DVD Corner

Posted July 23, 2010, at 5:21 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

Editor’s Note: By choice, Christopher Smith will be changing up the way movie reviews are presented in the Bangor Daily News and this will be the final DVD Corner in this form. But don’t worry, Smith will continue his 14-year role as the Bangor Daily News film critic, just in new capacities. Along with theatrical reviews, he will review the latest DVDs and Blu-ray discs in his Friday Week in Rewind column. He’ll also focus on multimedia as a way of previewing and reviewing films in the Lifestyle section of the Bangor Daily News’ website. For those who remember the years Smith reviewed films statewide on WLBZ and WCSH, and nationally on the E! Network, these videos will be particularly familiar. Look for them each Wednesday online, as well as daily content on Smith’s blog at www.bangordailynews.com/week-in-rewind.html.

“Clash of the Titans” DVD, Blu-ray: From director Louis Leterrier, a film that delivers exactly what you expect — well-done action pieces blended with jolts of camp that are so over-the-top, you half expect Mount Olympus to be made from one of Joan Crawford’s shoulder pads. For those who recall the original, overdone 1981 movie, this new version tones things down a bit, but a good deal of its enjoyment comes from the fact that a lot of the ongoing excess is fun to watch because what’s surrounding it is polished, particularly the special effects. It’s easy to be amused by this movie for the wrong reasons, but it’s also easy to admire it for the right reasons. In the film, all kinds of ugliness is going down between the gods of Olympus and the mortals created by their leader, Zeus (Liam Neeson, gleaming and glistening like a tinsel Christmas tree). Apparently, the mortals are over the gods, so much so that they’re being stingy with their prayers, which the gods feast upon. In an effort to keep the mortals in line, Zeus’ estranged brother, Hades (Ralph Fiennes), arrives in a cloud of black smoke and promises Zeus and the other gods that he’s the one to handle the situation. Trouble is, Hades has a foe in the demigod Perseus (Sam Worthington), who wants revenge on Hades for killing the family who took him in when he was an infant floating in a sarcophagus with his dead mother at sea (don’t ask). Since Perseus is Zeus’ son, the screenwriters dice into the script traces of Freud that clash with traces of Dr. Phil. All sorts of monsters are woven into the script, including giant scorpions, flying bat-things, the grotesque hissing of the gorgeous Gorgon sisters, a beautifully rousing scene involving a fight against Medusa and the hulking Kraken itself, which smashes the hell out of everything around it because it can. How Perseus must kill the Kraken we’ll leave for you, but it’s fun to watch him try, regardless of the holes in the script and occasional lapses in logic. From start to finish, this movie is a theme park ride. Rated PG-13. Grade: B-

“The Ghost Writer” DVD, Blu-ray: Oh, look — Roman Polanski is sprung by the Swiss just in time to enjoy his latest movie on Blu-ray and DVD. The timing! His latest is a mood piece that moves. The film clocks in at just over two hours, but it’s so enticing in its cold, rain-swept way, the sponge absorbing it is you. The movie is lighted by surprises — from its cast (James Belushi and Kim Cattrall in a Polanski movie?) to its plot, which smacks of Hitchcock and which is driven not to deliver cheap thrills, but rather to achieve a sense of mystery, intelligence and tension, which it does. Many will delight in the film’s wit, its sophistication and the utter meanness of some of its characters, many of whom you could spit on only to hear them question whether that’s the best you’ve got. Noir is everywhere in this movie, and the secrets are high. The film stars a very good Ewan McGregor as The Ghost, a writer of no name and no history who is brought onboard to rewrite the memoirs of former British Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan) when Lang’s previous ghost writer winds up dead from a mysterious drowning. From this, Polanski manipulates elements that make the film stirring and satisfying. It’s the tone he strikes throughout that gives the movie the sort of polish you’d note on steel or, better yet, the blade of a knife. Sometimes, the movie is too evasive for its own good (not unlike this review), but stick with it. The ending, and the restraint in which it’s handled, shows us a master of the medium at work. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

“Kick-Ass” DVD, Blu-ray: Matthew Vaughn’s latest movie, “Heidi” — excuse me, “Kick-Ass” — is just that. The movie is intense, it’s smart, the action is stylized and brisk, and satire and wit rips through the script. Under the tutelage of her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage, beautifully cast in the sort of off-beat role at which he excels), Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz, who was 11 when she performed in the movie) is a force to be feared. In her everyday life as Mindy Macready, she’s a sweet, cheerful girl in pigtails. But when she’s called upon to morph into Hit Girl, she dons a mask and a purple wig, and her heart hardens with a brand of vigilante justice few adult men can best in an effort to take her down. She’s that fierce, which is a problem for Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), who is being targeted by Big Daddy and Hit Girl. Let’s just say they have a major reason to go after D’Amico, a powerful mob boss armed with his own kick-ass moves and a battalion of muscle-headed minions ready to do his dirty work. Sandbagging him is his awkward son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who mirrors Hit Girl in that he just wants to make his father proud of him — regardless of the costs. At its bloody core, “Kick-Ass” is, in fact, a movie about pleasing fathers. Also onboard is the character Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), an unpopular teen who is pretty much invisible at school — especially to girls — and who is being raised by his father after his mother’s sudden death. Nothing seems to connect in Dave’s life until he gets the idea that maybe he isn’t reaching his true potential. Maybe he, like Batman before him, should become a superhero and help fix the world’s wrongs. Since few others are up to the task, Dave decides to go for it, buys a green suit and soon is the film’s titular character, Kick-Ass. There’s so much to commend here, it’s tough to know where to begin. Moretz is the standout — she commands the screen with a raw ferociousness that’s unheard of given her age — but the other actors are equally good. Yes, the movie is violent, but given the silly, unapologetic, way over-the-top way that violence is portrayed, there’s a reason the audience at my screening last May was howling. And there’s also a reason this film is intended for adults. Rated R. Grade: B+

“Charlie’s Angels” Blu-ray: Take all the saucy, slow-motion bounce of a Clairol hair commercial, cross it with the pumped-up cleavage of a Victoria’s Secret runway show — and then jack the action with plenty of kick-ass moves, and you essentially have “Charlie’s Angels,” a film that takes Girl Power to dizzying heights and crazed extremes. The film offers nothing — and everything. This is escapism tossed into the spotlight, a film so undeniably weightless and slight, it could melt in your own hand. But what a lot of fun. What makes “Charlie’s Angels” work is that it strikes just the right absurdist tone in capturing one of the more ludicrous television shows of the mid-1970s and early 1980s. The film is a postmodern parody of pop culture. That makes it sound deeper than it is, but since “Charlie’s Angels” is essentially extremism for the sake of extremism, it’s nevertheless the case. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu star in a move that plays with what action movies have become — overblown battles of superstar egos and directorial one-upsmanship. But in all its feathery fun, it goes several steps further. It manages to lampoon the television show on which it’s based, while also lampooning the feminist movement. 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 Fridays in Lifestyle, as well as on bangordailynews.com. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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