Chris Hicks: Spanish silent fantasy, Japanese animated feature lead new DVDs, Blu-rays
A black-and-white silent movie from Spain and a Japanese animated feature lead new movies on DVD and Blu-ray this week.
“Blancanieves” (Cohen/Blu-ray, 2013, PG-13, b/w, two discs, $44.98; Blu-ray, DVD, digital versions; introduction, featurettes; 28-page booklet). This utterly captivating valentine to silent cinema is a sophisticated reworking of “Snow White” (with a touch of “Cinderella”), setting the fairy tale in 1920s Spain and giving it a bullfighting component.
Our heroine, named Carmen (of course!), learns the art of the matador as a youngster, trained by her father, who suffered a trauma in the ring on the day his wife died in childbirth and is now in a wheelchair. But after he marries his sadomasochistic nurse, Carmen is initially sent away, then returns to be treated as a servant. Eventually she falls in with a band of traveling dwarfs who perform as comic matadors and is able to demonstrate her ability.
The film is played in an appropriately broad manner in places but never loses its footing, and there is humor, although this is a serious film. The cast is perfect and the music is appropriately emotive, right up to the poignant conclusion. This one is at once a throwback and a highly original charmer. (Also on DVD, $29.98)
“From Up On Poppy Hill” (GKIDS/Blu-ray, 2013, PG, two discs, $34.95, Blu-ray and DVD versions, original Japanese-language version, featurettes, trailers/TV spots, music video; 20-page booklet). Another gorgeously animated feature from the team that created “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” led by Goro Miyazaki, working from a script by his father, Hayao Miyazaki.
This one is set in 1963 Yokohama as Japan is still rebuilding from World War II while also preparing to host the Olympics. The focus is on a teenage girl involved in an effort to save a dilapidated building scheduled for demolition and a romance that develops but which may be hindered by a secret. Not as involving as, say, “My Neighbor Totoro,” but stunningly hand-drawn in a style that is all too rare these days. (Also on DVD, $29.94)
“Stories We Tell” (Lionsgate, 2013, PG-13, $19.98, trailer). Actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley crafted this very personal documentary exploring life in her eccentric family of storytellers, in particular a revelation about her parentage. A generous, involving memoir filled with warm characters.
“Now You See Me” (Summit, 2013, PG-13, $29.95, audio commentary, featurette). Snappy, stylized caper yarn with the thieves portrayed as all-too-clever magicians has a first-rate cast — Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman — and a tremendously engrossing story until it all falls apart in a ridiculous conclusion that makes no sense. (Also on Blu-ray combo, with an extended version that is 16 minutes longer, $39.99)
“Petunia” (Wolfe, 2013, not rated, $24.95, audio commentary, radio interview, trailer). Christine Lahti and David Rasche are dysfunctional psychoanalysts whose kids are even more confused. When the parents announce they are divorcing, things spin even further out of control.
“Slightly Single in L.A.” (Well Go, 2013, not rated, $24.98, trailer). Another romantic comedy that confuses sex with romance and raunchy with funny, focusing on a young woman (Lacey Chabert) dating the usual male idiots until she reconnects with an old flame, a rock singer who has found fame. (Also on Blu-ray, $29.98)
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent's Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com
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