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DVDs In Brief: August 19, 2009

A.V. Club Staff
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Say this for The Last House On The Left (Universal), a remake of Wes Craven’s shocking 1972 debut feature: It’s extremely well-made and well-acted, a fine exemplar of the glossy style that’s come to define the modern extreme horror film. But in those very qualities, it’s an appalling betrayal of the crude, home-movie realism that made the original so disturbing and unforgettable. Craven’s grim retelling of Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring came from the context of Vietnam and all the disturbing imagery from the front lines; the remake offers little but slick intensity…

From The Dreamlife Of Angels director Erick Zonca comes the unexpected but staggering English-language feature Julia (Magnolia), a turbulent mix of comedy, suspense, and pathos held together by a manic Tilda Swinton performance. Like an extended episode of Breaking Bad with a lead character who’s nothing but bad, the film involves Swinton’s engagement in a half-assed plot to regain custody of a neighbor’s son. When she tries to find her own way through the operation, things go horribly wrong…

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Disney’s tween juggernaut made an aggressively inoffensive trip to the big screen with Hannah Montana: The Movie (Disney), a brilliant act of synergy and maximizing brand potential, but only a passable family musical. Miley Cyrus stars as the eponymous superstar, a regular high-school kid by day and pop icon by night who learns all sorts of valuable life lessons when her soul-patch-sporting pa puts her in “fame rehab” by having her live in the country with relatives. G-rated hijinks ensue as Cyrus juggles her competing worlds with slapstick shenanigans and a big, toothy chipmunk grin…

Maverick filmmaker James Toback consummated his longtime intellectual and artistic love affair with controversial pugilist/wordsmith Mike Tyson with Tyson (Sony), a Fog Of War-style documentary structured as a running monologue chronicling the boxer’s colorful history through his own words. The result is both fascinating and maddening. Toback lets Tyson off easy, letting him spin his grim tale as one of redemption and emotional growth instead of an ongoing train wreck…

Sixteen years after unleashing Boxing Helena, one of the most notorious flops of the ’90s, Jennifer Lynch made a less-than-triumphant return to the director’s chair with Surveillance (Magnolia), a lurid thriller whose attempts at sinister Twin Peaks-style atmosphere are just slightly undermined by zany supporting performances from the likes of Saturday Night Live cut-up Cheri Oteri and French Stewart.

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