- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (Fox, $29.98 for DVD, $39.98 for Blu-ray) — The film that won the best-picture Oscar — and seven others — this year almost didn’t make it to theaters. Studio executives who didn’t see much potential in a British film set in the slums of Mumbai and starring mostly unknowns wanted to send it directly to DVD. Now the smashing success is out on DVD while it’s still going strong in theaters.

The panoramic look at the horror and beauty of those slums is best seen on the big screen, but although the film was almost universally lauded, more than one critic thought it glorified the extreme poverty portrayed in the film as a learning experience. A.R. Rahman’s Oscar-winning score sounds quite moving on a good home theater system, though, and Fox has offered a slew of extras that make this DVD well worth the time.

Dev Patel, who plays Jamal, a “chai wallah,” as they call this young man who serves tea to call-center operators, is one question away from becoming a rich man on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The film opens with Jamal being roughed up in a police station — no one can believe this uneducated kid from the slums is winning without cheating. Through flashbacks, we see how life experience has given this orphan the answer to each question. We also learn why he signed up for the show — he’s trying to reach the beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), an enslaved fellow slum dweller he has loved since childhood.

“Slumdog” didn’t get a single Oscar nomination in the acting categories — that’s the film’s weak spot. The better-known supporting players, Irrfan Khan and Anil Kapoor, are memorable as the ambivalent cop and the smarmy game-show host. Less so are the younger members of the cast, including stars Mr. Patel and Miss Pinto, who are playing single-note characters for the most part. Still, it’s hard not to be charmed by the Dickensian story of justice served, although not without price, and by the child actors who portray Jamal, his brother and Latika as children. There’s a reason this was the feel-good movie of the year.

A dozen deleted scenes actually add to the story and showcase the natural talent of those children. We get a bit more interaction that shows how Jamal and Latika’s relationship developed. Most of the 12 scenes feature Jamal, although there’s one interesting scene in which the game-show host comes off even more like one of those superficially charming but really rather nasty Dickens villains. There’s also one commentary track with director Danny Boyle and Mr. Patel and another with producer Christian Colson and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, who won an Oscar for turning Vikas Swarup’s novel into a film, as well as a making-of featurette. The Blu-ray edition contains a bit more: There’s “Manjha,” a short film about child sexual abuse that took first place in fiction film at the Mumbai International Film Festival, a music video and a featurette showing how the “toilet scene” went from script to screen.

Tell No One (Music Box Films, $27.98 for DVD, $34.98 for Blu-ray) — The French always make great films, but either they made more than usual last year or they sent more than usual to our shores. “I’ve Loved You So Long,” “The Class,” “A Girl Cut in Two,” “Roman de gare” — from debut filmmakers to new-wave masters, French filmmaking was in top form and showcased in art houses around America. “Tell No One” found a bigger audience than the typical foreign film. It did $34 million in business worldwide, including $6 million in the U.S., which is a rousing success for a subtitled film.

It helped that the Guillaume Canet film is based on American source material, a novel by popular crime writer Harlan Coben. “Tell No One” combines the best of both worlds, a thrilling American mystery told with French style and substance. Francois Cluzet stars as one of those Hitchcockian everymen caught up in a mystery he doesn’t understand. Alexandre Beck was suspected of killing his much-loved wife eight years earlier, but police eventually decided it was the work of a serial killer. The cops reopen the case when two more bodies are found near the scene. Strange sightings and messages make Alexandre wonder whether his wife might still be alive — and in desperate need of his help. Mr. Cluzet’s poignant performance won the best-actor Cesar, and the supporting performances also are top-notch, with Marie-Josee Croze as his wife and Kristin Scott Thomas in another great French role as Alexandre’s only aide (and a rather sexy one at that).

Few films last year were as heartbreaking as “Tell No One.” You don’t often hear that about a genre film, but this one is special. The release has some nice extras, including deleted scenes and outtakes. You can watch the film in its original French with subtitles or with an English-dubbed soundtrack. The Blu-ray edition also includes the feature “Tell No One: The B Side.”

Quantum of Solace (MGM, $29.99 for DVD, $34.98 for two-disc DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — “Quantum of Solace,” the second film in which Daniel Craig stars as the legendary spy James Bond, isn’t nearly as good as “Casino Royale.” That 2006 film rebooted the franchise with fun, irony and grace. “Quantum” takes itself a bit more seriously. It also isn’t nearly so clever or creative — the mark of the “Bourne” films is all over it. Still, Mr. Craig is the best Bond in years, and “Quantum” takes place mere minutes after “Casino,” so you can have a seamless viewing experience at home. The two-disc DVD and Blu-ray include a nice collection of featurettes that explore the dangerous stunts and the glamorous locales of the film.

Lilo & Stitch: 2-Disc Big Wave Edition (Disney, $29.99) — It’s surprising that it took until 2002 for an animated movie to be set in Hawaii. The gorgeous islands seem to be the perfect place to explore a child’s sense of wonder. The laid-back island of Kauai was the home of “Lilo & Stitch,” the Oscar-nominated Disney film that’s being rereleased on DVD in a two-disc special edition. The fun-loving film spawned a TV series, and children familiar with that will want to catch this Big Wave Edition of the movie. There is plenty here besides the very original film. Along with the usual deleted scenes and music videos, there are an interactive making-of featurette, some island adventure games and a very nice educational “DisneyPedia” that teaches youngsters about Hawaii. Just don’t blame this critic if the kids are begging for a spring trip to the islands after viewing all the fun.

The Kite Runner, A Mighty Heart and Things We Lost in the Fire (Paramount, $29.99 each for Blu-ray) — Three acclaimed films finally are making their way to Blu-ray. “A Mighty Heart” is the weakest of the bunch, which is a shame, because the true story it tells is a heartbreaking one. Angelina Jolie stars as Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain journalist Daniel Pearl. The movie suffers from a lack of movement, as Mariane mostly waits in her house in Pakistan to hear news of her kidnapped husband. “The Kite Runner,” set in neighboring Afghanistan, is rather more moving. Based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini, it shows the very different paths taken by two young boys growing up in Kabul and the successful one’s attempt to make amends for the other’s tragedy. “Things We Lost in the Fire” is the Hollywood debut of Danish director Susanne Bier. This 2007 film isn’t as good as her European films, such as the perfect “After the Wedding,” but it’s still a gem well worth watching. Halle Berry stars as a newly widowed mother struggling both with her grief and the drug-addicted friend (played by Benicio Del Toro) her husband was helping to survive.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Bedtime Stories (Disney, 3-disc set: Blu-Ray, DVD, Digital Copy, $39.99) — Time-travel fascinates young and old alike. This movie — like the tremendously popular “Magic Tree House” books — enables a young sibling pair to imagine present-day characters transported into past scenarios, including medieval jousting and ancient Greek charioting events.

Their uncle, bitter hotel handyman Skeeter (Adam Sandler), is assigned to baby-sit while their mother, played by Courteney Cox, is away on business. Skeeter, played a little too coarsely by Mr. Sandler, and the children tell wild and original stories that are anchored in the imaginary world but end up affecting their real lives.

The movie is best in the imaginary realm — where Mr. Sandler fights enemies in such locales as outer space and the Wild West. The real-life drama of bitter Skeeter; smarmy, big-haired hotel manager Kendall (Guy Pierce); and Skeeter’s love interest, Jill (Keri Russell) fall fairly flat.

The target age should be 6 to 9, around the same age as the movie’s sibling pair. Special features include behind-the-scenes looks at special effects, bloopers and deleted scenes.

Gabriella Boston

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