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New on DVD – August 3, 2010 – Kick-Ass and The Ghost Writer


From the ultraviolent, hyperironic comic-book extravaganza with the self-explanatory title — Kick-Ass — to the moody and paranoid Roman Polanski political mystery The Ghost Writer, here is a highly subjective view of the films coming this week to a DVD or Blu-ray player near you.

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When a comic-book addict decides to become a real caped crime-fighter just like his fictional heroes, he finds that he is not alone and is soon delivering beat downs to criminal low-lifes alongside the brutally efficient father-and-daughter team Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and tween Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz). Our critic was blown away by Matthew Vaughn’s film, saying “this story of champions and chumps, great deeds and glorified geek ambition, makes for a terrific pre-summer blockbuster.”

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In Roman Polanski’s film of Robert Harris’s thriller The Ghost, Ewan McGregor plays a ghostwriter hired to help complete the memoirs of a former British prime minister (Pierce Brosnan), after his first writer commits suicide. It soon becomes clear that the ghost’s subject has a closetful of skeletons that powerful forces want kept hidden. While our critic thought that the film lacked the “gleeful perversity” of some of Polanski’s other films, it “casts a consistently gloomy mood and is paced rather brilliantly despite its crass ending.”

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This adaptation of the phenomenally popular book series concerns Greg, a short, skinny kid fresh to middle school who plans on becoming the most popular kid around. Things don’t go as planned, even as Greg tries everything possible to escape his social invisibility. We thought it was good enough for kid fare, but noted it “doesn’t come across as much more than a pleasant and mostly harmless diversion, its lessons about telling the truth and being who you are having long since wandered into the realm of cliché.”

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Malik, a young and illiterate French-Arab, is sent to prison at the age of 19 and is soon bloodily indoctrinated into a life of organized crime under the tutelage of the local mob’s Corsican godfather. Although Jacques Audiard’s film dabbled in more than a few prison-film clichés, we thought it was “his most ambitious and most fully engrossing,” a powerful crime drama with “almost Shakespearean heft.”

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At the start of this powerfully emotional indie drama, two young Chinese-American kids are dumped on the street with all their possessions. Their striving mother, however, won’t give up hope, constantly working the angles for any opportunity to get her family ahead. We liked the subtle characterizations of a story that made for a “sad film, but one that usually avoids the easy route toward its emotion.”

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Christina Ricci storms out of an argument with her boyfriend (Justin Long) only to lose control of her car and wind up dead. She wakes up in the afterlife, where a gloomy figure by the name of Deacon (Liam Neeson) informs her that he’s there to help “transition” her into a complete state of death. Little else in the film made much sense to our critic, who came to the conclusion that nothing — from the high-quality production values to the solid acting — could “overcome a script that runs out of ideas way before the funeral.”

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Julie Davis’s semi-autobiographical film stars Leelee Sobieski as an earnest young filmmaker who is forced to take script-doctoring work in the porn industry. Our critic was wholly annoyed by this “low-budget labor of love,” comparing it to Amy’s Orgasm, “another attempt at a frank, sex-positive romantic comedy that wound up being almost unbearably dopey.”

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