DVD Corner

Posted June 25, 2010, at 8:15 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

“The Crazies” DVD, Blu-ray: Well, they’re just crazy. Period. And they’re diseased to the point that they become the hungry, walking undead. This will surprise no one familiar with the fact that this “Crazies” is a loose remake of the movie George A. Romero made in 1973. Here, Timothy Olyphant is Sheriff David Dutton, who is faced with the undead when one of them teeters into a high school baseball game. The man is clearly — how to put this delicately? — unstable to the point that you’re freaked out and leaving unwanted things in your pants. And so after several warnings, Dutton shoots the man. Cue the rest of the movie, in which that lively undead infection begins to spread and chaos begins to erupt. Nothing that unfolds here matches the kinetic greatness Zack Snyder unleashed in his excellent remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” but as B-movies go, “The Crazies” is a good time, especially if you’re a sucker for zombie films. The film co-stars Radha Mitchell and a host of feasting dead things. Rated R. Grade: B

“Hot Tub Time Machine” DVD, Blu-ray: If you’re going to offer a title like that, the movie better deliver — and this one does. Three middle-aged friends — Adam (John Cusack), Lou (Rob Corddry) and Nick (Craig Robinson), along with Adam’s nephew, Jacob (Clark Duke) — visit the ski resort where the former three friends went wild as teenagers. Turns out that the place is a dump and the people running it are questionable, at best. And as for the hot tub in question? It might as well be a breeding pool the water looks so filthy. Still, enter a repairman played by Chevy Chase and soon the hot tub literally is glowing. Once the friends are in, they’re sent back in time by the hot tub time machine. It’s suddenly 1986, and what audiences have on their hands is essentially a raunchy, funny, R-rated version of “Back to the Future.” Rated R. Grade: B

“The White Ribbon” DVD, Blu-ray: Michael Haneke’s terrific film is unshakably good, particularly at the end, when the disease destroying the core of the story (that would be humanity at its lowest depths of depravity) has gone on to fully reveal its dysfunction, its divisiveness, its backhanded brutality and its overall rotten awfulness. The film observes the collapse of a small town on the eve of World War I. We’re in Germany. The film is shot in black and white. The images are bleak, cruel and stunning, not unlike the movie itself. Haneke (“Cache”) wrote the script, and just as his fans expect, he works by evasion, leading audiences to a well that reflects nothing back. For those who like their movies spelled out for them, this isn’t for you, in spite of the subtitles. For those who appreciate the grace of a director who employs narrative discretion, this absolutely is for you. The film opens with a man on a horse racing toward his house. Since the movie is told in flashback by way of the village’s now-elderly schoolteacher (Ernst Jacobi), we know the man is a doctor and that he breaks his arm when his horse trips over a hidden wire somebody strung between two trees. But who strung the wire? And why do they have it in for the doctor, who is taken away to a hospital far away so he can mend? Could somebody have benefited from his absence? Maybe. Maybe not. To Haneke, it doesn’t matter. Braced against his own coldness, he presses on — there are others to undo in this village of grim-looking people. Look, for instance, at the dead woman ground up at the mill. What happened to her? Or look at the young boy with Down syndrome who is savagely beaten and left to hang in a forest with a bag on his head. Why? Or the barn that is set ablaze in the middle of the night. Or the pet bird whose throat is slit. Death is, in fact, everywhere in this movie — it’s alive and well and swallowing the living whole. People are ridiculed and reduced to nothing. Children are beaten and scorned, particularly the children of the village’s pastor (Burghart Klaussner), two of whom provide the film its title in that they are forced to wear white ribbons of purity until he believes that he can trust them again (just why we’ll leave for the screen). Those children are Klara and Martin (Maria-Victoria Dragus and Leonard Proxauf, each outstanding), and you’ve never seen such a mean-mouthed duo, the lot of which reflects their father’s own rage, which he repeatedly takes out on them. And what about that? What does such abuse do to a child? Does it carry over to them? In this movie, the children move in marching groups — you’d swear they were a gang if they weren’t so polite to the adults they come upon in town. And yet there’s something about them the film only brushes against — are they the cause for the village’s atrocities? Could children be capable of such violent acts? Who knows? Shot superbly by cinematographer Christian Berger, “The White Ribbon” is stark and haunting, expertly acted and directed, morally corrupt and memorable for all of it. It’s framed as a mystery, but really, Heneke’s sights are on his characters, the evil inherent in people, and how that evil, when organized, has the potential to grow into something more repellent if left uncapped, as it is here. The white ribbons in this movie are meant to signify purity, but what we don’t see in this film is the power of another color — red — and how, years later, it would come to define another generation of Germans in another war waiting to bloom on another horizon. Rated R. Grade: A

“The Italian Job” DVD, Blu-ray: With the River City Cinema Society’s “Heist School Vacation” now under way, it’s time to check out the remakes of some of the original films they’ll be showing at the festival. Weather permitting, on July 23, they’ll be showing Peter Collinson’s 1960 version of “The Italian Job,” which was cast again in 2001 with Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron and Edward Norton starring in a film whose $35 million gold heist isn’t just the prize but the problem. At least for the characters. The film lacks the original’s inspired casting (Noel Coward and Benny Hill as thieves), but it offers greatly improved stuntwork and gives a fun update to the three Mini Coopers so critical to the plot and the action. Befitting the title, the film opens in Venice with a daring heist that leads to a wild boat chase through the city’s clogged canals. It’s a rousing opening, one that seamlessly introduces all the major players and their individual strengths amid the action. There’s Charlie (Wahlberg), the architect behind the heists; John (Donald Sutherland), the veteran safe-cracker; Steve (Norton), whose personal connections prove vital; and Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), who knows how to handle women as well as he knows how to handle the wheel of a car or a boat. There are others and together, they’re a formidable team. But when one member of the group gets greedy and turns on the others, brazenly stealing the $35 million in gold they hauled out of Venice and leaving one man dead, the remaining members strengthen their bond and set out to destroy the dirty thief and vindicate their friend’s death. They do so by enlisting the help of Stella (Theron), a gifted safecracker who has personal reasons for seeing this vendetta through: the man who was murdered was her father. Bolstered by a brisk pace and its solid performances, this version of “The Italian Job” proves that for a heist movie to get the job done right, audiences will forgive minor lapses in logic in favor of style, chemistry and inventive action. Director F. Gary Gray comes through with just that — and then he surpasses expectations by coming through with more. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

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, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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