Video Verdict: New DVDs for Feb. 10

Josh Brolin plays former President George W. Bush (front) and Toby Jones plays Karl Rove in the new political drama "W."

Josh Brolin plays former President George W. Bush (front) and Toby Jones plays Karl Rove in the new political drama "W."

This week’s DVD releases include one of comedian Bernie Mac’s final screen appearances, a meditation on the life of former President George W. Bush and a fantastic war drama by director Spike Lee.


Miracle at St. Anna
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong war violence, language and some sexual content/nudity
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Spike Lee’s latest is an exciting and fascinating film that considers World War II from the perspective of soldiers serving in an all-black division. When a dangerous river crossing goes bad, four of the soldiers — Staff Sgt. Stamps (Derek Luke), Sgt. Bishop (Michael Ealy), Pfc. Train (Omar Benson Miller) and Cpl. Negron (Laz Alonso) — find themselves surrounded by German troops in Italy.

To make matters worse, the idealistic Pfc. Train has rescued a frightened Italian boy who won’t leave their sides. Because the boy needs medical attention, the soldiers seek refuge in a small Italian village. While there, they make contact with a U.S. commander who orders them on a dangerous mission, but before that can happen a group of Italian partisans show up creating more complications.

Like most of Lee’s movies, “Miracle at St. Anna” addresses American race relations, but the film also works as a general character drama and a tautly paced adventure film. Every performance is first-rate and Lee, as always, shows complete mastery of his craft.

The DVD has no extras except trailers promoting other films.


1 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for language including sexual references, some alcohol abuse, smoking and brief disturbing war images
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

With movies like “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “JFK,” director Oliver Stone established himself as a force to be reckoned with, a Hollywood maverick willing to take broad, controversial swipes at history. That made him the perfect guy to tackle the life story of former President George W. Bush right? Wrong.

Stone’s “W.” not only lacks controversy, it lacks a point of view. The movie paints Bush in the same light that his critics have for years, as a highly religious, moderately silly man who has Daddy issues and a hard time speaking in public.

Josh Brolin portrays the president realistically and Richard Dreyfuss delivers a spot-on impersonation of former vice president Dick Cheney. But their efforts are undermined because Thandie Newton was allowed to turn former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice into a “Saturday Night Live” caricature, and many of the film’s other characterizations fall somewhere between satire and realism.

If Stone was gunning for farce, he failed because “W.” is not funny. And, if he was shooting for a historical epic, he’s two decades early. Any politically aware adult in this country is intimately familiar with the Bush administration and its dealings during the past eight years. Yet Stone rehashes them without commentary.

“W.” would have been interesting if Stone staged a blatant attack on the president or even crafted a loving portrait. He does neither and the result is downright dull.

DVD extras include an audio commentary with Stone and a short that paints a negative picture of the Bush presidency.


2 1/2 stars
Rated R for violence including sexual assaults, language and sexuality/nudity
Available on: DVD

There have been many screen visions of an apocalyptic America but few are as odd as “Blindness,” the story of a country dealing with a vision-impairment epidemic.

After hundreds of people mysteriously go blind, the government panics and throws everyone affected into quarantine. One of the many victims is an ophthalmologist played by Mark Ruffalo, and when he’s hauled off by the military, his lovely wife (Julianne Moore) insists on going along, pretending that she too is blind.

Soon she has the only pair of functioning eyes in a run-down detention facility where the blind are forced to ration food and set up a mini-society. “Blindness” was adapted from a novel by Jose Saramago, and it depicts a world where the blind begin to behave like animals and turn on one another when things get tough.

The film fails on a number of accounts, the first being that it doesn’t show how quickly and effectively people can adapt to disabilities. Put simply, blindness does not render a person helpless.

The movie also gets dinged for lacking a point. “Blindness” chugs along for two hours delivering its dismal world view, then comes to a startling and dissatisfying end. Ultimately, it’s director Fernando Meirelles’ audience that’s left flying blind.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and a making-of feature.


Nights in Rodanthe
2 stars
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality
Warner Brothers
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Diane Lane and Richard Gere are such likable and talented performers that it’s easy to see them as a couple, but in “Nights in Rodanthe” they’re saddled with a script that doesn’t work.

