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DVDs In Brief: April 20, 2011

One of the annoyances of Oscar season is that the horserace can lead people to resent perfectly decent films that don’t deserve to be considered among the year’s best. Such was the case with The King’s Speech (Weinstein), which took home four Oscars—Best Picture, Director, Actor, and Original Screenplay—and didn’t particularly deserve any of them, save maybe for Actor, for Colin Firth’s fine work as a stammering King George VI. But The King’s Speech is a good film, a funny, moving portrait of a king whose country needs him to articulate its strength in a time of war. Geoffrey Rush, in particular, has never been better as the therapist who helps the king find his voice…

For Rabbit Hole (Lionsgate), an adaptation of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer-winning play, director John Cameron Mitchell drastically simplifies the style of his first two films, Hedwig And The Angry Inch and Shortbus, in order to serve the material and focus on the performances. Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman are superb as parents who try, often in vain, to reconstruct their lives eight months after the death of their only child. Rabbit Hole is consistently wise about the wreckage a child’s death can leave in a marriage; husband and wife grieve in different ways, and their partnership can’t easily coalesce around an unthinkable new reality…

Had Somewhere (Focus) been Sofia Coppola’s first film, it might have been hailed as an expertly controlled, melancholy look at a successful actor (played by Stephen Dorff) connecting with a much younger girl (Elle Fanning) and trying to find his way out of the haze that’s taken over his life. But Somewhere hits too many of the same notes as Coppola’s Lost In Translation, from the characters to their dynamic to the overall tone, and even a fluid, emotional case of been-there-done-that can still feel redundant…

It would be difficult to imagine a film less deserving of the designation “Swiftian satire” than the 3-D botch of Gulliver’s Travels (Fox), a cinematic adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s most popular work. No subversive ideas survived the transformation of Swift’s classic tale from a sophisticated social and political satire to a dopey kid’s adventure about a loveable loser (Jack Black) who must endure a series of fantastical adventures to gain the courage to ask out a cute girl at work. If the makers of Gulliver’s Travels had actually set out to try to kill 3-D as a format through terrible execution, they couldn’t have done a more thorough job than they did here…

Peter Weir is one of our most brilliant and least prolific filmmakers, so a new film from him should be a major event, but The Way Back (Image), Weir’s first film since 2003’s Master And Commander, received a sleepy reception.  This despite a good cast top-lined by Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, and Colin Farrell, plus solid reviews. The Way Back is an old-fashioned prison drama about a group of Allied soldiers who make the harrowing trek from a Russian prison camp to India on foot. It’s a gripping narrative, though a little impersonal coming from a filmmaker of Weir’s caliber.