This week’s DVD crop features notable stars appearing in dramas that range from a big-budget blockbuster to a tiny independent.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for brief war violence, sexual content, language and smoking
Jointly released by Paramount and Criterion
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director David Fincher’s clever tale of a man aging backward was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and ended up winning three.
Inspired by the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, the film features Brad Pitt as the title character, a child born in the shrunken and decrepit body of a senior citizen. As he ages, Benjamin grows not only taller but stronger and more youthful.
Much of the film involves Benjamin’s relationship with Daisy (Cate Blanchett), who is a young girl when they meet but grows older as he becomes more and more youthful.
Fincher’s film is visually stunning, and the performances by Pitt, Blanchett, and a supporting cast that includes Taraji P. Henson and Tilda Swinton are outstanding.
Unfortunately, “Benjamin Button” suffers from a runtime of 165, slow-moving minutes. The length bogs the film in unnecessary detail and removes the immediacy, but it doesn’t destroy the sheer beauty of Fincher’s imagery.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a two-disc, director-approved special edition by the Criterion Collection. Extra features vary.
Last Chance Harvey
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson are cinematic treasures, and they light up the screen in “Last Chance Harvey,” the sweet tale of a mature couple who fall in love and transform themselves in the process.
Hoffman plays Harvey, a musician clinging to the remnants of a once-promising career, and Thompson is Kate, a jaded single woman with little resembling a social life. They meet by chance while Harvey is in London for the wedding of his daughter, and they strike up an unlikely friendship that enriches both their lives.
In structure, the movie is not unlike writer-director Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise,” which is about two twenty-somethings who meet in Europe and spend a wondrous night together. But “Harvey” needn’t be compared to other films because it stands on its own merit.
Director Joel Hopkins allows viewers plenty of time to invest in the characters, and Hoffman and Thompson use that time to create a deep and memorable bond with the audience. Earthy, warm and genuine, “Harvey” moves beyond genre norms to deliver a romance that older adults can relate to and enjoy.
DVD extras include a making-of feature and an audio commentary featuring Hoffman, Thompson and Hopkins.
Wendy and Lucy
Rated R for language
Available on: DVD
Director Kelly Reichardt’s character drama “Wendy and Lucy” doesn’t go much of anywhere, yet it makes viewers feel as though they’ve been on a journey.
The film follows a wandering woman named Wendy (Michelle Williams) who dreams of traveling to Alaska where she’ll start a better life. Her only companion is her dog, Lucy, and although Reichhardt offers little in terms of back-story, their bond is apparent.
All the action takes place over a handful of days when Wendy’s car breaks down in an Oregon parking lot. Desperately short on cash — and equally short on friends — Wendy struggles to survive and to keep her and Lucy together.
Because the film is so narrowly focused, Williams carries the project on her shoulders, turning in one of the finest performances of her young career. Also delivering a noteworthy outing is Wally Dalton, who is excellent as a kindly security guard who recognizes Wendy’s plight.
Although “Wendy and Lucy” is simple in plotting, viewers who look beyond the obvious will find fascinating statements about the nature of humanity and what it means to be a friend.
Reichardt teaches film at Bard College in New York, and short films by four of her colleagues are included as DVD extras.
The Last Templar
1 1/2 stars
Available on: DVD
This poorly conceived television miniseries wants to be a mix of “The Da Vinci Code” and “Romancing the Stone,” but it falls short on both counts.
Based on the bestselling novel by Raymond Khoury, the film tells of archeologist Tess Chaykin (Mira Sorvino) who — after witnessing a daring museum robbery — finds herself poised to uncover a religious treasure missing for more than 700 years. To succeed, Tess has to cooperate with a handsome FBI agent (Scott Foley), compare notes with a Templar scholar (Kenneth Welsh) and somehow avoid the powerful forces working to keep the treasure hidden.
Sorvino and Foley are likable performers, but their outings here are campy and lightweight. Add in the goofy plotting and drawn-out storytelling, and you’ve got a film that is anything but a treasure.
DVD extras include a making-of feature, an image gallery and storyboards.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Enchanted April”: Director Mike Newell’s Academy Award nominated, 1992 drama is finally getting a U.S. DVD release. The movie tells of four women who rent a villa for a getaway in the Italian countryside. Miranda Richardson, Josie Lawrence, Joan Plowright, Polly Walker, Alfred Molina and Jim Broadbent star.
“Crusoe” — The Complete Series: This NBC television drama — based on Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” novel — didn’t last, but at least fans can add the 13 episodes that aired to their home video libraries.
“Gavin and Stacey” — Season One: The first six episodes of the BBC sitcom about a man (Matthew Horne) and woman (Joanna Page) who finally meet after getting well acquainted by phone.
“Incendiary”: Michelle Williams plays an unfaithful wife whose world is rocked when her husband and child are killed in a terrorist attack. Ewan McGregor also stars.
“Gigantor” — The Collection, Volume 1: The first 26 episodes of the 1960s animated series from Japan. For the uninitiated, it relates the adventures of a giant, indestructible robot who fights crime with the help of a young boy.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com