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DVDs In Brief: March 10, 2010

Once the Best Picture frontrunner for 2010, Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air (Paramount) has faded significantly in the months since its theatrical release. That may be partially due to the sheer dominance of Avatar, or The Hurt Locker’s clean sweep of critics’ guild awards, but it also may speak to the quality of a film that seems more substantive and vital on the surface than it actually is. To be sure, the story of a frequent flier (George Clooney) who makes his living firing people has a lot of resonance in today’s dire economic climate, but in the end, the film is as glossily attractive and lacking in substance as the man himself…

No one could have guessed that Precious (Lionsgate), Lee Daniels’ brutally uncompromising kitchen-sink melodrama about a morbidly obese, sexually and physically abused black teenager coming of age in the 1980s, would resonate so strongly with critics and audiences—least of all Daniels himself, who expected the film to go direct to video. In its depiction of life underneath the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder, Precious continually skirts camp, but stunning turns by Mo’Nique (who just won Best Supporting Actress for the role) and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe keep it from flying off the rails…

Few trailers are less promising than the one for Old Dogs (Buena Vista), which made it look like nothing more than a collection of hackneyed “old guys (in this case, Robin Williams and John Travolta) are terrified of kids” jokes. Turns out, it’s all that and less. Much, much less. It’s bad enough to possibly even stir Williams’ long-dormant sense of shame…

A decade in the making, Troy Duffy’s long-threatened follow-up to his 1999 cult favorite The Boondock Saints opened to predictably apocalyptic reviews, but quietly affirmed the series’ place in the hearts of juvenile man-children with a lust for ornately stylized violence. Norman Reedus and Sean Patrick Flanery return in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (Sony), playing two Irish-Catholic brothers who travel from remote Ireland to Boston to unleash hell on the people responsible for murdering a priest. Duffy appears to have spent the last 10 years raiding his DVD collection for ideas in lieu of developing fresh visual choices…

Planet 51 (Sony) just can’t win. It’s a ’50s-obsessed CGI kids comedy that parodies the era’s obsession with dangerous science, mad monsters, and vice-versa, but Monsters Vs. Aliens, released the same year, did the same thing better. It’s a humanity-as-aliens story that tries to mine insight from the POV of otherworldly natives dealing with hideous invaders from Earth… but Battle For Terra, another CGI kids’ film that hit American theaters in 2009, did that better. Basically, all Planet 51 has going for it is a bunch of amiable sight gags and some interesting design, which again isn’t particularly unique.