New on DVD and Blu-ray: 'The Darkest Hour' and More

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Welcome to our new weekly column, where we take a look at some of the highlights coming to DVD, Blu-ray and VOD that week.

This week on DVD and Blu-Ray, it’s a fairly broad selection — from terror in Moscow to power in London and a touch of death in Texas, plus a re-issue of a ‘50s classic …

  • ‘The Darkest Hour’

    (DVD/Blu-ray/On-Demand)
    Summit Entertainment

    Produced by ‘Wanted’ and ‘Night Watch’ shoot-’em-up king Timur Bekmambetkov — and, on its theatrical release, not screened for critics — ‘The Darkest Hour’ may work better at home as a B-movie; still, even as a B-movie, it sorta only earns a ‘C’ grade. While vacationing in exotic (and less costly) Moscow, a group of Americans abroad are hurled into chaos as a race of invisible electrified aliens come to town and start killing all in their path.

    The cast — including Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thirlby, Max Minghella and Joel Kinnaman — are as adequate as you would hope, and while the home video presentation lacks the 3D oohs and aaaahs of the theatrical experience, the disc does include deleted and extended scenes, an all-new short film set in the same world and making-of material. There’s also a 3D Blu-ray disc, for all eight of you who own 3D televisions. Director Chris Gorak was the art director for ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Minority Report,’ so between his instincts and the grandeur of Moscow being demolished, ‘The Darkest Hour’ looks lovely, and even with the so-so script I’m inclined to give a shout-out for ‘The Darkest Hour’ just for the fact it sees aliens attacking somewhere other than New York or Los Angeles …

  • ‘The Iron Lady’

    (DVD/Blu-ray/On-Demand)
    The Weinstein Co.

    Winning Meryl Streep an Oscar for her portrayal of ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, ‘The Iron Lady’ isn’t just a hard film to like; it’s a hard film to respect, with the first female leader of a nuclear-armed country reduced to flimsy wigs, latex wrinkles and wacky teeth in Streep’s overly-mannered performance. (There’s an old joke that The Academy’ often confuses ‘Best’ with ‘Most’; ‘The Iron Lady’ will serve as proof of that for decades to come.) The Blu-ray and DVD both include four featurettes — including one on costume design, because when you think of Thatcher’s legacy, the first thing you think of was what she wore — and this is a case where I’d almost recommend, if you feel you have to see Streep’s performance, saving the cash and just getting the DVD — there’s nothing in the cinematography or sound to justify the higher bit rate and the higher cost, and Thatcher herself would appreciate the fiscal austerity.

  • 'Into the Abyss'

    (DVD/Blu-ray/On-Demand)
    IFC Films

    The latest documentary from Werner Herzog, and a far better one than the splashier 3D ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams.’ Herzog traveled to Conroe, Texas to talk to death row inmate Michael Perry, slated to die in 8 days for a triple homicide. Herzog talks to Perry, but he also talks to the victim’s family, as well as guards and chaplains — all adding up to an unforced, heart-wrenching look at why we kill, whether as individuals or as a society. There’s no extras other than the trailer, but, trust me, the film itself worthy of regard in and of itself, from the oddball sway of Herzog’s questions (after the prison chaplain talks about seeing animals on the soul-sustaining walks he takes, Herzog asks ‘’Tell me about an encounter with a squirrel …”) to the deep and real feelings they reveal ( … and as the chaplain does, he breaks down weeping). Overlooked and impressive, ‘Into the Abyss’ was, for me, a Top Ten documentary for 2011.

  • 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

    Blu-ray
    Warner Bros.

    This week’s best Blu-ray re-issue (unless you’re unreasonably excited for the Uma Thurman rom-com ‘The Truth About Cats and Dogs,’ anyhow), 1951’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is best remembered as a punchline (“Stella!”) or a ‘Simpsons’ joke (“Stella! Can’t you hear me yell-a?”). But it deserves better, including a career highlight performance from Marlon Brando as well as amazing work by Vivien Leigh. Tennessee Williams’ playwriting has never had a better adaptation on-screen, thanks to director Elia Kazan, and if you only think of Brando as Superman’s dad, this will serve as a great reminder that, yes, he was a great actor and not merely a great star.

Next week: Tom Cruise hangs out in ‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’ … and Michael Fassbender does too, in a very different way, in ‘Shame’ …

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