DVD’s this week

Posted Aug. 28, 2009, at 6:19 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

“Earth” DVD, Blu-ray: For fans of the BBC’s excellent “Planet Earth” series, Disney’s “Earth” feels carved from parts of it, and for good reason. This beautifully shot movie is produced by the BBC, among a host of others, and their influence is felt throughout — even if a good deal of the detail and depth it usually brings to such projects is lacking in this effort. That said, “Earth” still is satisfying on many levels, not the least of which is that a good deal of its focus is on climate change and how that very real problem is affecting our planet and its inhabitants. Plunging with deceptive ease into the Earth’s nooks and crannies, the movie raises questions (and awe) about how the filmmakers captured certain shots. For instance, when a great white shark leaps from the ocean to snatch a seal in its jaws, the combination of luck and skill possessed by the filmmakers is right there on the screen. Other scenes also resonate, such as the struggle of elephants to find water before dehydration defeats them. Later, across continents in New Guinea, the showy pluck of a bird of paradise is at once comic and surreal. Scenes of cute ducklings and penguins abound, which intentionally recall Disney’s nature films of the past, but parents should know that young prey do fall hard in this movie, often due to a predator’s outstretched claw. As difficult as those moments can be to watch, they are also honest, which in the end helps to deepen the movie in spite of its flaws and the fact that it never fully develops its global warming angle. In “Earth,” you come away grateful for experiencing something new about the world you likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Rated G. Grade: B

“Desperate Housewives: Fifth Season”: Desperate? Oh, you could say they’re desperate. Still, if it were just desperation that drove the women of Wisteria Lane, “Desperate Housewives” would have been just another soap opera and not the hit ABC Television show it became. In this fifth season of the show, Wisteria Lane and the “ladies” who lunch there remains a place where friendship and neighborly love don’t exactly go down like spoonfuls of sugar. Saccharine, yes, and a few heaping helpings of bitters — but rarely sugar. Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria, Felicity Huffman and Nicollette Sheridan go to the ends of the earth to mix it up this time (they had to, really, if only to keep this baby rolling), and so they are more salacious than ever. Grade: B

“Gladiator” Blu-ray: Beefcake! Blood! Body slams! Boring! Boring? Well, not quite, but at 150 minutes, Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” now on Blu-ray disc, isn’t entirely the thrilling, action-packed Roman epic some fans of the genre were hoping for when the film was initially released. Too long by a third, the film features a terrific opening in its vicious, well-staged battle against Germania, but then it quickly dissolves into 90 minutes of dull chatter before getting on with what audiences want — gore, political upheavals and fantastic betrayals. As Maximus, a general from Spain who loses everything — his freedom, his wife and son — after the actions of his arch nemesis, Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Russell Crowe has presence, but no core. His character is an enigma, the suffering hero we never truly get to know. That’s no fault of Crowe’s — his passion holds the movie together in spite of his character’s two dimensions — but more a fault of the screenwriters, who made the timeworn mistake of focusing their attention almost entirely on the film’s plot. “Gladiator” isn’t entirely beaten down by its moments of tedium. Once the stage is set for Maximus to overthrow Commodus, the film comes to life in its terrific last hour, which is so rousing, it seems as if somebody else is at the helm. In the end, though, the film ultimately is clouded with historical inaccuracies, the worst of which is Crowe’s thick Australian accent, which proves something of a problem since Australia wasn’t discovered until 1,800 years after “Gladiator” is set. Rated R. Grade: B-

“Sunshine Cleaning” DVD, Blu-ray: Amy Adams is Rose, a single mother trying to make it in the world while keeping her dignity intact and her family in check. Rose’s day job is spent unfulfilling her potential by cleaning homes for those wealthier than her, such as former high school girlfriends who are startled when they realize that it’s Rose scrubbing their toilets and who then try to stifle their surprise with a palpable awkwardness. Rose’s side job is a 24-hour gig that involves keeping tabs on her sketchy sister Norah (Emily Blunt); their well-meaning but befuddled father, Joe (Alan Arkin); and Rose’s 7-year-old son Oscar (Jason Spevack), a sweet kid with a knack for landing into trouble. In between all this, Rose manages to have a love life with a cop named Mac (Steve Zahn), her high school sweetheart who went on to marry another woman. Youthful dreams have given way to lies, deceit and quick trysts in out-of-town motels. In spite of her moral shortcomings, however, you like Rose and pull for her. This is due in large part to how Adams approaches the character, with a mix of grace and vulnerability, hurt and pride. Her performance in this movie is beautifully measured, with Adams resonating a groundswell of emotions that feel lived-in and real. Rose knows she can do better in her life. For her, it’s finding out what and how that’s the problem. When Mac offers a clue — there is a niche market in cleaning up after the dead — Rose moves ahead and soon, along with her sister, she starts Sunshine Cleaning, for which there seems to be no shortage of customers. Subplots abound in this movie, and occasionally they detract, but the best and most meaningful involves the potential for Rose to find a much healthier relationship with Winston (Clifton Collins Jr.), a single man of the same age who owns a hardware store and who is physically challenged by having only one arm. The movie doesn’t make much of his disability, which is nice — it is what it is. But his quiet presence in the film gives it additional weight, particularly since his growing relationship with Rose allows the focus to be kept where it needs to be — on Rose, who, through a lot of introspection, starts to come into focus herself. Rated R. Grade: B

“Supernatural: Fourth Season” DVD, Blu-ray: Delivers what its title promises and then it goes a step further — it improves upon the very good season that came before it. Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles return as Sam and Dean Winchester, brothers working through a traumatic past — their mother was viciously killed by a monster, horribly depicted in the first season. Now, the family business is in hunting down ghosts, particularly the elusive one who killed their mother. What ensues is supernatural at every turn, with this season focused on all sorts of troubles for the two brothers, not the least of which is a looming battle with Lucifer himself. Naturally, the situation proves dire, with hell initially held at bay until — that’s right — all hell breaks loose. Grade: B

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