Dear John DVD, Blu-ray:
Poor dear. The very title, “Dear John,” suggests a kind of anonymity, which is a good thing for the screenwriters and director, who are able to hide behind this wading-pool weepy. Unfortunately, for those who star in the movie, there is no hiding from it — they’re front and center.
From Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel, the film stars Channing Tatum as John, who led a tough life before becoming a Green Beret. While on a brief, two-week leave, he meets Savannah (Amanda Seyfried), they have a connection, and bam — they’re in love. But when John has to return to service and Savannah to school, they lean into each other and promise to write every day. For all sorts of reasons, that doesn’t happen, but you can imagine the unrest it creates—and the melodrama. Oh, the melodrama.
The movie is as infused with it as it is with cliches, which is unfortunate since the film hails from Lasse Hallstrom, whose “The Cider House Rules,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and ”Chocolat” all prove he has talent — with an exclamation point. Here, we’re left with an ellipsis. Given the way this corny movie goes over with its two leads mooning over each other through the barrage of sappy music, let’s hope that for Hallstrom, better things are on the horizon. Rated PG-13. Grade: D
“Classic Musicals from the Dream Factory, Vol. 3”:
A peppy, uneven collection of nine films, some digitally remastered, all making their debut on DVD. Included are 1955’s “Hit the Deck,” with Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds and Ann Miller hitting notes that lift almost as high as their legs; 1954’s “Deep in My Heart,” with Gene Kelly and his brother Fred in their only screen appearance together; and 1954’s “Kismet,” in which Vincente Minnelli attempted to capture on film the 1953 Broadway musical version of Edward Knoblock’s play. His movie is so overheated, it nearly combusts, with Ann Blyth, Howard Keel, Vic Damone and Dolores Gray giving it their all — and testing our endurance in the process.
Two additional Jane Powell movies are found in 1950’s “Nancy Goes to Rio” and “Two Weeks in Love,” with Busby Berkeley staging the latter. Rounding out the set are four Eleanor Powell films — “Broadway Melody of1936,” in which 15-year-old Judy Garland sings “Dear Mr. Gable,” and “Broadway Melody of 1938,” with Powell as a shoe-snapping horse trainer. Powell also stars in 1936’s “Born to Dance,” which is fitting since she taps herself into a grinning, hypnotic frenzy, and 1941’s “Lady Be Good,” in which Powell is paired opposite Robert Young and Ann Sothern — and nearly steals the show. Grade: B+
“Man on Fire”
Blu-ray: Tony Scott’s ”Man on Fire” is so burdened by its chaotic, quick-cut editing, there’s the sense that the director doesn’t trust his story, his characters or his actors. This is a film in which even the subtitles are restless — they zigzag about the screen in a jumbled attempt to evoke an edgy style.
That sort of empty flash proves unnecessary since the story behind “Man on Fire” doesn’t need the false energy its showy style promotes. What sells the movie are its performances, beginning with Denzel Washington’s excellent turn as Creasy, a down-on-his-luck bodyguard living in Mexico City who has come to love the bottle more than life itself. He’s ready to give up on everything when Lisa and Samuel Ramos (Radha Mitchell and Marc Anthony), a sketchy, wealthy couple saddled with an undesirable penchant for rococo taste, hire Creasy to protect their young daughter, Pita (Dakota Fanning), from an inevitable kidnapping. Since there wouldn’t be a movie without the kidnapping, onward it pushes to that end, with Creasy failing to protect Pita when it occurs. The last half of the movie is a bloody revenge fantasy, with Creasy rising as an avenging angel to make those responsible for Pita’s kidnapping and possible murder pay the ultimate price.
Taut action, jolts of humor and a fantastic supporting performance by Rachel Ticotin as an investigative reporter lift the film to a compelling ending. Rated R. Grade: B
“The Notebook” Blu-ray:
From Nick Cassavetes, a beautifully shot melodrama that overcomes its contrivances by striking just the right romantic tone. It’s a retro heart-warmer filled with likable characters whose story weaves around the lives of two charismatic young lovers whose romance is threatened due to class differences. The film is divided into two stories, with its core mystery allegedly hinging on how those stories will collide. Only the dimmest of bulbs won’t figure it out, so it’s good news that the movie’s success doesn’t rely on it. The film opens at a swank nursing home with the elderly Duke (James Garner) reading to the elderly Allie Calhoun (Gena Rowlands, who is Cassavetes’ mother), a handsome yet frail-looking woman suffering from Alzheimer’s. The story Duke shares with her is a romance set in 1940s North Carolina between working-class Noah (Ryan Gosling) and wealthy Allie Hamilton (Rachel McAdams), who share a summer romance that blossoms into fierce first love doomed for failure. McAdams and Gosling are wonderful together — fresh and spontaneous — while Garner and the underused Rowlands make you pine for what can be lost in old age — and marvel at what can be found. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+
“Planet of the Apes” Blu-ray:
This clunky Tim Burton remake isn’t a total bust — the first 45 minutes are rousing, the pop culture references can be fun, some performances are good and Rick Baker’s monkey makeup is a marvel. But the film has little of the distinctive style that made Burton’s best movies so inventive and alive. The film mirrors Franklin Schaffner’s 1968 original in that it tries to offer a dark social commentary on the state of race relations, but its focus is so broad, that comment, however relevant it remains, is lost amid the confusion. As the war between the humans and the apes escalates into a showdown that can only be described as “Braveheart” meets ”Mad Max” on all fours, the movie struggles to contain its ideas and themes. With Mark Wahlberg, Helena Bonham Carter, Tim Roth and Michael Clarke Duncan. Rated PG-13. Grade: C
Also on DVD and Blu-ray:
“Perry Mason: Season Five, Volume One” is now available from Paramount and five decades out, the series still proves addictive. Here, Raymond Burr once again bulldozes his way through his iconic role as Mason, the Los Angeles defense attorney who, along with his assistant, Della Street (Barbara Hale, wonderful), takes people to task at the stand and lets them have it by drawing them into webs from which few could flee. Others out for blood include the characters in HBO’s excellent series, “True Blood,” an appealingly bizarre show, if there ever was one. Fans can’t go wrong with its second season, which now is available on DVD and Blu-ray. Those seeking programming with a British twist should turn to “Waiting for God: Season Five,” in which Tom (Graham Growden) and Diana (Stephanie Cole) might be waiting for God, but they still aren’t doing so quietly. At the Bayview Retirement Village, where death is everyone’s last visitor and the food is notoriously bad, these two refuse to go out gracefully, particularly Diana, whose last breath, one senses, will be spent sticking it to somebody with a complaint. Tom exists more in the ether, but he’s far from out of it. Together, they’re a team, occasionally taking breaks from their long conversations in an effort to grow old disgracefully, all while igniting panic in the impossible staff. Also from the BBC are “Hamlet” on DVD and Blu-ray; the comedy series “Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1982-1983”; “Survivors: Complete Original Series 1975-1977”; “Merlin: Complete First Season,” and Sean Bean in “Sharpe’s Peril,” which is available on DVD and Blu-ray, and “Sharpe’s Challenge,” which has just been released on Blu-ray. Finally, for those seeking science fiction with a British twist, don’t miss the BBC’s “Doctor Who: The Curse of the Peladon,” “Doctor Who: The Monster of Peladon” and “Doctor Who: The Masque of Mandragora.”
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and archive of movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Mondays, Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.