DVD Corner

Posted Jan. 29, 2010, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“Zombieland” DVD, Blu-ray: Ruben Fleischer’s spoof on the zombie genre literally and figuratively is killer. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, the gore is beautifully over-the-top, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script is laced with a cutting wit, and the acting across the board is superb. Yes, superb. Whenever you’re dealing with a genre that walks the line between two genres — horror and comedy — don’t underestimate the talent it takes to successfully pull that off. Essentially, you’re asking your cast to play it up when the humor is high, and to keep it reasonably serious when the gutting gets rough. The film begins in a post-apocalyptic world in which most of the human race has been overcome by zombies, none of whom ever would qualify as a Mensa candidate, but all of whom score points for their robust appetites and, in many cases, impressive cardiovascular fitness. Some humans survive, starting with a young man we come to know as Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), because that’s his hometown. He’s something of a dork — but a shrewd survivor armed with a handful of lifesaving rules. He’s also a virgin, and he’s eager to put a stop to that. Next up is Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, neatly reviving his career), a Twinkie-loving cowboy who happens upon Columbus and reluctantly decides to share the troubled road with him. Two scamming sisters enter the picture in Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). Surprises abound, particularly in an inspired cameo. Action drives the movie as swiftly as its hot undercurrent of humor, with some of the best scenes taking place at a California amusement park, whose rides offer plenty of clever ways to kill the zombies — but also ways to become trapped by them. Yet what really moves the movie forward and allows it to gel into something special is the cast, all of whom have such undeniable chemistry (you’ll never look at Breslin the same way again), we can only hope for what must come next: “Zombieland II.” Rated R. Grade: A

“The Last King of Scotland” Blu-ray: Forest Whitaker’s Academy Award-winning performance is the reason to see the film, which otherwise doesn’t rise to the power of what he achieves by portraying Gen. Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who dazzled a nation with his charm before murdering more than 300,000 people during his eight-year tyrannical rule. Assisted by his intimidating bulk, monstrous sneer and bulging right eye, Whitaker initially plays Amin as a genial bear until the dark side of his power and his failure to connect globally begin to consume him with self-doubt, self-destruction and finally a fall into madness. In many ways, Whitaker recalls Brando — there is surprise in his step, with a curtain of menace running beneath it. His is one of the fiercest, least predictable performances of 2006, so fully on edge that he becomes the movie’s edge. Rated R. Grade: B+

“Maid in Manhattan” Blu-ray: Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes star in a ghettoized Cinderella story that follows Lopez’s Marisa Ventura, a maid at a five-star hotel who unwittingly finds herself pulled into the arms of Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor. What isn’t so beautiful is how formulaic the film is. Still, with Bob Hoskins and Natasha Richardson in supporting roles, the cast is solid and Lopez does hold the screen, proving what some might have forgotten after so many mediocre movies — she has the necessary charm to carry a movie even if the movie in question is as weightless as this. Rated PG-13. Grade: C+

“Mona Lisa Smile” Blu-ray: Set in 1953, the film stars Julia Roberts as Katherine Watson, an art history teacher who shakes up Wellesley College with an armful of bold ideas (most of them cliches) and a can-do attitude that ignites the lives of several young women, all of whom were destined for lives that were far less great than what Watson believes they could be. The young women are Kirsten Dunst as Betty Warren, Julie Stiles as Joan Brandwyn, Maggie Gyllenhall as Giselle Levy and Ginnifer Goodwin as Constance Baker. The movie is a predictable, safe fantasy, but the likable cast arms itself against it and does wonders with the thin script. The soundtrack is strong, filled with terrific versions of old standards as sung by Barbra Streisand (“Smile”), Seal (“Mona Lisa Smile”), Tori Amos (“You Belong to Me,” “Murder, He Says”), Chris Isaak (“Besame Mucho”) and a host of others. Rated: PG-13. Grade: B-

“Mystic River” Blu-ray: From Clint Eastwood, a movie about three boyhood friends divided by an act of sexual abuse who are joined again as adults by murder. Essentially a police procedural, the guts of which hinge on contrivance and coincidence, the movie might hail from a major studio, but it embraces an independent filmmaking spirit, one that demands less flash and better acting than your typical whodunit. The film opens in the ’70s with the abduction of one of the boys before fading to black and picking up their stories 25 years later on the eve of murder. There’s Dave (Tim Robbins), whose molestation as a child has turned him into a near zombie as an adult; Jimmy (Sean Penn), a proud dad and convenience store owner hardened by two years in prison yet softened by a loving wife (Laura Linney) and family; and Sean (Kevin Bacon), the responsible homicide detective whose marriage is near collapse. When Jimmy’s 19-year-old daughter, Katie (Emmy Rossum), is murdered on the same night that Dave comes home to his nervous wife, Celeste (Marcia Gay Harden), with blood on his hands, the movie’s core mystery builds. Is Dave the killer? If so, what would drive him to murder Jimmy’s daughter? Conveniently, it’s up to Dave’s friend, Sean, and Sean’s partner, Whitey (Laurence Fishburne), to find out before Jimmy gets his own ideas and decides to take matters into his own hands. The lot of it is slow-going but precise, a bleak, working-class tragedy set in Boston that won Sean Penn and Tim Robbins Academy Awards. Eastwood fails to fully develop his female characters and the film doesn’t have the richness of “Unforgiven,” but the movie’s blistering guilt, rage and neighborhood absolution remain with you after the movie ends. Rated R. Grade: B.

“Walk the Line” Blu-ray: Director James Mangold takes us from Johnny Cash’s difficult childhood in Arkansas to his rise to fame, his struggle with drug addiction, his marital problems with first wife, Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), the great love he felt for June Carter (Reese Witherspoon), and the moment in which the grayness of an otherwise self-destructive life lifted during his knockout 1968 show at Folsom State Prison. As with so many biopics focused on musicians, Mangold’s movie is essentially a film about overcoming addiction in order to further one’s path to legend. That familiarity might have sunk it had Mangold not had the strength of subtlety and especially the terrific performances from his cast, who transcend formula by allowing audiences to fully invest themselves in what matters — the budding, turbulent relationship between Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) and June. Giving their best performances to date, Phoenix and Witherspoon each do their own singing here while possessing the sort of chemistry that sets the movie ablaze. As such, each rightfully was nominated for an Academy Award, with Witherspoon winning. Rated PG-13. 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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