DVD, Blu-ray: Ron Howard’s “Frost/Nixon” is brisk and intense, with Howard and company rising to the challenge of re-creating the infamous 1977 television interview David Frost scored with disgraced former U.S. president, Richard M. Nixon. The result is one of last year’s best movies, with Frank Langella magnificent in his Academy Award-nominated performance as Nixon. The movie opens with Nixon’s resignation, then moves to Australia, where a cheeky television host named David Frost (Michael Sheen) sees in that historic moment a chance to advance himself. If he somehow can convince Nixon to allow him to interview him (it takes $600,000 of his own money to do so), he believes he at last would be taken seriously. Though he has a crack team of researchers (Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt) and a gifted producer (Matthew MacFadyen) behind him, Frost’s downfall is that he is a playboy, which the Nixon camp (including Kevin Bacon) knows. It’s curious. In spite of all the money he has invested in this event, he’d rather spend time with his new girlfriend (Rebecca Hall) and attend movie premieres than buckle down for the fight of his life. From this, Howard keeps his movie rife with drama and jolts of humor. The dialogue is superb, peppered with unexpected throwaway lines that lift the production, making it and its characters feel vital and real. Initially, Frost fails miserably as Nixon trounces him, and in spite of the well-known, historic outcome, you find yourself pulling for him to beat Nixon at his own game. That’s no easy feat, yet Howard and his cast are able to do so while building suspense and, in Nixon’s case, revealing a growing sense of horror. The resulting groundswell of admiration for the film is deserved. Rated R. Grade: A
“The Day the Earth Stood Still”
DVD, Blu-ray: This bum remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic casts Keanu Reeves as the alien Klaatu, who appears on Earth to usher in the end of the world. And what a relief — few watching the movie will argue that the dumb humans the film employs aren’t deserving of their fate. The movie’s premise is that we are the virus destroying Earth (tough to argue with that one), and so the only way to save it is to rid it of us. That’s Klaatu’s job and Reeves goes through the motions of doing so with such restraint, you’d swear the actor left his body before showing up on set. Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Bates and John Cleese co-star, but don’t get too excited just yet — in this busy movie of so much chaos and comic disorder, they’re only here to slum along the sidelines. Meanwhile, sentiment is encouraged, then demanded, then whipped from the cast, while swarms of metallic bugs pull a Joan Crawford on the world by trying to rid it of dirt. Rated PG-13. Grade: C-
Blu-ray: Before she became the latest tabloid train wreck, Lindsay Lohan revealed real comic talent in Mark Waters’ “Mean Girls,” now available on Blu-ray disc. Given its title, the film is just what you expect — a funny satire fueled by savage insights into how cruel teen girls can be to one another. Lohan is 16-year-old Cady Heron, a nice girl who moves to a new high school, where she is befriended first by Goth geeks Janis (Lizzy Kaplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese) before her good looks attract the Plastics, a trio of mean girls led by the vicious Regina (Rachel McAdams). When Janis and Damian convince Cady to infiltrate the group and get the goods on the girls, she does so blindly yet willingly — and unwittingly sets herself up for the seductive pull of popularity and finds out what it takes for some to achieve it and how ugly it can be to maintain it. Tina Fey wrote the script (she also co-stars), and what she captures is that peculiar caste system that gives “Mean Girls” the layers a lesser film would have lacked. She knows the ridiculous importance placed on who sits where in the cafeteria, and she knows that social suicide in high school can be committed merely by acknowledging the wrong person. Fey sees humor in that, but also danger, absurdity and the pain it can cause. As such, “Mean Girls” has the air of a memoir, and it likely will feel sufficiently familiar to some of those who watch. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+
Blu-ray: From 2005, an oddly overlooked potboiler infused with style. Now out on Blu-ray disc, the film is sexy and disarming, often beautiful and then, in an instant, drop-dead ugly. The good news? None of it comes at the expense of substance. Inspired by Frank Miller’s popular series of graphic novels, this violent, sometimes boldly funny film taps into the meanest of genres — the hard-boiled detective novel and pulp fiction, and the film noir movement they inspired. Three stories hold it together — ”Yellow Bastard,” “The Hard Goodbye” and “The Big Fat Kill.” All are a nonlinear rush in a film whose cast includes Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Rosario Dawson and an almost unrecognizable Mickey Rourke. The stories they inhabit are concerned with the state of the world’s rotting underbelly, a seething infestation of crooks and other vermin that needs a good cleaning. It gets one, but not before heads fly and limbs are lopped. Unrated. Grade: A-
DVD, Blu-ray: Mickey Rourke again, and this time he’s back in a major way in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.” Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, which he lost to Sean Penn, Rourke at last rises to the full potential some thought he’d never reach due to a long stretch of self-destructive behavior off-screen. The movie also delivers a terrific turn by Marisa Tomei, rightfully nominated for her supporting role as a stripper on the other side of youth who is trying to secure a life for herself and her 9-year-old son while in the throes of middle age. She’s just as transfixing as Rourke, so free in the role, she loses herself to it, in spite of (or because of) the sheer amount of nudity involved. This messy tale of a life on the ropes (literally and figuratively) is told cleanly and powerfully, with Aronofsky building tension and emotion not by leaning on gimmicks, but by developing his characters into people we come to care about. Skirting the typical sports movie cliches the film courts isn’t easy, but for the most part, it succeeds in doing so. No character here has it easy, but they keep pushing forward in spite of the obstacles in front of them. If that doesn’t ring true to the current American experience, I’m not sure what does, and that immediacy helps to infuse “The Wrestler” with its unexpected reservoirs of power. Working to that end is Rourke, who once quit acting for a professional career in boxing. At the time, that decision seemed ludicrous. Now, it seems almost prescient. His athleticism in the ring is the real thing. So is his performance, which is so authentic, it will be the rare person who forgets his character, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Rated R. Grade: A
Also on DVD:
Also available on DVD are three television series from Paramount, including the eighth season of “Wings,” where comedy and melodrama slam awkwardly into each other over the friendly skies. This season ended the series, and it’s easy to see why — much of it is a groaner. “Dynasty: Season Four, Vol. 1,” on the other hand, is a howler, bringing with it such torrid episodes as “The Arrest,” “The Bungalow” and “Tender Comrades.” Essentially, the show is a mess of diamonds, scotch, botched affairs and mud fights, with John Forsythe, Linda Evans and Joan Collins continuing to embrace their low-rent doom with high-end style. Camp also can be found in the seventh season of “Beverly Hills 90210,” fueled by the amusing wrecking ball that is Tiffani-Amber Thiessen’s Valerie Malone. No, she didn’t take humanity to the lows achieved by Shannen Doherty’s Brenda, but Thiessen had her moments. Once again, more turmoil boils in Beverly Hills — particularly in such episodes as “Unnecessary Roughness,” “Spring Breakdown” and “Phantom of CU” — and also because Tori Spelling’s face and body continue to morph in ways that have zip to do with leaving adolescence’s grasp. In between, there’s more gossip to fill a week’s worth of posts at PerezHilton.com, which is just how fans want it. On those terms, the seventh season succeeds.
WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.