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I Am Legend (Blu-Ray)

Movie B
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

This could've been a classic, but it falls a little short. Will Smith is mighty good as the last man on Earth who has to battle plague-infected humanoids, and some of the imagery is downright haunting.

Still, filmmakers made a bad call on the creature designs, making them super-strong CGI beings that look like cartoons. If this had been a brain-dead action flick, that might've worked. But this movie is trying to be so much more, and the crazy human creatures wind up being more of a distraction than a menace.

Smith plays Dr. Neville, the last known survivor of a worldwide plague that is the result of a cancer cure gone awry; Neville (and some animals) are immune. The film works best in its opening sequences, with Neville and his dog, Sam (played by three very impressive German shepherds), going hunting in the empty streets of Manhattan. The film is quite excellent when it deals solely with Neville's isolation and the flashbacks that depict the oncoming of the apocalypse.

The action sequences involving the rabid humans aren't bad; they just lack the quality and the serious feel of the moments that come before them. They remind of the elastic, super-fast robots that tormented Smith in I, Robot. They are impressive to a degree, but they seem as if they belong in another movie.

Flaws aside, this is a decent entry into the science-fiction genre--worlds better than The Omega Man, Charlton Heston's campy take on the same story.

Special Features: One of the best-looking films I've seen on Blu-Ray so far. The disc contains the theatrical version, plus an alternate version that features a vastly different, happier ending. It also includes excellent behind-the-scenes footage, including stunt work and an interview with the dog trainer. (It's nice to see the doggie alive and happy.)

Southland Tales

Movie D+
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 2.5 (out of 10)

Damn, damn, damn! I wanted so much to go against the grain and like this one, to be one of the lone voices who found director Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko follow-up entertaining rather than the incoherent mess that people have been calling it.

But instead of that entertaining follow-up, I got more than two hours of futuristic nonsense that simply doesn't gel. Kelly presents us with a not-too-distant future in which part of the United States has been destroyed by nuclear war, allowing the government to go Big Brother when it comes to the media and the Internet.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson plays a film-star-turned-soldier-turned-director who goes missing and turns up with amnesia. He has an affair with a porn actress (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and winds up on a ride-along with a Los Angeles cop (Seann William Scott) searching for the officer's twin brother. Justin Timberlake plays a scarred Iraq-war veteran watching over the California coast with a really big gun.

Kelly, for one reason or another, casts a bunch of sitcom stars (John Larroquette) and Saturday Night Live castaways (Jon Lovitz, Nora Dunn, Cheri Oteri), and their presence creates a pervading sense of mediocrity. Nobody in the cast really distinguishes themselves, although Johnson and Timberlake perform admirably enough.

There are flourishes of goodness--including a bizarre sequence during which Timberlake lip-synchs to the Killers while hallucinating--and some of the visuals are impressive. Still, they are very minor components of a film that thinks it's a mind-bender, but is nothing more than an incomprehensible mess.

I think Kelly has some good films left in him. This isn't one of them.

Special Features: Kelly, not surprisingly, provides no commentary. There's some behind-the-scenes stuff, but you probably won't want to watch them after watching the movie.


Focus Features
Movie A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7.75 (out of 10)

Does anybody remember that this won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama)? This movie was the front-runner for Oscar gold, and then proceeded to tank in the public consciousness. It's a great movie in a year full of greater ones.

This is a dark period-piece romance, darker than the DVD cover promises. With World War II as the backdrop, Keira Knightley and James McAvoy play doomed lovers who, when spied by a young, jealous girl (the incredible Saoirse Ronan), become the victims of a terrible lie. The film is heartbreakingly sad, especially in its final, shocking moments featuring Vanessa Redgrave as an elderly version of the Ronan character.

Knightley and McAvoy are tremendously good here, and they have great chemistry in the scenes they share. Director Joe Wright also put one of 2007's best sequences--a long tracking shot along a destroyed coastline--on screen. He's a director to be reckoned with.

Watch for Ronan in the coming years. She has the makings of a major star. She got an Oscar nomination for this one, and I suspect there could be more in her future.

Special Features: A good disc, with deleted scenes, making-of documentaries and an engaging commentary from Wright.

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