CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005). Forrest Gump's mama famously declared that "Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get." You never know what you're going to get with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, either, given that director Tim Burton occasionally tends to fluctuate between enfant terrible and rank sentimentalist. In this second screen version of Roald Dahl's novel, Johnny Depp headlines as Willy Wonka, the eccentric candymaker who allows five children to take a tour through his gargantuan factory. Young Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore, Depp's Finding Neverland co-star) is a perfect angel, but the other four kids — Violet Beauregarde (AnnaSophia Robb), Mike Teavee (Jordan Fry), Augustus Gloop (Philip Wiegratz) and, of course, Veruca Salt (Julia Winter) — prove to be such brats that they all eventually get their comeuppance within the walls of Wonka's candy-coated fortress. In some respects, this surpasses the previous screen incarnation, 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: It's funnier, faster and more visually stimulating. But Burton's maudlin streak gets the best of him via a needless back story that explains Wonka's affinity for candy, and this plot strand leads to a soggy finale that's easily bested by the final act of the '71 model. Depp, whose Wonka seems to be a cross between Michael Jackson and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari's somnambulist Cesare, delivers an engaging surface performance, though I prefer the more measured madness of Gene Wilder's excellent interpretation.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Burton; an interactive "in-movie experience" (picture-in-picture facts and behind-the-scenes footage); seven behind-the-scenes featurettes totaling 45 minutes and covering the casting, effects and other aspects of the production; an 18-minute piece on Dahl; and a wild 3-minute reel shown in clubs throughout Europe.
THE CIDER HOUSE RULES (1999). A vanilla personality is rarely a desirable trait in an actor (see: Ethan Hawke; Chris O'Donnell), but for whatever odd reason, it has suited Tobey Maguire beautifully through these early decades of his career. In this satisfying drama, sympathetically directed by Lasse Hallstrom and adapted by John Irving from his own novel, Maguire is cast as Homer Wells, a decent young man who's raised from birth by Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), the humanitarian head of a Maine orphanage that also doubles as an abortion clinic. Anxious to explore the world around him, Homer leaves the orphanage and accepts a job as an apple picker; his decision does indeed allow him access to all manner of wondrous sights and sensations, but it also introduces him to an ugly world that forces him to apply all that he learned under the tutelage of Dr. Larch. Whereas lesser blank slates might simply fade from view over the course of the movie, Maguire proves his mettle by squaring off beautifully against Caine (all blustery wisdom as the good doc), Charlize Theron (a mix of radiance and insecurity as the, uh, apple of Homer's eye) and Delroy Lindo (alternating between cheerful folksiness and coiled tension as the head orchard worker). Nominated for seven Academy Awards, this earned Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Caine) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Hallstrom, Irving and producer Richard N. Gladstein; a 22-minute making-of featurette; and nine minutes of deleted scenes.
CINEMA PARADISO (1988). An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, this Italian import is a movie of extraordinary passion, capturing the synergy which exists between the starry-eyed moviegoer and the medium he or she comes to worship. Like Federico Fellini's Amarcord, this looks at the events which help shape a youth as he comes of age in his small hometown. Salvatore Cascio plays little Toto, whose best friend is Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret), the projectionist at the town's only movie house. In most regards, Alfredo's life is over: Poor and uneducated, he clings to his job as the only pleasure in what one feels was largely an unfulfilling existence. Toto, however, is young and full of promise, but he'll eventually need to take that step to break away. Alfredo pushes Toto to do just that, and it's the bond between this pair — as well as their love for the movies that grace their theater — that provides the picture with its emotional wallop. In 2002, this 125-minute was re-released in a 175-minute director's cut. This Blu-ray edition doesn't include that version, but it's no loss: Interestingly, the extra near-hour of material changes the entire intent of the movie, making it less a heartfelt ode to cinema itself and more a familiar meditation on the vagaries of love (the extra footage centers on Toto as an adult, pining away for his childhood sweetheart).
The only Blu-ray extras are theatrical trailers.
GREEN LANTERN (2011). Considering the advance negative buzz had been building with the steadiness and scariness of a Category 5 hurricane, it's probably no surprise that Green Lantern turned out to be one of the biggest turkeys of Summer Cinema 2011. Truth be told, it's not that bad, and it certainly isn't the catastrophe that apparently had been foretold as far back as the Book of Revelation. To compare this effort to such truly abysmal efforts as Catwoman and Batman & Robin would merely be an exercise in misguided grandstanding; at the same time, the middling results suggest that, the excellence of X-Men: First Class notwithstanding, Hollywood might consider cooling it on the super-sagas for a while (fat chance) and seek inspiration from other types of comic characters. Little Lulu or Andy Capp, anyone? When all is said and done, Green Lantern is really no different than the film which kicked off the summer season: As with Thor, this one also features slick special effects and a likable (if vanilla-flavored) leading man, but it likewise gets bogged down in protracted exposition and has trouble sorting out its cluttered screenplay. Ryan Reynolds stars as Hal Jordan, a test pilot who becomes the first human to become a member of the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic watchdog group tasked with protecting the universe. The preeminent threat at the moment is a fearsome entity known as Parallax; his agent of evil on earth is Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a nerdy scientist who promptly becomes a telekinetic mutant with a bulbous, oozing head. Hal's battles with Parallax and Hector are ably handled by director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale), and they allow the FX crew to show off their hard work. But whenever the movie isn't moving at a fast and furious speed, the banality of the script takes center stage, and we're left with another costume caper that doesn't quite know what to do with itself whenever its characters aren't playing dress-up.