DVD Tuesday: ‘The Reader’ & ‘The Spirit’

by W. Andrew Powell

The Reader

Kate Winslet and David Kross in The Reader

New home releases this week include The Reader, starring Kate Winslet in her Oscar-winning role as Hanna Schmitz; Frank Miller‘s super-stylized comic book adaptation, The Spirit; The Deal, featuring William Macy and Meg Ryan; and Thirteenth Floor on Blu-ray.

The Reader
The sixth time was the charm for actress Kate Winslet. After five previous Academy Award nominations, Winslet won her first Oscar last year for her stunning role in this adaptation of writer Bernhard Schlink’s famed German novel, The Reader.

Spanning a number of years, the story follows Michael, played by David Kross, a young man who falls into a love affair with the much older Hanna, played by Winslet. While the tryst only covers a single summer in Michael’s life, Hanna has a deep and intimate hold on his heart, and his mind, that will affect him for years to come.

Through the unfolding years we meet up with Michael again as he prepares for a degree in law, which is when he stumbles upon Hanna once more, on trial for her crimes during the Second World War. Dealing with his feelings, and a secret of Hanna’s that only he knows, Michael must also make a decission that will affect both of their lives.

Spread out over two hours, the film is a careful unspooling of important events in Michael’s life, rationing out every emotion we encounter. Not a moment of pathos is allowed to escape on its own terms. Instead, the film makes subtle gestures with every smile, tear, and every ounce of anger.

Watching Winslet in this role is also telling of the larger brilliance of her career. Like her work before, she inhabits every frame she is in, from corner to corner. There is no grasping at ideas with Winslet as Hanna, it is merely as if Winslet was born into Hanna’s life long enough to shoot The Reader. Kross and Ralph Fiennes, who plays the older Michael, are also fantastic in their single role, but they are somewhat overshadowed by Winslet’s simple presence.

The Reader does seem to falter a little, losing purpose near the end, and lacking a real dynamic arc throughout the story, but it is still a moving drama, made all the better by Winslet’s impressive transformation into an old, tormented woman.

Included on the DVD are a number of thoughtful features about the making of the film, but my favorite happened to be the makeup featurette which not only shows the entire aging process, but Winslet’s wonderful personality. Other features include deleted scenes, a look at the music of the film, an interesting conversation between Kross and director Stephen Daldry, and the story of how the novel was adapted.

The Spirit
Call it my geeky love of anything stylized, but I had big hopes for The Spirit.

Directed by comic book creator Frank Miller, the film should have been a huge, iconic movie with Gabriel Macht playing the title role of a crime fighter in the dirty streets of Central City. And yet, what we get is an overly stylized film that looks fantastic, but lacks any of the edge or brilliance of films like 300 or Sin City, both of which were based on comics created by Miller.

Once a cop, but now an unwavering crime fighter with a soft spot for pretty ladies, The Spirit is a mysterious force in Central City. Fighting the evil of the Octopus, played by Samuel L. Jackson, The Spirit works alongside the police, but he also wants to find out how he became this man who can take a gunshot and survive, especially since he remembers coming back from the dead. At the same time, a former friend and would-be heartache known as Sand Saref, played by Eva Mendes, has returned to the city in search of the greatest sparkling treasure ever seen.

Marked by its fun, and beautifully retro style, The Spirit looks perfect. It is a stunningly stylized film in every way, right down to the oddball side-stories and loony characters. The flaw is that, much like a lot of these films, the story is not only thin, it’s uninspiring and empty.

Even indulging in the pretty ladies, and the campy overtones does little to save The Spirit from a director who seems to care a lot more about the look of the film, than any of the content.

Also available this week…

The Deal
William Macy and Meg Ryan star in this off-beat comedy about a suicidal Hollywood producer who inadvertently gets himself involved in a major studio deal. Under the watchful eye of an executive, played by Ryan, the movie makes fun of every popular stereotype around, but the reviews were less than stellar.

Thirteenth Floor
Arriving on Blu-ray, Thirteenth Floor is a sci-fi thriller about a computer-generated parallel reality, and everyone involved is having issues telling the two apart. Speaking of parallels, there is also no missing the comparisons that could be made between this movie and films like Dark City and The Matrix, which were all released within a year of each other, but for the most part featured better storylines and special effects.

DVD Tuesday is a weekly syndicated column produced by The GATE for print and online, covering the latest new arrivals coming to home video.

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