DVD Corner

Posted July 16, 2010, at 4:57 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

“Greenberg” DVD, Blu-ray:

Let’s begin with the understatement: Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) ”has a lot on his mind.” That’s the tag line for Noah Baumbach’s ”Greenberg,” a quirky and combative movie that finds its main character stuck in his 40s, recently released from a mental institution and struggling to find his place in a world he doesn’t necessarily like. Not that anyone watching this curious (and curiously engrossing) movie will necessarily like him. Many won’t. Greenberg is self-involved, often cruel; he’s weird and he’s so far on the fringe, he might as well be creating it. When his brother Phillip (Chris Messina) decides to take the family to Vietnam for vacation, he asks Roger to watch his Los Angeles house — and what a house. It’s a mansion, dog included, and Roger plans to do nothing there but write hate mail to every business that ever has done him wrong. Complicating matters is the introduction of Florence (Greta Gerwig, terrific), a singer on the side who is somewhere is her late-20s and living the lifestyle that comes along with it. She’s Phillip’s assistant, the one person Roger is told he can rely on. Naturally, he falls for Florence, which causes all sorts of issues when she teases him with reciprocation and then pulls away. The age gap between them is substantial, and what it brings out in Roger is something bitter, complicated and ultimately pathetic. It’s a tricky role, but Stiller, guided by a face that never has made sense but which perfectly suits the unevenness of Roger’s personality, gets behind it and makes it interesting. In a boorish, narcissistic sort of way. Rated R. Grade: B-

“Repo Men” DVD, Blu-ray:

Hold on to your transplanted kidneys and other assorted body parts, folks, because in ”Repo Men,” people want them. Worse, there’s a corporation called The Unit that retains men who will rip them free from your body if you get behind in your payments. In this sci-fi wreck, those men are Jude Law’s Remy and Forest Whitaker’s Jake, a gruesome twosome who freely gut the poor to give back to the rich. For Jake, his life is taking a turn thanks to his wife, who wants him to find another line of work. Jake agrees, mostly for the sake of his son, but only after one last job (it always comes down to that one last job), which backfires (literally), with Jake waking from the chaos with a new artificial heart beating in his chest. What are the chances he can afford that heart? Slim. What are the chances that The Unit, led by Liev Schreiber’s Frank, wants it back when they realize he can’t pay for it. Obviously, all of this is a comment on the current state of health care reform — it’s a twist on just how far hospitals and insurance companies will go to get their money back. Unfortunately, while director Miguel Sapochnik initially captures the right satirical tone to lampoon his target, his movie shifts at the end, loses its edge and becomes a random thriller in which Remy grows a conscience and sets out to destroy The Union. What follows is strictly by the numbers — a movie with a fake heart that finds Remy on the run. With little question about how it all will turn out, this initially promising movie crashes into predictability and never recovers. Rated R. Grade: C

“The Runaways” DVD, Blu-ray:

A movie about the 1970s band of the same name, with Dakota Fanning as Currie and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. As The Runaways, they were predictors of punk and jailbait feminists, an all-girl, teenage, rock band whose raw talent, provocation and revolution were all rolled into the same spandex outfit. The film chronicles the relationship between lead singer Currie, rhythm guitarist Jett, and the band’s eccentric manager, Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon). As with so many groups before and after them, once the Runaways were formed, an implosion of drug abuse and internal jealousies ruined them. Since the film is more interested in Currie’s character (it is, after all, based on her memoir), Fanning’s performance is front and center, and what you see in the actress’ shift from childhood to young adulthood isn’t unlike what audiences once saw in Jodie Foster — confidence, talent, a sense of daring and absolute authenticity. She is very good here, and while the movie itself doesn’t rise to the level of her performance (we learn little about Jett’s background, which is a disappointment given that she had the bigger career), the film’s energy is impressive, its characters are complicated and its glimpse into the music industry of the time isn’t whitewashed. It’s refreshingly alive, refreshingly bleak. Rated R. Grade: B

“Lust, Caution” Blu-ray:

Set in Japanese-occupied China, Ang Lee’s beautifully shot noir stars Tang Wei as Wong Chia Chi, who mixes innocently enough into a group of young Chinese radicals who want to assassinate Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), a vicious Japanese sympathizer actively torturing his own people. Because of her beauty, Chia Chi is chosen to seduce Yee with the sort of trap responsible for the movie’s NC-17 rating. The sex scenes in this film are ratcheted up to such a degree, some might feel as if they’re being fanned by the Kama Sutra while watching it. As for Chia Chi, she’s startled to discover that she rather likes Yee’s romantic kinks almost as much as she hates the man himself. What’s it all mean? Get ready — the graphic sex is a metaphor meant to evoke war’s bondage and the freedom that can come when one releases oneself from one’s own repression. Sound pretentious? It is, with Lee standing as the most insatiable person in the room. He wants to know what happens when caution meets lust while a murder plot simmers on the back burner. If you also want to know, rent the movie, but also know this — the pace can be excruciatingly slow, a mark against a film that might have been vexing had, say, 45 minutes been cut from its 2½-hour running time. Rated NC-17. Grade: C

“Bangkok Dangerous” Blu-ray:

What fresh fright wig is this? In this dumb remake of the 1999 Thai film of the same name, Nicolas Cage once again turns himself into such a hard-looking wreck it’s difficult to watch the movie without being distracted by how jarringly bad he looks. Here, Cage is Joe London, an international assassin who looks like Amy Winehouse after setting her beehive ablaze. He’s in Bangkok for a working vacation, which means he will enjoy the city while taking down four men for Surat (Nirattisai Kaljaruek). Along the way, Joe hires Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm), a street thief eager to learn the ropes, and falls for a beautiful deaf-mute named Fon (Charlie Yeung), whose sweetness heals his wounds, including the scars etched into his heart. If that last line made you gag, so will parts of the movie, such as the awkward stalker scenes in which Joe tries to get his game on by picking up Fon at the pharmacy where she crushes meds. Since Joe looks twice her age and tends to slink through the pharmacy’s aisles in an effort to catch glimpses of Fon, the film’s forced love angle feels uneasy at best, queasy at worst. What does Fon see in him, anyway? His life insurance policy? Given their language barrier, Joe’s inability to communicate beyond lines like ”Thai food hot,” and his discount wicked-witch wig, you have to wonder. Anybadweave, it all goes predictably sour for all involved, with Cage only showing up for a paycheck and barely willing to go through the motions to earn it. Rated R. Grade: D

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 Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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