Two very different alternate universes make for two must-see fantasy flicks in this week's top DVD releases, 'Watchmen' and 'Coraline.' Also out: We get two Hankses and a Malkovich in the indie comedy 'The Great Buck Howard.' Get the full scoop on this week's DVD releases, plus our recommendations from weeks' past. 'Watchmen'
What It's About: Alan Moore's widely celebrated graphic novel about supremely tortured superheroes gets the big screen treatment from '300' director Zack Snyder, complete with a so-not-funny Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), scene-chewing Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), Skinemax-like sex scene and giant blue member.

What We Say: The year's first blockbuster -- also one year's most divisive -- is flawed and indulgent, sure, but it's also one of the most original and compelling superhero movies ever made. Long called "unfilmable" because of its complex mythology and alternate time setting, Snyder pulls it off with style, sticking admirably close to the material. It is recommended you read the graphic novel first, though. Otherwise you might be a little perplexed by the giant "Blue Man Group dude" (Dr. Manhattan, whose back story doesn't come until about 30 minutes in).

Special Features? Most impressive about the theatrical version was that at an epic 163 minutes, it never felt it. The DVD and Blu-ray Director's Cut comes with 24 whole extra minutes that should please purists and adds up to more of a presence for minor characters like Janie Slater and Wally Weaver. Also included: a featurette on the impact of Moore's original work, and 11 video journals.

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'Coraline'
What It's About: When her family moves into an old house, the eponymous young girl (voiced by Dakota Fanning) discovers a portal to a parallel universe that at first seems perfect (her parents are more attentive, there's bacon sizzling on the stove, etc), but in truth is far more sinister (everyone has buttons for eyes, for one).

It's Kind of Like: 'Pan's Labyrinth' meets 'Nightmare Before Christmas'

What We Say: The first must-see movie of 2009, this eye-popping whirl through stop-motion animation is a meeting of two brilliant minds (writer Neil Gaiman and director Henry Selick) and remains one of the year's best. Following in the tradition of 'Nightmare' and 'Corpse Bride,' it's a gothic, trippy, oftentimes creepy (see aforementioned buttons for eyes) film that should thrill older kids and adults in equal measure.

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'The Great Buck Howard'
What It's About: Unsure what he wants to do with his life, a law school dropout (Colin Hanks) opts for the absolute random, becoming a personal assistant to the titular eccentric mentalist (John Malkovich).

It's Kind of Like: 'My Favorite Year'

What Critics Say: Reviewers were mostly kind to this light indie comedy that doubles up on Hankses (Colin's pop Tom Hanks co-stars as, get this, his pop), with the film registering a 73 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert called it "funny and perceptive," while on the other hand, Newsday's Rafter Guzman found it "painfully thin." Almost all agreed, though, it's worth it for a good dose of The Malkovich.

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Other July 21 DVD Releases:
'Echelon Conspiracy'
'Sherman's Way'
'Messengers 2: The Scarecrow'

New on Blu-ray:
'300'
'Midnight Express'
'I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry'




New DVD Recommendations

    'Two Lovers'

    Release Date: June 30

    What It's About: Joaquin Phoenix is a troubled Brooklyn man who, despite a current residence in his parents house, is blessed/cursed with the difficult decision of choosing between two beautiful women (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw). And yes, he raps.

    What Critics Say: Reviewers showed a lot of love for 'Two Lovers,' with the romantic drama earning an 84 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The Hollywood Reporter called it "The best American drama of the year."

    Magnolia

    'Waltz With Bashir'

    Release Date: June 23

    What It's About: Having strange memory blockage surrounding his experience in the 1982 Lebanon War, an Israeli Army vet-turned-documentarian (Ari Folman) tracks down several men he served with to fill in the pieces, and then animates the results.

    It's Kind of Like: 'Persepolis' meets 'Jacob's Ladder' minus the humor and horned creatures

    What We Say: Somber and admittedly slow-paced, the film -- an Oscar favorite that lost Best Foreign Film to 'Departures' in one of the 2009 ceremony's only upsets -- is a thought-provoking examination of war and the human psyche's response to it.

    Sony Classics

    'The International'

    Release Date: June 9

    What It's About: It's Clive Owen against the world as an Interpol agent who, along with the help of a US assistant district attorney (Naomi Watts), attempts to bring down a arms-dealing, globe-ruling, omnipresent network of villains otherwise known as -- you guessed it? -- bankers.

    It's Kind of Like: Clive Owen finally playing James Bond

    What We Say: Talk about a topical thriller. Who's not ready to root against bankers right now? Of course here they're not just execs taking fat bonuses while driving the economy into a recession, but murderous corporate thugs bent on global domination. So yes, 'The International' takes a bit of suspension of belief, but it's still a riveting and high-voltage thriller worth the watch.

