Major DVD releases this week range from a Nicolas Cage drama to an action movie starring Dakota Fanning, and all have roots in science fiction and the supernatural.
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for disaster sequences, disturbing images and brief strong language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Alex Proyas’ “Dark City” was one of the finest films of 1998, and “Knowing” is his best effort since.
Set in present-day Massachusetts, the movie stars Nicolas Cage as John Koestler, the son of a preacher who lost his faith due to the premature death of his wife. John plows through his days teaching astrophysics at MIT and doting on his young son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury). It’s a routine existence that works up until Caleb receives a 50-year-old letter that was buried inside a time capsule at his school.
Filled from top to bottom with numerals, the paper seems like gibberish, but John discovers that the numbers are actually coded predictions of Earth’s greatest tragedies. Noticing that several deadly events are forecast for the near future, John goes on a quest to prevent them. He even makes contact with the daughter of the woman who penned the predictions (Rose Byrne), and together they try to unravel the mystery .
Cage delivers one of his best performances in recent years, and Canterbury holds his own against the master thespian. In fact, the two actors play several scenes together that are absolutely heartbreaking.
The intimacy of the performances and soulfulness of the storytelling set “Knowing” apart from most supernatural thrillers, allowing it to transition from eerie to exciting to heartrending all in the course of two hours.
Unfortunately, the near-perfect effort is marred by an ending that relies — unnecessarily — on big-budget special effects and drags on beyond its welcome. These problems are not, however, significant enough to prevent a hearty recommendation
DVD extras include a commentary by Proyas, a bit on the making of the film and a piece examining humanity’s ongoing fears about the end of the world.
2 1/2 stars
DVD contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received a PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, disturbing images, thematic material and language including some sexual references.
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
For a writer, directing one’s own screenplay is a blessing because it offers creative control. Oddly enough, David S. Goyer is at his best when writing, then letting go. Case in point: His contributions to “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” trump anything he’s done as a writer-director, including “The Unborn.”
A straightforward horror flick, Goyer’s movie introduces viewers to Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman), an attractive young woman suffering from creepy nightmares that are followed by even creepier dealings in the real world. Although she’s not superstitious or even religious, it doesn’t take long for her to become convinced she’s being haunted by the ghost of a twin brother who died while they were both in the womb.
Goyer does a fine job setting the movie’s eerie tone and — thanks in large part to a strong performance by Yustman — delivers the first two acts with intensity. Then, the film stalls, turning into a textbook exorcism flick that relies heavily on cliche. There are shades of “The Excorcist” and nods to “The Omen,” as well as bits borrowed from more forgettable horror thrillers.
“The Unborn” also suffers from problems you wouldn’t expect from Goyer. Most notably, a rabbi (Gary Oldman) who is skeptical one moment but a supernatural guru the next; and a noteworthy character — Casey’s father — who simply disappears.
Horror fans may forgive the flaws, but “The Unborn” will never make its way into the same maternity ward as greats like “The Omen” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
DVD extras are limited to several deleted scenes.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, brief strong language, smoking and a scene of teen drinking
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Watching “Push” feels an awful lot like joining a television show mid-season. The characters are fully fleshed out and their world makes sense to them, but it takes time to catch up with who is who and what is what. And with “Push” there’s a lot to catch up on.
The movie centers on a group of psychics possessing powers that range from the ability to move objects with the mind (movers) to the ability to foretell the future (watchers). A government agency called Division has long experimented on psychics in an attempt to turn them into super weapons. Trouble is, part of the process involves the injection of deadly drugs, so most psychics are uncooperative.
“Push’s” leading man is Nick Grant (Chris Evans), a mover who is hiding out in Hong Kong when a young watcher named Cassie (Dakota Fanning) shows up at his doorstep requesting help. Soon, they and a number of friends — including characters played by Camilla Belle, Ming-Na and Cliff Curtis — are in a dangerous battle with Division.
Director Paul McGuigan does an adequate job explaining the complicated “Push” universe, but that’s not enough. What’s lacking is the emotional connection that makes viewers feel as though they know and love the characters. On top of that, the mind- and time-bending skills of the various players make the plot extremely difficult to follow.
DVD extras include a filmmakers’ commentary, deleted scenes and a featurette about psychic abilities.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Peanuts — 1960s Collection”: Two-DVD set featuring remastered versions of all six Peanuts TV specials from the ’60s. The lineup is: “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Charlie Brown’s All-Stars,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” “You’re In Love, Charlie Brown,” “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown” and “It was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown.”
“Night Train”: Direct-to-DVD thriller starring Danny Glover as a veteran train conductor and Leelee Sobieski and Steve Zahn as two of his passengers. When they discover a dead man on the train, they decide to hide his body in order to keep a treasure he was carrying.
“Five Fingers”: This small film received only the slightest theatrical release in 2006, and it is now making its way to DVD. Ryan Phillippe stars as a Dutch pianist who is abducted in Morocco while trying to start a food program for malnourished children. Laurence Fishburne plays the terrorist leader who haunts him.
“Coco Chanel”: Shirley MaLaine portrays fashion designer Coco Chanel in a biopic that originally aired on Lifetime Television. Malcolm McDowell also stars.
“Reno 911!” — The Complete Sixth Season: Who would’ve thought that a Comedy Central show spoofing “COPS” would last this long? Well, it did, and this set is here to remind us why.
“A Day in the Life”: Hip-hop artist Sticky Fingaz wrote, directed and stars in this film about a man stuck in the middle of a brutal gang war. Omar Epps, Mekhi Phifer and Michael Rapaport are also featured.
“Ruby — A Journey to Lose the First 100 lbs.”: Six episodes from the first season of “Ruby,” the Style Network reality series about Ruby Gettinger, an obese Southern woman struggling to lose about 400 pounds.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. Contact him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com