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New on DVD – September 14, 2010 – Prince of Persia and Letters to Juliet

From Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, in which Jake Gyllenhaal makes like a real live-action star (jumping! thieving!), to Letters to Juliet, wherein Amanda Seyfried emotes prettily amid pretty people and pretty places, here’s a look at the films coming out this week on Blu-ray and DVD.

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Jake Gyllenhaal gets involved with a time-bending dagger and a beautiful princess in this Jerry Bruckheimer take on the popular video-game series. While the set pieces are massive and the action nearly nonstop, our critic found the dizzyingly complex story line and absolute lack of any sense of summertime fun to be among the many elements that kept this “pretty rigid” film from being anything more than a wan, third-rate Pirates of the Caribbean.

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In what seems to be her third sun-drenched, bittersweet romantic film to hit DVD this month, Amanda Seyfried plays a young fact-checker who goes to Italy and finds romance amid beautiful scenery in a story that has her responding to a love letter written a half-century ago by Vanessa Redgrave. Although our writer said “Redgrave glows,” he found the rest of this production to be “worn and faded like a letter we’ve read too many times to take seriously.”

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Simply put, this romantic comedy, about an unlikely match between a tomboyish physical trainer (Queen Latifah) and a superstar basketball pro (Common), is — despite the charm of the stars involved — nothing less than terrible. According to our critic, it’s “both gratingly sentimental and abhorrently dull, the kind of uninspired and humorless film in which an overbearing score and a veritable cavalcade of rock, soul, jazz, and R&B songs underline almost every emotion.” But at least it provides hope for New Jersey Nets fans, whose team makes it to the playoffs here.

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Q’orianka Kilcher, the Native American siren of Terence Malick’s Thin Red Line, stars in this historical drama as the titular daughter of Hawaiian royalty (her mother was the island’s queen and her father a Scotsman) who was sent off to England as a young teen after her mother was deposed in an American coup. We found everything about the film’s look to be nothing short of “ravishing” but would have appreciated a slightly less pompous tone.

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Based to some extent on the true story of a man in San Diego who murdered his mother with a saber, Werner Herzog’s latest film is full-on dementia pretty much straight through, flipping back and forth from a post-murder hostage scenario to scenes showing how the killer (the kinetic Michael Shannon) got to where he is. Though our critic appreciated the film’s “hearty ladle of lunacy,” he thought Herzog’s direction “lacks any sign of tone and certainly doesn’t invoke the dedication to character that Shannon shows.”

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Ken Loach’s subtle, emotional comedy about Eric Bishop (Steve Evets), a middle-aged postal worker trying to take charge of his life, brings those hopes alive by giving Eric the flesh-and-blood manifestation of his greatest hero: Eric Cantona, the French star of the nineties Manchester United football club. Our critic thought that, while this gimmick would seem on paper a “cheap ploy,” in Loach’s hands “it’s wondrous,” not least for the remarkable onscreen charisma of Cantona himself.

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During one very long week in a city where apparently it never stops raining (and everybody seems to have forgotten to pay the electric bill), a pair of cops (Morgan Freeman, the grizzled veteran, and Brad Pitt, the brash newbie) confront a diabolical serial killer who’s murdering people in elaborately staged ways that reference the seven deadly sins. This brutal, inventive 1995 classic is finally getting its Blu-ray premiere.

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