The Life Before Her Eyes (R, 2008, Magnolia)
“The Life Before Her Eyes” is the story of Diana — both as a seemingly invincible high school student (Evan Rachel Wood) who can’t wait for the rest of her life to begin, and as a considerably more vulnerable adult (Uma Thurman) who, 15 years later, remains haunted by an event that permanently altered the course of that life. What that event is won’t be spoiled here, even if the film’s marketing materials give it away too freely. The impact is that much more pronounced if you know nothing going in, but either way, “Eyes” offers a powerful new perspective on a storytelling device that has become increasingly formulaic over recent time. “Eyes” illustrates Diana’s story on three separate chronological tracks, jumping rather sensibly between her life before the event, her life beyond it, and, most infrequently, the few long moments in which the event is actually happening. The device works beautifully, even if “Eyes” feels excessively and almost cruelly downbeat during some of Thurman’s scenes. That moodiness is validated once the complete truth of story reveals itself, and it never overstays its welcome before the film jerks you back into the present and continues the dark, scary march toward that single scene’s conclusion. When that moment finally reaches its end, the payoff is immense. “Eyes'” final wrinkle is brilliant even if you see it coming, and it ranks among the best of the year if you don’t — especially when you realize the answer was in front of you the entire time.
Extras: Director/production designer commentary, deleted scenes, alternate ending, audition footage, two behind-the-scenes features (that’ll make sense after you see the movie … maybe).
Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The Complete First Season (NR, 2007, Warner Bros.)
Apprehensive? That’s understandable. Because really, who needs an entire television series based on a franchise that already overstayed its welcome by the end of its third film? Fortunately, “Terminator’s” fascination with time travel gives it the freedom it needs to freshen itself back up, and “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” takes full advantage of the gift and does exactly that. Artistically, “Chronicles” goes the “Battlestar Galactica” route — a little self-serious and borderline pretentious at times, but gifted with a contemporary vision, surprisingly good character reinvention and development, and a story that both goes places and connects all those dots we’d mostly only heard about in the films. Whether “Chronicles” has legs for a long run remain somewhat questionable, and the show isn’t immune to problem spots, including some “robot in the real world” humor that even Vicki the Robot from “Small Wonder” would find lame. But given how messy “Chronicles” could have been — see “Terminator 3” and imagine a whole lot more of that — these are minor nitpicks more than real problems. Lena Headey (Sarah Connor), Thomas Dekker (John Connor) and Summer Glau (you’ll see) star.
Contents: Nine episodes, plus commentary, a three-part making-of feature, audition tapes
Quid Pro Quo (R, 2008, Magnolia)
A childhood accident left him paralyzed from the waist down, but radio personality Isaac Knot (Nick Stahl) has taken his injury, and all that it entails, in stride. But even a pragmatic guy like Isaac doesn’t know what to think when a semi-chance encounter lands him in the company of a heretofore-secret group of able-bodied people who not only sympathize with his condition, but wish they could trade places and assume his condition. It practically goes without saying, based on that outline, that “Quid Pro Quo” is an uncommon piece of work. Turns out, the distinctiveness is contagious, reaching past the plot and infecting the entire film with a strange mood that’s partially erotic and just as equally unsettling. Much as Isaac has stumbled upon an entire world he didn’t even knew existed, so have we, and if “Quo” excels at any one thing, it’s pulling the viewer close while constantly providing subtle reminders that the mood could turn on a dime at almost any time. Whether one likes “Quo” may come down to how much one likes its characters, but the strong reaction it commands — whether it be one of intense interest or intense disdain — makes it a hard film to forget no matter which side you take.
Extras: Deleted scenes, audition footage, an excerpt from the documentary “Whole,” storyboards, tulip montage (really, this is not a joke).
Street Kings (R, 2008, Fox)
Dumb movies aren’t always bad movies as long as something worth seeing is going on. Case in point: “Street Kings,” which is an extraordinarily dumb film about potentially slimy cops (Keanu Reeves, Forest Whitaker, Jay Mohr) who, while sorting out a mess that could bring the department down, say extraordinarily dumb things. Presumably, “Kings'” dialogue is meant to provide a layer of wit to a story that presumably doubles as some sort of sharp social commentary. It doesn’t, and not just because the story is nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is. But that’s OK. “Kings” is silly, but it’s a high-octane kind of silly that, predictable conclusion aside, entertains at a consistent clip right up to and past the ending. Your intelligence might be insulted and your eyes may roll, but if you’re hungry for some mindless entertainment that absolutely aims to please, you probably won’t be bored. Terry Crews, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Naomie Harris, Common and The Game also star.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes (with commentary), alternate takes, five behind-the-scenes features.
Deal (PG-13, 2008, MGM)
The Texas Hold ’em Hollywood cash cow gravy train is officially running on vapors with the release of “Deal,” a film about a washed-up, not-quite poker legend (Burt Reynolds) who flirts with his demons after taking a rising star (Bret Harrison) under his wing. If that sounds at all familiar, it’s because the plot of “Deal” is one of approximately three possible plot outlines for the glut of poker films that have spawned over the last four years. Sure enough, “Deal” also flashes some shameless product placement while trotting out the usual crop of poker stars for their awkward cameos. And yet, so much formula aside, “Deal” actually isn’t such a bad little film. Reynolds is fun to watch in spite of the creative restrictions cast upon his character, and the film avoids the impossibly fantastical poker scenarios that so many of its peers cluelessly dole out. Certain segments, in fact, are downright technical, and casual but hungry fans of the game might stand to learn a thing or two. But while “Deal” tells the same old story with more reverence than most, it’s still telling the same old story. If you’re waiting for someone to come along and invigorate a fast-fading genre, you’ll still be waiting when this one ends. Shannon Elizabeth, Maria Mason and Jennifer Tilly also star.
Extras: Poker tips feature.