- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

(Weinstein, $24.95) - Woody Allen keeps doing it year after year - turning out solid, thoughtful films. The themes in this London thriller may not be surprising (crime and punishment, guilt and remorse) but the performances the director coaxes out of his stars are. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell both play against type as brothers who are talked into murder by their uncle (Tom Wilkinson) as an ambitious means of escaping their working-class lives. Mr. McGregor - last seen on-screen as an effete publisher in “Miss Potter” - plays the brash, confident brother who commits the crime with barely a second thought. Mr. Farrell, the swaggering “Miami Vice” star whose appearance as more sensitive characters in this film and in “In Bruges” marked a real artistic turning point, plays the conflicted brother whose guilt over the crime threatens to derail the lives of all three men. As with most Woody Allen releases, there’s not a single extra on this disc.

(BBC Video, $34.98) and The Elizabeth Gaskell Collection (BBC Video, $79.98) - The latest saga in PBS’ “Masterpiece” series comes to DVD both on its own in a two-disc set and as part of a collection of adaptations of stories by the Victorian social novelist Elizabeth Gaskell. The cast of “Cranford” is a veritable who’s-who of British acting talent - Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton, Francesca Annis and Greg Wise, to name just some. The five-hour miniseries, featuring some of the best writing seen on television this year, follows a year in the life of the residents of Cranford and is based on three Gaskell novels. The disc also includes a making-of featurette.

If you enjoyed “Cranford,” you might want to splurge and pick up the entire “Elizabeth Gaskell Collection.” The seven-disc set also includes adaptations of “Wives and Daughters” and “North and South.” “Wives and Daughters,” a 1999 miniseries featuring a screenplay by “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and “Pride and Prejudice” scribe Andrew Davies, is one of the best things ever to appear on “Masterpiece Theatre” and is based on Gaskell’s final novel. “North and South” is a 2004 adaptation of the novel set amidst the Industrial Revolution.

(Lionsgate, $49.99 for Blu-ray) - Here’s what all you classic action fans have been waiting for: A box set of the first three “Rambo” films is coming out next week on Blu-ray. The set includes “First Blood,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III.” (If you want the latest addition to the franchise, 2008’s “Rambo,” you’ll have to buy it separately.) This is a bargain price for a Blu-ray set, and each disc features commentaries (the first by star Sylvester Stallone) and featurettes.

and Jillian Michaels: 30 Day Shred (Lionsgate, $14.98 each) - You’ve seen them whip clients into shape on the reality shows “Work Out” (Bravo) and “The Biggest Loser” (NBC). Now you can exercise at home with these two TV trainers, who go head to head with new DVD fitness regimens.

“Workout,” which reaches stores this week, is Jackie Warner’s first DVD release. It chronicles the drama amongst her and her trainers at her Sky Sport and Spa gym in Beverly Hills, Calif. Some of those trainers appear in this video, looking as tanned and made up as you’d expect. Clients pay hundreds of dollars an hour for Miss Warner’s expertise, but you can have it for less than $15. The DVD consists of three 20-minute workouts, one each for upper body, lower body and core. Do one when you’re strapped for time or combine them for a very solid total-body workout.

“If it’s not burning, it’s not working,” is Miss Warner’s constant refrain. The workouts combine both cardio and strength moves to burn calories while you tone up. You’ll find your heart rate stays in that all-important fat-burning zone much of the time. Most of the moves are basic, but Miss Warner often adds little twists to make them a bit more fun - and effective. Bravo may have released this disc to capitalize on the reality show’s success, but this disc proves Miss Warner is more than just bluster.

“30 Day Shred” isn’t Jillian Michaels’ first workout DVD, but it seems to be her most popular. It’s in the top 10 on Amazon.com’s best-selling DVDs, beating out Hollywood hits including “Juno.” Miss Michaels calls herself TV’s toughest trainer, and after doing Level 3 of this DVD, I can say she’s not kidding. There are three 25-minute workouts on this disc, and each level gets progressively harder. All feature a warm-up and a cool-down - and in between, three circuits each consisting of three minutes of strength training, two minutes of cardio and one of abs. Miss Michaels offers a tough-love brand of motivation and won’t hear any excuses from the viewer at home. She doesn’t offer a beginner’s modification for jumping jacks, as many instructors do, because, as she notes, she has 400-pound contestants on “The Biggest Loser” who can do them.



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