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DVDs In Brief: March 24, 2010

Perhaps no film last year radiated more pure joy than Fantastic Mr. Fox (Fox) Wes Anderson’s loving, witty, ferociously verbal adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1970 children’s book about a rakish fox in a battle of wits with a trio of nasty farmers. As the title character, George Clooney delivers a performance of boundless charm and rascally good humor; if the Academy were to add a category for Best Voiceover by a devilishly handsome leading man, he’d be the man to beat…

Though generally (and properly) reviled by critics, The Blind Side (Warner Bros.) was the sleeper hit of 2009, and phenomenon that the Academy was forced to acknowledge, including it among the Best Picture nominees and awarding Sandra Bullock its Best Actress prize. Don’t let the accolades fool you: This is still a patronizing, simple-minded take on race relations, treating a white family’s adoption of a poor black teenager (and football prospect) as something like taking in a stray puppy…

The melodrama in Brothers (Lionsgate), the American remake of Susanne Bier’s Danish film Brødre, crowds out virtually everything else. Tobey Maguire delivers an intense, impassioned performance as an Afghanistan vet who returns home after being presumed dead, and suspects his brother Jake Gyllenhaal and wife Natalie Portman of having an affair in his absence. Maguire is heart-rending at times, and director Jim Sheridan makes the film a rivetingly grueling experience, but the angsty breast-beating seems to be the only point, rather than a vehicle for larger messages…

The Men Who Stare At Goats gets about a reel’s worth of mileage out of its one-joke premise—about a secret military “psych-ops” unit whose members are “warriors for peace”—but the initially witty back-and-forth between reporter Ewan McGregor and former psych-ops member George Clooney gives way to a less compelling set of characters and complications. Longtime actor and first-time director Grant Heslov doesn’t help matters with the obtrusive score, the unnecessary voiceover narration, and his inability to harness a coherent political statement…

Financed for $80 million, the most money every allotted for a Chinese production, John Woo’s Red Cliff was released in two parts, totaling five hours of screen time, and in its home country, it surpassed Titanic’s record for domestic box office. But in the United States and other territories, the film was edited down to nearly half its length, which oversimplified the politics and internecine rivalries that led to the famed 208 A.D. battle he explores. But now, the two-part Red Cliff: The International Version (Magnolia) is getting a release on DVD, and the film may deserve a second look.