    Sony

    'Defiance'

    Release Date: June 2

    What It's About: When the Nazis invade town and kill their parents, the Bielski brothers (Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell) escape to the Belarussian forest, where they exact some brief revenge before forming a safe camp for other Jewish escapees.

    It's Kind of Like: 'Schindler's List' meets 'The Dirty Dozen'

    What We Say: Nobody does war like director Ed Zwick ('Glory,' 'Courage Under Fire,' 'Blood Diamond'). Despite its conventions, 'Defiance' is a powerful and moving epic that deserved more love when it opened last December (the film scored a modest 56 percent approval rating from critics on RottenTomatoes).

    Paramount Vantage

    'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button'

    Release Date: May 5

    What It's About: A New Orleans man (Brad Pitt) who miraculously ages in reverse, growing from naïve elder into relatively normal "middle-aged" period into a senile little boy. Sad as it may be, hey, at least he's got the impossibly handsome looks of Brad Pitt.

    It's Kind of Like: 'Forrest Gump' meets 'Cocoon'

    What We Say: So long as you don't mind the epic 166-minute runtime (easily the biggest audience knock against 'Button'), this is a fascinating and heartbreaking story done due justice with captivating, eye-catching effects by a brighter-than-ever David Fincher ('Seven').

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    Paramount

    'Frost/Nixon'

    Release Date: April 21

    What It's About:The true story of David Frost (Michael Sheen), a British TV personality who ponied up a cool $600,000 for the exclusive first interview with disgraced ex-president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) ... and somehow got his money worth.

    What We Say: It takes some serious directorial skill to condense 12 days of interviews into two hours of tense and gripping entertainment, but that's exactly what Ron Howard does in crafting this exciting battle of wits. It also helps that Langella's humanizing portrayal of Tricky Dick is phenomenal.

    Special Features? The DVD offers a making-of doc, footage from the actual interviews and a feature on additional recordings of the ex-prez (perfect for the Nixon completist).

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    Universal

    'The Wrestler'

    Release Date: April 21

    What It's About: Randy 'The Ram' Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a former pro wrestling sensation, is a shell of his former self. He now lives in a trailer park, wrestles for pennies at local New Jersey holes where using a staple gun (yes, a staple gun) in the ring is perfectly acceptable, and obsesses over a friendly neighborhood stripper (Marisa Tomei).

    It's Kind of Like: The anti-'Hogan Knows Best'

    What We Say: Darren Aronofsky's superb indie made the most noise for Rourke's triumphant comeback as a gentle giant, but the film itself was one of the year's best: It's a powerful, brutal and grueling yet still inspiring human drama.

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    Fox Searchlight

    'Notorious'

    Release Date: April 21

    What It's About: Just 12 years after his death comes this biopic about legendary rapper The Notorious B.I.G. (Jamal Woolard), aka Biggie Smalls, Big Poppa, Frank White and Christopher Wallace; also appearing are Anthony Mackie as Tupac Shakur and Derek Luke as P. Diddy (aka the man with too many aka's to list).

    It's Kind of Like:

    What We Say: The fact that Woolard raps over B.I.G. instrumentals is distracting (and we're not as wowed as we should be) but otherwise the actor delivers a strong, confident performance, and the fresh, stylish 'Notorious' builds up to a surprisingly potent peak.

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    Fox Searchlight

    'The Reader'

    Release Date: April 14

    What It's About: A middle-aged lawyer (Ralph Fiennes) recalls the days of his post-WWII youth (played by David Kross) he spent having hot and heavy sexytime with an older woman (Kate Winslet), only to discover later she's a Nazi accused of war crimes.

    It's Kind of Like: 'The Graduate' meets 'Schindler's List'

    What We Say: In a year where "sympathetic Nazi" films were amazingly abundant (see also 'Good' and 'Boy in the Striped Pajamas'), 'The Reader' was the most high-profile, the most controversial ... and the most superior. Far from a black-and-white portrait, it's intriguing and deeply thought-provoking. Once we get past all the flesh, that is. (We will say: It's harder to enjoy sex scenes when you know one's a Nazi.)

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    The Weinstein Company

    'Doubt'

    Release Date: April 7

    What It's About: An icy, conservative nun (Meryl Streep) and younger, progressive priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are the Hannity and Colmes of a Bronx Catholic church and school in 1964. But when she suspects him of molesting the school's first black student, their relationship transforms from one of passive difference to hostile opposition.

    It's Kind of Like: 'Priest' meets 'Dead Man Walking'

    What We Say: Any time a film gets four Oscar nominations for acting, you know you're in for some dramatic screen magic. Don't hold it against the film that its writer-director John Patrick Shanley's last movie was 'Joe Versus the Volcano.' This is a much better conflict.

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    Miramax




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