Today’s new release DVDs consist of an unwieldy and imperfect literary adaptation that I liked anyway and some sci-fi/action junk food with plenty of problems but an admirable enthusiasm for spectacle.

Be sure to check out the LiC DVD shelf for a list of 115 DVD recommendations going back to 2009.

  • Barney’s Version (****). This adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel is a bit of a sprawling mess and neither critics nor audiences were very kind to it, but it works. Veering between tones and genres as it charts 30-years in the life of smart, witty and romantic but deeply flawed Barney Panofsky (a terrific Paul Giamatti), Barney’s Version is a little bit like life itself: it’s funny, sad, doesn’t fit easily into a single narrative box and it isn’t always flawless, but it’s a life worth living and a movie worth watching. Barney is an acerbic, self-loathing fellow who is a saint to his friends and his father, but a bit of an asshole to women. After a couple of romantic false starts, he finally hits the jackpot with Miriam (Rosamund Pike), the perfect woman he meets on the day of his 2nd wedding. The story moves backward and forward in time from Barney’s heady days in Rome as a young man with his whole future ahead of him to his days as an older man picking up the pieces of the carnage of his life. Along the way it sketches a portrait of a complex and conflicted human being who is simultaneously lovable and loathable. Dustin Hoffman gives a nice performance as Barney’s father and the relationship between the two men is the surprising emotional center of the film. (Opened: 1/14/11) Trailer
    Blu-ray/DVD combo

Also of note:

  • Sucker Punch (***). At last. An answer to the question: What would happen if you gave a 7th grader $80 million to bring his notebook doodles to life? A young girl (Emily Browning) is wrongly committed to a mental hospital by an evil stepfather. Her only chance of escape is to retreat into a dream world limited only by… Zack Snyder’s adolescent imagination. In this alternate reality, she rallies her fellow captives (including Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens and Jena Malone) to fights samurai, orcs, Nazi zombies and whatever else Snyder happens to think is neat. Somehow we’re supposed to believe this will help them get the five items they need to make good their escape… or will it?!?! Snyder wants to have his cake and eat it too with a bit of fetish play wrapped in the faux feminist cloak of girl power bullshit. He fails to make the case for his more noble intentions and manages to gut the story of some of the juice it might’ve had if he’d just gone for it. Nevertheless, Sucker Punch is kind of fun in a supremely silly way. Carla Gugino and Jon Hamm co-star. Scott Glenn shows up in the fantasy world from time to time to spout howlers like “Don’t write a check with your mouth that your ass can’t cash” and “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Deep Thoughts with Zack Snyder… Sucker Punch is junk, yet in its own way it’s still something to see. (Opened: 3/25/11) Trailer
    Blu-ray/DVD combo

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