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New releases: 'On the Road' seeks a style both poetic, realistic

Steven Spielberg's 'Lincoln,' and Nikolaj Arcel's 'A Royal Affair' also arrive, along with 'Room 237' and more.

March 24, 2013|By Noel Murray
  • Sal (Sam Riley, left), Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Dean (Garrett Hedlund) in Walter Salles' movie "On the Road."
Sal (Sam Riley, left), Marylou (Kristen Stewart) and Dean (Garrett Hedlund)… (Gregory Smith, Los Angeles…)

On the Road

Available on VOD beginning Monday

Director Walter Salles, screenwriter José Rivera and producer Francis Ford Coppola have given themselves the almost-impossible task of adapting Jack Kerouac's beloved Beat Generation novel "On the Road," a fictionalized account of Kerouac's late '40s cross-country road trips with his live-wire buddy Neal Cassady. Salles shoots for a simultaneously poetic and realistic style, similar to that in his art-house hit "The Motorcycle Diaries"; and he has a good cast, with Sam Riley as Kerouac stand-in Sal Paradise, and Garrett Hedlund as the Cassady character, Dean Moriarty. But since the original book is mostly plotless, the movie "On the Road" relies too much on what's not in the book: a vision of postwar America as seen from the 21st century. It's a beautiful film for the most part but also feels stiff and distant too often — more like history than literature.


Walt Disney/Buena Vista, $29.99; Blu-ray, $39.99/$45.99

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Abraham Lincoln in director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner's biopic "Lincoln" isn't just worthy of its lead actor Oscar; it's also a phenomenal example of how to bring the past to life. Day-Lewis conjures and personalizes an American legend, making him seem both charismatic and down-to-earth. The decision to limit most of the movie to Lincoln's efforts to push the 13th Amendment through Congress allows for a vivid illustration of the president's challenges and assets, and though sometimes Spielberg and Kushner go too far with the melodrama — as well as the "19th century folks were just like us" business — their "Lincoln" is far more energetic and entertaining than one might've expected from a reverent period piece. The DVD and Blu-ray come loaded with behind-the-scenes and contextual featurettes.

Room 237

Available on VOD beginning Friday

Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's "The Shining" has baffled film buffs for decades with its jarring mix of cinematic flourish and B-movie hamminess. Rodney Ascher's stunning essay-film "Room 237" gets a handful of "Shining" obsessives to share their theories about what they're sure Kubrick intended. Was "The Shining" Kubrick's coded confession that he helped fake the moon landing? A Holocaust metaphor? A conscious inversion of "2001"? "Room 237" encourages cinéastes to take a closer look at the secret messages that movies send, and to ask whether they're intended or not — or whether it matters. As Ascher keeps showing the same "Shining" clips over and over, with different interpretations, the effect becomes intense: a deep dive into the rabbit hole of semiotics that leaves viewers more alert to what's really on the screen.

A Royal Affair

Magnolia, $26.98; Blu-ray, $29.98

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

An Oscar nominee this year for foreign language film, writer-director Nikolaj Arcel's "A Royal Affair" stars Mads Mikkelsen as an 18th century German doctor who risks everything to pursue a romance with the queen of Denmark (played by Alicia Vikander), while her husband the king (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) is losing his mind. Beyond being a lavish love story, "A Royal Affair" is a meditation on power, as the doctor exploits his position to introduce progressive, populist reforms against the wishes of the aristocracy. The result is a historical drama with more of an eye on history than most. The DVD and Blu-ray add a few featurettes.


The Comedy

New Video, $26.95

Killing Them Softly

Starz/Anchor Bay, $29.98; Blu-ray, $39.99

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

Monsieur Verdoux

Criterion, $29.95; Blu-ray, $39.95

Parental Guidance

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

Available on VOD beginning Tuesday

Phantasm II

Scream Factory, $19.93; Blu-ray, $29.93

Veep: The Complete First Season

HBO, $39.98; Blu-ray, $49.99


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