It’s a good week for movie lovers because the latest DVDs include two of the finest dramas released into theaters in 2008.
Four stars (out of four)
Rated R for language and some sexual content/nudity
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
As bleak and uncompromising as “Revolutionary Road” is, it stands as one of the great cinematic achievements of 2008. Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Richard Yates and directed by Sam Mendes, the film tells of a 1950s couple balancing youthful dreams with the realities of raising a family amidst sharp societal expectations.
Husband Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a frustrated office worker, and his wife, April (Kate Winslet), dreams of a more exotic life in Paris. One day they decide to leave their suburban existence to pursue a bohemian life overseas, but as they make plans they face unforeseen pressure from everyone in their orbit.
Reunited for the first time since “Titanic,” DiCaprio and Winslet turn in some of the best work of their impressive careers. As in “Titanic,” they light up the screen like few stars of their generation can, and they benefit from strong supporting performances by Kathy Bates, David Harbour and Michael Shannon. The latter received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an explosive psychiatric patient.
As for Mendes — a talented auteur who is married to Winslet — his pacing and treatment of the dark-but-meaningful story is perfect.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe.
3 1/2 stars
Rated R for violence and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Most Holocaust stories portray Jews as passive victims of this tragic act of aggression, but that wasn’t always the case. With “Defiance,” director Edward Zwick delivers a tale of Jewish rebellion that is both thrilling and inspirational.
Based on actual events, the film focuses on Jewish brothers Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber), Asael (Jamie Bell) and Aron (George MacKay) Bielski, who — after their parents were murdered — built a mobile commune in the Belarussian forest. As war raged around them, the Bielskis sheltered hundreds of Jewish refugees while staging occasional raids on Nazi occupied areas.
Because “Defiance” focuses not on victims, but on courageous freedom fighters, it isn’t as bleak as most Holocaust films, but it’s not pretty either. The movie shows the Bielskis’ struggle to outlast everything from wretched winters to political unrest within their own camp, all while dealing with an eternally short food supply.
Craig and Schreiber anchor the film, and they are excellent, but singling them out doesn’t do justice to the fine cast Zwick has assembled. There isn’t a weak link in the group, which collectively produced one of last year’s most memorable dramas.
DVD extras include a making-of feature, an audio commentary with Zwick and a bit where descendants of the Jewish refugees talk about their relatives.
He’s Just Not Than Into You
Rated PG-13 for sexual content and brief strong language
New Line Cinema
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Despite an extraordinary cast including Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly and Scarlett Johansson, this romantic comedy never gets off the ground.
Part of the problem is that it’s so precisely targeted at women that male viewers are immediately alienated. Even more troubling, however, is the fact that the picture was derived from a self-help book and can’t decide whether it’s a pseudo-documentary or traditional Hollywood comedy.
The film is based around the romantic misadventures of several inter-related couples — or would-be couples — and their problems are assessed both dramatically and through on-camera monologues from auxiliary characters. The film makes a number of interesting points, including the spot-on assertion that if a guy likes a girl he’ll find a way to let her know.
Unfortunately, director Ken Kwapis has taken his picture’s most insightful and humorous moments and spaced them over a period of more than two hours. That’s a long time, and any momentum the cast is able to build in one scene quickly peters out.
Bottom line: The film might be OK for a low-key girls’ night out, but it’s a poor choice for anyone who’s really “into” cinema.
DVD extras are limited to a collection of deleted scenes that can be viewed with or without commentary from Kwapis.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Spring Breakdown”: Direct-to-DVD comedy starring Amy Poehler, Parker Posey and Rachel Dratch as thirtysomethings who try to overcome their geeky pasts by partying with the college crowd on spring break. Amber Tamblyn and Seth Meyers also star.
“Weeds” — Season 4: The fifth season of “Weeds” will debut on Showtime June 8. Before that happens, you can get caught up with the series — about a widowed housewife who sells pot to make ends meet — with this three-disc, 13-episode set.
“Raising the Bar” — The Complete First Season: All 10 first-season episodes of the TNT drama about young attorneys trying to balance their professional and personal lives while doing battle in the courtroom. Mark Paul Gosselaar, Jane Kaczmarek, Gloria Reuben and Teddy Sears star.
“The Fox and the Child”: Luc Jacquet, director of “March of the Penguins,” delivers another movie with nature at its core. This one focuses on the friendship that a 10-year-old girl forms with a wild fox. Originally presented in French, the movie has been dubbed in English and features a voiceover by Kate Winslet.
“Army Wives” — The Complete Season 2: Season three of this Lifetime television drama is on the way, so you don’t have much time to plow through the 19 episodes presented here. The show focuses on five military spouses and the conflicts they endure.
“Prison Break” — Season 4: The final season of the Fox Television drama starring Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell as brothers who get involved in political intrigue after one of them is framed for murder.
“Une Femme Mariee”: New Koch Lorber Films release of director Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 drama about an unfaithful wife who must choose between her husband and lover when she discovers that she is pregnant. Presented in French with English subtitles.
The Prehistoric Collection — From Dinosaurs to the Dawn of Man: Eight-DVD set including several TV shows that originally aired on History. Included are “Jurassic Fight Club,” “Prehistoric Megastorms,” “Journey to 10,000 B.C.” and “Clash of the Cavemen.”
“The Jetsons” — Season 2, Vol. 1: Twenty-one vintage episodes of the cartoon series about an average family living in the space age. Although the show was conceived in the 1960s, all these episodes are from the 1985 series revival.
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