This week on DVD, celebrate the big screen heroics of two former movie heroes (Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, Harrison Ford in Crossing Over) or watch Clive Owen and Naomi Watts do battle with an evil bank (Tom Tykwer’s The International). If comedy is more your style, you can go low-brow (the cheerleading comedy Fired Up!) or worse: direct to DVD (the bowling comedy Strike! starring Tara Reid). Take a gamble on a twisty, stylized thriller about kidnapping and dysfunctional families (Nobel Son, starring Eliza Dushku and Alan Rickman) or take your chances with a critically panned race drama (Spinning into Butter, starring Sarah Jessica Parker). What’ll it be?


Gran Torino

80%



A crabby old man comes to terms with his racial insensitivities (and comes to blows with a local gang of thugs) in Gran Torino, a film that showed us not only that director-producer Clint Eastwood still has it, but also that even a septuagenarian can be a shotgun-wielding antihero in the 21st century. Eastwood stars as the grizzled war veteran Walt Kowalski, a widower who develops a tenuous friendship with the Hmong family that lives next door while defending them from a local gang. Despite dipping into tongue-in-cheek comedy, this violent melodrama works on the sheer strength of Eastwood’s performance; catch Eastwood relaying his own Gran Torino experience on a Blu-ray-exclusive special feature.

Next: Harrison Ford in Crossing Over


Crossing Over

11%



Speaking of old men, Crossing Over stars Harrison Ford in Wayne Kramer‘s mishmash of a melodramatic tale about people from all walks of life (illegally) seeking the American Dream. As a Los Angeles immigration agent, Ford stumbles across — or, as always in this type of familiar LA tale, crashes into — one illegal immigrant after another, from a desperate deported mother (Alice Braga) to a British musician (Across the Universe‘s Jim Sturgess) and his Australian girlfriend (Alice Eve) who herself is sleeping with an ICE officer in exchange for legal status (Ray Liotta). Then you’ve got the Bangladeshi student (Summer Bishil), the Korean kid (Twilight‘s Justin Chon), an irate Iranian (Cliff Curtis), and Ashley Judd. Critics pummeled the heavy-handed drama, which director Kramer and studio execs notoriously squabbled over; no special features are included in the disc.


Next: Fired Up: raunchy but watchable?


Fired Up!

28%



When two high school jocks decide to chase girls all the way to cheerleader camp one summer, does hilarity ensue? That depends on your tolerance for well meaning-but-flat jokes, as critics decreed that Fired Up! tries hard but ultimately fails to capture anything but raunchy, formulaic comedy. With rated-R gags reworked to fit into a PG-13 rating, Fired Up! might appeal to those who snicker at sex jokes and the name Freedom Jones (which is the apparently made-up person credited with the film’s script); a generous helping of funny bonus features and an audio commentary by director Will Gluck and actors Nicholas D’Agostino and Eric Christian Olsen actually make this a watchable, if juvenile, DVD offering. After all, what do those initials spell?


Next: Clive Owen battles an evil bank in The International



The International

58%



Dancing close to the edge of Freshness, this Clive OwenNaomi Watts thriller is the perfect movie to watch on DVD — you know, the kind of flick that you pass over in theaters and figure you’ll see eventually. Director Tom Tykwer (Run, Lola, Run) injects his signature frenetic energy into the story of an Interpol agent (Owen) and a NYC district attorney (Watts) trying to take down a global financial conglomerate. And in these tough economic times, who can’t relate to fighting back against a villainous bank? While some of the story unfolds rather slowly, one show-stopping set piece shootout in the middle of the Guggenheim museum will leave you breathless. See how they did it in one of a handful of featurettes, which accompany a single deleted scene, filmmaker commentary, and more.

Next: Strike bowls a gutter ball


Strike

— N/A



Have you been wondering where Tara Reid, Robert Carradine, and Robyn Lively had disappeared to? We found them all in this direct-to-DVD sports comedy, about a slacker actor who flirts with fame and fortune as a professional bowler, only to destroy his personal relationships in the process. It’s a comedy, see? Unfortunately, we’ve seen this formula before (remember Kingpin?) and with a lower budget and newbie filmmakers at the helm, it doesn’t even come close to striking gold — more like a turkey, but not the good kind.


Next: Sarah Jessica Parker Spinning a clunker


Spinning Into Butter — 17%




Sarah Jessica Parker toplines this misfire adapted from Rebecca Gilman’s celebrated 1999 play of the same name, but the success of said original play might just be what’s wrong with the film. Director Mark Brokaw seems to cater too much to the play’s stagey plotting, and the result is a stilted, forced meditation on racism and denial. Parker stars as Sarah Daniels, Dean of Students at a liberal Vermont college who takes it upon herself to champion a campus forum to discuss race relations in the mostly white campus community; as tensions rise, the cast of one-dimensional characters take their turn atop the cinematic soapbox in an attempt to confront the ugliness of prejudice head on, though Brokaw’s ineffective direction and a monologue-driven script make for a painful movie watching experience.

