Two wonderful films highlight this week's slate of DVD releases -- at both ends of the spectrum. For the mature crowd, there's Darren Aronofsky's decidedly dark take on an artist pushing herself to the limits of sanity -- in the rarefied world of ballet -- in 'Black Swan.' For the family, there's 'Tangled,' Disney's take on the Rapunzel fairy tale that lightens the storytelling load and makes the Grimm story a lot less grim. Somewhere in-between is 'Fair Game,' Doug Liman's biodrama about Valerie Plame, a CIA agent who was outed by the Bush administration because her husband -- an ex-Ambassador -- blew the whistle on the fake weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. It's enough to get your blood boiling. Read on.
What It's About: Director Darren Aronofsky loves people on the edge, and his films -- from 'Pi' to 'Requiem for a Dream' to 'The Wrestler -- explore how men and women face up to their self-imposed fates. In this very, very dark drama, Aronofsky takes a simple conceit -- an older prima ballerina is replaced by a rising young star for the New York City Ballet's version of 'Swan Lake' -- and twists it around into a thriller of damaged personalities and split images. New star Nina (Natalie Portman) is not quite as powerful as she can be, and though she fits the innocence and grace of the White Swan, her Black Swan lacks fire. Enter Lily (Mila Kunis), who is the personification of the Black Swan; the tension between the two sends the film on its way to a yin-yang of exuberant destruction.
It's Kinda Like: 'Repulsion' meets 'The Turning Point'
What We Say: Aronofsky is a master at directing against expectations; what starts out as an exploration of the rarefied world of ballet quickly transforms into a psychological study of a woman pushing herself into physical and metal exhaustion. Add to his grueling story line perfect casting: Portman's role as a dancer not quite-girl, not-quite woman, earned her an Academy Award for her startling performance; Kunis, who has made a career of playing sirens, is the perfect Black Swan; and Barbara Hershey as Nina's dissatisfied mother -- who gave up her career as a dancer to raise her daughter -- has just the right amount of selfish self-sacrifice to make her one of the better evil mothers of recent memory. All in all, a brilliant film.
• Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurettes.
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'Black Swan' Ballerina Controversy: Where Do You Stand? (Updated)
'Black Swan' DVD Clip:
What It's About: Disney's 50th animated film takes the Brothers Grimm story of 'Rapunzel' and all but twists it out of recognition, turning it into a musical comedy full of magic, slapstick, wild chases, bad men with hearts of gold, and a hero from the wrong side of the tracks. Rapunzel -- whose 70 feet of magical hair keeps her poser-of-a-mother young -- has been hidden away in a tower for 18 years until a thief on the lam rescues her. The unlikely duo sets off on an action-packed escapade, complete with a super-cop horse, an over protective chameleon and a gruff gang of pub thugs.
It's Kinda Like: 'The Road to El Dorado' meets 'Sleeping Beauty'
What We Say: We were initially tuned off by the trailers for 'Tangled' -- we were expecting yet another Disney whitewash of a fairy tale. Yes, it was predictable, with predicable characters and story line, and with typical Disney tropes: the anthropomorphic horse, the small animal sidekick, a bad boy antihero who turns over a new leaf, the strong female antagonist. But somehow it worked and we were sucked into the beauty of the computer animation, the sight gags and narrow escapes. And there's a couple morals wedged away in there as well. A fun outing for the whole family.
• Extras: Deleted scenes, extended songs, featurettes.
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What It's About: A suspense-filled glimpse into the dark corridors of political power, based on the autobiography of real-life undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts), whose career was destroyed when her covert identity was exposed by a politically motivated press leak from the White Hose. As an officer in the CIA's Counter-Proliferation Division, Plame leads an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Her husband, diplomat Joe Wilson (Sean Penn), is drawn into the investigation to substantiate an alleged sale of enriched uranium from Niger. But when the administration ignores his findings and uses the issue to support the war in Iraq, Wilson writes a New York Times editorial outlining his conclusions and ignites a fire storm of controversy.
