This week’s home video releases are dominated by dramas, including one that earned Oscar nominations for best actress and best supporting actor, one starring “Twilight” heartthrob Robert Pattinson, and one featuring Matt Damon as a soldier in Iraq.
3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for violence and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
English director Paul Greengrass took a hard look at the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with his superb 2006 film “United 93.” One could reasonably consider “Green Zone” a fictionalized follow-up, as it focuses on America’s involvement in the Iraq War.
Central to the action is Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller (Matt Damon), a military man charged with recovering weapons of mass destruction early in the conflict. Miller becomes discouraged when he is asked to repeatedly put his squad at risk by securing locations that don’t house weapons, despite intelligence reports stating otherwise. When Miller complains, he is quickly silenced by superior officers, but he attracts the attention of a similarly frustrated CIA officer named Martin Brown (Brendan Gleeson), and together they attempt to figure out what’s going on.
Making Miller’s and Brown’s efforts more difficult is a Pentagon official named Clark Poundstone (Greg Kinnear) who seems all too happy to move forward with the bad intelligence. Because the movie explores a complex issue, the plotting takes a number of twists and turns, but Greengrass makes the material relatively easy to follow. He also throws in just enough action to keep the film from bogging down in dialogue. Still, this is a political thriller and, like many other films in the genre, it drags on occasion.
That shouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing the movie, though. Damon, Gleeson and Kinnear are typically great, and “Green Zone” poses a number of controversial yet interesting ideas. The most important of these is that a handful of U.S. government officials knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, yet pushed for the war anyway.
Because “Green Zone” is fictionalized – although based in part on the non-fiction book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City” – one shouldn’t read too much into the plotting, but that doesn’t mean it can’t prompt great after-movie conversations.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a feature on Damon’s preparation for his role, a collection of deleted scenes and an audio commentary by Damon and Greengrass.
The Last Station
Rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Set during the final days of novelist Leo Tolstoy’s life, “The Last Station” presents a compelling and finely crafted portrait of a man who had a significant impact on both literature and the political leanings of his generation.
As the film opens, viewers are introduced to Valentin Bulgakov (James McAvoy), a Tolstoy devotee who is offered the chance to serve as secretary to his hero. Although immediately impressed by Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer), Valentin finds himself in an increasingly uncomfortable position as a rift widens between Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya (Helen Mirren), and the writer’s devoted followers.
Because Tolstoy is an anarchist and opposed to the concept of private property, his followers (or Tolstoyans) expect him to sign the rights to his novels over to the public. Sofya, on the other hand, wants the family to maintain the rights, so that she and her children will be cared for should Tolstoy die. This conflict, of course, presents a major stress on the elderly writer.
Plummer and Mirren are wonderful, particularly in their scenes together, and both performers received Oscar nominations for their work in the film (Plummer for best supporting actor and Mirren for best actress).
Writer-director Michael Hoffman (“The Emperor’s Club”) does a fine job capturing a fascinating point in history and simplifying the story enough to make it understandable even to folks who know little about Tolstoy. But Hoffman’s film is not dumbed down. It tackles real issues and demonstrates how difficult life can be when a husband and wife, no matter how hopelessly in love, have seriously opposing political views.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, an interview with Plummer and an audio commentary featuring Plummer, Mirren and Hoffman.
Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, language and smoking
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
For 90 percent of its run time, “Remember Me” is an intimate and supremely likable relationship drama examining the life of a tortured college student named Tyler (Robert Pattinson) and his romance with a policeman’s daughter named Ally (Emilie de Ravin). Then, in the final act, the film takes a turn so shocking and unexpected that it calls the meaning of the entire project into question.
To say more would risk giving away the ending, so suffice it to say that the last 15 minutes of this 112-minute film change its entire context. Is “Remember Me” a bad film? Not in the traditional sense.
For starters, the acting is superb. Pattinson may be best known for playing a vampire in the popular “Twilight” series, but his work here is infinitely more interesting. Tyler is an extremely bright 22-year-old struggling to come to terms with the fact that his older brother committed suicide. Because of this, he’s prone to fits of anger and wild mood swings, yet it’s difficult to dislike him.
It’s equally tough to conjure negative feelings for Ally. Not only is she beautiful, but she’s smart, nurturing and wrestling with demons of her own. It also helps that Pattinson and de Ravin have decent chemistry, allowing them to create a movie romance that feels genuine.
