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Coming to DVD and Video

Tuesday, April 19, 2005;

The following is a list of soon-to-be released DVDs and videos. All capsule reviews have been taken from The Washington Post's Weekend section.

April 26

"The Assassination of Richard Nixon" (R): Niels Mueller's film, based on the true story of Sam Bicke -- who planned to kill President Nixon on Feb. 22, 1974 -- lays down such inevitable train tracks, you assume there will be subsidiary surprises. There are few. It's a nice performance by Sean Penn as Bicke. But the story in which Bicke, a salesman troubled by the white lies of his trade and estranged from his wife (Naomi Watts) and children, sets his gun sights on Nixon, feels more mundane than evocative. Mueller and his co-writer, Kevin Kennedy, spend so much time building Sam's justification, we get a shopping list of motivations rather than a charged story. Contains obscenity and graphic violence.

"Blade: Trinity" (R): The Blade movies (1998's "Blade" and 2002's "Blade II") were sort of trashy fun. But now, our man Blade (Wesley Snipes) and his hangdog friend Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) seem to be on retirement watch. Clue: Blade's forced reluctantly to team with youthful whippersnappers Hannibal King (Ryan Reynolds) and leather-catgirlish Abigail Whistler (Jessica Biel), who happens to be Whistler's daughter. They take on a fairly goofy army, including a comeback Dracula (Dominic Purcell), who has reincarnated himself as a gothic stud named Drake, and a vampy vamp called Danica Talos (Parker Posey). Although this film has its share of vampire executions, fight action and new characters, the third time around feels like it ought to be the last. Contains graphic obscenity and violence.

"Cursed" (R): What a waste: a singular presence like Christina Ricci in a dim werewolf caper, where the lycanthrope is played by -- hold your breath -- a guy in a wolf suit. After she and her brother (Jesse Eisenberg) are attacked and bitten by that same animal, they develop a keener smell and weird, pentagram-like scabs on their hands. And they seem to generate some sexual attractant. Wes Craven, who started the "Nightmare on Elm Street" series, should know a lot better. So should writer Kevin Williamson, creator of "Dawson's Creek." These two guys also teamed up on the "Scream" movies, which at least committed wholly to the idea of parody, whereas "Cursed" makes only a halfhearted attempt. The special effects are particularly lame, and an insult to the proud werewolf tradition of "An American Werewolf in London" or the even better "The Howling." Contains horror violence without much gore.

"Darkness" (PG-13): In this horror movie, directed by Jaume Balaguero, Regina (Anna Paquin), younger brother Paul (Stephan Enquist) and parents Mark (Iain Glen) and Maria (Lena Olin) move into an old house in the country. But the peace they seek never comes. This was the site of some terrible events in the past, and a dark presence still lingers there. Contains disturbing images, terror sequences and obscenity.

"Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" (PG): When they lose their parents, the three Baudelaire children, the teenage Violet (Emily Browning), her slightly younger brother, Klaus (Liam Aiken), and baby sister Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman), find themselves under the charge of a distant relative. That would be the magnificently repulsive Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), whose contempt for children is palpable. Director Brad Silberling has created a deftly dark adaptation of the popular Lemony Snicket book series, with a tale about beleaguered but spunky children and the eccentric, morally compromised adults who confound them. In his various disguises, as a fake snake expert and a salty dog with a long pipe, Carrey is rubbery, inventive and improvisationally inspired. And Meryl Streep has a funny turn as the children's hyper-neurotic Aunt Josephine. Contains danger and suspense and dark material.

Also on DVD April 26: "The Doris Day Collection" and "E.R.: The Complete Third Season."

May 3

"Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera" (PG-13): In this movie version of the renowned stage musical, Christine (Emmy Rossum) becomes a singing success with the Paris opera. But she is torn romantically between childhood sweetheart and opera patron Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson) and the spectral Angel of Music (aka the Phantom), who lives in the basement, and will do anything to make Christine successful. The sets, costumes and decor are lavish. All the songs are there from the original show. And if Rossum and Gerard Butler (the Phantom) aren't quite Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford (stars of the 1980s theatrical production directed by Harold Prince), they're engaging and peppy. And thanks to Joel Schumacher's bright direction and a few storytelling embellishments, this is a movie for more than Webber buffs. Contains some brief violent images.

"The Chorus (Les Choristes)" (PG-13): Sure, Christophe Barratier's movie about a music teacher and his dirty-faced choir is pure French cheese. But you might just crumble into itty-bitty pieces of emotional Roquefort watching it. In 1949 France, moon-faced teacher Clement Mathieu (Gerard Jugnot) joins a school of rejects and misfits. They're under the tyranny of Monsieur Rachin (Francois Berleand), a headmaster who despises his students. But after Rachin begrudgingly gives him the nod, Clement turns the bad boys into heavenly choristers. And it turns out the troublesome Pierre Morhange (Jean-Baptiste Maunier) sings like an angel. Yep, it's all sentimental fromage, but it's touchingly done, and it goes down nicely. Contains obscenity, sexual references and violence. In French with subtitles.

