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— Recent DVD releases:

Bigger Than Life (Not rated, 96 minutes) - This 1956 film by Nicholas Ray - his follow-up to Rebel Without a Cause - was utterly ignored upon its release and gets its first DVD release thanks to the Criterion Collection. That’s a good thing; Bigger Than Life is a dark cautionary tale about suburban ennui that feels like an unacknowledged antecedent to the AMC TV series Breaking Bad. James Mason is a meek schoolteacher whose life is saved by cortisone pills that in turn cause hallucinations and heighten his frustrations. The Blu-ray release isexceptionally crisp, capturing the deep blacks of Ray’s expressionistic shadows.

Grade: 89

Dear John (PG-13, 108 minutes) - Another “timeless’ romance from the pen of Shakespeare-level genius Nicholas Sparks made into a mediocre movie starring pretty young people (Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried). They have an epistolary romance. Filmed in South Carolina.

Grade: 77

My Dog (Not rated, 52 minutes) - Short, sweet documentary about famous folks and their dogs. Interviewees include Edward Albee, Glenn Close, Lasse Hallstrom, Edie Falco among others.

Grade: 87

Mystery Team(R, 105 minutes)- Enjoyably crude and occasionally sharply observed dork comedy by Derrick Comedy, a troupe of young unknowns who have gained a YouTube following. This, their first feature film, is about a trio of Encyclopedia Brown-style kid detectives suddenly charged with solving a very adult crime. While this slim premise can’t hold up for the length of the feature, there are some moments of genuine wit. And a lot of blood and sex.

Grade: 82

The Road (R, 112 minutes) - Literal-minded, earnest and honest in its slouching way, John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel is brave in the dumb way brutes sometimes seem to be, as though it knows no alternative. It knows no humor except that which it doesn’t perceive, the grim joke it sometimes makes of itself with its relentless slog toward nothing but the barest hint of something better.

Grade: 86

Summer Hours (Not rated, 102 minutes) - Olivier Assayas’ leisurely paced but intensely gripping film - which doesn’t lend itself to facile capsulization - follows three generations of a French family as they prepare for the imminent death of their matriarch, and the subsequent dispersal of her large and valuable art collection. Wonderfully acted and vividly realized, with Juliette Binoche,Charles Berling, Kyle Eastwood and Jeremie Renier.

Grade: 88

Tell-Tale (R, 92 minutes) - Michael Cuesta’s grisly thriller - a modern updating of Poe’s canonical short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” - is an ingenious step up from the usual genre suspects. Here, Josh Lucas plays a single father with a terminally ill daughter who receives an emergency heart transplant and begins experiencing flashbacks to the donor’s murder. Possibly Lucas’ best performance to date, with able supporting work by Brian Cox as a detective whose agenda isn’t immediately clear.

Grade: 88

MovieStyle, Pages 37 on 05/28/2010

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