Blindness; and other new DVDs

Blindness (Miramax, widescreen, $29.99)

feature, 120 mins; rated R blindness_movie_poster3

End-of-the-world sagas, from 28 Days Later (and its sequel) and I Am Legend to the forthcoming screen adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s stark, exceedingly dark (but beautifully crafted) The Road, by nature are bleak.

Blindness (Miramax, $29.99), likewise, is darn bleak: The film, helmed by Mexican director Fernando Meirelles (Children of God) posits that humans, in times of extreme crisis and fear, are liable to turn savage.

Who needs real-life zombies when regular folks descend into brutality and other types of ugly behavior, like the suddenly de-civilized young Brit lads in William Golding’s groundbreaking 1954 novel  Lord of the Flies?

Blindness, based on the Jose Saramago novel, follows a group of characters, brought together in a rather contrived fashion, who have suddenly and inexplicably gone blind. They live in whiteness, not darkness, their normal seeing replaced with a constant shield of bright light.

Julianne Moore, a regular in films regarding contemporary alienation and ennui, is the only sighted person of the bunch, the wife of an eye doctor — oh, the irony! — played by Mark Ruffalo, all good intentions, hangdog attitude and fingers that roam in the direction of a good-hearted prostitute (Alice Braga).

The cast also includes Danny Glover as a wise man with an eye patch, suggesting that Morgan Freeman wasn’t available;  Gael Garcia Bernal as a bartender-turned-dictator, a young guy who seizes control of the abandoned ward where the blindness victims are quarantined, and then proceeds to abuse his power in exceedingly ugly fashion;  and screen vet Maury Chaykin as an accountant who uses his talents to support Bernal’s regime (characters go unnamed).

Meirelles’ vision is relentlessly grim, until … it’s not, when the band of disease victims escapes from the ward, dances a joyful dance in the rain that heals all wounds, celebrates a warm, convivial homecoming dinner and becomes an accidental family.

The tonal shift is strikingly sudden and unconvincing , just one element of a film that is less than satisfying.

Extras:

  • “A Vision of Blindness,” hourlong documentary following the production from actors’ workshops to a screening featuring a meeting between Meirelles and novelist Saramago
  • Audio commentary by Meirelles
  • Deleted scenes

Also released this week:

frozenFrozen River (Sony, widescreen DVD, $28.96), a surprisingly moving “small” drama featuring an affecting, Oscar-nominated performance by Melissa Leo. She’s a single mom who teams with a widowed Mohawk woman (Misty Upham) in a dangerous operation transporting illegal aliens across icy upstate New York terrain bordering Canada. Extras: Commentary by writer/director Courtney Hunt and producer Heather Rae. DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

W. (Lions Gate, widescreen DVD, $29.95), with Josh Brolin as the title character in Oliver Stone’s predictably loopy vision of Bush. Cast also includes Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, and James Cromwell. Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurette; skewed short on Bush presidency; DVD-ROM features.

Miracle at St. Anna (widescreen DVD, $29.99), Spike Lee’s WWII drama, with Derek Luke, John Turturro, John Leguizamo, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Also out:

  • My Name is Bruce
  • Nights in Rodanthe
  • Soul Men
  • The Foot Fist Way
  • The Lodger
  • What Just Happened?

Oscar Talk: The Underdogs – Melissa Leo, Richard Jenkins, Trouble the Water

oscarsBack in the day — you know, before the Oscar nominations were announced — I was rooting for acting honors for Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) and Melissa Leo (Frozen River), and a little Academy Awards love for Katrina documentary Trouble the Water.

That particular dream came true, as all received nominations.

New York Times writer David Carr, in a piece published today, pays tribute to those Oscar underdogs, as well as Michael Shannon, nominated for best supporting actor in Revolutionary Road, and nominated docs Waltz With Bashir and The Class.

“Don’t think of the people who aren’t favorites to win as also-rans; these lesser-known nominees are still among the exalted few, given the hundreds of movies made and the tens of thousands of people who make them,” Carr writes.

“And even if they don’t get a shot at thanking their agents and their moms, we can all be grateful that the spectacle-rich Oscars actually have the collateral effect of elevating impressive work that was conceived and somehow made far from the studio lot.”

Click here to read the rest of the piece.