NEW IN STORES:
4 stars (PG-13)
James Cameron's mega-expensive-10+-years-in-the-making-uber-epic-that-will-revolutionize-the-nature-of-film-and-possibly-end-war-and-cure-acne is a genuinely impressive experience. The plot (imperialist money-grubbing Earthlings attack the Native American-ish inhabitants of another planet) is simplistic, the characters are one-dimensional and I didn't care. I was swept away, captivated, and even as I noted the film's problems, I shook them off because the whole point was to be immersed in another world and Cameron pulled that off. Yeah, the planet Pandora looks like the side of a '70s van, but what a great van! The jungle is full of quasi-dinosaurs and life-forms that resemble some of the more beautiful, bizarre undersea critters on Earth. The indigenous people, the Na'vi, are tall and lithe and pleasant to look at. As for the blending of live-action, motion capture and CGI, I never even thought about it. The 2 hour, 43 minutes running time flies by. Will the 2D home version pack enough impact? We'll see. 163 minutes. Extras: None.
4 stars (R)
Jeff Bridges picked up a Best Actor Oscar (and about a dozen other trophies) for his portrayal of boozy Bad Blake, a legendary country singer whose career has fizzled to the point that he now plays bowling alleys. The story is familiar (Tender Mercies, anyone?), but transcends its fallen-star genre through great acting, well-written characters and scenes that feel true to the individuals, the circumstances and the contemporary Southwest settings. Maggie Gyllenhaal contributes a strong, specific performance as Jean Craddock, a reporter prone to codependency who gets involved with Blake. Colin Farrell is impressive as Tommy Sweet, a white-hot Tim McGraw-type singer whose mentor was/is Blake. Bridges and Farrell do their own singing and they sound great. 112 minutes. EXTRAS: Includes deleted scenes.
The Lovely Bones
3 stars (R)
The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold's 2002 book, deals with 14-year-old Susie Salmon (the luminescent Saoirse Ronan from Atonement), who is murdered on December 6, 1973. She is also raped and dismembered, but the movie doesn't share that information from the novel. The hook of the story is that it is narrated by Susie herself from the afterlife. It's a good hook. Horrific murders are much easier to deal with when the victim talks to you. Lord of the Rings filmmaker Peter Jackson's adaptation is a mess. The film is moving, but the impact is dissipated by Jackson's visual hijinks and thematic hopscotch. Acting stand-outs are Ronan, who has great screen presence, and Stanley Tucci as a creepy neighbor. Pity poor Susan Sarandon as a down-to-earth boozy Grandma, who moves in to try and make the parents (Mark Wahlberg and Rachel Weisz) stop moping so much. Her performance is embarrassing — apparently she was told to play the character as a cross between Auntie Mame and Ma Kettle. 135 minutes. EXTRAS: None.
4 stars (NR)
Low-key meditation on the emotional importance we place on objects and how the passing of generations wears away at all but the financial end of things. French director Olivier Assayas dares to make a story filled with reasonable people who talk things through rather than break into flashy arguments. The result is a matter-of-fact film that touches the heart without succumbing to sentimentality or pathos. Juliette Binoche, Jeremie Renier and Charles Berling star. 103 minutes. EXTRAS: The two-disc Criterion Collection Edition of the film includes a new, restored high-definition transfer, a new video interview with director Assayas, a short documentary on the set and a long documentary by Olivier Gonard, improved subtitles and a booklet with an essay by critic Kent Jones.
ALSO ON DVD: Two old stoners get together for another comedy in CHEECH AND CHONG'S HEY WATCH THIS! And Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Ian McShane and Tom Wilkinson star in the crime drama 44 INCH CHEST.
TV on DVD: THE F-WORD: SEASON 4, FALCON CREST: SEASON 1, HEARTLAND: SEASON 1, HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS: SEASON 1, MERLIN: SEASON 1, HI-5: SEASON 4, PERRY MASON: SEASON 5 VOLUME 1, TRANSFORMERS: SEASONS 3 AND 4, UFC — ULTIMATE FIGHTER: SEASON 10, XENA — WARRIOR PRINCESS: SEASON 1