[2 June 2009]
McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
A pair of stirring human dramas set in different wars — “Glory” (Sony, 1989, $28.95) and “Defiance” (Paramount, 2008, $39.99) — are among the best of the new titles being released on Blu-ray this week.
“Glory” is based on the true story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first all-black volunteer unit to fight for the Union in the Civil War. Matthew Broderick plays Robert Gould Shaw, the young Boston soldier who is given the task of whipping the unit into shape. One of the first to volunteer is the well-educated Thomas Searles (Andre Braugher), Shaw’s friend since boyhood.
Among the others to sign up are Trip (Denzel Washington), a runaway slave from Tennessee who is filled with hate and is cynical about fighting for the white man, and John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), who sees it as a serious opportunity to contribute to the cause. Rawlins eventually earns the rank of sergeant major and becomes an inspiring spirit to the men.
For months, Shaw and his fellow white officers drill the 54th until they are obviously in fighting shape. But no uniforms and no orders for the unit arrive. It turns out that prejudice exists in the North as well. When Shaw suspects that the government has no intention of sending his men into battle, he presses the issue and uses his connections in Washington, D.C., to get something done. Soon, Shaw and his men are headed to South Carolina, where they will finally engage in combat in what turns out to be a near-suicidal mission.
The film, blessed with unforgettable battle sequences, is a sweeping tribute to the 54th. The brave climactic charge on a Confederate-held fort outside of Charleston, S.C., will bring a lump to the throat. Freeman, Washington and Braugher are magnificent in their roles. Meanwhile, Broderick strikes just the right amount of innocence as the wide-eyed Shaw. This is a terrific film and is highly recommended.
“Defiance” is an important film because it dispels the stereotypical view that Jews offered no resistance to the evil that was Nazism during World War II. Based on a true story, it stars Daniel Craig as Tuvia Bielski, who lives with his family in the small Eastern European country of Belarus. After his mother and father are murdered by the invading Germans, Tuvia and his brothers Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell) escape into the forest.
The Bielski brothers are determined to find a way to fight back. Their efforts attract other Jews and gradually the trio find themselves overseeing a “village” of nearly one thousand. It is not easy. There are conflicts between Tuvia and Zus and conflicts among their flock. When one tries to take over leadership of the group, Tuvia shoots him dead. Then there are encounters with the Russian Army, which could care less about Jews.
Eventually, the Germans locate the Bielski camp and begin shelling it. The Jewish community is forced to take flight through the woods and swamp. It is a tense, perilous journey. Craig and Schreiber shine in their roles. “Defiance,” like “Glory,” was directed by Edward Zwick. Recommended.
Other Blu-ray releases:
“Revolutionary Road” (Paramount, 2008, $29.99): If you’re looking for a feel-good movie better search elsewhere. But if you want to see an absorbing piece featuring two stellar performances; this is it. Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet are outstanding as Frank and Amy Wheeler, a 1955 couple who live in the Connecticut suburbs. They seem to have it all; a nice house, two adorable kids and friendly neighbors. But things aren’t always what they appear to be on the surface. Each day, Frank commutes to New York to a job which he hates. Amy, whose dream of being an actress faded long ago, is frustrated by the monotonous routine of their lives which sparks heated arguments between the two. Amy convinces Frank that they should ditch everything and make a new life for themselves in Paris. That new life, however, never materializes and things only get worse. The film is based on the 1961 book. Recommended.
“The Graduate” (MGM, 1967, $24.99): Dustin Hoffman plays Benjamin Braddock, fresh out of college and trying to decide what he wants to do with his life. There are plenty of adults who eagerly offer a number of suggestions. “Plastics,” says one to Benjamin, “You should go into plastics.” To Braddock, the older people seem boring and stupid (read: generation gap). While trying to find himself, Benjamin is seduced by Mrs. Robinson (Anne Brancroft) and eventually falls in love with her daughter (Katherine Ross). Although time has diminished some of its dated punch, it’s still worth watching as an iconic 1960s film. The sound track from Simon & Garfunkel hasn’t lost its sparkle. Recommended.
“Air Force One” (Sony, 1997, $28.95): A dandy action-thriller with Harrison Ford playing James Marshall, a kick-butt president of the United States. After delivering an anti-terrorism speech in Moscow, Marshall boards Air Force One for the trip home. Wouldn’t you know it; a group of fanatical Russian nationalists takes over the president’s plane after it is airborne. Gary Oldman plays the zealous leader of the terrorists. What they don’t know is that Marshall, a decorated soldier during the Vietnam War, is prowling throughout the plane and is intent on bringing them down. Glenn Close plays the vice president. Recommended for those who like action.
“Fletch” (Universal, 1985, $29.98): Here is Chevy Chase at his funniest as newspaper reporter Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher. He’ll change into any disguise to get a story. Dressed as a bum while working on a story about drugs and the dealers, he stumbles onto a scam that involves murder, millionaire Alan Stanwyck (Tim Matheson), the police and more. Fletch is determined to get the scoop even if it kills him — and it just might. Also in the cast: Joe Don Baker and Geena Davis. Recommended.
“Nature’s Most Amazing Events” (BBC, 2009, $34.99): This two-disc set features six episodes of the series that takes you from the Arctic and its polar bears to the Alaskan coastal waters and their humpback whales and sea lions. This is the kind of material that looks absolutely beautiful on Blu-ray. Included are “The Great Melt,” “The Great Salmon Run,” “The Great Migration,” “The Great Tide,” “The Great Flood” and “The Great Feast.” Highly recommended.
“Road House” (MGM, 1989, $24.99): Patrick Swayze stars a bouncer who is hired by a nightclub in a small Missouri town to rid the area of thugs who have taken over. Plenty of action, fights and shootouts follow. Also in the cast are Sam Elliott and Ben Gazzarra.
“Bruce Almighty” (Universal, 2003, $29.98): Jim Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a guy who suddenly discovers that he has the powers of God. But will Bruce abuse such power? God (Morgan Freeman) finally steps in to guide him on the right path.
“Anaconda” (Sony, $28.95): This fun film that doesn’t pretend to be any more than it is — a monster movie designed to give you plenty of jolts. A documentary film crew heads down the Amazon in hopes of shooting footage of a mysterious tribe. They run into a wacko (John Voight) who leads them to an area where a giant anaconda tries to gobble up all of them. Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cub and Eric Stoltz star.
Also being released on Blu-ray:
“Dark Blue” (MGM, 2003, $24.99), Kurt Russell; “He’s Just Not That into You” (Warner, 2009, $35.99), Michelle Carmichael; “Inside Man” (Universal, $29.98), Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster; “Navy Seals” (MGM, 1990, $24.99), Charlie Sheen, Michael Biehn; “Rollerball” (MGM, 2002, $24.99), Chris Klein, LL Cool J;
“Spring Breakdown” (Warner, 2008, $35.99), Amy Poehler, Amber Tamblyn; “To Live and Die in L.A.” (MGM, 1985, $24.99), William Peterson, William Dafoe; “Walking Tall” (MGM, 2004, $24.99), Dwayne Johnson; “Weeds: Season Four” (Lionsgate, 2008, $39.99).