Video Verdict: New DVDs for May 27

Sylvester Stallone gets fired up in "Rambo."

Sylvester Stallone gets fired up in "Rambo."

This week’s DVD releases are anchored by the return of Rambo, the emotionally scarred Vietnam veteran who loves to wreak havoc on his enemies. But if action flicks aren’t your thing, you can choose between two understated and beautifully acted dramas.

 

Rambo
2 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong graphic bloody violence, sexual assaults, grisly images and language
Lionsgate
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray
First, Sylvester Stallone revitalized Rocky Balboa by bringing the aging fighter back after 16 years of silver screen retirement. Now, he’s done the same for John Rambo, the American super soldier who has been missing in action for two decades.

Stallone wore many hats for “Rambo,” serving not only as the star but as director and co-writer, but the character revival wasn’t entirely successful because Stallone ramped up the violence and gore to ridiculous levels. This was an unfortunate choice because as a pure action film, “Rambo” has merit.

The film is set in the recent past, with Rambo living in Thailand and making a living as a river boat pilot and snake wrangler. He’s happily minding his own business when a group of Christian missionaries ask him to transport them into Burma, better known today as Myanmar. At first, Rambo refuses because the country’s military leadership is at war with rebel fighters, but a pretty missionary named Sarah (Julie Benz) convinces him to make the trip.

Of course, Sarah and her party are taken captive by the military government, prompting Rambo to go on a rescue mission with a group of mercenaries hired by her church. From that point forward, the movie is little more than a fast-paced shoot ’em up and, as such, it’s fairly entertaining. Unfortunately, there’s no avoiding the cringe factor that comes with exploding heads and severed limbs.

The DVD is available in a variety of versions including full-screen and widescreen single-disc editions and a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary, but the special edition and Blu-ray discs contain an audio commentary by Stallone, deleted scenes and six shorts on the making of the film. Fans of the franchise can also purchase Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set, a six-disc boxed collection containing “Rambo” and the three prior movies.

 

Grace is Gone
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, brief strong language and teen smoking
The Weinstein Company
Available on: DVD
John Cusack turns in a heartbreaking performance as Stanley Phillips, a conservative store manager who goes into shock when he learns that his wife, Grace, has been killed in the Iraq war. Unsure how to tell his two young daughters, Heidi (Shelan O’keefe) and Dawn (Gracie Bednarczyk), he whisks them away on a trip to a Florida amusement park.

Most of the film is spent dealing with Stanley’s internal struggle, as he mourns privately while trying to avoid breaking the devastating news to his children. Heidi, the older of the two girls, realizes that something is wrong but doesn’t have enough information to put the puzzle together.

Although the film is only 85 minutes long, director James C. Strouse occasionally lets the storytelling drag, primarily because it’s focused so tightly on a confined moment in the characters’ lives. But that’s nitpicking. Overall, “Grace is Gone” is a wonderfully acted and emotionally poignant story about grief, loss and the sometimes-ugly responsibilities of parenthood.

DVD extras include a couple short features on the making of the film and a profile on the military’s Tragedy Assistance Program, which is designed to help families deal with the loss of a loved one.

 

Cassandra’s Dream
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some sexual material and brief violence
The Weinstein Company
Available on: DVD
Writer-director Woody Allen delivered one of the finest films of 2005 in the thriller “Match Point,” and he sticks with the same genre for “Cassandra’s Dream.”

Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play brothers who, finding themselves in severe financial distress, agree to commit murder for their wealthy uncle (Tom Wilkinson) in return for his help. But the film isn’t about the crime so much as the brothers’ struggle to come to terms with what they are about to do.

McGregor and Farrell are terrific and they have exceptional chemistry, but the film bogs at points, easing the tension and making things less suspenseful than would desire. Still, the excellent acting, coupled with Allen’s smart script and smooth direction, make the film worth watching.

The DVD contains no extra features.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

Darfur Now: Writer-director Ted Braun points his camera at Sudan’s war-torn Darfur region, where violence and death have become the norm. The film follows six people, including actor Don Cheadle, who are working to make a difference in the region.

The Thief of Bagdad: The Criterion Collection has given this 1940 adventure classic a deluxe treatment with a new digital transfer of the film, audio commentaries from film experts and a second disc devoted solely to extra features. The film, inspired by “The Arabian Nights,” won Oscars for art direction, cinematography and special effects.

Holocaust: This Emmy Award-winning, 1976 miniseries follows a Jewish family’s struggle to survive during World War II. Meryl Streep, James Woods and Michael Moriarity star.

Cleaner: Direct-to-DVD release starring Samuel L. Jackson as a former cop who makes his living sterilizing crime scenes. But, after cleaning up the remains of a grisly murder, he discovers he may have unknowingly participated in a cover-up. Also stars Ed Harris and Eva Mendes.

Lipstick Jungle — Season One: Based on a book by “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell, this NBC comedy-drama follows the exploits of three high-profile businesswomen. Brooke Shields, Kim Raver and Lindsay Price star.

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