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'State of Play'

Also: 'Disney Nature: Earth,' 'Sin Nombre,' 'Sugar'

August 30, 2009|Noel Murray

State of Play

Universal, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.98

The big-screen version of the 2003 BBC miniseries "State of Play" loses a lot of the original's nuance but still manages to offer solid, sophisticated entertainment. Russell Crowe stars as a slobby, cynical newspaper reporter investigating a story that involves murder, covert military funding and a firebrand congressman played by Ben Affleck. The mix of '70s-style newspaper drama and modern references to blogs and Iraq plays awkwardly at times, but the performances are uniformly strong (especially Jason Bateman's funny supporting turn as a PR rep for a military contractor). The DVD includes a 20-minute featurette and deleted scenes; the Blu-ray adds a picture-in-picture guide to the movie's locations.

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Disney Nature: Earth

Walt Disney, $29.99; Blu-ray, $39.99

The 11-hour BBC/Discovery Channel series "Planet Earth" took the nature documentary form to a new level, showing how HD cameras could capture images of animals and habitats never seen on screens before. Disney's 90-minute "Earth" takes some of the series' footage and reshapes it as the story of the changing seasons, as seen through the lives of bears, elephants and whales. The framing device is corny, but for those who want a sort of "greatest hits" of the mini-series, "Earth" will do quite nicely. The DVD and Blu-ray include a making-of featurette and on-screen annotations.

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Sin Nombre

Universal, $29.98

Writer-director Cary Fukunaga makes an impressive feature debut with "Sin Nombre," a beautifully shot, flavorful indie about Mexican gangs that exploit and rob people who stow away on U.S.-bound trains. One of the robbers and one of the illegal immigrants form an unlikely alliance and find their life goals changing as they head into a new future. "Sin Nombre" relies too much on stereotypes and pulpy violence, but the location shooting is vivid, taking viewers to places we rarely see in movies. The DVD comes with an assortment of deleted scenes and an informative commentary track by Fukunaga and producer Amy Kaufman.

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Sugar

Sony, $28.96; Blu-ray, $39.95

The writer-director team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck follows up its excellent "Half Nelson" with another winner: "Sugar," a well-calibrated fish-out-of-water drama about a Dominican baseball player (Algenis Perez Soto) getting his introduction to American baseball as a starting pitcher for a Class A Iowa team. Avoiding the usual culture-clash and underdog cliches, Boden and Fleck instead focus on the small, real details of a talented athlete adjusting to instant celebrity, a thick language barrier and all the small setbacks -- injuries, homesickness, heartbreak -- that threaten to turn him into just another poor kid who couldn't make it. The DVD and Blu-ray offer a good package of extras, including deleted scenes and three featurettes about the movie and about Latin American baseball.

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