This week’s home video releases include three R-rated dramas that delve into the darker side of life. Included is a science-fiction fantasy starring three of today’s hottest young actors, a crime drama featuring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell and a vampire film that’s considerably bleaker than “The Twilight Saga.”
Let Me In
3 stars (out of four)
Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
In 2009, the Swedish vampire drama “Let the Right One In” received rave reviews from American critics, so an English-language remake was sure to follow. Writing and directing honors went to Matt Reeves, whose last feature was the monster film “Cloverfield.”
With “Let Me In,” Reeves maintains the heart of the original movie, telling the story of a bullied boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who forms a relationship with Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a new girl who moves into his apartment complex. At first, Abby seems like any other youngster … only standoffish … but as Owen gets to know her he realizes she’s a vampire.
Viewers also see parts of the story from the perspective of Abby’s guardian (Richard Jenkins), who spends his nights stalking townspeople and draining them of blood for Abby. The immense popularity of “Twilight” and TV shows like “The Vampire Diaries” has glamourized cinematic vampires, but “Let Me In” takes the genre back to its frightening roots. In fact, the more one thinks about “Let Me In” the more devastating and sad it becomes.
As presented by Reeves, the story has layers, the first being a straightforward tale of friendship between a boy and a supernatural creature. But as one moves beyond that surface layer, Abby’s motivations become increasingly murky, leaving viewers with a movie open to many horrifying interpretations.
Smit-McPhee and Moretz are terrific in their leading roles, and the veteran Jenkins is typically strong. Their performances and Reeves’ deft direction combine for a vampire drama that is both thought provoking and genuinely scary.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a poster and still gallery, several making-of features and an audio commentary with Reeves.
Rated R for language and some violent images
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
We’ve seen a lot of movies about brotherly and sisterly love over the years, but few can compete with “Conviction.” The film, based on a true story, focuses on Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank) and her 18-year battle to prove that her brother, Kenny (Sam Rockwell), was wrongly convicted of murder.
Despite having a limited childhood education, Betty Anne reacts to her brother’s incarceration by working her way through law school while raising two young children. Director Tony Goldwyn (“Someone Like You …” “A Walk on the Moon”) places the focus on Betty Anne but also allows viewers to spend plenty of time with Kenny.
The true story is exceedingly dramatic, so Goldwyn’s primary job was to condense the timeline and keep things moving at a reasonable pace, and he succeeds. He also draws great performances out of his actors.
For Swank, the role of a spunky woman warrior is nothing new – she just played Amelia Earhart after all – and she portrays Waters with grace. Rockwell’s roles have been all over the map, and he turns in one of his finest performances as Kenny, a character who is charming and likable but also highly explosive.
“Conviction” was forgotten when nominations for the Academy Awards were doled out Jan. 25, but it shouldn’t be forgotten by viewers.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes interview with the real Waters.
Never Let Me Go
Rated R for some sexuality and nudity
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
It’s been eight years since director Mark Romanek’s last feature film, “One Hour Photo,” an excellent movie that used Robin Williams to the best of his abilities. To say that Romanek decided to follow that effort with an ambitious project is an understatement. With “Never Let Me Go,” he brings writer Kazuo Ishiguro’s award-winning novel to the screen, tackling themes as broad as what it means to be human.
The movie is set in an alternate version of England during the late 20th century and, like the book, it focuses on three youth: Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield). In short order, viewers learn that these characters are clones, raised for the sole purpose of providing organ donations to “originals.” Although the premise is fascinating, Romanek’s movie focuses more on a love triangle between the characters than on the bizarre situation they find themselves in.
Tommy is a smart boy who begins his life as an outcast, teased by other children, including Ruth. Kathy, who is creative and sweet-natured, is one of the few people who forms an instant bond with him. As the characters age, however, Ruth decides that Tommy has changed, and she begins a romantic relationship with him.
Knightley, Garfield and Mulligan are outstanding, and they give their characters so much depth that viewers can’t help but contemplate the morality of a world where clones must die to keep others alive. Still, the film has it’s problems, the most important being that viewers never see a clone that attempts to flee or even question his or her purpose in life.
One can appreciate the decision to keep the film tightly focused, but it’s impossible to watch without wondering why the clones don’t revolt, and ignoring such a basic question diminishes the impact of the project.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Alice in Wonderland” – 60th Anniversary Special Edition: People wowed by last year’s live-action take on “Alice In Wonderland” may want to check out this re-release of Disney’s animated classic. The film is hitting stores in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, and it will also be available as a standard-definition digital download. Fans of special features will appreciate the Blu-ray extras, which range from original theatrical trailers and deleted materials to a never-before-seen introduction by Walt Disney.
“The Tillman Story”: Documentary film focused on the life of former NFL star Pat Tillman who was killed while serving as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan. The movie is not a simple accounting of his life, however. It argues that the military covered up facts about his death and attempted to use his celebrity for propaganda. Directed by Amir Bar-Lev.
“Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2”: Direct-to-video sequel to Disney’s 2008 family film. This time around, the canine stars (Chloe and Papi) tie the knot and start a family. And, when their human owners have troubles, the pups come to the rescue. George Lopez is back as the voice of Papi.
“The Romantics”: Story of a group of college pals who unite for the wedding of two friends. Trouble is the groom and maid of honor have a history. Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, Anna Paquin and Malin Akerman star. Written and directed by Galt Niederhoffer who based his screenplay on a novel that he also penned.
“A Woman, A Gun and a Noodle Shop”: Director Zhang Yimou’s Chinese adaptation of the Joel and Ethan Coen film “Blood Simple.” The story centers on a noodle shop owner who bribes a lawman to kill his wife and her lover. Presented in Mandarin with English subtitles.
“Mean Girls 2”: Direct-to-video follow to the original, 2004 film. This one does not, however, have the benefit of the high-powered original cast, which was anchored by Lindsay Lohan. Instead we get Meaghan Martin (“Camp Rock”) as Jo, a new girl who agrees to befriend the unpopular Abby (Jennifer Stone) even though it means going toe to toe with a nasty clique.
“Highlander” 2-Film Set: To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original “Highlander,” Lionsgate is rolling out that film and “Highlander 2” on a two-disc Blu-ray set. Along with the films, which tell of an immortal warrior (Christopher Lambert) who must battle others of his kind, the set includes a number of extra features.
Storybook Treasures: Scholastic is adding two educational titles to its Storybook Treasures collection, and each looks at important moments in American history. The first, “Lincoln and Douglass: An American Friendship … and More Stories to Celebrate U.S. History,” features animated stories based on the title characters, the Declaration of Independence, American pilgrims and our founding fathers. The second release, “Duke Ellington … and Mores Stories to Celebrate Great Figures in African American History,” features tales about Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, John Henry and other black leaders.
Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.