April 10 DVD Corner

Posted April 09, 2010, at 7:45 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“Eragon” Blu-ray: Tolkien lite. This mediocre fantasy movie from Christopher Paolini’s best-selling novel can’t help but court comparisons to the “Lord of the Rings” series, which it’s happy to do, and that’s part of its downfall. Too much of it is derivative. The dialogue is Spam. That said, the film is technically accomplished, with excellence achieved in the digital creation that is the dragon Saphira (voice of Rachel Weisz) — she’s a beauty and her flights with Eragon (Edward Speleers), rising high and dipping low, are the movie at its best. With John Malkovich, Robert Carlyle, Edward Speleers and Jeremy Irons. Directed, fittingly, by Stefan Fangmeir. Rated PG. Grade: C

“Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer” Blu-ray: Nothing here thrills or captivates the way the best superhero movies do. The film is trite and self-indulgent, with the bum script generating no mystery, nuance or compelling sense of dread. The lack of the latter is especially curious since the plot involves the end of the world, with Earth rapidly being destroyed by the Silver Surfer, a gleaming extraterrestrial with the voice of Laurence Fishburne who surfs the globe looking like Mercury stripped down for an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. It’s up to the Fantastic Four to shut him down, which proves difficult to do for a host of reasons, none worth exploring here. Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans and Julian McMahon reprise their roles in this lazy sequel that never once feels as if a trace of pleasure went into its production. Rated PG-13. Grade: D+

“Fight Club” Blu-ray: David Fincher’s darkly comic, visually arresting and violent exercise in new-age masculinity stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bohham Carter, with the film asking audiences to consider what it means to be a man in a post-feminist society — one that Fincher finds emasculating and worth rising up against. Norton is a corporate slave with no name — we only know that he’s the film’s narrator, that he’s bored with his life, that he’s addicted to 12-step programs, and that he defines himself by what he owns. He’s in desperate need of a spark that will ignite his dull life and give it meaning. At first, that spark seems as if it will come in the form of Marla Singer (Carter), a chain-smoking bit of bacteria he meets at his testicular cancer support group. But no. The narrator’s life truly changes when he meets Tyler Durden (Pitt), a hip piece of work who is everything the narrator is not. Together, they start Fight Club, an underground movement of men who just want to be primitive men, which eventually takes over their lives while also affecting the world. In a film whose apocalyptic vision makes for provocative cinema, “Fight Club” is too long and loses its focus three-quarters of the way through, but the performances are terrific, the direction is slick, and the twist at the end is as show-stopping as it gets. Rated R. Grade: B

“The Graduate” Blu-ray: Few movies compare with “The Graduate” when it comes to communicating the anxiety, dark hilarity and potential misery of one’s first sexual experience. In 1967, as the sexual revolution drew toward its bed-shaking peak, the sexually naive Benjamin Braddock brought all of his angst, confusion and bumbling humanity to the screen. For Dustin Hoffman, it was a career-making performance. For our culture, his character defined two separate eras as he grew out of the repression of the past into a man reflecting a more sexually free and aggressive time. While the movie features an iconic performance by Anne Bancroft as Mrs. Robinson, the older woman who seduces Benjamin, “The Graduate” itself isn’t a great film. It’s entertaining, but director Mike Nichols has nothing profound to say. Consider his main character. Does anyone really care about Benjamin Braddock? He is scattered and self-centered, a young man who has nothing interesting to offer. Still, it’s easy to like him for his naive charm. It’s easy to relate to him because we see in him ghosts of our younger selves — that’s the point of the movie, the reason it works. His faults rest in youth, which can be forgiven. Thus, when you watch him on-screen, you have faith that he will emerge into the better, more interesting person he needs to become — if only for the sake of those people who will enter his life in the future. Rated PG. Grade: B+

“Kingdom of Heaven” Blu-ray: A middle-of-the-road, anti-war movie about the Crusades. From Ridley Scott, “Kingdom of Heaven” puts an affectionate, understanding arm around Christians and Muslims — treating each equally in an attempt to offend as few people as possible — before it allows them to enter into one ugly, bloody holy war for Jerusalem. As Mel Gibson proved with “The Passion of the Christ,” a point of view still is possible in Hollywood when it comes to religion, even if it promises to cause a firestorm of controversy. Scott isn’t up for that sort of press, so he crafts a good-looking movie that’s politically safe first, entertaining second. It’s his reluctance to put forth a daring point of view that cheats the movie of creating the worthwhile conversation it deserved. Rated R. Grade: B-

“Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” Blu-ray: Set during the Napoleonic War, Peter Weir’s rousing film stars Russell Crowe as British Capt. “Lucky” Jack Aubrey. Thick and muscled, his face like a catcher’s mitt and his eyes revealing the troubles and joys of life at sea, Aubrey finds himself and his crew of the HMS Surprise ambushed in the film’s riveting opening moments. It’s the larger, better-armed French ship, the Acheron, that sneaks through the fog to launch a surprise attack on the Surprise. Surviving the battle with most of his crew intact, Aubrey repairs the ship and decides to cut a swath of revenge across the sea. For some of the men on board, this staunch, impulsive act of defiance lifts Aubrey higher into the potentially dangerous realm of deity. To his good friend Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), a naturalist who does double duty as the ship’s surgeon and Aubrey’s conscience, this rush to vengeance is considered reckless and sobering. In the film’s final act, Aubrey finds his opportunity to strike back at the crew of the Acheron, but before Weir allows audiences the rush of another battle — and it is a rush — he gives them life aboard ship and also on the Galapagos Islands. There, where flightless birds with stunted wings are unable to soar, the movie finds a sense of freedom that balances the claustrophobia cinematographer Russell Boyd mines so memorably on ship. Thoughtful and absorbing, its expert supporting cast and extras adding color but not caricature, “Master and Commander” finds new life on Blu-ray — and remains one for the ages. 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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