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DVDs in Brief - March 25, 2009


With the Jason Bourne series injecting immediacy and real-world grit into the moribund super-spy genre, the James Bond franchise was smart to retool its image by casting Daniel Craig as a hard-nosed, no-frills Bond—as far from the Roger Moore model as Christian Bale’s Batman is from Adam West’s. Quantum Of Solace (MGM) fails to capitalize on the invigorating Casino Royale reboot, but that shouldn’t be taken as a referendum on Craig or the reconceived Bond; the problem is a script that descends into murky plotting, a surprisingly forgettable villain played by the usually unforgettable Mathieu Amalric, and some of the most ineptly directed action sequences in the series’ history…

The Marvel staple The Punisher has been brought to the screen twice previously—in a low-budget 1989 Dolph Lundgren vehicle made back when Marvel would sell its rights to just about anybody, and in a larger-budget 2004 fiasco starring Thomas Jane and John Travolta. The third time, Punisher: War Zone (Lionsgate), proves not to be the charm. Why is it so hard to get this comic right? It’s the simplest vigilante premise around, requiring little more than some hard-hitting action sequences and a little lip service about the consequences of revenge, yet all the movies can manage is the excessive violence.

Lior Liebling, a remarkably self-possessed 13-year-old with Down Syndrome, is considered a “rebbe,” a Jewish leader whose devotion to davening (praying) speaks to a close relationship with God. Ilana Trachtman’s moving documentary Praying With Lior (First Run) takes care not to overplay the idea of Liebling as some divinely touched spiritual savant, though it doesn’t dismiss his unusual devotion, either. Instead, the film uses the build-up to his bar mitzvah as an opportunity to explore the intimate dynamic of a family forced to rebuild after a tragic loss…

Is there a sweeter phrase in the English language than “Rob Schneider prison-rape comedy”? No. No, there is not. Yet Big Stan (HBO),the aforementioned Schneider prison-rape comedy, was nevertheless dumped straight to DVD, unlike all the diminutive cut-up’s previous vehicles. Some films are just too good for theaters, apparently. Big Stan will receive its due, Cajun-style, in the next installment of Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory.