Video Verdict: ‘State of Play,’ ‘Disneynature: Earth,’ ‘Sugar’

A humpback whale breaches the surface of the ocean in a scene from Disneynature's "Earth."

A humpback whale breaches the surface of the ocean in a scene from Disneynature's "Earth."

This week’s DVD releases include a sharp thriller starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, a beautifully photographed nature film and a foreign drama that casts a new light on America’s pastime.

State of Play
3 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content
Universal
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

As the newspaper industry struggles, Hollywood is appropriately adapting its image. We saw this phenomenon in “The Soloist,” and its on display again in “State of Play,” which features Russell Crowe as Cal McAffrey, a Washington, D.C., reporter at the heart of a political scandal.

McAffrey is decidedly old school, but his paper and editor (Helen Mirren) are placing increasing emphasis on the Internet and new media. He’s reminded of this when one of the paper’s young bloggers — Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) — pops by his cubicle to pump him for information on a college roommate who just happened to become a U.S. congressman.

The politician, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), is on the hot seat because he had an affair with a recently deceased aid. This not only puts a damper on Collins’ plans to derail a contractor who is gaining unprecedented control over the U.S. defense industry, it threatens to end his political career. McAffrey is caught in the middle, struggling to balance his loyalty to Collins with his journalistic integrity and curiosity. Things get particularly interesting when it starts to look like Collins’ aid was murdered.

“State of Play” stumbles in the third act, when the plot takes an offbeat twist that’s hard to wrap the mind around. Still, it is thoroughly entertaining, in large part due to Crowe and his standout performance. His version of McAffrey is hard-charging, smart and cocky, yet somehow remarkably likable. One could say the same about this film.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

 

Disneynature: Earth
3½ stars
Rated G
Disney
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Using footage from the BBC/Discovery/NHK television series “Planet Earth,” Disney’s new boutique label — Disneynature — has delivered a documentary film as visually stunning as any you’ll see.

While “Planet Earth” was broad-based and lengthy, “Earth” runs only 90 minutes and focuses primarily on a family of polar bears, elephants and humpback whales. One could call this the crib notes version of “Planet Earth” because it introduces viewers to the gorgeous visuals without getting too deep.

In fact, the main flaw is that several segments wrap too quickly, leaving dangling questions. Also, viewers get footage of a number of animal species with no explanation of what is being shown. Although the script could be better, James Earl Jones makes up for the flaws with commanding voice work.

Really, though, its the breathtaking visuals that steal the show. This is the sort film that would be compelling even without sound.

“Earth” is available as part of two release packages, including a two-disc version with both Blu-ray and standard DVD copies of the film. Because of the fantastic, high-definition footage, the Blu-ray version is recommended.

 

Sugar
3 stars
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language and brief drug use
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Baseball may be America’s pastime, but it’s also popular in other nations, including the Dominican Republic. This intimate drama follows a Dominican player named Miguel Santos from his life at home through his big break, when he’s called up to the minor leagues in the U.S.A.

Although Miguel’s dreams have come true, the transition isn’t easy. Under tremendous pressure to perform on the field, he must also contend with a language barrier and general culture shock.

Miguel is portrayed superbly by Algenis Perez Soto, and his supporting cast is solid. Also, much credit is due directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck who’ve made a sports film that shies from cliche and leans toward the unpredictable.

The DVD presentation of the film is in Spanish and Portuguese with English subtitles. Extra features include deleted scenes, a couple making-of features and a short on how the movie mirrors the experiences of real-life Dominican players.

 

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Terry Fator: Live From Las Vegas”: Fator, an “America’s Got Talent” star, serves up music and comedy with a cast of puppets who impersonate folks ranging from Elvis to Louis Armstrong. DVD extras include an audio commentary with Fator, writer Rick Kerns and director Mark Goffman; a commentary where the puppets take over; and Chapter 1 from Fator’s autobiography.

“Homeboy”: Mickey Rourke plays Johnny Walker, an old boxer looking for a last chance in the ring and a shot at love. Also stars Christopher Walken.

“Desperate Housewives” — The Complete Fifth Season: Seven-disc set that propels the women of Wisteria Lane through a series of wicked twists and turns. Highlights of the season include the introduction of Edie’s new husband. DVD extras include bloopers, deleted scenes, creator Marc Cherry’s favorite scenes, and a behind-the-scenes look at the production process.

“Supernatural” — The Complete Fourth Season: The battle to save humanity continues, and you can get caught up with this six disc set before season five premieres in the fall. DVD extras include creator commentary on three key episodes, a gag reel and extended and unaired scenes.

“Brothers and Sisters” — The Complete Third Season: The Walker family drama continues to unfold with a stellar cast that includes Sally Field, Rachel Griffiths, Rob Lowe and Calista Flockhart.

“C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation” — The Complete Ninth Season: The six discs in this box set offer 17 hours of the long-running police drama. Marg Helgenberger, George Eads, Paul Guilfoyle, Eric Szmanda, and Robert David Hall star.

“Two and a Half Men” — The Complete Sixth Season: The continued comic adventures of brothers Charlie (Charlie Sheen) and Alan Harper (Jon Cryer), who live as bachelors with Alan’s young son, Jake (Angus T. Jones). This release packs 24 episodes onto four discs.

 

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

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