Video Verdict: New DVDs for March 31

Dev Patel, left, does his best to field questions from Anil Kapoor in "Slumdog Millionaire," the 2008 winner of Oscar's best picture award.

Dev Patel, left, does his best to field questions from Anil Kapoor in "Slumdog Millionaire," the 2008 winner of Oscar's best picture award.

This week’s DVD releases include a complicated French thriller, a Will Smith drama and a sentimental tearjerker, but the clear frontrunner is this year’s best picture Oscar winner.

 


Slumdog Millionaire
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Just call this the little picture that could. With a budget of less than $20 million, a mostly unknown cast and a story that walks a fine line between drama and fantasy, it’s not the sort of movie one expects to become an Oscar juggernaut. Nevertheless, “Slumdog” won the hearts of critics, moviegoers and Oscar voters on its way to landing eight Academy Awards including best picture, best adapted screenplay for Simon Beaufoy and best director for Danny Boyle.

Set in India, the movie tells the unlikely story of Jamal K. Malik (Dev Patel), a ghetto kid who finds himself in the midst of an incredible winning streak on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Because he grew up in a slum and has virtually no academic background, the show’s host (Anil Kapoor) is convinced Jamal is cheating, so he turns him over to the cops.

Under interrogation, Jamal quietly explains how he answered each of the “Millionaire” questions and, in so doing, relates the story of his difficult-but-fascinating life. He also let’s everyone know he is head over heels for a woman (Freida Pinto) he has virtually no chance of winning.

It’s an understatement to say “Slumdog” is implausible, but the movie is best viewed as an adult fairy tale, and from that standpoint it is very entertaining. At 120 minutes, it occasionally drags, but that’s nitpicking.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and two audio commentaries, one by Boyle and Patel and another by Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson.

 

Tell No One
3 stars
Unrated
Music Box Films
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

A French adaptation of novelist Harlan Coben’s book, “Tell No One” has more twists and turns than California’s Pacific Coast Highway.

Francois Cluzet stars as Alexandre Beck, a kindly pediatrician struggling with the fact that his beloved wife, Margot (Marie-Josee Croze), was brutally murdered eight years ago. Although he was cleared as a suspect, he is called under suspicion again when two dead bodies are found on property his family owns. Then, he receives a cryptic message that appears to be from an alive-and-well Margot.

As Alexandre desperately tries to figure out what’s going on, the police become increasingly convinced that he is a criminal, and viewers slowly piece together his story and that of his wife.

Writer-director Guillaume Canet does a fine job with pacing and character development, and he delivers a couple excellent action sequences to boot. Kristin Scott Thomas — who appears in a supporting role — is the only star most Americans will recognize, but that shouldn’t dissuade anyone because “Tell No One” is solid in every sense.

The movie is unrated, but it’s content is consistent with an R rating based on nudity and violence. The DVD maintains the original French soundtrack with English subtitles, but there’s an option for an English dub. Extras include deleted scenes and outtakes.

 

Seven Pounds
2 1/2 stars
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some disturbing content and a scene of sensuality
Columbia Pictures
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray and UMD for PSP

Gabriele Muccino is an increasingly frustrating director. In this, his second English-language feature, we see the same problems that made his first American film, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a disappointment.

The concepts behind “Happyness” and “Seven Pounds” are terrific, but the execution leaves viewers with movies that don’t deliver the expected emotional wallop.

In “Seven Pounds,” Will Smith plays Ben Thomas, a man who is flirting with suicide. We know this from the opening sequence, in which he calls for an ambulance. Then, the film shoots back in time and delivers a series of fractured sequences that show Ben interacting with people suffering from a variety of difficulties.

It becomes clear that Ben is planning to help these people and, through short flashback sequences, Muccino explains why. This is interesting, and it’s hard not to wonder where it’s going, but Muccino and screenwriter Grant Nieporte made the decision to spend most of their energy on one particular relationship: Ben’s interaction with Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a young woman in need of a heart transplant.

Although Emily’s story is good, the tight focus takes viewers away from the other people in Ben’s life. And that leaves us craving a lot more details than we receive.

