DVD corner

Posted March 05, 2010, at 5:02 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“Old Dogs” DVD, Blu-ray: “Old Dogs” is one of those movies that wants to have it all, but since it doesn’t have a clue about how to get it, it just rolls over and dies. It wants to tickle its intended audience of tots, and it also wants to rope in parents by offering them a few “sly” laughs along the way. Some films excel at this — Pixar’s movies, in fact, have mastered the form. But not “Old Dogs.” “Old Dogs” needs to be led behind the shed. Here is a movie that’s so inane that any adult who finds it funny might be at the same level of maturity as their child and someone should call child services. The film stars Robin Williams and John Travolta at their worst, which can be formidable as anyone who has seen “Patch Adams” and “Battlefield Earth,” respectively, can attest. Here, they are two longtime friends and business partners whose lives are shaken when an old relationship comes to haunt Williams’ character with twins he didn’t know he had. Just how this situation is manufactured to bump into rancid situations of racism we’ll leave for you, but do know that it’s there, and that it can be uncomfortable to watch. Also uncomfortable, at least for Seth Green’s character, are all those golf balls sailing straight into his crotch. Aren’t scenes like that funny? Never seen them before. That this is Bernie Mac’s last film is enough to make you want to throw roses on his grave and pray he’s in a better place. Rated PG. Grade F.

“Precious” DVD, Blu-ray: Lee Daniels’ divisive movie is about as ugly and as disturbing as any film in recent memory. It’s unflinching in its violence. Its power comes from its mix of horror, hatred and hope. This is a slice of the American nightmare, where dreams are seemingly so impossible to achieve, they get pushed into sequences of gleaming, far-reaching fan-tasy, where real life can’t get close enough to foster them. Here is one of 2009’s most controversial films, with rap star Mo’Nique and newcomer Gabourey “Gabbie” Sidibe delivering two of the year’s best performances (Mo’Nique will win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress — and deservedly so). In the film, Sidibe is Claireece “Precious” Jones, a 16-year-old girl who in 1987 Harlem was as much a victim of her own morbid obesity as she was of the cruelty surrounding her. Most of the violence takes place at home, where her father repeatedly raped her — giving her one child, leaving her with another on the way — and where her mother, Mary (Mo’Nique), carries such a festering resentment of Precious (“You stole my man! It’s because of you he left!”), she’s willing to kill her daughter with meaty swings of a cast-iron pan, or by dropping a television set on her. It’s at an alternative school that Precious meets Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who works to transform her life. Assisting to that end is Ms. Weiss, a social worker played with focus and restraint by Mariah Carey. As each comes to know Precious’ story, mother Mary is called into question. And how do you think that goes down when she’s brought in to explain herself? Much has been written about how “Precious” is being received by the black community. Some have called it racist and claim it showcases a kind of slavery. Others disagree. Some recall the films Spike Lee made in the ’80s, remember the nerve they touched, and they’re pleased this movie also is touching one — if only to continue the conversation about race in America and how it’s viewed by Hollywood. Since too many movies coming out of Hollywood today are genial and whitewashed, the surprise “Precious” offers is that it’s that rare film that has risen above the daily chatter to create a debate. So, let’s celebrate it for that and especially for its outstanding performances. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Up in the Air” DVD, Blu-ray: Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” is about a man who would prefer to stay up in the air, thank you very much. His name is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) and his job is to fly around the country, enter gleaming skyscrapers and fire the unsuspecting corporate masses. Reitman wrote the script with Sheldon Turner (they’ll win the Acad-emy Award for it), and what they offer is a movie that’s as much a comedy as it is a tragedy — for Ryan, who has commitment issues, and for all those he fires in the dire economic climate and the corporate downsizing that goes along with it. For Ryan, the irony is that he is about to become a victim of downsizing himself when his boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bate-man), decides to take the advice of his latest employee — the young, determined and fiercely pinched Natalie (Anna Kendrick, the Portland native who is wonderful here in an Academy Award-nominated performance) — and perform their layoffs by computer. But Natalie has it wrong. As cold as Ryan’s job is, there’s much to be said about being in the same room with the person he’s about to let go. At the very least, doing so offers the human touch necessary to soften the blow. And that’s what Ryan is good at. He is so smooth some people leave with the feeling that he has done them a favor. Beyond this, the idea of being grounded in Omaha, where he keeps a shabby apartment, is terminal to Ryan (pun intended), whose life in the air has allowed him to meet all sorts of women, one of whom recently has caused him to pause. Her name is Alex, played with intelligence and a jolt of sexual heat by the fantastic Vera Farmiga, and she’s essentially Ryan’s kindred spirit — a mature career woman traveling the country who doesn’t mind a little sex on the side. But to what end? It’s that complication, the terrific performances that spool from it and the fact that everyone here needs to grow up a bit, that makes “Up in the Air” so satisfying, funny and rich. Rated R. Grade: A

“Best Actor Collection”: A varied mix of five 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 infamous general so seamlessly, 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 portraying the retired teacher Harry Coombes, and quite a different movie is found in “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. The set, after all, features Sally Field in her Academy Award-winning turn in 1979’s “Norma Rae,” Joanne Woodward splitting into three different personalities in “The Three Faces of Eve,” and Hilary Swank altering her body and 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 is paired 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 our best movies, 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,” which features Gregory Peck as a journalist posing as a Jew — and getting hit hard by prejudice in the process; and Bette Davis in William Wyler’s 1950 masterpiece “All About Eve,” which isn’t just one of the finest films in Davis’ storied career, but also one of our 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 wrong that stars Gene Hackman and Roy Scheider, not to mention an unforgettable car chase through the streets of New York. 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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