DVD Corner

Posted April 23, 2010, at 4:58 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:56 a.m.

“It’s Complicated” DVD, Blu-ray: Nancy Meyers’ “It’s Complicated” really should have been titled, “Well, It’s All Just Sort of Manufactured.” The film is pat, it’s predictable, we’ve seen revisions of its story countless times before — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable, which it is. And that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t see it, which you should. What Meyers features here aren’t lines you recall later or complications that linger, but a terrific ensemble cast that steps in and works hard to do each. Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin star, and they go a long way in making this slight romantic comedy as good as it is. And that’s pretty good, especially since Streep and Baldwin, in particular, came to play. As Jane and Jake Adler, respectively, they become unhinged as a divorced couple living in Southern California while trying to make the best of a sour situation for their grown children. Jane has been single since their divorce 10 years earlier, when Jake had an affair. She now has a successful bakery. Jake is remarried to Agness (Lake Bell), a much younger woman who has had one child from hell with Jake, and who is determined that Jake will give her another. On a tidal wave of fertility pills, Agness is a hive of grumpiness, a force not to be crossed. Trouble is, when the three run into each other at an event, what Jake sees in Jane is a woman who has come into herself, and he wants her back. What to do? On paper it’s supposed to be complicated. The couple has an affair while Jane tries to keep it from her children while also being courted by Adam (Martin), but it’s all stridently manufactured. What isn’t manufactured is what Meyers does best; she gives middle-age sexuality a face amid life’s disappointments and laughs. She understands that at this point of her characters’ lives, there aren’t many second, third or fourth chances at love, that much is at stake should Jane agree to follow through with Jake’s advances and try to give their relationship another go. It’s the pressure she feels from this, the excitement, the potential heartbreak, the confusingly good sex and the fear hooked to all of it that, when played by someone with Streep’s talent, make the movie satisfying and watchable. Rated R. Grade: B

“Elizabeth” Blu-ray: From 1998, an expertly acted, brooding melodrama that features Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) as one staunch, formidable virgin. As King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Blanchett plays Elizabeth as a passionate free spirit hardened by her cold blue bloodline, the ruthless machinations of a court in upheaval, and the tremendous rush for power that undermines it all. Compressing and rewriting history at will, the film takes great liberties in an effort to put on a good show, which it does — royally. Beginning with the burning of three Protestant “heretics,” the film comes alive in its frequent beheadings, bloody division of two churches (Roman Catholic and Protestant), and the ascension of one tough, indomitable, 25-year-old woman who surfaces as a formidable presence. With the odds stacked against her, Elizabeth successfully fights off the Spanish, the French, her rivals and the pope, at the same time carrying on a torrid love affair with the buff Robert Dudley (Joseph Fiennes). This is not the rigid, unflinching Queen Elizabeth I Bette Davis played in 1955’s “The Virgin Queen,” or even the cool, knowing queen Judi Dench plays to great affect in “Shakespeare in Love.” Blanchett’s queen is more or less like Helen Mirren’s version in the Emmy Award-winning HBO miniseries, “Elizabeth I.” She’s sexy, smart and unafraid to live it up, even while it’s clear that those around her want her dead. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Elizabeth: The Golden Age” Blu-ray: This canned follow-up to “Elizabeth” lives and breathes more for the lavish treatment given to its noteworthy costume design, set design and makeup than it does for such trivialities as history, which in this film is burned at the stake. Director Shekhar Kapur only occasionally comes through with a compelling account of what occurred in late 16th century England, when Queen Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) was faced with losing her country, her crown and likely her head to the Spanish armada. There are times in the movie when you swear that Harlequin had a hand in it — particularly in a romantic subplot involving Clive Owen as the dashing Sir Walter Raleigh and Abbie Cornish as Bess Throckmorton, Elizabeth’s closest lady-in-waiting. This time out, at age 52 (yet oddly looking 20 years younger), Elizabeth is facing the deception of her cousin Mary Stuart of Scotland (Samantha Morton), as well as the armada, which Spain’s mincing King Philip II (Jordi Molla) has organized to restore Catholicism to England. Those plot points, in the right hands, could have made for a rousing movie, and yet here, they’re dashed to the sidelines as Kapur focuses instead on the Virgin Queen’s lustful longings for Raleigh. Is this historically correct? Depends on what history book you’re reading, though mine suggests Elizabeth had a wee bit more on her mind than fretting over whether Raleigh fathered Bess’ child and what it might mean to England should she indulge in a kiss with him. With its emphasis on costume changes, how properly to light and photograph those costumes, and how best to showcase Blanchett in them, “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” comes off more like “Elizabeth: The Cat Walk.” Rated PG-13. Grade: C

“Traffic” Blu-ray: With guts, muscle and several kilos of brio, Stephen Soderbergh’s “Traffic” storms onto Blu-ray in a big way. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s an excellent movie about the ongoing drug wars that brilliantly, stylishly and powerfully interweaves three loosely related stories. Armed with a terrific cast (including Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Albert Finney, Don Cheadle, Amy Irving, Luis Guzman, Erika Christensen and Benicio Del Toro), Soderbergh lights his own scenes and acts as his own cinematographer to capture a frenetic, unpredictable world fraught with violence, betrayal, addiction, great wealth, greater despair and, underscoring it all, the highs and lows of a society cor-rupted by drugs. What’s new about that? Plenty. The film’s triumph isn’t just in its brutal depiction of a society we think we’ve seen, but in how the director resists the temptation to moralize. What Soderbergh presents in “Traffic” isn’t cynical or, for that matter, even hopeful. Instead, by shooting his film in the rougher edges of a documentary style, he becomes something of a journalist, one whose unrelenting eye is content to chronicle the events, but not to comment on them. That decision gives his film a ferocious power. From Catherine Zeta-Jones’ beautifully gritty performance as a society matron who learns her family’s fortune was built on drugs to Michael Douglas’ moving turn as a drug czar whose daughter (Chris-tensen) has taken a liking to crack and heroin, “Traffic” generously gives each actor his or her moment. The film might not offer a groundbreaking view of the drug trade, but what it sees in the big picture is nevertheless chilling. Rated R. Grade: A

Visit WeekinRewind.com, the archive of Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s reviews, which appear Fridays and Weekends. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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