It's Kinda Like: 'All the President's Men' meets 'Frost/Nixon'
What We Say: Director Doug Liman is no stranger to spy thrillers -- witness the first Bourne outing -- but he has his hands full trying to turn the Plame scandal into exciting visual fare -- it's more of a reenacted documentary. Which is not to say that it's not fascinating to watch, it's just that the low-key nature of the story line -- information gathering and leaking -- takes away from the anger we should have at a corrupt government using lies and misinformation to cover up its illegal actions. Neither Plame nor Wilson are likeable, and it's hard to get worked up when they're both screwed over by the powers-that-be. And we should. If art sometimes should be a call-to-arms, this, unfortunately, ain't it.
• Extras: Commentary by Plame and Wilson.
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Top 5 Blu-ray Picks of the Week: 'Black Swan,' 'The Ten Commandments'
Other New March 29 DVD Releases:
'All Good Things': Andrew Jarecki's (the documentary 'Capturing the Friedmans') first dramatic feature is based on the story of Robert Durst, scion of the wealthy Durst NYC real estate family, who was suspected but never convicted of killing his wife, Kathie, who disappeared in 1982 and was never found. Stars Ryan Gosling, Kirsten Dunst, Frank Langella.
'Beneath the Dark': While driving from Texas to Los Angeles, a young couple takes refuge in a roadside motel in the desolate Mojave Desert, where they're plagued by mysterious apparitions, messages and visitations ... and a jukebox that plays the same song over and over.
'Fatal Secrets': A woman enlists two friends to fend off an overly aggressive suitor, resulting in dire consequences. Stars Dina Meyer, Vincent Spano, Lela Rochon, Lea Thompson, Ernie Hudson, Ed Begley Jr., Tess Harper.
'Heaven Ain't Hard to Find': A troubled young man on the run from the law stumbles upon a beautiful young woman and three eccentric sanctified spirits trying to save their Baptist church from a land developer.
'Made in Dagenham': Based on the true story about a group of spirited women who joined forces to demand equal rights for working women in Britain in the 1960s. Stars Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Rosamund Pike, Miranda Richardson, Rupert Graves.
'Mesrine: Public Enemy #1': Jacques Mesrine was the last of the great French gangsters, his criminal career spanning more than 20 years of kidnappings, robberies, murders and prison escapes in some half-dozen countries. Mesrine's criminal reign came to an end in a hail of bullets by police in the middle of Paris in 1979, a spectacular demise that put the crowning touch on his legend. This is the second of the acclaimed two-part crime saga. Stars Vincent Cassel, Cecile De France, Gerard Depardieu, Roy Dupuis, Gilles Lellouche, Elana Anaya, Ludivine Sagnier.
'The Owls': Four aging lesbians -- members of a defunct band called The Screech -- dream of better times until a long-kept secret comes back to haunt them.
'Prowl': Hitching a ride on a cargo truck, a group of friends discover they're keeping company with hundreds of cartons of blood on the way to feed bloodthirsty vampires.
'The Resident': A young doctor moves into a spacious new apartment in Brooklyn, then finds that she's not alone: She's being stalked by her handsome landlord, who peeks in on her from hidden rooms and corridors. An exciting but predictable thriller that stars a sexy Hilary Swank.
'Teenage Paparazzo': A firsthand look at the relationship between celebrities and the people who make a living selling their images, in particular, fast-talking, faster-snapping 14-year-old paparazzo Austin Visschedyk.
March 29 Blu-ray Debuts:
'King of Kings' (1961)
'The Mikado' (1939) (The Criterion Collection)
'Soylent Green' (1973)
'The Ten Commandments' (1956)
'Topsy-Turvy' (1999) (The Criterion Collection)
Check out other new March 29 DVD releases at OnVideo.
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