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Home movies

by Philip Martin | March 26, 2010 at 3:10 a.m.

— Recent DVD releases:

The Blind Side (PG-13, 129 minutes) Enjoyable, mass-market crowd pleaser that allowed Sandra Bullock to win an honorable Best Actress Oscar as the Republican spitfire who takes up the cause of a homeless teenager who just so happens to also be an outstanding left tackle. While it’s easy to parody - and definitely not the true-life story some took it for - the movie’s a lot more honest about the way the world works than some of its detractors.

Grade: 87

Brothers (R, 104 minutes) Jim Sheridan’s handsome but overwrought remake of the superior Danish film Brodre by Susanne Bier suffers the usual vulgarizations associated with transposing a foreign film to the American cineplex; it loses tension too early, telegraphs its intentions and generally paints everyone in golden, movie-star soft-focus. In short, they took out all the grit and gave us threenice-looking movie stars: Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire.

Grade: 77

Captain Abu Raed (Not rated, 105 minutes) Jordan’s 2009 candidate for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, Captain Abu Raed is a genuine find, a humane and compelling movie of scale. Written and directed by Jordanian-American Amin Matalqa, it’s a simple tale of airport janitor Abu Raed (Nadim Sawalha), who is mistaken for an airline pilot by the children in his working-class neighborhood. Soon he’s spinning delightful tales for them. Some tension is introduced when an older boy, a natural cynic, reveals the hurtful truth.

Grade: 89

Dillinger Is Dead (Not rated, 90 minutes) Marco Ferreri’s classic 1969 parable of isolation and alienation in a mediasaturated world gets the full Criterion Collection treatment in this handsome edition. The film is one of those artifacts one either loves or hates, as it takesplace essentially in an insomniac industrial designer’s (Michel Piccoli) impossibly hip ’60s apartment while his wife (Keith Richards’ paramour Anita Pallenberg) snoozes a pharmaceutically enhanced sleep. A certain dead gangster’s pistol makes an appearance.

Grade: 88

Fantastic Mr. Fox (PG, 87 minutes) Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation is perhaps the purest distillation yet of his nerveless twee cinema of quirk; it economically summarizes his themes of family and outsiderism through remarkably detailed models of forest creatures. One of the best films of 2009, but pretty creepy when you think about it. With a cast that includes the voices of George Clooney,Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray.

Grade: 89

The Men Who Stare at Goats (R, 94 minutes) Probably George Clooney’s least important film of 2009, Goats is an odd movie that falls in between the cracks of dramedy and military satire. While it has a fine cast and some terrific moments, this story of an experimental U.S. military unit with allegedly psychic powers never really gets off the ground.

Grade: 80

Red Cliff ( R, 148 minutes) While Red Cliff represents something of a retrenchment of John Woo’s career, it’s by no means a retreat. Despite ascending to the A-list elevations of Tom Cruise franchise directorship (Mission: Impossible II), Woo’s career never really found purchase in the rocky soil of Hollywood and the longer he lingered, the more McG-like he became. The most expensive movie ever made in China,and one of the most successful (it recently passed Titanic as the country’s all-time box office champ), Red Cliff features a cast of thousands, and - inChina - a running time of nearly five hours. The version released outside China is pared down to about half that. Since most of us aren’t steeped in the lore of second- and third-century China, the fall of the Han dynasty and the battle of Red Cliffs, we’re likely to have trouble following the plot, despite the dubiously “helpful” voiceover narration and characteridentifying subtitles. (This is a film where a scorecard might prove very useful.)

Still, Woo’s action sequences are stunning, and the epic ambitions of the film are wondrously realized, with a giant cast augmented by seemingly millions of virtual extras. People (like me) who love Chinese cinema primarily for its sound and fury will not be disappointed, even if Woo’s vision is shamefully abridged in this “international” version. (The full version is also available on DVD.) Woo’s best work has always been mysterious to me.He makes operas - we don’t need to understand the words to sense their power.

Grade: 89

MovieStyle, Pages 37 on 03/26/2010

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