Cinematical's Spin-ematical: New on DVD and Blu-ray for 5/18

"Very solid, very earnest, and very, very earthbound," is what I wrote in part to describe Clint Eastwood's drama about the efforts of Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) to utilize the national sport of rugby to help unite the deeply divided South Africa in the 1990s. Matt Damon co-stars as the team's captain, a man marked by restraint, who prefers to lead by example. It all makes for a dignified experience that falls short of the emotional heights to which it aspires. Rent it.

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The Spy Next Door
Most critics, including our own John Gholson, really didn't like the movie, but I think that this kid flick makes surprisingly good use of the aging talents of Jackie Chan. There's something good to be said for his spirited interactions with the spoiled kids and the fact that his character, an undercover spy living in suburbia as a bespectacled nerd, is involved in an interracial romance, which is offered without further comment. Rent it.

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Extraordinary Measures
The real life story of John Crowley (Brendan Fraser) and his years-long battle in behalf of his children, stricken with a fatal disease, is no doubt moving and inspirational. The movie version, not so much, as Jeffrey M. Anderson explained in his Cinematical review: "Nothing here feels as if it might actually have happened. It's all too metered and inevitable. But even as the movie abandons truth, it still can't quite embrace drama." Harrison Ford co-stars as a feisty research doctor. Skip it.

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Also out: Valentine's Day, The New Daughter.

After the jump: Indies on DVD, more Blu-ray picks, and Collector's Corner.

'The Messenger'The Messenger
Our own Todd Gilchrist wrote: "The film is not only a revelatory look at the [Iraq] war's logistical repercussions stateside, but an examination of the emotional toll not only battle but survival takes on soldiers, culminating in a poignant tale of redemption that counts as one of the very best films of the year."

Woody Harrelson and Ben Foster carry out the duty of informing families of the loss of their loved ones; Samantha Morton plays a grieving wife and mother. "There's no denying that Foster, Harrelson, Morton and [director Oren] Moverman have accomplished great things with this film," says Mr. Gilchrist.

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Also out: The Girl on the Train, Watercolors, The Black List Vol. 2, And Then Came Lola, The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela.

'Carlito's Way'Carlito's Way
Brian De Palma's churning, chaotic drama stars Al Pacino as an ex-con in search of the American dream. Instead he finds blood and drugs and dirty money, same as it ever was. He wants to go straight, but the only people he knows are criminals and otherwise dishonest people, most notably his crooked lawyer (Sean Penn, giving one of the signature sleazy performances of his career). Of course he's going to be dragged down; this is a tragedy, not a comedy, and the whiff of fatalism is strong and brutal.

Pacino is magnificent to watch, a caged, seemingly tamed animal unleashed into the wild and quickly encircled by ravenous wolves, represented by the likes of John Leguizamo, Luis Guzman, and Viggo Mortensen; Penelope Ann Miller plays an unlikely stripper who tries to keep him on the straight and narrow.

Also out: 9 Songs, Appleseed, Outlander, Dogora.

An extraordinary film that had a profound impact on my viewing habits after I first saw it. I'd read the source material, a novel by James Vance Marshall, but that only partially prepared me for Nicolas Roeg's 1971 film version. A teenage girl (Jenny Agutter) and her young brother (Luc Roeg, the director's son, billed as Lucien John) are stranded in the Australian outback. It's an extraordinarily dangerous place for any unprepared person to try and survive, and we're aware that the two might easily perish. But the girl turns it into a game for the boy, and then they happen upon an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil) on his walkabout, a solo journey into manhood. It's a film that made me very aware of the trappings of civilization and the possibilities of cinema.

An earlier Criterion Collection edition of the film on DVD went out of print, and now Criterion brings it back on DVD and Blu-ray. Glenn Erickson (AKA DVD Savant) has details on the additional features provided.

Also out: Eclipse 21: Oshima's Outlaw Sixties, Gamera: The Giant Monster, The Navy vs. The Night Monsters.