Next: An exclusive look at Eliza Dushku in Nobel Son


Nobel Son — 25%


The makers of this indie thriller describe it as having “so many twists it could make David Mamet blush,” to which we ask, would that really be a good thing? Bryan Greenburg (One Tree Hill) stars as Barkley Michaelson, the nerdy PhD student son of a brilliant, if terrible, Nobel Prize-winning scientist (Alan Rickman). When Barkley scores a date with a hot poet named City Hall (Eliza Dushku), it seems like his night’s off to a great start — that is, until he’s kidnapped by Shawn Hatosy, tortured, and held for a ransom that his father refuses to pay. Lots of twists, turns, and cannibalism come into play in the over-stylized thriller, which also features appearances by Danny DeVito, Mary Steenburgen, Ted Danson, Bill Pullman, and Ernie Hudson.


Next: The ’70s will never die as long as you have Woodstock on DVD/Blu-ray!


Woodstock 40th Anniversary Director’s Cut
— 100%


Hippies old and new should take a look at the 40th Anniversary Director’s Cut of this seminal rock documentary, which captured the three-day 1969 love fest in upstate New York that served as a touchstone for an entire generation. The newly remastered version of director Michael Wadleigh’s film — edited by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker — also contains an extra hour of never before seen concert footage and is a must-own for former flower children and fans of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Jefferson Airplane, and the 20-odd musical performers who took the stage. Blu-ray owners have the added benefit of building interactive playlists that can be shared with other BD viewers.

Until next week, happy renting!

This week at the movies, we’ve got red-hot rhythm and blues (Cadillac Records, starring Adrien Brody and Beyonce Knowles), vigilante justice (Punisher: War Zone, starring Ray Stevenson and Dominic West), and a kidnapping caper (Nobel Son, starring Alan Rickman and Eliza Dushku). What do the critics have to say?

The influence of Chess Records’ output on popular music is impossible to overstate, and it’s difficult to imagine any film about its seminal roster — which included Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, and Chuck Berry — doing it justice. The critics say while Cadillac Records falls a bit short of this noble goal, it’s still a well-acted, finely crafted piece of work. The movie stars Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess, a Polish immigrant whose enthusiasm for R&B and blues led him to record some of the best music of the 1950s and 1960s, an era during which the sounds of African American musicians began to reach the mainstream. Chess has a familial relationship with his artists, including James (Beyonce Knowles) and Waters (Jeffrey Wright), but their personal demons — and the huge success of Berry (Mos Def) — creates disharmony at the label. The pundits say much of Cadillac Records is the stuff of familiar biopics, and it tries to cover way too much ground. However, they also note the performances — particularly Mos Def and Wright — are outstanding, and the music is wild and powerful enough to overcome some of the bumpy spots. At 62 percent on the Tomatometer, Cadillac Records has got its mojo workin’ reasonably well. (Check out this week’s Total Recall, in which we count down some of the most successful transitions by rappers to Hollywood.)

“It doesn’t work for me, Muddy. I gotta have more cowbell!”

 

Punisher: War Zone is the third cinematic try for the Marvel Comics vigilante; previous installments starring Dolph Lundgren and Thomas Jane failed to connect with audiences or critics. Nor is this one likely to, if the reviews are any indication. Ray Stevenson stars as Frank Castle (AKA The Punisher), a black-clad ex-marine turned one-man killing machine. He runs afoul of a mob boss, who adopts the nom de villain Jigsaw and sends an army of thugs to take the Punisher down. The pundits say War Zone is more brutal than most slasher flicks, but despite its hyperkinetic violence and flashes of sick humor, this is an over-the-top action flick with little of the emotional impact we’ve come to expect from comic book adaptations of late. At 19 percent on the Tomatometer, this one looks like punishment.

“I am not drinking any f—ing Merlot!”

 

It’s an intriguing premise: the son of a brilliant chemist is kidnapped on the eve of his father being awarded the Nobel Prize, but he hates the old man so much he agrees to go along with the scheme. Unfortunately, critics say Nobel Son, despite some sharp performances, doesn’t really work. Alan Rickman plays the father, a mean-spirited, pompous jerk who refuses to pay the ransom for Barkley (Bryan Greenberg), an aimless Ph.D student who just met a mysterious woman (Eliza Dushku). The pundits say Nobel Son is overplotted and too self-consciously weird to work, but the actors – particularly Rickman – are generally solid. At 27 percent on the Tomatometer, Nobel Son is no prize winner.

“That Noam Chomsky is such a cutup!”

 

Also opening this week in limited release:

  • A revival of Federico Fellini‘s Amarcord, in which the master director takes a fond look back at his youth and his hometown, is at 100 percent.
  • The Aussie import The Black Balloon, a coming-of-age tale about an autistic teen who finds love, is at 100 percent.
  • Hunger, based on the true story of IRA member Bobby Sands’ hunger strike in prison, is at 93 percent.
  • Ron Howard‘s Frost/Nixon, about the former president’s series of interviews with an Australian television personality, is at 88 percent.
  • Dust, a documentary about the ever-present substance, is at 80 percent.

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