"Enduring Love" (R): A spectacular calamity in the English countryside involving a hot air balloon turns the life of Joe (Daniel Craig) upside down. Called upon to make an instant, heart-in-the-mouth decision, he indirectly causes someone to lose his life. He's haunted by the incident and, even worse, becomes harassed by someone who was there, too, a stranger (Rhys Ifans) who feels a fate-filled connection with Joe. His relationship with fiancee Claire (Samantha Morton) deteriorates. So does his life. Roger Michell, who also made "Notting Hill" and "Changing Lanes" directs with enormous sensitivity, but the story devolves into an almost absurd melodrama. Contains violence, sexual situations, obscenity and a disturbing image.

"National Treasure" (PG): Treasure hunter Nicolas Cage and his geek sidekick Justin Bartha come across more as Batman and the Boy Wonder than Holmes and Watson in this cheesy action adventure film that presupposes our founding fathers left clues as to the whereabouts of untold riches in the form of an invisible map on the back of the Declaration of Independence and in the design of the dollar bill. It's a dumb premise to begin with, but the film gets really silly when our heroes are joined by a beautiful curator from the National Archives (Diane Kruger), who is only too happy to pour lemon juice on the Declaration -- which our boys have now stolen -- and then to blast it with a blow dryer. I'd call the movie a comic book, but that's insulting to comic books. Contains relatively mild action violence and a couple of dusty corpses.

Also on DVD May 3: "The Big Red One: Special Edition" and "The Job: The Complete Series."

May 10

"Assault on Precinct 13" (R): This spirited, overblown remake of John Carpenter's cult movie of 1976, stars Ethan Hawke as Jake Roenick, the on-duty cop at a lonely precinct during a Detroit snowstorm. Jake and his crew find themselves under fire when a bad cop (Gabriel Byrne) tries to break out key prisoner Marion Bishop (Fishburne), a cool-as-a-cuke gangster who knows where all the bodies are buried. Jake decides to release the prisoners and hand them weapons. A siege is on. This is a studio- manufactured B-movie. You're supposed to feel cool and deliciously unsophisticated for even seeing it. And yet, there's that smell of corporate affectedness. This is a movie to enjoy and laugh at, simultaneously. And maybe it will draw renewed attention to Carpenter's eminently better movie. Contains violence, obscenity and sexual situations.

"Hair Show" (PG-13): Comedienne Mo'Nique succeeds in producing a few laughs in "Hair Show," but not enough to call it a winning comedy. She plays Peaches, a hair stylist from Baltimore who visits her estranged, successful sister Angela (Kellitta Smith) when she learns she owes $50,000 to the IRS. Though the two have a tenuous relationship, Peaches hopes to escape her problems and perhaps find the money she owes by spending time with Angela, who runs an upscale hair salon in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Angela is feuding with a rival salon owner, and somehow the only way to save the salon and their sisterly relationship is to enter a hair show. Overall, the movie is slow and average. It's the kind of film you wouldn't mind renting on a night when you're brain-dead from the day's work and don't have the energy to scrutinize cinematic quality as long as you can laugh at some of the background noise. Contains sexual content, some profanity and a few offensive ethnic jokes.

"In Good Company" (PG-13): Director Chris ("American Pie," "About a Boy") Weitz gives us amusing tension between the truehearted Dan Foreman (Dennis Quaid), a salt-of-the-earth 51-year-old salesman for a sports magazine, and Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), the twenty-something brat who suddenly becomes his boss. Just when he thinks he's got a handle on the new life, Dan learns Carter is dating his daughter (Scarlett Johansson.) Grace is mischievously enjoyable. He's all motormouth anxiety and mangled corporate-speak, as he pretends to be big money. And Quaid, craggier now than the Continental Divide, reprises the likability he had in "The Rookie." The movie's very pleasant to sit through; it moves along at an enjoyable, positive clip and eloquently exults in the joy of character conflict. Contains sexual situations, drug references and one minor moment of violence.

"The Last Shot" (R): Matthew Broderick plays aspiring screenwriter Steven Schats, who thinks a "film producer" (Alec Baldwin) has just agreed to produce his screenplay. But the "producer" is Joe Devine, an undercover FBI agent trying to lure mobsters working in the film business.This uneven comedy movie shows director and cowriter Jeff Nathanson's comedic talents in fits and starts. Steven's two-bit ambition is not exactly winning. And Joe's agenda isn't much more compelling. As for the movie's "knowing" commentary about Hollywood, it's neither inspired nor original. An uncredited Joan Cusack is the only bright spot, as a frustrated Hollywood player with colorful language. Contains nudity, obscenity and some violence.

