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Film review

Celluloid for the couch potato

This weekend's best in DVD releases

To borrow from David Bowie: "I’m afraid of Americans."

Horrific abuse, mass layoffs, emotional isolation, the crumbling economy, and foreclosures – this week’s new release DVDs center around the country’s ills, past and present.

With all the ink already spent analyzing, critiquing and debating Lee Daniels’ film, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” (Lionsgate), is there anything left to say?

Color me pleasantly surprised that most of the numerous extras on the DVD edition are well worth checking out. Interviews with "Push" novelist Sapphire (who is far more engaging and self-effacing than one might imagine), Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher as well as the talented cast are insightful and engaging. Gabourey Sidube’s incredible audition for the role of Precious should not to be missed.

There is also a powerful deleted scene that definitely should have been included in the theatrical release. Bottom line? "Precious: BOTNPBS" is an extraordinary example of how well done filmmaking can transcend even the grimmest of narratives.

"Up in the Air" (Paramount Pictures), Jason Reitman’s ("Juno") timely tale of Ryan Bingham, a glib "terminator facilitator" who travels the country breaking the news to downsized employees that their employment, and life as they know it, is no more.

As one might suspect, when a man is not only successful at, but genuinely enjoys working as a professional ax-man, there is some serious lacking going on in his emotional and social lives that eventually must be confronted. And so it goes, but in pleasantly unpredictable ways.

This is a great looking, slick-as-hell movie with terrific performances by the three leads (George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick). The only scene where all three actors are allowed to play off one another, set in an anonymous hotel bar, is a joy.

"Up in the Air" has the same whip-smart, dialogue-heavy writing that was a hallmark of "Juno," but the quirk quotient is toned way down. As the leads go their separate ways the film peters out a bit, but this is still absolutely worth a screening or re-viewing.

Given the current economic climate, Reitman’s inclusion of recently fired, non-actors in the roles of some of the Bingham’s unwilling audience members feels necessary, not gimmicky.

Speaking of real folk in real peril, "Capitalism: A Love Story" (Starz / Anchor Bay), Michael Moore’s latest documentary is chock full of them: employed airplane pilots forced to go on food stamps due to rock bottom salaries, families thrown out of homes held by their families for decades, widowed spouses discovering that, unbeknownst to them, their late mate’s company took out a secret life insurance policy out of them and profited handsomely from their deaths.

All these stories are moving, important and true. Moore’s greatest strength (or the talent of his research team), is in finding articulate, sympathetic subjects that have fallen victim to the system, and reminding us that but for the grace of God walk us.

As for his weaknesses…there’s less face time with Moore than I recall from his other films, so perhaps he has realized that his presence has an irritating effect on many. The scenes that do prominently feature Moore, such as when he drives an armored car to various banks demanding back the bailout money they received from the American people, are amusing but silly and detract from some of the extremely powerful facts that the film presents.

Despite the powerful stories, at 127 minutes the film feels long, but if you do want to expand your viewing experience the DVD edition has lots of extra deleted scenes.

Kristine Peashock lives in Tucson. She has a background in museum administration, visual arts and film.

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