DVD corner

Posted Jan. 22, 2010, at 4:49 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“Saw VI” DVD, Blu-ray: Back for more boredom, bloodletting and gore is this middling piece of mediocrity, which not only belongs in the business end of “Woodchipper Massacre,” but also is lifted up as the continuation of one of the worst horror franchises ever. With the exception of the first film, which at least featured a shred of tension early on, this new beauty follows all of the banality that came after it. It offers zero suspense, an ongoing run of stupidity and absurdity wrapped around some dumb morality tale, and enough murky twists to make you scratch your head bald. Torture is a mainstay here (you know, like sitting through it), which apparently is its appeal as the filmmakers continue to focus less on character and more on how many ways one can meet a grisly end. But what’s happening to the torture-porn genre — what’s ruining it, really — is that none of the presumably disgusting scenes create the desired effect of revulsion. After being exposed to so many similar movies for so long now, we are immune to it. At my packed screening last October, people were so silent throughout the movie, you’d swear they were watching some unpopular, grim foreign film, complete with subtitles, by some nameless, third-rate hack, and not a movie that rejoices in the hum-drum breaking of bones, the gushing of fake blood, and all those ribbons of rubbery entrails. Rated R. Grade: BOMB

“Whip It” DVD, Blu-ray: From Drew Barrymore, a movie that suggests she has a promising directing career ahead of her if, you know, that acting thing of hers doesn’t work out. “Whip It” is Barrymore’s directorial debut, and what she crafted here is a film not unlike her own persona. The movie is moody, quirky, light, winking and rebellious, a flick about a young woman who never quite fit in until she found the right people to guide her into someone more substantial and confident. That woman is Bliss (Ellen Page), whose mother (Marcia Gay Harden) once dolled her up and trotted her out to compete in beauty pageants, but not for long. Bliss eventually does a 180 by joining a cutthroat roller derby squad called the Hurl Scouts. The lot of them are tough, big-hearted losers (Eve, Kristen Wiig and Zoe Bell co-star), but since Barrymore has learned a few things from her former director Steven Spielberg, there’s no way they’ll be losers for long. Neither will Bliss, who is called Babe Ruthless in the ring, which is perfect since a mean beast on an opposing team, the fearsome Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis, loose as ever), is determined to undo her. What’s curious about “Whip It” is that its predictability doesn’t spoil it — the movie is having too much fun darting toward its happy ending, the likes of which won’t surprise anyone who witnessed the revealing trailer and television campaign. You don’t admire the movie for the chances it takes — it doesn’t take any, really. Instead, you admire it for the care that went into fleshing out its characters, the camaraderie that grows between them, and the thrill of watching a few harrowing turns around a skating rink. Rated PG-13. Grade: B

“Atonement” Blu-ray: Joe Wright’s “Atonement,” now available on Blu-ray disc, has everything you could wish for in a period drama — beautiful cinematography, set design and costumes; exotic locales; and a story designed to rip out your heart and crush it when a rushed, heated romance between two young lovers is poisoned by the lies and deceit of another. Keira Knightley is Cecilia Tallis, a privileged, brittle beauty who isn’t especially likable, which is a problem since the movie eventually asks us to feel something profound for her. Looking bored and bothered in 1935 England, Cecilia has issues with Robbie (James McAvoy), who was put through Cambridge with Tallis money and who now is treated as something of a third-wheel member of the family. The youngest member of the household is spooky Briony (Saoirse Ronan), a wide-eyed lass with a mean mouth and a tight-fisted gait who fancies herself something of a writer. She favors fiction, which is key, and she also has a crush on Robbie, which is critical to why she does all that she does in a key plot element. “Atonement” isn’t a dull movie — there’s lots of lovely furniture to look at, never mind the appealing vision of its romantic leads — but it isn’t a gripping movie, either, because Cecilia and Robbie aren’t allowed to create a believable bond onscreen before they’re torn apart. The trouble with the film is that you’re always aware that you’re watching a movie. There’s no sinking into “Atonement,” no losing yourself to it, no moment when the screen fades away and the story and the characters come to the fore to overcome you. This is a film you watch from the sidelines, thinking how pretty Knightley looks in this gown, that bathing suit, and how the lighting in a key scene in which Cecilia and Robbie have sex against a wall of books is more interesting than the scene itself. Rated R. Grade: C+

“Magnolia” Blu-ray: Paul Thomas Anderson’s bold, three-hour opus is a whirlwind of seemingly disjointed, unconnected messages hurled at audiences with a furious panache. The world is corrupt. People are desperate. Drugs are the answer. Drugs are destroying us. Truth is elusive. Truth will save us. Everyone lies. Especially you. Our lives are facades. That smile isn’t real. The world is without love. Everyone hates. Cancer is killing us. Love is the cure. The film, which features strong performances from Tom Cruise, Jason Robards, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly (among others), takes all its messages, mixes them up in a hive of interlocking stories, and brings them together with such skill and aplomb, it can only be considered Altman-esque. But what one notices here aren’t the influences or Anderson’s dark, contemporary look at the American experience, but the film’s energy, which rarely flags, and Anderson’s unique ability to make almost anything seem possible even while his film remains rooted in realism. When the movie was released in 1999, this was only his third film, and yet already he had established a style that was so firmly his own, he got away with one of the most preposterous events caught on film. Those who have seen “Magnolia” know what I’m talking about. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Pride & Prejudice” Blu-ray: This lush costume dramedy based on Jane Austen’s book can be wicked and wickedly funny, particularly given its flighty performance by Brenda Blethyn as Mrs. Bennet and the ferocious appearance by Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourg. Keira Knightley offers an Elizabeth who is pretty, which rails against form, but audiences should know that her beauty doesn’t tip the balance. She remains unable to restrain herself from saying exactly what’s on her mind, which creates some wonderful tension as her budding, tug-of-war relationship builds with Mr. Darcy (Matthew MacFayden). Director Joe Wright gets it right in that he also focuses on the periphery, where the three other Bennet sisters are brooding for a mate; Mr. Bingley (Simon Woods) is as shy as ever around poor Jane (Rosamund Pike); and the bond shared by Elizabeth and her father, Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland), remains magical regardless of the transition between mediums. As for the ending, well, let’s hope you’re wearing something light when you see it, because the last scene is undeniably, uncontainably hot. Rated PG. Grade: A

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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