Gere plays Paul Flanner, a medical doctor who travels to Rodanthe, NC, to talk with the family of a patient who died on his operating table. Because the family is suing him, and because he has a terrible bedside manner, he comes to the Carolinas on the defensive. But that changes when he meets Adrienne Willis (Lane), a jilted housewife watching over a beachside bed and breakfast for a dear friend.

During Paul’s stay at the remote B&B, he and Adrienne connect, and it changes both their lives. It’s a pretty story, but the Ann Peacock and John Romano screenplay doesn’t allow the characters enough time to form a real relationship. So, viewers get Hollywood platitudes.

The DVD has no extra features.


Soul Men
2 stars
Rated R for pervasive language and sexual content including nudity
Dimension Home Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In “Soul Men,” Samuel L. Jackson and the late Bernie Mac play Louis Hinds and Floyd Henderson, singers who went in opposite directions when their popular soul band broke up. While Floyd parlayed his fame into success in the business world, Louis found himself on the wrong side of the law.

When the opportunity for a comeback presents itself, Floyd persuades Louis to reunite for a one-time show, and the two men find themselves on a bizarre road trip where they sort out longtime differences and remember what it’s like to be traveling musicians.

Despite spirited performances from Jackson and Mac, “Soul Men” fails to hit the high notes because the pacing is slow and it just isn’t very funny.

DVD extras include a filmmakers’ commentary, a short on the cast, tributes to Mac and the late Isaac Hayes and several making-of features.


Frozen River
3 stars
Rated R for some language
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Bleak, depressing and painful to watch, “Frozen River” paints a picture of abject poverty in America and the desperate things people will do to protect their families.

The movie focuses on Ray Eddy (Melissa Leo), a middle-aged woman struggling to raise her two boys without the help of her gambling-addicted husband. As the film begins, we find Ray in tears as she realizes that said hubby took the savings she had been compiling to move the family from a shabby single-wide trailer to a nicer double-wide.

Adding to her woes is a teen son (Charlie McDermott) who blames her for his father’s departure and a younger boy (James Reilly) she can barely feed. Desperate, Ray goes searching for her husband but only finds his car, which has been stolen by a young Mohawk woman named Lila (Misty Upham).

It doesn’t take long for Lila to con Ray into making a run across the Canadian border in order to smuggle immigrants into the U.S. When Ray figures out what’s going on, she bristles, but when she sees the money that can be made she has a change of heart.

“Frozen River” is the brainchild of first-time writer-director Courtney Hunt, but it plays like the work of a veteran. The movie, which takes its name from the treacherous path Lila and Ray must follow on their smuggling runs, is intense and well-acted and all but the rarest of viewers will be moved by the story.

DVD extras include a commentary by Hunt and producer Heather Rae.



“Simon of the Desert” and “The Exterminating Angel”: The Criterion collection is offering new, high-definition transfers of two films by famed Spanish director Luis Bunuel. Filmed in Mexico, “Angel” (1962) tells the story of a group of socialites who find themselves trapped in the mansion where they attended a dinner party. “Simon” (1965) is the story of a Christian ascetic who has lived atop a pillar for years. Both films star Silvia Pinal and Claudio Brook and both are in Spanish with English subtitles. Each is sold seperately.

Clint Eastwood — American Icon Collection: Four Eastwood films in a three-disc set from Universal. Included are his directorial debut, “Play Misty for Me” (1971), “The Beguiled” (1971), “The Eiger Sanction” (1975) and “Coogan’s Bluff” (1968).

Dennis Potter — 3 to Remember: Three television dramas — “Blade on the Feather,” “Rain on the Roof” and “Cream in My Coffee” — by Potter, an influential British screenwriter. This three-DVD set also includes a television interview with Potter recorded just three months before his death.

“The Skulls” Trilogy: All three “Skulls” films presented in a two-disc set. Each movie is about an elite secret society, but only the first received a theatrical release.

“Whale Wars”: Seven-part, Animal Planet series following the real-life adventures of Captain Paul Watson and his crew of conservationists as they confront Japanese ships in an effort to protect whales.

“Tales From the Darkside” — The First Season: Three discs filled with short horror stories from the 1980s television series produced by George A. Romero.


— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose bylines have appeared in some of the nation’s largest newspapers. Read more of his work at

Copyright Forrest Hartman, 2009

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