The Heroes of NASA, and Other New Releases

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert FordWarner Bros., $27.98Beautifully shot, masterfully acted, and 19 hours too long, Assassination is an uneven mix of the artful and the arty that never had a shot of bringing in the audience that Brad Pitt's chiseled melon should've delivered. Pitt is great, playing fellow Missourian Jesse James as a mixture of emo kid and psycho killer. Casey Affleck has the tougher role as the titular chickenshit, delivering an expertly drawn portrait of a man you wouldn't want to be in a room with for 10 minutes but are stuck with for an entire movie. He grates on you, which may be a commentary on your attraction to charismatic evil over nebbishy normality, but hey, I'm trying to watch a movie here. Similarly testing is the glacial pacing, with lots of gorgeous shots of dismal countryside that offer plentiful opportunities for a smoke break. JORDAN HARPERThe Brave OneWarner Bros., $28.98Jodie Foster has been making revenge flicks all her life, but still everybody jumped down her throat for dropping the pretenses and appearing in this vigilante revenge fantasy. Everybody oughta lighten up. For one thing, the world could use a new Death Wish. For another, Foster can manage dozens more facial expressions than Charles Bronson did. The film also has a streak of dark irony, as Foster starts out lamenting the death of grungy old New York just before strolling into a brutal old-school murder/beating. The movie stays in that now long-gone New York, and Foster keeps stumbling into more random crimes than Angela Lansbury. She becomes the Punisher, and blammo! JORDAN HARPERElizabeth: The Golden AgeUniversal, $29.98Shekhar Kapur's follow-up to his somber 1998 spectacle is a gas, gas, gas—Bollywood by way of the BBC, a period piece in which everyone acts decidedly modern (Clive Owen especially, as a right horny Sir Walter Raleigh) and every scene cries out for a musical number at its climactic conclusion. That Cate Blanchett was nominated for an Oscar is stunning, not because she's undeserving (though there is that), but because who could pay attention to the performances when the sets and costumes do all the heavy lifting while the actors flounce around like high schoolers on the world's most expensive set? There are copious deleted scenes (Mary, Queen of Scots' severed head!) and making-ofs, including one sponsored by Volkswagen that's likely to offset the cost of this garishly soapy production. ROBERT WILONSKYIn the Shadow of the MoonThinkFilm, $19.99For any stargazer, then or now, David Sington's reverent documentary about the Apollo space program is a must-see: an engrossing oral history of the space race, recounted with zest by the astronauts themselves and studded with NASA archival footage that trumps 2001 for sci-fi astonishment. What the DVD loses in the big-screen splendor of those celestial vistas, it gains in special features—specifically, more than an hour of deleted and extended scenes filled with wonders. See rocket jockeys trail from tethers as the Earth recedes lazily in the background, watch as Neil Armstrong coolly radios NASA from a capsule tumbling end over end through the cosmos, and hear the astronauts testify to "the dark side of Apollo"—the toll the pursuit of heaven took on life back on Earth. JIM RIDLEYNo ReservationsWarner Bros., $28.98From its cheap, mid-'90s-looking package to its woefully scant extras (one pre-chewed Food Network behind-the-scenes, blech) to its wide-screen/full-screen option, this feels like something dropped right into the discount bins; it probably debuts at half off this week. And this soufflé of a romantic comedy deserves better: Catherine Zeta-Jones and Aaron Eckhart, as warring chefs reheating 2001's Mostly Martha with director Scott Hicks, keep things smart, light, and tight amid a story that coulda been penned on the back of a recipe card. Zeta-Jones is the neurotic chef tethered to her dead sister's daughter (Abigail Breslin, mopey-cute); Eckhart is the square-jawed cook come to rescue them both. Formula, yes, but it works, given the good ingredients well prepared—and it lingers like light brunch, leaving plenty of room for something more filling. ROBERT WILONSKYOther ReleasesEven if her Oscar show performance was a little embarrassing, Amy Adams can do no wrong in Enchanted, an instant 'tween classic. The Vancouver, B.C., documentary Radiant City takes a look at the same sprawl and growth-cap issues afflicting Puget Sound. A must for parents on a rainy day: a spiffed-up version of the original 1961 animated 101 Dalmatians. (The only downside: They'll want a Dalmatian.) Oscar alert: The Coen brothers provide few extras on No Country for Old Men, but they hardly need to. After you've seen the quadruple Oscar winner in the theater, home video gives an excellent opportunity to appreciate the exquisite sound design by Craig Berkey. (Also look for Javier Bardem in the so-so adaptation Love in the Time of Cholera.) Though it never played Seattle, Summer Palace takes a serious look at post-Tiananmen Square China, resulting in a government ban on director Lou Ye (Suzhou River). The HBO series Five Days (about a missing child in Britain) is the superior kind of crime/tabloid procedural you only wish were produced here in the States. The big releases for the week, both quite successful at the box office (if not the Oscars), are Will Smith's I Am Legend and the Keira Knightley-starring Atonement.

 
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