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I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Any chance she hails from the Iron Islands?

The Iron Lady
After a 29-year drought, Meryl Streep finally won her third acting Oscar for playing Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Her typically committed and wholly convincing performance is the best -- and really only -- reason to seek out this otherwise scattershot biopic, which employs the real Iron Lady's reported mental illness as a plot device to recap her rise from storekeeper's daughter to the most powerful woman in England. There's at least four movies worth of material present in Abi Morgan's script and The Iron Lady would have been much improved had it sacrificed breadth for brevity, giving us a chance to really understand who Thatcher was and why her policies were so controversial instead of racing off to the next major event. Congrats to Streep on her award, but here's hoping the next one is earned for a movie that's actually worthy of her talents.
Extras: A making-of documentary and for shorter featurettes focusing on historical and production-oriented details.
Click here to read our original review

Into the Abyss
Complaining about the oversights committed by the nominating committee for the Best Documentary Oscar has become standard operating procedure, but last year proved particularly egregious as some stellar movies -- among them, Senna, The Interrupters and Conan O'Brien Can't Stop -- went completely overlooked. We were particularly disappointed by the exclusion of this mesmerizing Werner Herzog feature that explores the thorny topic of the death penalty through one particular Texas criminal case. Mostly removing himself from the equation (there's none of the ruminative, rambling voiceover usually associated with Herzog's documentaries), the director allows the voices of both the perpetrators and victims of the crime to drive the narrative and debate the moral questions inspired by the central subject. In the movie's standout sequence, Herzog interviews a former Death Row guard detail leader, who describes how years of walking men to their deaths irrevocably changes his own personal stance towards the death penalty.
Extras: Just the trailer.
Click here to read our original review

Don Juan DeMarco
Often dismissed as a minor entry on the resumes of both Johnny Depp and Marlon Brando, Don Juan DeMarco is actually one of the most underappreciated gems of the '90s, distinguished by relaxed, funny performances from the two stars. Brando plays soon-to-retire psychiatrist John Mickler, who unexpectedly acquires a new patient in the form of Depp's John Arnold DeMarco, who believes himself to be the world-famous wooer of women, Don Juan. While John spins wild tales of love found and lost (rendered in lushly romantic fantasy sequences), Mickler finds some of his patient's lust for life rubbing off on him. Although the movie's depiction of psychiatry seems a bit outdated in this post-Sopranos world, Don Juan DeMarco is still entirely sweet and charming fluff with an ending that packs more emotional punch than you might expect.
Extras: A music video for the Bryan Adams chestnut, "Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman."

A Streetcar Named Desire
Much as we enjoy Don Juan DeMarco, if you only buy one Marlon Brando Blu-ray this week, it's gotta be this high-def version of the iconic film version of Tennessee Williams's play A Streetcar Named Desire. Directed by Elia Kazan -- who also helmed the original Broadway production that also starred Brando as that force of nature, Stanley Kowalski -- this 1951 feature was both celebrated and condemned for its then-risqué language and subject matter. Indeed, the studio made a number of cuts to the film to placate the Legion of Decency; the version on this DVD restores all that material. But no amount of censorship could dim Brando's electrifying performance; two years later, On the Waterfront would complete the revolution in screen acting that he helped launch with Streetcar.
Extras: A feature-length documentary about Kazan, five additional retrospective featurettes, a commentary track with two film historians and co-star Karl Malden, Brando's original screen test, outtakes and a 40-page booklet with archival stills and cast bios. Too bad they couldn't have also thrown in that classic Simpsons episode, "A Streetcar Named Marge."

Also on DVD:
What makes The Darkest Hour more than your usual alien invasion picture? This one takes place in Moscow! While on a trip behind the former Iron Curtain, a group of young Americans (including Emile Hirsch and Olivia Thirlby) have a close encounter of the third kind with some decidedly unfriendly off-planet visitors. No aliens are harmed in the romantic drama Bounce, but director Don Roos's career sure was. Coming off the acclaimed dark comedy The Opposite of Sex, expectations were high for Bounce especially as it starred ex-lovers Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck as an onscreen couple. Sadly, the finished product is a tedious slog; we'd happily watch Phantoms or Hush again before sitting though this one another time. The final nail in the coffin of Meg Ryan's stint as one of America's favorite romantic comedy stars, Kate & Leopold cast then-rising star Hugh Jackman as a 19th century New York single guy who passes through a hole in time that exists by the Brooklyn Bridge (don't ask) and ends up in the future, where he meets and inevitably falls for single gal, Kate (Ryan). A much better rom-com option is The Truth About Cats & Dogs, a 1996 charmer that stars Janeane Garofalo as a (not at all) ugly duckling that asks her hot friend (Uma Thurman) to impersonate her in order to impress a potential suitor (Ben Chaplin). Only problem with this premise: while Uma is certainly lovely, mid-'90s Garofalo is super-cute too. If we were Chaplin, we'd be totally into the sarcastic brunette. If you can't wait another month for The Avengers to get your Joss Whedon-penned superhero fix, check out the motion comic Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous, adapted from the Buffy creator's run on the title. Finally, if Martin Scorsese's Hugo sparked your interest in early cinema, continue your education with A Trip to the Moon (Restored), which includes a restored and remastered version of Georges Méliès groundbreaking 1902 sci-fi short and an informative historical documentary, The Extraordinary Voyage.

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