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DVDs In Brief: January 11, 2012


DVD round-up

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Up until a metaphor-packed, speechified, generally unsatisfying ending, Moneyball (Sony) manages the difficult task of presenting a sports story that’s wonky enough for obsessive stats geeks, yet accessible for rank newbies. In adapting Michael Lewis’ book and telling the story of baseball’s recent shift toward assembling teams via statistical models, director Bennett Miller and screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin lay out the story clearly and comprehensibly, with few stylistic flourishes, but plenty of snap. Stars Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill even get enough room to interact in a humanistic, believable way instead of spouting Sorkin-y machine-gun lines…

The megawatt charm and unbelievable comic chops of Anna Faris are defeated yet again by a smug, sniggering, and sexist script in What’s Your Number? (Fox), a forgettable trifle about a charmingly daffy young woman (Faris) whose romantic life is thrown into disarray after she decides to base her life around a ridiculous magazine article. Faris is charming as always and a frequently shirtless Chris Evans is glibly appealing as the cad next door, but charming leads can only do so much to elevate material this shopworn and tired…

When it was announced that HBO was producing an expensive series about gangsters in Prohibition-era Atlantic City, with Sopranos writer Terence Winter serving as showrunner and Martin Scorsese directing the pilot, anticipation was understandably high. Yet it was deflating for some to watch Boardwalk Empire (HBO) settle into a more muted character study, albeit it one punctuated by shocking violence. The backlash was hasty: This is a compelling, thematically rich series that’s awash in period grandeur… 

Is there anything sadder than watching Robert De Niro drag his carcass from one uninspired project to another? He has only a small part as an aging hitman in the arted-up Jason Statham vehicle Killer Elite (Universal), but De Niro’s listless presence typifies the by-the-numbers action in this dismal thriller, which would go straight to DVD with a lesser cast...

Since directing the acclaimed mid-’80s dramas The Killing Fields and The Mission, Roland Joffé’s career has gone bizarrely off the rails, with such turkeys as the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter, the Elisha Cuthbert torture thriller Captivity, and You And I, a vehicle for Russian faux-lesbian pop duo t.A.T.u. Now he’s made the exceedingly bizarre There Be Dragons (Fox), a historical epic about the Spanish Civil War that’s partially about the founder of Opus Dei, the Catholic sect that inspired the albino killer in The Da Vinci Code. It’s partially funded by them, too.