DVD extras include deleted scenes, four featurettes on the making of the film and an audio commentary by Muccino.

 

Marley & Me
2 stars
Rated PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

For obvious reasons, people love their pets. And that, no doubt, helped propel John Grogan’s “Marley & Me” memoir to the bestsellers list. Alas, the story has only limited success on screen.

Owen Wilson plays Grogan, Jennifer Aniston plays his wife, Jennifer, and the movie essentially recounts the monumental moments in their life, including the decision to purchase a rambunctious yellow Labrador retriever. The giddy Grogans name the pup Marley and soon learn that dog ownership means chewed furniture, trashed garages, and repeated escape attempts.

The film has moments, but too many feel manufactured or overdone. Plus, doesn’t everyone know that pooches — even the lovable ones — do crazy, often annoying, things? In other words, “Marley & Me” doesn’t have much to say.

Fortunately, the tearjerker of an ending is pitch perfect, and that goes a long way toward salvaging an otherwise bland and predictable dramedy.

“Marley & Me” is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a three-disc Blu-ray edition that comes not only with Blu-ray but a standard DVD and a digital copy of the film. Extra features vary.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

After Dark Horrorfest III: Lionsgate continues to bolster its Horrorfest series with DVD releases of eight horror flicks that received limited theatrical releases in January. Leading the way is “The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations,” the latest in the “Butterfly Effect” franchise. Other titles are: “Autopsy” by writer-director Adam Gierasch, “Voices” by director Oh Ki-hwan, “Slaughter” by writer-director Stewart Hopewell, “Dying Breed” by writer-director Jody Dwyer, “From Within” by director Phedon Papamichael, “Perkins 14” by director Craig Singer, and “The Broken” by writer-director Sean Ellis. The films are available individually or as part of an eight-disc boxed set.

“Hope & Faith” — Season One: The first 25 episodes of the ABC sitcom starring Faith Ford as a down-to-Earth housewife whose life is jolted when her out-of-work soap opera star sister (Kelly Ripa) moves in with her family.

“The Real Ghostbusters” — Vol. 1: The animated series based on the popular “Ghostbusters” movie franchise is already available from Time Life, but only online — at TimeLife.com — in a massive 25-DVD set. The good news here is that casual fans can purchase this scaled-down, 5-DVD set from major retailers.

“Il Generale Della Rovere”: Roberto Rossellini’s 1959 picture about a World War II shyster (Vittorio De Sica) who thinks nothing of taking advantage of his downtrodden Italian brethren. But when Nazis force him to impersonate a dead resistance leader and act as a spy, he has second thoughts. Presented in Italian with English subtitles.

“Danton”: Criterion Collection release offering a restored, high-definition transfer of director Andrzej Wajda’s 1983 film about the final months of French revolutionary Georges Danton (Gerard Depardieu). The two-disc set includes a behind-the-scenes documentary and video interviews with Wajda, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and film critic Jerzy Plazewski. Presented in French with English subtitles.

“Spectacular!”: Nickelodeon TV movie about a wannabe rock star (Nolan Gerard Funk) who gets recruited to a show choir by its energetic leader (Tammin Sursok).

“Killer at Large”: Documentary film that considers America’s obesity epidemic and what it means for the future of our ever-fattening society. Produced and directed by Steven Greenstreet.

“School House Rock! Earth”: The creators of the original “Schoolhouse Rock” series offer a new batch of songs addressing environmental issues. The DVD is being released now to get kids thinking about the upcoming Earth Day celebration.

“Special”: Low-budget picture about a soft-spoken man (Michael Rapaport) who is admitted into an experimental drug study and becomes convinced that he is developing super powers. Written and directed by Hal Haberman and Jeremy Passmore.

“Timecrimes”: Science-fiction thriller about a man who accidentally travels back through time and has to deal with the consequences. The film was written and directed by one of its stars, Nacho Vigalondo, and it is presented in Spanish with English subtitles.

 
— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose bylines have appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Video Verdict: New DVDs for March 31

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