"The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" (R): In Wes Anderson's fantasy-caper, Bill Murray is Zissou, a bearded, American version of Jacques Cousteau, who decides it's time to spice up his documentaries. So he decides to hunt the elusive jaguar shark that took his top diver. And when young Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) appears in Steve's life, claiming to be his long-lost son, Steve figures that'll put some poignancy into the proceedings. There's a lot to enjoy here, including the Brazilian guy (Seu Jorge from "City of God") who sings breathy samba versions of 1970s David Bowie songs. But "Life Aquatic" hovers frustratingly between charming and mildly amusing. The small-scale gags, riffs and motifs that worked so brightly in "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore" seem to simmer with less incident here. Contains nudity, drug use, obscenity and some violence.

"Racing Stripes" (PG): This film about a zebra who aspires to win horse races slows to a mediocre canter right out of the starting gate. When they find a lost baby zebra (voice of Frankie Muniz), onetime horse trainer (Bruce Greenwood) and his daughter, Channing (Hayden Panettiere) raise it. The zebra (soon to be named Racing Stripes) dreams of racing against the thoroughbreds at the nearby racecourse, located (with obvious computer-graphic convenience) next door. When the script isn't recycling the familiar, it's filling every possible other moment with labored puns and toilet humor. David Spade and Steve Harvey are rarely amusing as two flies whose favorite subject is, not surprisingly, dung-related. And young audiences are supposed to be tickled by the voice of Joe Pantoliano as a goose who claims to be a New Jersey GoodFella. Contains crude potty humor and some mild obscenities.

"William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice" (R): In Michael Radford's version of the Shakespeare play, Al Pacino puts on the gown and the red cap and dons the hoary beard of Shylock. But he plays this larger-than-life role with entrancing restraint. The filmmakers have taken this nettlesome anti-Semitic character and charged his situation with philosophical dimension. To watch this movie is to not only appreciate the majesty of Shakespeare's poetics but to engage in a profound, subtextual dialogue with bigotry. Jeremy Irons makes a sensitive, if anti-Semitic Antonio, the one whose pound of flesh is in danger, according to Shylock's contract. And Lynn Collins is a standout as Portia, a beautiful woman of means who decides to do something to save Antonio. Contains nudity and emotionally intense material.

Also on DVD May 10: Warner's "Controversial Classics Collection," "Entourage: Season One," "Hoop Dreams: Criterion Collection," "Joan of Arcadia: The Complete First Season" and "The Partridge Family: The Complete First Season."

May 17

"Kinsey" (R): Liam Neeson gives a crackling performance as Alfred Kinsey -- the sexual behavior scientist whose "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male" and "Sexual Behavior in the Human Female" ignited a firestorm of controversy in the postwar years. Large-framed and sporting an almost comical spike of hair, he makes a compelling, soft-eyed giant, dedicated to the task of smashing his head against the Puritan wall until something gives. Writer-director Bill Condon, who made the underappreciated "Gods and Monsters," has created a supple, potent work that advocates the kind of compassion and moral dimension that, in some corners of society, remain as marginalized as they were in the 1940s. Laura Linney is affecting as Kinsey's wife, deeply in love with him and courageous enough to embark with him on this difficult journey. Contains pervasive sexual content, including nudity, sexual scenes, graphic images and frank discussion of sexual behavior.

"The Sea Inside" (PG-13): I can't listen to Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings without getting teary at the memory of the final scene in "The Elephant Man" in which John Merrick (John Hurt), over Barber's crushingly sad composition, ends his own life, merely by rearranging the pillows that support his hideously deformed head. I knew that I was supposed to feel the same way by the time I got to the end of "The Sea Inside," Alejandro Amenabar's tear-duct-milking drama based on the real-life struggle of Spanish quadriplegic Ramon Sampedro (Javier Bardem) to legally end his own life. Nevertheless, I remained strangely dry-eyed up to the final shot. Despite such striking cinematography, despite impeccable acting on Bardem's part (if only from the neck up), and despite a score by the director himself designed expressly to nudge viewers in the direction of catharsis, I never really felt anything. Contains obscenity and disturbing thematic material. In Spanish with subtitles.
--Michael O'Sullivan

"Team America: World Police" (R): This puppet comedy, by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of "South Park," is wickedly funny and devilishly subversive. It's riddled with obscenity and extremely low-rent humor that will curl almost anyone's hair. When one puppet gets sick from a night of partying, he pukes. And pukes. And pukes. And as for the movie's flashpoint scene -- a lovemaking session between two marionettes that had to be trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating -- well, I didn't know puppets could do that. If it's raunchy the movie is also some sort of low-rent satire that targets plain old couch-potato us and our perception of the post-9/11 world, informed by a composite prism of fear, cultural ignorance and government spin. Contains puppet sex, puppet violence and extremely graphic language. Oh yeah, and major pukeage.

Also on DVD May 17: "The Grudge: Director's Cut," "Scrubs: The Complete First Season," "Seinfeld: The Complete Fourth Season," and "Six Feet Under: The Complete Third Season."

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