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Video Minefield: DVD & Blu-Ray releases for May 15

Video Minefield: New on DVD & Blu-RayThere are a lot of new home viewing options available this week, but only one of them (The Grey) is particularly good. Unless you happen to like chick-flicks, in which case Katherine Heigl’s One for the Money is also a solid bet. Here’s our full round-up…

Glenn Close had reportedly been shilling Albert Nobbs around Hollywood for years, doubtlessly certain that its production would assure her a seat at many awards shows. And right she was, perhaps deservedly so, as her Oscar-nominated performance here proves. But a performance alone doesn’t make a film, and on that front Albert Nobbs modestly passes the watchability test. What’s interesting here is that Nobbs, a pathetic 19th century Irish woman who lives her entire life as a man, isn’t much positioned by the film to be a commentary on contemporary gender identity or sexuality, but more as a sad, somewhat deluded creature with a secret. The pic quietly drifts from scene to scene, giving Close and fellow Oscar nominee Janet McTeer plentiful opportunities to Act (well), but without much else to say or do. The pace is surprisingly brisk and there are effective performance-driven moments, but without much to say or a story to tell, this ends up a glorified For Your Consideration advertisement. C+   –James Frazier   (Buy / Stream on Amazon)

Chronicle might be the first found footage superhero film, and there are some growing pains to show for it.  As the first try of director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (son of John), it’s a solid effort, adorned with some enjoyably creative flourishes. The misadventures of three ordinary teenage boys imbued with alien super-powers unfurl in plausibly playful, entertaining ways, at least if one can believe that the ambitions of those three are restricted to winning talent shows, getting revenge on Dad, and trashing Seattle during a temper tantrum. Can’t they think of something better to do? On the other hand, with Chronicle’s modest budget of $15 million, one could certainly think of movie plots a lot worse. C+   –J.F.   (Buy / Stream on Amazon)

Normally, it is my policy to not spoil anything that takes place in the third act of a film, which is easy to keep from doing with The Devil Inside, because it doesn’t contain one. One hour and 15 minutes in, during a relatively action-packed sequence, writer/director William Brent Bell cuts to text over black, which informs the viewer to go to a website to find out the rest. Then the credits roll. For the record, the website (TheRossiFiles.com) doesn’t contain an ending, either. What comes before is an a-OK found-footage horror movie–two creepy exorcism scenes redeem the cookie-cutter remainder–but who wants to waste time on a film that’s too lazy to finish itself? Whether Bell ran out of time to shoot or simply ran out of ideas is anyone’s guess. D   –Danny Baldwin   (Buy / Stream on Amazon)

Joe Carnahan’s first substantive achievement in cinema, The Grey, takes a “guy movie” premise–oil rig workers get stranded in the Alaskan wilderness after their plane crashes, causing a showdown with the wolves–and turns it into a film about men. The difference between the two is that rather than simply posture to the audience with a sense of quasi-masculinity, Carnahan and co-writer Ian Mackenzie Jeffers actually say something about what it means to live and die from the male POV. The film transcends its meat-and-potatoes premise at every turn, from Liam Neeson’s aching lead performance to Masanobu Takayanagi’s Oscar-worthy cinematography (you’re not human if one overhead shot of the cast traversing a cliff doesn’t give you the willies). B+   -D.B.   (Buy / Stream on Amazon)

Katherine Heigl has seemingly carved out her own sub-genre of consistent, if a little watery comfort food for middle-aged women, and One for the Money, adapted from the first of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum paperbacks, is her latest entry. If you’ve liked Heigl’s films in the past–while I’m about as far from a middle-aged woman as one can get, I have a certain affinity for the actress’ screen presence–then you’ll probably like this one. If not, then it’s unlikely to buck the trend. Heigl plays a down-on-her-luck divorcee who turns to bounty-hunting for a quick paycheck — a gig that causes her to reunite with a hunky ex-boyfriend who skipped bail (Jason O’Mara). You see where this is going, but it gets there in a mostly pleasant, likable way — perfectly suited for home viewing. B-   -D.B.   (Buy / Stream on Amazon)

Rampart, or Nihilism ‘R Us. Woody Harrelson is aces as the world’s most crooked cop, but if it weren’t for his searing lead performance, the James Ellroy/Oren Moverman script would seem like an out-and-out parody of grim Amerindies. Every opportunity to evoke smut – racism, misogyny, verbal abuse – is onscreen, making the exercise feel so existential that it constantly verges on laughable. Coupled with the ugliest DV cinematography you’ve ever seen, the experience is even more unpleasant than intended. Moverman and Harrelson made the poignant, delicate 2009 film The Messenger before this — what happened to them in the two years between the movies? C-   –D.B.   (Buy / Stream on Amazon)