- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Lake of Fire (ThinkFilm, $27.98) — It was a year for war documentaries at the Oscars in 2008. That’s one explanation for why “Lake of Fire” didn’t get a nomination. The other is that academy members seem to find discussion of abortion too difficult to bear — the Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” also was robbed of a nomination in the foreign-language category.

“Lake of Fire” easily bests some of the docs that did get the nod. Written, directed and self-financed by Tony Kaye, best-known for the powerful skinhead saga “American History X,” the documentary is a carefully wrought, evenhanded look at one of the country’s most contentious debates. A meditation on faith and belief as well, “Lake of Fire” profiles both pro-life activists who speak of fire and brimstone and clinical abortion doctors, one of whom talks about his work “facilitating” choices as he casually sorts through pieces of an aborted fetus, including a tiny but recognizable head.

If you thought the abortion scene in “4 Months” was shocking, prepare for worse in this film — it has more than one graphic scene of the procedure. Mr. Kaye, unlike some on both sides of the debate, understands that it’s impossible to talk about a subject properly without knowing exactly what it is. Composer Anne Dudley (“The Full Monty,” “Black Book”) has written a moving score that lends even more weight to the speeches of women who have had abortions.

Enchanted (Disney, $29.99 for DVD, $34.99 for Blu-ray) — If you watched the Oscars this year, you’ll know all about “Enchanted” even if you never saw the Disney film — it garnered three best-song nominations, and all three songs were performed at the ceremony. Amy Adams plays a classic Disney princess-to-be who is pushed out of her animated world by an evil queen (played by Susan Sarandon) and into real-life Manhattan, where she meets a modern man (and divorce lawyer) played by “Grey’s Anatomy” star Patrick Dempsey.

Though the technology allows for much more content, Blu-ray releases have tended to have the same extras as regular DVDs. Not here. In addition to the deleted scenes, bloopers, short film and making-of featurettes on both editions, the Blu-ray release for “Enchanted” has a particularly enchanting extra. “Enchanted” is a homage to and parody of classic Disney films. With a Blu-ray extra called “The D Files,” if you spot one of those allusions, you can click and get a little featurette showing the original Disney reference.

Bee Movie (Paramount, $36.98 for two-disc edition, $29.99 for single-disc edition) — This animated film, co-written by and starring the voice of comedian Jerry Seinfeld, was just barely edged out of a spot in the year’s 20 top-grossing films by “Enchanted.” If you’re a fan of Mr. Seinfeld’s — and that’s likely why a lot of parents took their children to see the film — you’ll want the two-disc “Very Jerry” edition. Among other extras, it includes commentary from the comedian, his flight over the Cannes Film Festival in costume and live-action trailers featuring him and friends, including Chris Rock and Steven Spielberg.

Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1976 (BBC, $24.98) — This gentle British comedy is the world’s longest-running sitcom and is more than familiar to fans of local PBS station MPT’s weekday Afternoon Tea British programming block. It’s hard to imagine a series focusing on the foibles of the older generation lasting so long in America, but that singularity is one of the charms of “Last of the Summer Wine,” which first aired in 1973. Then again, it’s not as if the three men on whom the show centers are exactly grown up. The 1976 season was the one in which war vet Foggy (played by Brian Wilde) replaced one of the original characters.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Atonement (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, $29.98) It all makes sense now — how a fictional masterpiece (with an irritating but clever ending) became a two-hour-plus film that’s beautifully filmed and acted but narratively choppy and unconvincing.

Forty minutes of special features tell us how and why the first act — the one in which the most perfect day back in 193Os England turns into a nightmare at the country estate of the Tallis family — is the best.

The very talented and appealing James McAvoy, who plays Robbie, one half of the romantic epicenter (Keira Knightley plays the other) says the whole cast and crew breathed and filmed the estate for six weeks straight. It made them all feel as if they belonged there — and together — Mr. McAvoy says. You can tell. It’s the tightest and most convincing part of the film. The only failure in this first act is the ad nauseam clicking of typewriters.

The rest of the film is impressive — particularly the photography by Seamus McGarvey — but disjointed. The inner lives of the characters never translate completely, and the complex yarn of reality and fantasy doesn’t untangle gracefully.

The appeal of the story, director Joe Wright says, is the tension between beauty and brutality — how the story lulls us and then slams us. Agreed. But how to do this without losing cohesiveness? That’s the puzzle that Mr. Wright and Christopher Hampton, who boiled the 130,000-word novel down to a 25,000-word screenplay, never quite solved.

Says Mr. Hampton: You have to “identify what makes it a masterpiece and then preserve it.” He didn’t.

Gabriella Boston

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