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DVDs in Brief - January 21, 2009


For much of the last two decades, Woody Allen's movie-a-year output has seemed more force of habit than relentless artistic endeavor, but he finally gets a spring in his step with Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Weinstein), his fourth film shot in Europe and the first to contrast the romantic values of Americans and their overseas counterparts. He gets ample support from the consistently intoxicating locale, plus a stellar cast, including standout performances by Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz as an on-again/off-again Spanish couple…

Mark Wahlberg can be a volatile, exciting presence in movies, but only if filmmakers follow two key rules: Never let him be a badass, and never cast him as the lead. The asinine videogame adaptation Max Payne (Fox) violates both tenets, and Wahlberg loses himself in a role that's meant to recall the hard-bitten heroes of old-school noir, but instead reads as mirthless and dull. As for the game's signature "bullet-time" conceit, The Matrix has been down that road three times already…

It isn't hard to figure out why Gil Kenan's City Of Ember (Fox) flopped at the box office, in spite of its origins in a bestselling children's book. The film takes place in a grim, nightmarish dystopia where humanity has burrowed underground to survive an ecological apocalypse, and the tone runs the gamut from depressing to funereal. City Of Ember is about as far from the shiny, happy, pandering likes of Shrek as you can possibly get, but the film boasts a certain battered integrity, and Bill Murray has a nifty supporting turn as a corrupt mayor…

Generally speaking, midnight movies are anointed, not created: With rare exceptions like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, filmmakers who set out to make the next cult classic are doomed to failure. Repo! The Genetic Opera (Lionsgate) is a good case in point: Director Darren Lynn Bousman, the man responsible for Saw II through IV, aims for another Rocky Horror that combines elements of Blade Runner and Sweeney Todd. It's a good thought, but the end result is dim, disgustingly gory, and cursed by a punishing industrial soundtrack…

Based on the life of Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy, The Express (Universal) renders the trials of a black running back before the civil-rights movement with a PG-rated gloss more fitting to a children's book. Biopics don't get more generic.