“Avatar” and “Crazy Heart” come home this week

Posted April 15, 2010, at 6:24 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“Avatar” DVD, Blu-ray:

In a stealth move that nobody saw coming, James Cameron released a new movie last year. It was called “Avatar.” It was up for Academy Awards, and it won a few. So far, it has made nearly $3 billion worldwide. So, you know, it’s got to be good. And here’s the thing — it is good. So good, in fact, that it’s safe to say that if you’re in the minority and haven’t seen it, then you’ve never seen anything quite like this, which works in its favor since the film’s sheer beauty is enough to detract you from the fact that Cameron, a competent writer, is not a great writer. Many of his characters are caricatures. Too much of the dialogue is stock. And yet not a lick of that matters. Armed with a budget of $270 million, Cameron spent every cent to create a world so rich and lush, so textured, real and surreal, you give yourself over to it and then lose yourself in it. At nearly three hours, the movie is long, but the trick is that the storytelling is brisk, with Cameron’s cast (Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Giovani Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez) all nailing difficult roles performed, for the most part, against a green screen. The film’s pleasures go beyond the brilliance of its visuals — Cameron’s strength always has been his ability to mount one mother of a climax, which he does here in ways that evoke our own sorry, bloody history with American Indians. That said, the home-viewing version of the film isn’t perfect. The problem? Twentieth Century Fox, eager to squeeze every dime it can from the movie, is releasing it first in 2-D and not in the 3-D in which it originally was shot. The movie still looks great, but fans will be disappointed that they’ll need to wait until 2011 before they can have the full experience at an additional cost. Oh, and this version has zero extras. You’ll need to wait until November for that when another edition arrives with those extras. At, you know, an additional cost. For a movie that has made so much money, the greed is staggering. Rated PG-13. Grade: A. Twentieth Century Fox: F.

“Crazy Heart” DVD, Blu-ray:

Scott Cooper’s “Crazy Heart” offers audiences nothing new — we’ve been here before, most recently in the film that revived Mickey Rourke’s career, “The Wrestler.” But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see the movie. In fact, you absolutely should see it, particularly since its star, Jeff Bridges, deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his authentic performance as the talented, down-on-his-luck country singer, Bad Blake. This might, in fact, be the best performance of Bridges’ career. What Cooper creates with Bridges is something troubling, humbling and sad, but most of all, it’s memorable, powerful, and it resonates. While there are issues with the story itself — it’s a bit rushed, particularly at the end, in which it’s suggested that the struggle for sobriety isn’t much of a struggle at all — there are zero issues with what Bridges brings to the screen. As Blake, he is nothing short of the real thing, an aging country singer somewhere in his 50s who no longer sings his hit songs to the masses. Instead, he now headlines bowling alleys and saloons, skirting from one gig to the next in an old truck that, mirroring Blake himself, is just about out of gas. It’s in New Mexico that he meets Jean (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a journalist whose career could benefit from an interview with Blake. He gives her one, a few drinks pass hands, and before you know it, they’re in a relationship. But what to do with Jean’s young son, whom Blake adores, likely because he abandoned his own son (now an adult) around the same age? As a bond grows between them all, the movie manufactures a few moments of cliched melodrama, but rising above it is Bridges, who is so loose onscreen, it’s difficult to imagine that he knew a camera was on him at all. That’s the genius of his performance. He’s so lost in the role, the lines blur between character and actor to the point where audiences are left with admiration for Bridges’ work (he sings every song here — and well), and with pity for Blake, who knows he needs to pull himself together. Otherwise, his romance with Jean is shot. Rated R. Grade: B+

“The Lovely Bones” DVD, Blu-ray:

From Peter Jackson, a head trip for audiences, a trip to hell for the family featured, and a plunge into purgatory for another. What Jackson pulls from Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel is a mostly engrossing film about the Salmons, a middle-class suburban family emotionally destroyed on Dec. 6, 1973, when 14-year-old Susie (a wonderful Saoirse Ronan) is raped. And then murdered. And then broken into parts and cut into pieces. (Everything mentioned in this review is revealed in the trailer — there are no spoilers here.) Her downfall? Trusting her neighbor George Harvey (Stanley Tucci), who lures Susie down a well of his own creation. There, the candle-lit environment appears to be the perfect childhood hideaway. Jackson quickly proves it isn’t as everything goes tragically wrong. The film is composed of several parts. While Susie is alive, it’s a coming-of-age story about one young girl with a crush on an older boy (Reese Ritchie). When she’s murdered, she goes into the “In-Between,” a ripe, hyperfantasy world in which colors explode on the screen, leaves fly off trees as if they were birds, and mountains move. The lot of it is beautiful and intoxicating, but as Susie herself notes in the narration that accompanies the film: “I wasn’t gone — I was alive in my own perfect world. But in my heart, I knew it wasn’t perfect. My murderer still haunted me.” It’s this that brings us to the film’s third and most satisfying part — a good deal of “The Lovely Bones” is a well-conceived thriller, particularly since Susie’s mother and father (Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg), along with their daughter Lindsey (Rose McIver) and the police detective (Michael Imperioli) working the case, come together to find the killer and bring him down. Joining them is Susie’s boozy, saucy grandmother (Susan Sarandon, happy to be here, happier to be having a good time), who initially offers the living Susie a smoky kind of knowing love before events turn dour as attention turns to George. Could it be that he’s the killer? Everyone in the audience knows he is, but it’s how this family unit dares to find out that makes “Bones” a flawed but well-acted thriller worth seeking out. Rated PG-13. Grade: B

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“Dallas: Thirteenth Season”:

The next-to-last season of “Dallas” proves once again that where there’s oil, there’s drama. Here, the usual doses of death, destruction, barbed tongues, backbiting, lawsuits and giant hair are the mainstay, but the focus is mostly on J.R. (Larry Hagman), who screws Ewing Oil big time and soon finds himself in a mental hospital. Barbara Bel Geddes is back for a final stab as Miss Ellie (it was her last season), and the show is better for it. Setting herself on autopilot, she grimaces through the fireworks, the alcoholic benders and all those appealing little adulteries — and remains the force that keeps this show together. Episodes of note: “Cry Me a River of Oil,” “Daddy Dearest,” “Cally on a Hot Tin Roof” and naturally, “Ka-boooom!” Grade: B

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“Minority Report” Blu-ray:

Set in the year 2054, Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” is great-looking sci-fi noir, especially on Blu-ray, where it shines. The movie offers a brooding, cerebral look at the dangerous level of faith we place on technology. In the film, Tom Cruise is Jon Anderton, a Pre-Crime cop who joined the Department of Pre-Crime after the kid-napping and murder of his young son, Sean, six years before. Divorced from his wife, Lara (Kathryn Morris), and hooked on mood-lifting drugs, Jon is an emotional wreck, for sure, but he’s gifted at his job and has complete faith in the department’s ability to stop a crime cold before it even happens. That is, of course, until three psychic prognosticators called “Pre-Cogs” finger him. Now certain the system is flawed, Jon is forced to hit the streets running — in 36 hours, he’ll allegedly kill a man he doesn’t know. If he is to survive over the next day and a half, he’ll need to stay one step ahead of his own department — which is now out to get him — and prove the Pre-Cogs wrong. What spools from this is a labyrinthine plot that sometimes becomes unwieldy but which never becomes absurd. With Colin Farrell, Max von Sydow and Samantha Morton all pitch-perfect in supporting roles, the film borrows from a wealth of influences — ”Metropolis,” “Blade Runner” and “Tron” chief among them — while considering a world without murder and throwing its bloody answers at the screen. 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. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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