What doesn’t help is that darn ending. It comes out of nowhere and hits so hard, that many viewers will be trying to find their balance hours after the credits roll. Truthfully, I still haven’t decided whether the ending is a stroke of genius by writer Will Fetters and director Allen Coulter or a disastrous finish to an otherwise terrific film. I’m leaning toward the latter, but “Remember Me” is so captivating that true film lovers should watch it and come to their own conclusions.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a commentary track with Pattinson, Coulter and other cast members.
She’s Out of My League
Rated R for language and sexual content
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Every average guy has dreamt of landing a supermodel, but it just doesn’t happen. At least not according to Stainer (T.J. Miller), the fast-talking, comic relief bad boy in “She’s Out of My League.” Stainer is the type of pal who believes in straight talk and in “League,” he tells his best friend Kirk (Jay Baruchel) that there’s no way he’ll land the girl of his dreams because he’s a five and she’s a 10. “You can’t jump more than two points.”
This seems like sound advice until Kirk bucks the odds and winds up dating Molly (Alice Eve), a professional event planner who is so hot she’s on the verge of spontaneous combustion. That makes this a feel-good movie, right? Not exactly. Kirk may get his hooks into Molly, but he is so nervous and self conscious about his perceived social status that their relationship may be doomed.
The fun, of course, is in discovering if Kirk has what it takes to jump those extra few points and prove there is hope for average guys everywhere. Well, that and watching Stainer deliver wacky monologues.
“She’s Out of My League” is a fairly traditional romantic comedy that banks largely on Baruchel’s and Miller’s comic talents, and they do a good job holding things together. Alas, they could have used help from director Jim Field Smith and the screenwriting team of Sean Anders and John Morris. Although “League” has funny moments, it borrows heavily from other teen sex comedies, most notably the “American Pie” franchise, and it feels a tad stale because of that.
That’s not to say you can’t have fun with the film. You can. Just realize it’s one step shy of the majors.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes, a blooper reel, an extended ending and an audio commentary by Smith.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” Blu-ray 3D: Television manufacturers are hoping 3DTV is the next best thing, but there isn’t much content for folks who buy new 3D sets. Sony is taking a step to remedy that with its Blu-ray 3D of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.” The animated film is based on the popular children’s book about a town where food falls from the sky, and it’s a lot of fun. Do note, however, that you must have a 3D capable Blu-ray player and 3DTV in order to reap the benefits of this particular release.
“The Good Guy”: Romantic comedy starring Alexis Bledel, Scott Porter and Bryan Greenberg. Bledel plays Beth, a young career woman who happens upon two perfect guys and must decide who is right for her.
“Hung” – The Complete First Season: This HBO series focuses on a divorced, middle-aged man who thinks he can turn his life around by resorting to prostitution. Stars Thomas Jane, Jane Adams, Anne Heche, Sianoa Smit-McPhee, and Charlie Saxton.
“Close-Up”: Iranian film based on the true story of a man who was brought up on charges for impersonating filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. The 1990 movie, presented by the Criterion Collection, is a unique mix of fiction and documentary. Presented in Persian with English subtitles.
“Red Desert”: Newly restored transfer of Director Micheangelo Antonioni’s first color film. Released in 1964, the movie focuses on a woman (Monica Vitti) who feels disconnected from the world. Richard Harris also stars. Presented in Italian with English subtitles.
“River World”: Based on Philip Jose Farmer’s bestselling book series, this TV movie originally aired on Syfy. The premise is that everyone who has ever lived on Earth gets simultaneously resurrected on a planet with an intricate river system.
“Entourage” – The Complete Sixth Season: This three-disc set gives fans of the HBO series – about an up-and-coming Hollywood actor – a chance to get caught up before season seven premieres June 27.
“Tom and Jerry” – Deluxe Anniversary Collection: This two-disc set contains 30 of the most popular Tom and Jerry cartoons, including seven Oscar winners. Note that this release is intended primarily for adult collectors and some cartoons may not be appropriate for children.
“Death Race 2000”: A special edition of the 1975 dark comedy is being released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics collection from Shout Factory. The movie is about a transcontinental, high-speed car race where the winner is the driver who racks up the most points by killing spectators and pedestrians. Meanwhile, anti-race activists are gunning for drivers in hopes of putting an end to the murderous event. David Carradine, Sylvester Stallone, Martin Kove, and Roberta Collins star.
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.