If you’re not interested in having Will Ferrell lecture you on the evils of capitalism this coming weekend and would instead prefer to cozy up at home before the warm glow of plasma with a cold one in one hand a Redbox receipt in the other, here are five fairly new-to-DVD flicks that won’t leave you feeling sucker punched.
1. The Road: Director John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize winner was unforgivably snubbed for Oscar consideration last year, as was leading man Viggo Mortensen for his heart-wrenching work as a widowed father leading his adolescent son across a dangerous, barren post-apocalyptic America. Muted, heartbreaking, and yet hopeful, this is a story about a father teaching his son about what it takes to survive at any cost other than losing your humanity. Perfectly acted, beautifully directed and paced in such a way that casts an hypnotic spell, “The Road” is part Christian allegory, part zombie movie, and boasts an unforgettable cameo by Robert Duvall.
2. From Paris With Love: Pierre Morel, the director of “Taken,” returns to familiar ground with yet another satisfying action-thriller unafraid to portray Islamic terrorists as Islamic terrorists. In his best gonzo, wild-eyed, crazy guy performance yet, John Travolta plays an unpredictable but competent spy with an unapologetic love for America and a fresh partner, James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), an ambitious aide to the U.S. Ambassador in Paris. While nowhere near as well-crafted or morally satisfying and righteous as “Taken,” you’re still in for a fast-paced time, a couple of unexpected plot twists, and plenty of action.
3. Dear John: Based on Nicholas Sparks’ bestseller, director Lasse Hallstrom plays it surprisingly straight in order to effectively tell a wartime romance that’s every bit as earnest, sincere, and refreshingly irony free as what you might catch on Turner Classic Movies. Just before the 9/11 atrocity, John Tyree (Channing Tatum) is on leave from the Army when he meets Savannah (a very good Amanda Seyfried). They quickly fall in love and pledge to begin a life together as soon as John’s military obligation comes to an end. After the towers fall, John chooses to do his duty and re-enlist, a decision that will have greater consequences than either could have ever imagined. You will be amazed at the respect given to morality our military and our country in this sleeper, the first studio film since the War on Terror began to do so. A real gem and an ending poignant enough to stay with you for a while.
4. Book of Eli: Denzel Washington badassing his way across a post-apocalyptic desert littered with cannibals and marauders? Sold. But as with all great B-flicks a simple yet universal theme drives the plot even more than the action, and in this case that theme is the importance and power of a Christian faith still alive and real in a world where little else is. Never once does this satisfying actioner ever flinch away from, apologize for, or attempt to co-opt what Eli’s book, the last Bible on Earth, means. In a moment of uncharacteristic artistic maturity and restraint, the filmmakers leave that completely up to you.
5. Brooklyn’s Finest: Told with the muscle and grit we’ve come to expect from director Antoine Fuqua (”Training Day”), Brooklyn’s Finest are three borough cops, each on the precipice of life-changing decisions. A superb Richard Gere plays the beat cop, too old for his uniform but unwilling to do anything beyond the bare minimum in order to survive until retirement, which is just a few days away. Ethan Hawke is torn between his Catholic faith and doing that one dirty thing that will forever solve all his crushing financial problems. Don Cheadle is the undercover narc, too close to those he’s supposed to bust and getting more confused about his loyalties by the day. As expected, the three storylines all culminate in an explosive climax where redemption and justice are meted out in equal parts.