- The Washington Times - Friday, April 10, 2009

The Reader (Weinstein/Genius, $29.95 for DVD, $34.99 for Blu-ray) — Kate Winslet, after six nominations, finally took home an Oscar this year for her work in “The Reader.” She was sensual and mysterious as the 36-year-old German who has a sex-fuelled affair with a 15-year-old boy after World War II and then hard and confused as the 44-year-old woman on trial for war crimes when the boy has become a law student. The plot is preposterous, though. We are led to believe that keeping a pretty banal secret is more important than going to jail for decades and taking the blame for the deaths of hundreds of Jews. This is a film that could have had a lot to say about history and responsibility, but the emotional power is blunted by the disappointingly superficial script. Perhaps the German novel should have been adapted by Germans, who might have had more reason to confront their own past and the hold it still has over the country.

There are a slew of extras on this release, including 11 deleted scenes and featurettes on the making of the film, composer Nico Muhly and production designer Brigitte Broch. There also is a conversation between David Kross, who played the teenager, and director Stephen Daldry as well as a look at how Kate Winslet played the same character at two very different points of her life.

No Country for Old Men: Collector’s Edition — (Miramax, $32.99 for DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — 2008’s best-picture Oscar winner is being rereleased in three-disc DVD and two-disc Blu-ray collector’s editions, each with more than five hours of extras that weren’t on the previous release. They include a number of in-depth interviews with filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen and stars Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Tommy Lee Jones. These two editions also come with a digital copy of the film you can watch on your computer or portable device. At least Miramax is offering a $10 rebate for those who own the previous, less-extra-filled release.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Doubt (Miramax, Blu-ray, $34.99) — “Doubt” just missed my top-10 list last year, but it wasn’t for a paucity of good acting. The Oscars noticed the quality, giving nominations to Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Viola Davis.

Adapted by John Patrick Shanley (who also got an Oscar nod for his screenplay) from his own play, “Doubt” is a fascinating meditation on the natural struggle between faith and disbelief played out against a backdrop of child abuse. Mr. Hoffman plays a priest accused by Miss Streep’s nun of taking advantage of a young altar boy under his care. The struggle between the two titans of the screen throws off some serious heat.

As good as the script and the performances are, the direction is somewhat lacking. Mr. Shanley borrows several shots from Alfred Hitchcock while loading the movie with obvious metaphors (a storm that represents Miss Adams’ internal problems with her superior’s actions, for example). Still, a fine film.

Danton (Criterion, $39.95) — The fascinating thing about “Danton” is that it can’t be understood without taking a look at Polish history. Yes, it’s a movie about the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, but the movie was directed by the Pole Andrzej Wajda while his countrymen were living under the boot of communist oppression.

And that’s the brilliant thing about this disc from Criterion: From the essay by Leonard Quart that accompanies the disc to the new interviews with Mr. Wajda, screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere and film critic Jerry Plazewski, this release is packed with information to give the viewer the context necessary to truly appreciate this great movie.

Gerard Depardieu plays Georges Danton, whose fiery opposition to revolutionary comrade-turned-rival Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) and the lawless Reign of Terror earned him a trip to the guillotine. There’s a timeless beauty to Mr. Wajda’s story, an appeal for basic human rights and the importance of the freedom of the press that still rings true. A finer film about the French Revolution has yet to be made.

Sonny Bunch

Bunnytown: Hello Bunnies! (Disney, $19.99) — It’s Easter, and bunnies are everywhere you look, skip and hop — including DVD store shelves. Among them is “Bunnytown: Hello Bunnies!” a new-to-DVD children’s show from England, featuring shaggy, singing rod-puppet rabbits against animated backdrops.

It’s no surprise that the producers used to work for Jim Henson. The characters in “Bunnytown” look like “Sesame Street” characters — plus they sing and dance — but “Bunnytown” lacks the educational message of its predecessor.

Most of it is nonsensical: In one scene, the bunnies are supposed to run a race, but instead they go to sleep, and when they wake up, they play music. Huh?

Then again, everything in this show revolves around music. It’s the bland but catchy variety and spans everything from disco to country.

So, your 3- to 5-year-olds probably won’t learn a thing from the show, but they might be inspired to sing and dance along.

Miffy and Friends: Miffy’s Adventure (Peace Arch, $14.99) — This 60-minute DVD also offers bunnies in the form of Miffy, the adorable creation of 81-year old Dutch author Dick Bruna, and Miffy’s friends, who include Poppy (a pig) and Boris (a bear) as well as family.

Mr. Bruna came up with his unique Miffy character about 50 years ago. Inspired by Henri Matisse, he made Miffy and her friends with simplistic strokes and colors. The story lines also are simple and innocent and feature basic life skills and lessons. They target the very young.

This DVD version is no different. It follows Mr. Bruna’s basic feel, look and idea. The result is 12 episodes (such as “Miffy Wants to Fly” and “Miffy Gets a Postcard”) of solid and sweet — and visually pleasing — storytelling appropriate and appealing to any preschooler.

Gabriella Boston

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