January 21, 2020

DVD Corner

“Babel”: If you know and love the work of Mexican-born director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, you understand going into his films that you must do so armed with a good deal of trust. He is a director devoted to developing complex characters and dense story lines around a convoluted technique. For some, the nonlinear haze in which he works can be off-putting. But for those who know that Inarritu is a master at pulling together the impossible, it can be enormously satisfying to watch him pull it off. “Babel” is just that sort of film. This emotionally charged, Academy Award-nominated movie focuses on four stories, with six different languages used to tell them. While the movie does manipulate, deepening it are scenes that genuinely disturb. As with so many of the film’s characters, you leave the film feeling raw, used up. “Babel” isn’t something you forget after seeing it. Instead, it’s a movie that demands to be discussed. With Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett, Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Flushed Away”: Another Academy Award nominee, this one an animated feature from the creators of the “Wallace & Gromit” series. The film follows the highs and lows of the high-brow pet mouse Roddy (Hugh Jackman), who is flushed from his swank Kensington estate by the intrusive, abrasive rat Sid (Shane Richie). What Roddy finds underground is a city teeming with sauce and color, particularly thanks to some salty, torch-song-singing slugs, who steal a good part of the show. Below ground, Roddy also meets cute with Rita (Kate Winslet), a slinky rat who is Roddy’s only hope to help him find his way back to the life he knows at street level, which she agrees to do, though naturally there are complications, starting with the gruesome villain Toad (Ian McKellen). What ensues is a controlled sense of arcane looseness, with the movie one of last year’s better-animated efforts. Rated PG. Grade: B+

“Mad About You: Complete Third Season”: Neurotics in the midst. This third season finds Paul and Jaime Buchman (Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt) facing new challenges in their marriage, with guest appearances by Lisa Kudrow, Cyndi Lauper and Carl Reiner adding plenty, while guest appearances by Lyle Lovett, Al Roker and Rudolph Giuliani only detract. The season’s final episode, “Up in Smoke,” intentionally evokes “It’s a Wonderful Life” and is especially good, as is “Money Changes Everything,” for which Lauper and Reiner won Emmy Awards. Grade: B

“Mr. Moto Collection: Volume Two”: Peter Lorre channeling Charlie Chan. Lorre’s Mr. Moto is a top Japanese secret agent with nice manners and a vicious kick; you could have him over for dinner or for a murder. Four films comprise this lively set of B-movies – “Mr. Moto’s Gamble” (1938), “Mr. Moto in Danger island” (1939), “Mr. Moto’s Last Warning” (1939) and “Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation” (1939). The films were inexpensive to produce, but Lorre, in spite of the health problems that plagued him during the era, is nevertheless magnetic. Grade: B+

“The Prestige: DVD and Blu-ray”: From Christopher Nolan, a beautifully photographed period thriller that features dueling illusionists (Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale) working the crowds in 19th-century London. Their egos are the problem, with each divided by an obsession that’s far from magical – it’s murderous. Michael Caine, David Bowie and Scarlett Johansson spark the mix, with none afraid to wallow in the occasional pool of melodrama. The film’s title refers to slang for the third act of a magic trick – the payoff, as it were, in which the crowd is wowed – so Nolan primes his audience for his own prestige, which is satisfying even though it’s explained through flashback. Aware of this potential letdown, Nolan closes with a controversial final shot that any magician – or filmmaker, for that matter – would crave. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

“Shut Up & Sing”: The Dixie Chicks in a documentary about the ramifications of free speech. For this Texas-based group comprised of Natalie Maines, Emily Robison and Martie Maguire, the backlash of speaking out began in 2003. It was March, American troops were preparing to invade Iraq, Bush’s popularity was high, and outspoken lead singer Maines unwittingly tossed a verbal grenade into a London audience: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas,” she said. Overseas, the crowd went wild. But here at home, the far right had an unlikely target – a hugely successful, beloved country group best known for its songs of broken hearts and infidelity than for creating a political scandal. Directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck deftly chronicle the tumultuous fallout, as well as the groundswell of Grammy Award-winning creativity that ensued. Rated R. Grade: A-

“Warner’s Romantic Classics Collection”: Includes five films, the best of which is the 1945 drama “The Clock,” in which Vincente Minnelli directs Judy Garland and Robert Walker into and out of each other’s arms at the height of World War II. The material is a handkerchief, but Minnelli, Garland and Walker lift it into excellence. Another war of sorts builds in the 1988 romantic comedy “Crossing Delancey,” in which Amy Irving is forced to choose between Peter Riegert and Jeroen Krabbe (she chooses, it’s tough). Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue star in the Maine-based, 1959 drama, “A Summer Place,” where they achieve, at best, a low simmer. 1973’s “Blume in Love” finds George Segal frantically fighting to win back his rigid wife (Susan Anspach) with funny results. Meanwhile, 1956’s “Miracle in the Rain” closely mirrors “The Clock” in that it finds a couple (Jane Wyman, Van Johnson) meeting in the throes of World War II only to promise that they’ll never part. Who wants to bet that they do? The movie is designed to bring you to your knees and, for some, it likely will do the job. Grade: B+

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