Kelly Masterson's screenplay for "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" elevates the hackneyed "crime story with a jumbled timeline" gimmick by using a fractured narrative to show how people want to jump to the happy ending of their plans without suffering through the kinks. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke give stellar performances as yuppie brothers who try to alleviate their debts by burgling their parents' jewelry store, and although the plot takes too many preposterous turns, veteran director Sidney Lumet keeps everything grounded in the particular anxieties of status-obsessed New Yorkers and their dysfunctional families. The DVD adds a commentary by Lumet and his stars, plus a making-of featurette.
Blast of Silence
Allen Baron's 1961 cult thriller is so obscure that it barely has a cult at all, though that's likely to change now that it's part of the Criterion Collection. About 30 years ahead of its time, "Blast of Silence" follows a hit man (Baron) who heads to New York over the holidays and finds the Christmas spirit interfering with his killer instincts. Criterion's DVD adds a documentary in which Baron recounts how he made such an idiosyncratic independent film in the studio era.
A Passage to India
Sony Pictures, $24.96
After 20 years of bad reviews and dwindling box office, legendary British director David Lean got back into the good graces of critics and audiences in 1984 with his final film, a sumptuous adaptation of E.M. Forster's novel. Judy Davis plays an Englishwoman who travels to colonial India, where her confusion over the country's sensual pleasures leads her to accuse a kindly local doctor of sexual assault. The trial that follows lays bare long-standing prejudices and injustices. Long available only as a bare-bones DVD, "A Passage to India" finally gets the special-edition treatment it deserves, on a double-disc set that includes a commentary track by producer Richard Goodwin and some meaty featurettes about Lean, Forster and the history of the U.K.-India relationship.
The Oscar-nominated "War/Dance" documents an annual Ugandan music and dance competition, paying special attention to a group of refugee schoolchildren displaced by the brutal Lord's Replacement Army. Crafted in the form of an "underdog makes good" sports-doc, "War/Dance" serves as a testament to how children often endure the worst horrors of war. The DVD contains additional footage.
And . . .
"Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem" (20th Century Fox, $29.99, Blu-Ray, $39.98); "Bamako" (New Yorker, $29.95); "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale" (20th Century Fox, $27.98); "I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With" (Genius Products, $19.95)
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