Atonement (R, 2007, Universal)
Message for Robbie Turner (James McAvoy): Don’t let your jealous younger friend (Saoirse Ronan) catch you in a passionate embrace with her older sister (Keira Knightley). Unfortunately, in “Atonement,” it’s too late for Robbie, and the fallout from that encounter leads to a lie that changes all three lives in irrevocable ways. Yes, one of the Academy’s favorite films of 2007 features an plot outline straight out of your favorite daytime soap opera. But “Atonement” isn’t so much about the lie as the people affected by it, and the journey it takes us on is surprisingly epic in spite of a clear prioritizing of character over plot. “Atonement” is gifted with the usual ingredients of an award-worthy film — a talented cast, well-sketched characters and a true sense of place that keeps one engaged when story advancement takes a breather. Your enjoyment of the film, however, very possibly may vary based on your experience with the novel. Those who read “Atonement” will appreciate how faithful the film is to the source material, but they’re robbed of the impact the final few scenes will leave on viewers who don’t see them coming. Without spoiling anything, it’s as affecting an end-movie twist as any that’s come along in a while.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.
I am Legend: Two-Disc Special Edition (PG-13, 2007, Warner Bros.)
Three years after a plague wipes out almost all of human creation, New York City’s population of alive and lucid human beings appears to be down to one. Fortunately, that one is scientist Robert Neville (Will Smith), who is formulating an antidote that will reverse the effects of the plague in the infected, vampire-like humans who troll the streets after dark. “I Am Legend” marks the third film incarnation of the 1954 book of the same name, and even a passing glance makes it clear that technology finally is able to fully illustrate the scope of Neville’s increasingly maddening isolation. Problem is, there isn’t much to go on once the surface has been breached and the novelty fades away. “Legend” does a nice job of setting the table, but that merely leads to a rather linear march toward a typically Hollywood conclusion. It didn’t have to be the way … and one look at the DVD’s much better alternate ending hits that point on the head. Given how much fanfare the alternate cut receives in the DVD’s marketing, and given how much better it is, it’s something of a wonder why the powers that be didn’t just go with and build on it in the first place.
Extras: Alternate cut with a new ending, animated extended universe comics, DVD-ROM content.
13: Game of Death: Unrated (NR, 2005, Dimension Extreme)
Already bathing in debt, Pusit (Krissada Terrence) now can count unemployment among his problems. But someone’s watching him, and almost as soon as the ink is dry on his termination, Pusit’s phone rings with a chance to win millions. All he has to do is carry out 13 increasingly depraved acts, and how hard can that be if the first act simply involves killing a fly? Stupid question. As anyone with any experience watching horror movies or game shows would expect, “13: Game of Death” grows exponentially more bizarre as Pusit moves from dare to dare. By the end, the entire production is ridiculously overblown, and if “13” was attempting to open a dialogue about morality and the evil things money can do, it’s laughably overmatched. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the intention, even if that would have made for a more interesting movie. “13” strives simply to entertain, and Pusit’s plight most certainly accomplishes that feat if you don’t expect too much beyond unbridled, gory ridiculousness. In Thai with English subtitles, though an English dub is available as an option.
Extra: Making-of feature.
Enchanted (PG, 2007, Disney)
Disney’s latest princess-centric cartoon isn’t quite like its predecessors — especially when our cartoon princess (Amy Adams) is banished from her animated home and thrust into a live-action New York City, where she fits in about as well as a Red Sox fan in October. What happens next is (mostly) brilliant and very much overdue, with “Enchanted” both paying homage to the classic Disney films of the past while also having a laugh at their expense. It’s also beautiful to look at, particularly when Disney clichés (in other words, talking animals) get the live-action treatment. Ultimately, “Enchanted” loses its nerve, scrapping some surprisingly cynical beginnings in favor of a fairly standard third act that winks less and seems more concerned with staying true to the lineage. That’s too bad, because there was no limit to what fun the film could have had. But if the intention was to let both the cynics and optimists eat cake within the space of a single movie, mission accomplished. Even when you know what happens next, it’s hard not to enjoy what’s happening in front of you. Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden and Susan Sarandon also star, but Timothy Spall steals enough scenes to earn his own spin-off.
Extras: Deleted scenes, bloopers, three behind-the-scenes features, five-minute pop-up animated short.
The Sasquatch Gang (PG-13, 2006, Universal)
Out-of-the-closet nerd Gavin Gore (Jeremy Sumpter) thinks he’s on Bigfoot’s trail, and he has the footprints (and, let’s say, samples) to prove it. More likely, it’s simply the latest act of torment courtesy of out-of-the-closet nerd tormentor Zerk Wilder (Justin Long). It really doesn’t matter. Though Sasquatch’s possible outing provides a reason for “The Sasquatch Gang” to exist, it really isn’t the driving force behind the movie, which is more a coming-of-age film about nerds and the idiots who hate them than any kind of adventure flick. To that end, “Gang” works, though as a comedy, it’s a very acquired taste that likely will sour in the mouths of anyone who tried to but could not get “Napoleon Dynamite” and its ilk. “Gang’s” sense of humor plays a bit broader than “Dynamite’s,” but not by much. That said, its characters are far more relatable — in particular Addie Land as Gavin’s somewhat-average potential love interest and Hubbel Palmer as his overshadowed and sometimes-flailing best friend Hobie. It’s almost a shame “Gang’s” story isn’t Hobie’s instead of Gavin’s, because a more interesting movie lies with him.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes.
Love in the Time of Cholera (R, 2007, New Line)
So maybe you saw “No Country for Old Men,” and maybe you’re just a little bit infatuated with Javier Bardem, who gave life to that film’s inhumanly evil chief character. And here, right on time, comes “Life in the Time of Cholera,” which also stars Bardem. And even though it’s a 19th century period piece, you figure that any chance to see more Javier Bardem can’t be all that bad. The good news? “Cholera” isn’t all that bad. The bad news? It isn’t all that good, either. A classic theme is in play, with one man (Bardem) holding for decades a candle for a woman (Giovanna Mezzogiorno) whose love for him was undone by a meddling father (John Leguizamo), long distance and an eventual marriage to a man (Benjamin Bratt) her father deemed a better fit. But in spite of having 138 minutes of search time, “Cholera” never seems to find its heart. The plot hums ahead, and the script is dense with enough comedic and tragic moments to make it at least passably interesting while it’s on. But “Cholera” should be able to tug at heartstrings rather than merely pass the time, and its inability to do anything close to that makes it a failure.
Extras: Director commentary, making-of feature, deleted scenes (with commentary).