- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009

Brideshead Revisited (Miramax, $29.99) and Brick Lane (Sony, $28.96) — These two very different British literary adaptations appear on DVD at the same time.

No one could have envied director Julian Jarrold and screenwriters Andrew Davies and Jeremy Brock the task of bringing Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel “Brideshead Revisited” to life — again. The 1981 miniseries is one of the most beloved of the genre and, at 14 hours, a perfectly faithful adaptation of the book. The filmmakers here proved that in a little more than two hours, they could easily re-create the heady atmosphere of prewar Oxford. Unfortunately, the cuts they decided to make tore the book’s soul asunder, turning a meditation on divine grace into a story of the folly of social climbing. Still, Matthew Goode shows he might have the career of a Jeremy Irons, who portrayed Charles Ryder in the miniseries, ahead of him.

Extras include an audio commentary with the filmmakers, deleted scenes with commentary and a 23-minute featurette on bringing “Brideshead” to life.

“Brick Lane,” on the other hand, had very different detractors: The production was plagued by protests. However, those who were agitated don’t appear to have read Monica Ali’s 2003 novel on which the film is based. The story is not a political one, but an emotional one. A woman who moves to London from Bangladesh after an arranged marriage finds it hard to assimilate to her new home even after living there for years and raising two daughters who are more British than Bangladeshi. An affair with a younger man proves to be the life-changing event she needs, although the effects on her are anything but predictable in this carefully made and deeply felt film.

Extras include a commentary with director Sarah Gavron and star Tannishtha Chatterjee, interviews with both, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Biography: Barack Obama: Inaugural Edition (A&E, $12.95), 60 Minutes — The Road to the White House (CBS, $17.95) and President Barack Obama: The Man and His Journey (Vivendi, $19.99) — The inauguration is just days away — as you’ve probably been able to tell from the glut of Obama-related material in the stores. The DVD aisles are no exception. You might actually learn a fact or two from watching these, though, which might make for a more useful souvenir of this historic moment.

The long-running “Biography” series already aired its episode on the president-elect, but this new edition adds 10 minutes of footage, including excerpts from Mr. Obama’s campaign and victory speeches. The focus in this program, which is nearly an hour long, is the president-elect’s youthful struggle for identity.

Similarly, the “60 Minutes” episode also aired, late last year. Correspondent Steve Kroft has been interviewing Mr. Obama and his family since before the president-elect announced his candidacy for the nation’s top job, and this special rebroadcasts some of those interviews as well as some with his advisers.

Meanwhile, “President Barack Obama: The Man and His Journey” is an 80-minute look at the phenomenon that is our next commander in chief. Narrated by actor Blair Underwood, it includes interviews with such luminaries as Martin Luther King III, Jesse Jackson, George Lopez and Ebony and Jet magazine publisher Linda Johnson Rice. This DVD, like the others, has some election-night footage from Chicago. It also has a “limited edition collectible presidential card” complete with a number and holographic foil stamp. There’s also a free digital download of a previously unreleased song by R&B crooner Brian McKnight inspired by the incoming president and titled “Yes We Can!”

Election (Paramount, $29.99 for Blu-ray) — “Election,” which arrives on Blu-ray at an opportune time, is one of the sharpest movies ever made about politics — and never mind that it’s superficially about high school politics.

Reese Witherspoon has never been better, and Matthew Broderick hasn’t been this good in a long time. In this 1999 film, the future Oscar winner stars as a straight-A student who appears to be coasting to an easy win as student-body president until a teacher (played by Mr. Broderick) decides things shouldn’t be quite so easy for her. Ambition and the ambivalence of lust are the real subjects of this film by Alexander Payne (an Oscar winner himself for “Sideways”) that’s a lot smarter than it looks.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys (Lions Gate Home Entertainment, $21.99 DVD) — Big names abound in the cast of Tyler Perry’s latest theatrical release — Oscar winner Kathy Bates, three-time Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard and Tony nominee Sanaa Latham, to name a few. Sadly, though, an unfocused and meandering script by Mr. Perry (who also directs and has a co-starring role) affords them little opportunity to showcase their chops. Miss Bates hams it up as Charlotte Cartwright, the iron-fisted, free-spirited matriarch of a wealthy Southern family. She’s also the best friend of the saintly, God-fearing Alice Pratt (Miss Woodard) — who once worked for the Cartwrights before opening a small, home-style diner. Alice has two daughters: the down-to-Earth Pam (District native Taraji P. Henson of “Hustle & Flow”) and, in true Fannie Hurst fashion, the vain, self-centered Andrea, a social-climbing corporate accountant played by Miss Latham (“Something New”).

Things quickly go south when Andrea goes to work for the Cartwrights’ construction company, where Charlotte’s ne’er-do-well son, William (Cole Hauser of “The Breakup”) takes a shine to her. Although both are married, they embark on a ruinous affair in which William lavishes her with pricey gifts and a six-figure bank account that she is unable to explain to her blue-collar husband (Rockmond Dunbar of Showtime’s “Soul Food”). As if this weren’t enough, William is planning a corporate coup to wrest control of the family business from Charlotte. Instead of fighting her son, Charlotte buys a powder-blue Cadillac and hits the road for a cross-country journey with BFF Alice in tow. Meanwhile, other predictable and disjointed plot twists — including a character’s fatal illness — derail the story as overall bedlam ensues.

Released in September, “The Family That Preys,” despite being a modest box-office hit, is not Mr. Perry’s best work. Still, the resilient and multitalented star’s loyal fan base is sure to find something to love in the DVD release, which offers a number of extras. Among them: deleted scenes plus featurettes on the Pratt and Cartwright clans and another on casting the film.

Robyn-Denise Yourse


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