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Eco-horror from the frightmaster who directed Rain Man and a 20th anniversary for Schindler's List on DVD/BD this week

Pick Of The Week: New

The Bay
The last time director Barry Levinson tried his hand at horror, the result was Sphere, a calamitous Michael Crichton adaptation that inspired my friends and me to bat around the phrase “We have nothing to fear but Sphere itself” back in the day. (Weren’t we delightful?) News of Levinson trying his hand at the found-footage horror genre didn’t sound promising, but The Bay turns out to be chilling and smart, an environmental thriller that finds innovative ways to exploit a seemingly exhausted format. Constructed out of footage from all around the site of a July 4th ecological disaster—broadcast clips, home video and camera phones, surveillance cams, et al.—The Bay documents a deadly (and extremely gross) outbreak near the polluted waterway of the title. It’s Contagion as a zombie movie. The disc has a Levinson commentary track and a featurette called “Into The Unknown: Barry Levinson On The Bay.”

Pick Of The Week: Retro
Schindler’s List: 20th Anniversary Limited Edition
An event as unfathomably evil as the Holocaust can put artists in a terrible bind, because any approach other than direct and austere risks tastelessness—and even then, there are limits on representation. Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List studiously avoids coloring outside the lines, but what remains remarkable about the film is the complexity with which it renders its characters, from the German industrialist (Liam Neeson) who doesn’t come about courage and self-sacrifice easily to the savage Nazi commandant (Ralph Fiennes) who’s not the cardboard sadist he might have been. The features on this 20th anniversary edition are not terribly generous—Spielberg never does commentaries, for one—but it does include a feature length “Voices From The List” documentary and information on the USC Shoah Foundation.

Don’t Break The Seal

Playing For Keeps
The poster child for my recent piece on “deliberate mediocrity,” the Gerard Butler rom-com Playing For Keeps does absolutely nothing to grab the audience’s attention, other than hoping the usual pabulum will do. Butler stars as a retired soccer star who comes back to America to reconnect with his ex-wife (Jessica Biel) and his kid, but finds his tomcatting habits are not entirely behind him. Thus commences the depressing spectacle of soccer moms (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Judy Greer, Uma Thurman, and other actresses who deserve better) throwing themselves at him. The stingy DVD features include a making-of featurette, a casting video called “Creating An All-Star Team,” and scenes deemed not good enough to make the final cut. Shudder to think.

What Else?

Wreck-It Ralph (Buena Vista)
Since Pixar officially moved under the Disney animation umbrella—or vice versa, really—films under the Disney label have benefitted from a Pixar snappiness, starting with the terrific Tangled and continuing with Wreck-It Ralph, a fast, funny (if a little busy) adventure that plays homage to arcade classics.

Red Dawn (MGM)
Neck-and-neck with Total Recall as the most useless movie of 2012, the remake of John Milius’ mid-‘80s reactionary actioner may get the edge for neutering the politics and hyper-masculine philosophy that drove Milius’ original. The filmmakers originally had China replacing the Soviet Union as the foreign invaders, but when China objected, switched to the less crucial international box office spot North Korea, which makes no sense even in a fantasy context.

The Intouchables (Sony)
The Weinsteins have always had the image of being on the vanguard with house directors like Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, but their tastes in foreign-language films trends toward the mawkish. Witness The Intouchables, a mild French comedy about a Senegalese man caring for a wealthy quadriplegic, which The A.V. Club’s Sam Adams calls “a thick tranche of honey-glazed ham.”

Lay The Favorite (Weinstein)
It’s hard to believe Stephen Frears, the director of sharp crime films like The Hit and The Grifters, attached his name to the barely released gambling comedy Lay The Favorite, which presents the true story of a brassy Florida call girl (Rebecca Hall) turned Vegas bookie with minimal energy and wit. Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Vince Vaughn are among the big names wasted. 

California Solo (Strand)
In this micro-indie, the fine character actor Robert Carlyle, best known for his lead performance in The Full Monty, stars as a former Scottish rock star who resides two hours outside of Los Angeles and comes back occasionally to sell the organic vegetables he grows on his farm. The A.V. Club’s Noel Murray says California Solo doesn’t have much of a story, but it’s “a character sketch carried by its wealth of detail and a fantastic Carlyle performance.”

Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You (MPI)
Based on a YA novel of the same name, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You documents the intense anxieties of what The A.V. Club’s Alison Willmore calls “its human noodle of a hero,” a high-school misfit played by Toby Regbo. Ms. Willmore goes on to wonder why “his whole school hasn’t lined up for a chance to give him a swirly.”

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