with Robert Stack as Eliot Ness, who in 1920s Chicago took on Al Capone and company in a series that understood noir and used its elements to nice effect. The molls, the gun battles, the questionable happenings stirring within the shadows — it’s all here, with Stack anchoring it with authority. Also available is the ninth season of the military crime drama “JAG,” with David James Elliott and Catherine Bell, and the complete series of the rousing HBO drama “Rome,” which is available on standard DVD and on Blu-ray disc. For family entertainment, the ninth season of “7th Heaven” has settled upon Earth, not that anyone should expect lightning to strike with its presence on the scene. This hollow, soapy confection follows the highs and lows (mostly the lows) of the Camden clan, whose canned lives are explored with lots of life lessons, plenty of tears, a good dose of struggle — all of it strained through cheese cloth.

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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