Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

DVDs in Brief

The deserving winner of last year's Best Foreign Language Oscar—and one of the sturdiest word-of-mouth sleepers in recent arthouse history—Germany's The Lives Of Others (Sony) exposes the terrifying threat of the Stasi, East Germany's all-powerful secret police, during the country's final years behind the Iron Curtain. The late Ulrich Mühe plays an exceptionally good Stasi spy who's assigned to run surveillance on a playwright and his girlfriend, bohemian types suspected of subversive activities. His gradual change of heart leads them all into dangerous territory…

Even by the exceedingly lenient standards of the cyber-thriller, Perfect Stranger (Sony) qualifies as a particularly convoluted, wildly preposterous mess. Continuing her post-Oscar slump, Halle Berry unconvincingly plays a shrill investigative reporter dogging wealthy businessman and possible killer Bruce Willis. Willis phones in (or IMs over) his sleepwalking performance: Much of his dialogue is delivered via computer avatar during lurid online chats with Berry. Who can blame him for exerting as little effort as possible in this high-concept, highly dubious idiocy?…

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Writer-director Zoe Cassavetes offers cameo queen Parker Posey a rare star turn in Broken English (Magnolia); Posey acts melancholy and exposed as a hotel concierge whose fitful love life can't escape the constant scrutiny of her mother, Gena Rowlands. Cassavetes has a keen sense of what it's like to be just past 30, alone and rudderless, but the movie's eventual romance between Posey and mumbly Frenchman Melvil Poupaud squanders Posey in low-boil, go-nowhere conversations, shot without flair and drained of any improvisatory energy…

As comebacks go, Charles Grodin's big-screen return in the painful black comedy The Ex (Weinstein) makes Jane Fonda's deer-in-headlights turn in the similarly misbegotten Monster-In-Law look like Elvis' '68 comeback special. Grodin is in fine, prickly form as the father-in-law of a naïve jerk (Zach Braff) at war with even-jerkier co-worker Jason Bateman, but he and a lot of other talented people (Romany Malco, Amy Adams, Amy Poehler, Mia Farrow, Paul Rudd, Donal Logue) are utterly defeated by a joyless script that's ugly and mean-spirited without being funny. It's enough to scare a guy back into making Beethoven sequels for perpetuity.