Video Verdict: New DVDs for April 14

Gabriel Macht plays the title character in the comic strip-inspired film "The Spirit."

Gabriel Macht plays the title character in the comic strip-inspired film "The Spirit."

This week’s DVD releases are highlighted by a comic book adaptation from writer-director Frank Miller and the post-World War II drama that helped Kate Winslet land her first Oscar.

The Spirit
1/2 star (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, some sexual content and brief nudity
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Comic book writer and artist Frank Miller’s first stab at film directing — 2005’s “Sin City” — was impressive, but it’s common knowledge that veteran filmmaker Robert Rodriguez (Miller’s co-director) did the heavy lifting on that project.

With “The Spirit,” Miller is listed as the sole writer-director, and he was ill-prepared to handle the job alone. Like “Sin City,” the movie has a fantastic visual style that blends the look of a classic film noir with the hyper-real presentation of a comic book. But the positives end there. “The Spirit” is drawn out, disjointed, emotionally barren and nauseatingly campy.

Based on comic strip creator Will Eisner’s characters, the film tells the story of Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht), a former police officer turned masked superhero. Unlike Eisner’s comic strip Spirit, Macht’s character is virtually indestructible, a trait that comes in handy when he’s battling an equally impervious baddie called The Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson).

The plotting involves Colt’s ongoing efforts to subdue The Octopus as well as his relationship with Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), a mysterious woman from his past. Miller chose to set his film in a fantasy world that blends 1950s-style automobiles with the latest in modern technology. Although this takes some getting used to, it’s a reasonable — and defensible — stylistic choice.

What isn’t acceptable is Miller’s ridiculously melodramatic treatment of the story. Clearly, he was trying to have fun with the material’s pulp fiction roots, but the execution is so poor that people may not get it.

What’s more, the characters are boring and underdeveloped, the editing is choppy and the script is humorless. For a movie called “The Spirit,” it’s surprisingly lacking in just that.

The film is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc special edition. Extra features vary.


The Reader
3 1/2 stars
Rated R for some scenes of sexuality and nudity.
The Weinstein Company
Available now on DVD. Blu-ray will be available April 28.

I suspect most people already have “The Reader” on their rental list if only because it was nominated for five Academy Awards and star Kate Winslet landed a best actress award for her outing. But it’s not Oscar recognition that makes “The Reader” great. It’s the astonishing quality of the filmmaking.

Everything from the David Hare screenplay to the editing is phenomenal, and director Stephen Daldry (“The Hours,” “Billy Elliot”) was at the top of his game when working on this picture.

Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, the movie is set in post-World War II Germany and focused on a man named Michael Berg (David Kross and Ralph Fiennes). As a teen, Michael is seduced by a beautiful middle-aged woman named Hanna (Winslet) and, along with having sexual relations with her, he often reads great pieces of literature aloud for her pleasure.

Although, their relationship ends abruptly, Michael never forgets it, and the memories come flooding back when he unexpectedly sees Hanna years later. The ensuing story is a dark-but-touching drama that addresses everything from the evils of the Holocaust to man’s capacity for forgiveness and understanding.

Winslet is as wonderful as her Oscar win indicates, and she received terrific support from both Kross and Fiennes. Daldry keeps the movie moving nicely and handles even sensitive scenes, like Hanna’s seduction of the boy, with finesse.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and several making-of features.



“Splinter”: Horror flick starring Paul Costanzo and Jill Wagner as a couple who try to get away for the weekend only to be carjacked by an escaped convict (Shea Whigham) and his girlfriend, Lacey (Rachel Kerbs). Things get even worse when the group is involved in a car accident and learn that Lacey has been infected by a deadly parasite.

“Dark Matter”: Independent drama about a young, Chinese scientist (Liu Ye) pursuing a high-level degree in the U.S. with encouragement from his American patron (Meryl Streep). But the student’s ambition is hampered by school politics and cultural differences that have the potential to spawn tragedy. The film was directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, and Aidan Quinn also stars.

The Lost Collection: Lionsgate is trotting out eight movies from the 1980s that it believes people “totally forgot about.” Each is tagged part of The Lost Collection, features a pop up trivia track and retails for $14.98. The titles are: “Homer & Eddie” with Whoopi Goldberg and James Belushi; “My Best Friend is a Vampire” with Robert Sean Leonard; “Irreconcilable Differences” with Ryan O’Neal, Shelly Long and Drew Barrymore; “Repossessed” with Ned Beatty, Leslie Nielsen and Linda Blair; “Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home” with John Cryer and Lynn Redgrave; “Hiding Out,” also with Cryer; “The Night Before” with Keanu Reeves; and the horror film “Slaughter High.”

“Pride and Prejudice”: The BBC’s serialized version of writer Jane Austen’s classic love story has been a favorite in America since it first aired on A&E in 1996. This week, it is being released on Blu-ray for the first time. Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle star.

“Lost in Austen”: Want even more Jane Austen? Try this British miniseries about a modern English woman who longs for the social norms of Austen’s day. She gets to experience them first hand when a portal opens in her London apartment, allowing her to swap places with the heroine of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” novel. Gemma Arterton, Jemima Rooper, Alex Kingston and Hugh Bonneville star.

“House of Saddam”: HBO miniseries that considers the rise and fall of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“The Toughest Race on Earth: Iditarod”: Every episode of the Discovery Channel series chronicling the 2008 Iditarod dog sled race from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nome, Alaska.

“American Swing”: Documentary film focused on Larry Levenson’s Plato’s Retreat, a New York sex club that was popular in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Directed by Mathew Kaufman and Jon Hart.

“Wings” — The Final Season: The last 23 episodes of the NBC sitcom about two brothers (Tim Daly and Steven Weber) running a small airport in Massachusetts. Crystal Bernard, Rebecca Schull, David Schramm and Tony Shaloub also star.


Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose bylines have appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. Contact him at

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