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Michael Jackson's 'This Is It'

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Also being released: 'Bright Star,' 'Pontypool,' 'Surrogates,' 'Whip It' and more.

January 24, 2010|By Noel Murray

Michael Jackson's This Is It

Sony, $28.96; Blu-ray, $39.95

Part performance film, part behind-the-scenes document, part memorial for a fallen star, “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” compiles footage of Jackson's rehearsals for the London concerts he never staged. Fans looking for an approximation of those shows will be disappointed; "This Is It" doesn't include that many full performances of Jackson's songs. But for its rare glimpse at the star's creative process -- and its peek at how surprisingly vital Jackson looked just days before he died -- the film is invaluable. The DVD includes still more backstage material, but the real goodies are on the Blu-ray, which adds more music and a unique interactive feature that streams factoids on iPhones during the movie.

Bright Star

Sony, $27.96

Writer-director Jane Campion returns to the world of artistic expression and irrepressible sexual desire with a heart-rending portrait of the last years of poet John Keats' life, focusing on his romance with teenage fashion designer Fanny Brawne. Abbie Cornish gives a finely muted performance as Brawne, who's drawn to Keats' scruffy appearance and unconventional poetry for inexpressible reasons. (Cornish also wears Brawne's attention-grabbing hats and dresses well.) Ben Whishaw plays Keats as too much of a generic sensitive slacker, but Paul Schneider is sharp as Keats' irascible buddy Charles Armitage Brown. Throughout, Campion captures the pleasure and ache of loving something rare, undervalued and fleeting. The DVD adds one deleted scene and a trio of featurettes.

Pontypool

IFC, $19.98

Veteran character actor Stephen McHattie gives a memorably growly lead performance in the avant-horror film "Pontypool," playing a rabble-rousing radio host who discovers that his own words might be the source of a virus that's causing everyone within earshot to turn feral. Director Bruce McDonald stages nearly all the action in a cramped sound booth, suggesting the crisis outside through sound design and silent gesturing. The film is a clever piece of low-budget filmmaking, a tour de force for McHattie and a sly commentary on media responsibility -- suggesting how meaningless chatter can be a kind of plague. The DVD is impressive too, adding three creepy experimental short films and the CBC Radio version of this story.

Surrogates

Touchstone, $29.99; Blu-ray, $39.99

A smart premise begets a rote action movie with "Surrogates," which stars Bruce Willis as an FBI agent in a futuristic society where people stay home and live through robot versions of themselves. When the destruction of these "surrogates" causes the death of their puppet-masters, the authorities discover that their utopia might not be so perfect. Despite an exciting start, "Surrogates" squanders most of its good ideas, favoring chases and special effects over a more involved immersion into The World To Come. The DVD is similarly simple, featuring only a commentary track by director Jonathan Mostow; the Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and two featurettes.

Whip It

20th Century Fox, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

The coming-of-age comedy "Whip It" marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, adapting Shauna Cross' young-adult novel about a small-town Texas misfit who finds a sense of belonging with an Austin roller-derby team. Ellen Page is winning as the heroine, and her fellow rollers (played by Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig and Zoë Bell) are fun to watch. "Whip It" definitely plays like a teen movie in that it neatly divides the world between the squares and the hip and makes its loyalties plain with every frame, but it's energetic and good-hearted and should connect with sympathetic adolescents. The DVD includes 15 minutes of deleted and alternate scenes; the Blu-ray throws in an interview with Cross.

And...

The Boys Are Back

Miramax, $29.99

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell

20th Century Fox, $22.98

Little Ashes

E1, $26.98

Saw VI

Lionsgate, $26.95; Blu-ray, $39.99

Southland

The Complete First Season

Warner, $29.98

Tennessee

Vivendi, $26.99

All titles available Tuesday.

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