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— Recent DVD releases:

The Basketball Diaries (R, 102 minutes) At times tough to watch, this 1995 film - based on the remarkable teenage sports-sex-and-drugs memoir by the late poet-musician Jim Carroll - features intense, nuanced performances from Leonardo DiCaprio (as Carroll) and Mark Wahlberg in an important supporting role. While the film gamely tracks the downward spiral of the teenaged Carroll from high school basketball star to heroin addict, director Steve Kalvert wisely presents the more sensational material in an off-hand manner that reflects the wised-up sensibilities of Carroll’s dark and scarifying prose. While it received mixed reviews on its release, in retrospect The Basketball Diaries is an intoxicating, frightening and emotionally honest essay on the self-destructive impulses of the nascent artist. Grade: 87

Black and Blue (PG-13, 99 minutes) “ Inspirational” drama about an 18-year-old girl from a troubled home, Amber (Christian music artist Christine Evans), who finds herself on the mean streets of Los Angeles. She befriends an old blues singer Billy (Zac Harmon) and some runaways who survive by busking on Venice Beach. Predictable, but not unwatchable .

Grade: 77

District B13: Ultimatum (R, 100 minutes) French parkour-action sequel - featuring David Belle, one of the inventors of the sport - to the kinetic dystopian 2004 film District B13, features lots of incredible stunts that at least look as though they weren’t accomplished by the use of green screens andcomputers. And though it’s subtitled, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue anyway.

Grade: 85

The End of Poverty? (Not rated, 104 minutes) A confrontational documentary by neo-Marxist director Phillippe Diaz that explores the inconvenient truth that the gears of capitalism are greased by the exploitation of the weak. While Diaz wastes little time on alternative arguments, his movie is a powerful and pointed rebuttal to Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs, the superstar economist whose book The End of Poverty (sans question mark) argued that, with a little concentrated effort, we could rid the world of poor folks within a couple of generations.

Grade: 83

Five Minutes of Heaven (Not Rated, 90 minutes) Powerful drama based on the true story of Alistair Little, a Northern Irish Protestant who, in 1975,shot and killed a young Catholic man. Little served time for murder, and emerged from prison a peacemaker. This film imagines a meeting between Little (Liam Neeson) and the embittered younger brother of his victim (James Nesbitt), who witnessed the killing 33 years before. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, (the German filmmaker whosimilarly blended fact and speculation in Downfall, his account of Hitler’s last days), the intelligent and provocative Five Minutes of Heaven deserved better than the tiny theatrical release it received in 2009.

Grade: 88

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (PG-13, 123 minutes) Terry Gilliam’s movies - overstuffed with twee ideas and indulgent fantasies - are an acquired taste, and even had Heath Ledger survived to finish this, his final film, it’s hard to say he could have saved it. As it is, Ledger’s death casts a blue shadow over the entire proceedings, as Gilliam hasn’t the heart to turn this parade of images into something like a meditation on the cost of achieving one’s wildest fantasies. Interesting for the various ways Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell pay tribute to Ledger’s memory, but some will find it too sad to bear.

Grade: 82

It’s Complicated (R, 104 minutes) Somebody must have told Meryl Streep that she has a charming chortle. She uses it, instead of her superb acting abilities, to get by in this occasionally pleasant misfire, a romantic comedy that, despite its bright premise and superlative cast, isn’t as smart as it should be.

Grade: 80

Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight (Not rated, 90 minutes) Wendy Keys’ documentary on her longtime friend and collaborator Glaser - the man who designed, among many many other icons, the “I New York” logo - is a wonderfully intelligent portrait of a surprisingly verbal visual artist. At 80, Glaser is a wise and ever engaged advocate for improving the worldthrough stylistic invention.

Grade: 88

William Kunstler: Disturbing The Universe (PG-13, 116 minutes) The radical lawyers’ daughters - Emily and Sarah Kunstler - provide us with an intimate if not always flattering portrait of the man TheNew York Times once called “the most hated and most loved lawyer in America.” With remarkable candor and restraint, they trace Kunstler’s moral progress from an “armchair liberal,” to a theatrical firebrand who specialized in defending the most unpopular causes to sensation-seeking self-caricature. While it’s clear these girls loved their daddy, that love never impinges upon their tough and honest evaluations of his actions, resulting in a genuinely brave, deeply touching movie.

Grade: 88

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 04/30/2010