Terminator Salvation on DVD, Green Mile on Blu-Ray

Posted Dec. 04, 2009, at 5:32 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“Terminator Salvation”: What’s most surprising about McG’s humorless yet action-packed “Terminator Salvation” is that Christian Bale, widely touted as the film’s star, has only a co-starring role as John Connor, on whom the fate of humanity long has rested. The film’s real star is the terrific Sam Worthington, whose vitae might not be as impressive as Bale’s (at least not yet — he is, after all, set to star in James Cameron’s “Avatar”), but who has the far more difficult role to manage. He is Marcus Wright and when we first meet him in 2003, he is about to be executed for crimes that occurred offscreen. Before that happens, one Dr. Kogen (Helena Bonham Carter) convinces him to sign over his body to science. Wright agrees, he dies, Kogen has her way with him, and suddenly we’re in 2018, judgment day has occurred (the world is in apocalyptic ruins), and his memory is erased. Other things have changed about him, too. Safe to say that when Marcus finally comes to meet Connor, each man is faced in this war against Skynet and their destructive Terminator robots with what it means to be human and what it means to be machine. Whether they can co-exist is at the core of this story. So are the performances, which matter in this movie, even if the humor from the previous “Terminator” movies unfortunately has gone missing. Beyond Worthington, a highlight is Moon Bloodgood as Blair Williams, who matches Linda Hamilton when it comes to channeling a tough, no-nonsense woman who knows how to fight in spite of the odds stacked against her. Bryce Dallas Howard and Anton Yelchin co-star, and as for Bale, he’s good — solid amid the ongoing storm — but don’t expect much of him. This is Sam Worthington’s movie, and he steals it. Rated PG-13. Grade: B

“The Green Mile” Blu-ray: From Frank Darabont, a poignant, three-hour excursion in old-fashioned storytelling based on Stephen King’s best-selling, serialized novel. Told in flashback, the movie is a gem that creates a richly absorbing atmosphere while investing itself completely in characters well defined by Darabont’s literate script and his excellent cast. Moments of the supernatural and a few grisly scenes are featured, but the movie is in no hurry to exploit those elements or King’s association with them. Instead, Darabont knows he has the gift of King’s story, which he wisely allows to open and evolve as naturally as King did himself. The film’s soul rests within its cast, spearheaded by Tom Hanks’ superb performance as Paul Edgecomb, a quiet, unassuming man in charge of Death Row in a Louisiana penitentiary during the Depression. With the exception of the loathsome Percy Wetmore (Doug Hutchison), a sadistic guard desperate to use the electric chair so he can watch inmates “cook up close,” Death Row in Darabont’s world is a close-knit community of likable guards (David Morse, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey DeMunn). Bonded by death, these men eventually come to witness the miracle of life through the healing powers of John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a hulking man sentenced to walk the green mile after allegedly raping and killing two girls. Sweet and childlike, his initials and his fate hardly subtle, Coffey eventually reveals he has the power to heal when he cures Edgecomb’s bladder infection. It’s a moment played for all its worth by Darabont, who proves he’s a perfect match for King’s better works. As the film builds toward its emotional climax, the director shows he’s as adept as King in telling big stories with universal themes. That this story is so sweeping within a confined space is a testament to how well its themes and its moral dilemma are examined and delivered. Rated R. Grade: A

“The Mask of Zorro” Blu-ray: After a spectacular opening that captures the romance and euphoria of the Zorro series, 1998’s “The Mask of Zorro,” now available on Blu-ray disc, unsheathes its sword, swings it through the air, and lunges forward with a blade that is more glimmer than razor’s edge. Martin Campbell directs a passable film of modest interest that could have been better had it only sharpened its blade and turned it on itself — the film needs cutting. Too many scenes lack the wit and panache that Douglas Fairbanks Sr. brought to the series in the 1920s. Those films worked because, in their silence, Fairbanks found a flamboyant sense of style that roused the audience. His swordfights were cunning, imaginative, over the top. In “Mask,” there is little we haven’t seen before — the action sequences seem canned, stilted, curiously lacking. Worse, the film’s story is problematic, building not so much on the series as it borrows liberally from “Star Wars.” Yes — ”Star Wars.” In “Mask,” elder Zorro (Anthony Hopkins) teaches younger Zorro (Antonio Banderas) the tricks of the sword in an effort to prevent the evil Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson) from taking over the world — which, in this case, happens to be California in the first half of the 19th century. Complications abound, including Banderas’ romance with Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a beautiful, sultry young woman who believes she is Don Rafael’s daughter, but who really is the daughter of the elder Zorro. Sound fresh? It isn’t. Rated PG-13. Grade: C

“The Private Life of a Masterpiece: Complete Seasons 1-5”: A fascinating series that roams the world to study and explore 20 famous pieces of art, from such Renaissance masterpieces as Piero della Francesca’s “The Resurrection” and Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” to such Impressionist works as van Gogh’s “The Sunflowers” and Auguste Renoir’s “Dance at the Moulin de la Galette.” Also in this award-winning set are revealing observations of Edouard Manet’s “Le dejeuner sur l’herbe,” Whistler’s iconic painting of his mother in the then-controversial “Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother,” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” The value of this collection is evident at the start: In spite of how well-known these works are, the art historians assembled to discuss them nevertheless manage to build drama through insight, such as when they explore “Michelangelo’s David” or Rodin’s “The Kiss.” In doing so, “The Private Life of a Masterpiece” neatly skirts the pitfalls of mainstream familiarity to offer the surprise of something new, a fresh angle we might not have considered, and the richness that rests within. Grade: A

“The Tyrone Power Matinee Idol Collection”: From Fox, 10 films featuring that brooding, camera-ready idol, some of them solid, a few of them good, and others only barely up to par. In it are 1936’s throwaway melodrama “Girls’ Dormitory,” with Powers appearing only fleetingly opposite Simone Simon, and two energetic comedies in 1937’s “Love is News” and “Café Metropole,” with Powers waxing cute opposite Loretta Young. It’s Young again in 1937’s “Second Honeymoon,” but the third time wasn’t exactly a charm for these two — the movie is second-rate. The same is true for 1939’s disappointing “Daytime Wife,” but not so for 1940’s “Johnny Apollo,” by far the best in the collection, with Powers cast as a gangster in one of his best-regarded films. Look for Joan Fontaine in 1942’s very good “This Above All,” Gene Tierney in 1948’s so-so comedy “That Wonderful Urge,” Jayne Meadows and Cecil Kellaway in the unstoppable “The Luck of the Irish” and Ann Blyth in 1951’s “I’ll Never Forget You,” a movie that neatly sums up how many feel about Power himself. 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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