March 20, 2011

Movies for Grownups

If you sat at home during the Oscars a couple of weeks ago slapping your forehead and saying, "I shoulda seen that one and that one," you're in luck: A handful of Oscar-winning films head to home video in the next few weeks.

- "The Fighter" (March 15): Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale both carry bonafide offscreen badboy credentials, and they put them to good use in this gritty true story about Boston boxer "Irish" Micky Ward (Wahlberg), and how his crack-addled brother (Bale) trained him for success. You can almost smell the sweat in the training scenes (well, maybe it was the theater), and Melissa Leo is a marvel as Micky's mom, a tough cookie who lives vicariously through her brawling sons, like some soccer mom from Hell.

- "Hereafter" (March 15): In one of those grotesque coincidences you'd find only in the movies, Clint Eastwood's haunting exploration of life after death - which opens with a jaw-dropping tsunami scene - arrives barely a week after one of the worst tidal waves on record swept thousands to their deaths in Japan. Eastwood brilliantly uses the event as an allegory of death itself: the initial shock, the numbing disorientation, the profound sadness, and then, as the waters slowly recede, the coming to terms with how life can possibly go on as before. Matt Damon, his eyes in a perpetual thousand-yard stare, brings remarkable plausibility to his role as a guy who can communicate with the dead, and who spends his life trying to escape from his unwanted ability.

- "The Tourist" (March 22): Am I the only guy who genuinely enjoyed this frothy caper flick, an unabashed throwback to the days of "To Catch a Thief" and "Charade"? Of course Johnny Depp is no Cary Grant, and sure, Angelina Jolie won't make us forget Audrey Hepburn. But the Venetian setting is beautifully photographed by director (take a deep breath) Florian Henckel von Donnsersmarck, the visionary behind one of the best German films of recent years, "The Lives of Others." And even if you think you've figured out the central mystery from the start, enough MacGuffins are thrown in to make you doubt yourself.

- "Black Swan" (March 29): If you must see this "Swan Lake"-meets-"Psycho" hybrid (and it appears that applies to just about everyone), then please do so and then get back to me and explain what all the fuss was about. As a crazed ballerina whose grasp on reality is as flimsy as a torn tutu, Best Actress Oscar winner Natalie Portman goes so far over the top you expect her to develop a nosebleed.

- "Casino Jack" (April 5): Beats me why Kevin Spacey didn't get an Oscar nomination for his terrific turn as disgraced D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff (for once, the Golden Globes got it right this year). From the opening scene, as Spacey grimly addresses himself in a men's room mirror, it's clear he and we are going to have a lot of fun with this guy. But it's not all Spacey's show - Runyonesque characters surround him, most notably his weaselly protege (Barry Pepper) and his sociopathic business partner (Jon Lovitz, breathing new life into his Pathological Liar bit). Kelly Preston is radiant as Abramoff's faithful wife, who tries to keep Jack honest but realizes, too late, that her hubby has blithely strolled way too far down the path to perdition.

Also Available on DVD:

- "Tron: Legacy" and "Tron: The Original Classic" (April 5): There are visual wonders galore in last year's sequel to the 1982 original, but for those of us of a certain age, the coolest thing of all is the digital "youth-ing" of star Jeff Bridges - he appears both as his current, 60-something self, and as a digital "twin" who has not aged a day in 30 years. The effect is unexpectedly magical; something for which there should be a home movie video app one of these days, don't you think? Should you rent or buy "Tron: Legacy," do not neglect the first installment, also getting a new release. "Tron" was the first virtually all-digital feature film - a distinction you'd have expected of boy wizards like Lucas or Spielberg. Imagine the world's amazement when "Tron" - a first-of-its-kind glimpse at the movies of the future - was accomplished by, of all studios, Disney.

- "Car 54 Where Are You? The Complete First Season" (April 12): I have to confess that when it comes to situation comedies of the 1950s and early '60s, it's nostalgia, more than anything else that keeps me watching. The visual setup is usually static; the laugh track is always annoying. So my hopes weren't high when I sat down to spend time with Officers Toody (Joe E. Ross) and Muldoon (Fred Gwynne) of the 53rd Precinct for the first time since "Car 54 Where Are You?" left the air in 1963. I was laughing almost immediately - not only at the inspired matchup of squat, prune-faced Ross and tall, babyfaced Gwynne, but also at the remarkably sharp writing delivered by an unequaled supporting cast including a who's who of New York actors like Beatrice Ponds, Charlotte Rae, Nipsey Russel, Ossie Davis, Molly Picon, Charles Nelson Reilly, and even boxer Jake Lamotta and puppetress Shari Lewis.

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