DVD Traffic Report: March 18, 2008

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The Ice Storm (Criterion)

240_the-ice-storm.jpgDirector Ang Lee followed up his mainstream-American breakthrough — the foreign-language Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon — with first a superhero movie (The Hulk) and then a gay cowboy film (Brokeback Mountain), which should demonstrate enough range for anybody. Back in the day, he was a bright light on the indie-film scene, an uncommonly sensitive and expressive Taiwanese director making his English-language debut in Jane Austen territory, with Sense and Sensibility, and then following it up with an arguably even-more-diffficult Rick Moody adaptation, The Ice Storm. All about the swinging suburban middle class in the early 1970s — sexually restless housewives and husbands and their bored children — The Ice Storm might have seemed like a presumptuous choice for a director born and raised in Taiwan, but it turns out that Lee knows a thing or two about the suburbs. (He moved to Westchester County, just north of New York City, more than 20 years ago.) With The Ice Storm, Lee able handled a group of young actors (Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood) and elicited what’s possibly a career-best performance from Joan Allen. He also nailed a specific sense of time and place, and uncovered the almost mournful emotional heart of the story. It’s a little creepy, a little heartbreaking, and a little otherworldly.


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Enchanted (Disney)

Featuring not just two hours of fish-out-of-water

musical comedy, but also a careful repudiation of the idea of love at

first sight, Enchanted

is earnest and refreshingly snark-free, pushing most of

the pop-culture references and poop jokes (yes, there is a poop joke)

into the background. Amy Adams is an amusingly wholesome ingénue and Timothy Spall

has a face for live-action cartooning, but they’re both upstaged by

Pip, a talking chipmunk lovingly animated by the legendary Phil Tippett

Studio. Still, Enchanted

doesn’t upend cartoon stereotypes as much as it indulges them, and it’s

only the third-best musical of the year (after Hairspray and Once) —

but it’s one of those rare “family movies” that’s charming instead of

condescending.

Buy it from Amazon.com: Enchanted (Widescreen Edition) or Enchanted [Blu-ray]

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I Am Legend (Warner)

For about half its running time, I Am Legend threatens to become a

multiplex masterpiece—it crosses the loneliness of Cast Away with

the apocalyptic devastation of The Day After Tomorrow to singular,

nerve-jangling effect. This is a one-man show featuring a buff and

jumpy Will Smith (at 39, with some signs of aging finally settled on

his face) as human survivor Robert Neville, a soldier and scientist

whose experiences dodging mutant vampire zombies in an abandoned

Manhattan become metaphors for urban alienation, post-9/11 anxiety, and

any number of existential conditions. The richly detailed

visual-effects work that turns New York into an overgrown,

rubble-strewn ghost town eventually fades into the background, allowing

director Francis Lawrence to hone in on Neville’s

mindset in a procession of increasingly taut, nail-biting suspense

sequences. But somewhere past the first hour, it loses all focus—giving

Neville a too-explicit crisis of faith, ramping up the action for a

generic man-vs.-monsters final reel, and contorting the story from the

bleak source material (a classic 1954 novel by Richard Matheson) into

an abrupt happy ending. Yes, audiences generally expect their action

heroes to come out on top—but why must Hollywood rewrites be so

insultingly silly?

Buy it from Amazon.com: I Am Legend (Widescreen Single-Disc Edition), I Am Legend (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition), or I Am Legend [Blu-ray]

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