Jose Saramago's metaphorical novel became a sadly literal 2008 disaster drama by over-his-head writer Don McKeller and director Fernando Meirelles: Saramago's poetically imaginative writing is wrongheadedly visualized, reminding one that certain books—like this one—are unfilmable. An international cast (Julianne Moore, Danny Glover, Mark Ruffalo, Alice Braga, Gael Garcia Bernel) is wasted, although Cesar Charlone's washed-out photography is transferred faithfully to Blu-ray. Extras include a 55-minute documentary, A Vision of Blindness; The Seeing Eye featurette; and deleted scenes.
Harry Potter Wizard's Collection
In this huge boxed set encompassing all eight Harry Potter films on Blu-ray and DVD (along with the last two on 3-D), the numerous bonus features and collectibles are the raison d'etre for any fan with enough disposable income (moms and dads, Christmas is coming!). In addition to concept art prints, fabric Hogwarts map, poster and hard-cover catalog, there are several extra discs that include pretty much everything you'd want to know—and then some—about the creation of the most financially successful franchise in movie history, starting with a full-length documentary featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, When Harry Left Hogwarts.
This uneven, fitfully amusing comedy—which finds juvenile humor in a valedictorian and class stoner getting their whole school high—has appearances by Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis and Yeardley Smith that don't amount too much. In desperation, director John Stalberg Jr. and his two (!!) co-writers show us nude females showering in the locker room and an Asian student losing the spelling bee because she smoked pot and giggled her way through her answer, just two examples of their crude sense of humor. The movie looks good on Blu-ray; extras are Stalberg's commentary and deleted scenes.
In this suds-fest about a returning soldier from Iraq who tracks down the lovely woman whose picture belonged o a dead comrade, Zac Efron makes little emotional headway in the lead, always pretty-looking but distant. On the other hand, the young widow of his dreams is played with bona fide star quality by Taylor Schilling, who was mere eye candy in Atlas Shrugged, with the invaluable Blythe Danner on hand as her mother. Too bad Efron leaves a black hole where the romance should be. The movie has a fine hi-def transfer; extras include featurettes and interviews.
Mary Harron's adaptation of Rachel Klein's novel set in a girls' boarding school where a newcomer may be a life-sucking vampire is a gorgeous-looking but risible scarefest that tries to both rip-off and rebuke Twilight, in the end not being much of anything. The lush visuals and perfect-looking actresses can't mask the scarcity of drama, tension or—most damagingly—eroticism in what should have been an entertainingly sexy flick. The Blu-ray transfer is excellent; extras include featurette and video diaries.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain's trilogy about his country's Pinochet dictatorship began with Tony Manero and ended with No: in between is this intense exploration of a faceless bureaucrat before, during and after the Sept. 11, 1973 military coup. In the lead, Alfredo Castro looks uncannily like a zombified John Cazale as an autopsy note-taker whose infatuation with a young dancing girl leads him into previously unknown alleys, all the while dutifully doing his job, like sitting in on murdered President Allende's autopsy. Larrain goes from being too obscure to too obvious, but he dramatizes the grimness of Chile during that time with unerring accuracy. The hi-def image is immaculate.
The Who's iconic 1973 rock opera—better than Pete Townshend's first, Tommy—became an intriguing if flawed 1979 film by Franc Roddam, with Phil Daniels as Jimmy, a disaffected teenager drifting through life. There's a terrific early 60s atmosphere, and the acting is quite superb—including an indelible cameo by Sting as the hated Ace Face—but the songs aren't fully integrated into the story, with the film's last section looking like music videos for songs like “5:15” and “Love Reign O'er Me” spliced together. The Blu-ray images, of course, are splendid; extras include commentary by Roddam and cinematographer Brian Tufano, interviews and segments of vintage TV programs.
Boaz Yakim, who began with Fresh, a fresh slice of New York street life, in 1994, has been reduced to making this stale New York-set action flick:at least his stylish touches show the grit, not glamor, of the city in this convoluted tale of a scared teen and the tough MMA fighter (Jason Statham) who helps her against gangsters. It's done well, if not especially compellingly; the hi-def image complements the film's gritty look. Extras comprise a Yakim commentary and a trio of featurettes.
Changing the Game
The Newest Pledge (Lionsgate)
The streets of Philadelphia never seemed as dull as in Changing the Game, an amateurish crime drama where the performers reads their lines as if from cue cards. Not even the violence of this subculture is shown believably—instead, we're treated to an “upbeat” prayer finale that falls flat. The Newest Pledge, about a baby “adopted” by a college frat house, is a one-joke movie without any jokes. Jason Mewes flounders badly, which shows he needs Kevin Smith to be effectively funny.
It's been 11 years since that fateful day, and once again, new DVD releases remind us of that fact. 9/11 brings together two programs that premiered during the 10th anniversary remembrances: The Day That Changed the World, a straightforward recounting of what happened and how our leaders handled it; and Stories in Fragments, an emotional showing of how found memorabilia explains victims' lives. Jennifer Gargano's 8:46 is a well-meaning but crude melodrama drama that chronicles victims and their families' personal stories; writer-director Gargano's heart is in the right place, even if the movie is a manipulative tear-jerker.
An obnoxious Spanish woman gets her comeuppance when friends of a man she showed her family's Buenos Aires apartment to decide to torture and murder in front of her—or do they? Typical “suspend your disbelief” stuff, Penumbra is distinguished by directors Adrian and Ramiro Garcia Bogliano's stylish visuals and persuasive actress Christina Brondo in the lead role. The final twist is pretty banal, but what leads up to it is highly watchable: if you like thrillers more than usually cerebral, watch it.
Director Patricio Guzman has chronicled his beloved Chile for decades, i.e., his brilliant documentary The Battle for Chile. His new film examines Dictator Pinochet's extradition for war crimes and how his arrest and trial dredged up horrific memories for relatives of those “disappeared” and tortured, which comes to a head in testimony which Guzman provides in brief, intense interviews with survivors. Guzman is painstakingly not partisan: he allows people to speak for themselves, like shameful Pinochet defenses by Margaret Thatcher and ordinary people who still refuse to believe what what such thugs did to a sovereign nation.
PBS's impressive American Experience series covers the political careers of eleven 20th century presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Bill Clinton in this set's 17 discs, comprising 38 hours of programs, the first originally airing in 1994 and the most recent in 2008). If straightforward, not too scholarly overviews of the eras of TR, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, LBJ, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, George Bush and Bill Clinton—only Eisenhower is mysteriously left out from the elected presidents—are what you're looking for, then The Presidents will fill the bill.
Fifty Shades of Grey: The Classical Album
This compilation of songs that inspired E.L. James to write her best-selling erotic trilogy that's taken the publishing world by storm is as trite as I assume the novels must be (haven't—won't—read them). It's Classical 101, with nothing taxing or out of left field: Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Verdi, Faure, Vaughan Williams, one-hit wonders Delibes, Villa-Lobos and Pachelbel. The decent selection is predictable: since the novels are about a woman's hidden desires, how about more adventurously programmed music?