RT on DVD & Blu-Ray: An Iron Lady and a Sleeping Beauty

Plus, an alien invasion, a poignant doc, and a couple of Blu-rays.

We've got a relatively unremarkable week on home video, so the list will be pretty short. To kick things off, we've got Meryl Streep's latest award-winning effort, an artsy erotic drama, an alien invasion flick that got no love, and Werner Herzog's latest documentary (he's so good at those, isn't he?). Wrapping things up are two reissues: the Elia Kazan film that made Brando a star and the complete box set of a strange daytime soap from the '60s. See below for the full list!

The Iron Lady

51%

Every once in a while, a movie comes along that will compel critics to say, "It's worth seeing for the acting alone," and if ever there was a prime example of this phenomenon, it was last year's The Iron Lady. In The Iron Lady, Meryl Streep plays former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the same chameleonic grace she harnessed for her portrayal of Julia Child in 2009's Julie & Julia. Told primarily in flashback, Phyllida Lloyd's portrait begins in Thatcher's youth, then traces her rise to power and chronicles her involvement in certain key historical events. To get a sense of the critical reception to the film, consider the following: Lloyd's only other feature directorial effort, 2008's ABBA-themed musical Mamma Mia (which also starred Streep), is actually rated higher on the Tomatometer than The Iron Lady (54% vs. 53%), but for her work on the latter, Streep took home Best Actress honors from the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Academy Awards. In other words, The Iron Lady is worth seeing for the acting alone.

Sleeping Beauty

49%

There were some who initially balked at Sleeping Beauty, what with its explicitly adult themes and the considerably youthful countenance of its star, Emily Browning. And while erotic drama has been somewhat successful recently (see: Lust, Caution and Shame), Sleeping Beauty split critics right down the middle. Based on the 1961 Japanese novella The House of Sleeping Beauties by Yasunari Kawabata, the film stars Browning as Lucy, a troubled yet morose university student who responds to an ad looking for a lingerie-clad server for upscale clients. Before long, she is invited to take things a step further: drink a sedative and lie naked in bed as men of high profile lie next to her -- with "no penetration" -- and soon the experience begins affecting her daily life. Australian novelist Julia Leigh makes her directorial debut with Sleeping Beauty, and while some critics connected with the film's underlying feminist themes and praised Leigh's confident hand, others found it cold, inscrutable, and exploitative. Sitting squarely at 50% on the Tomatometer, it may be exactly what you're looking for, or it might just creep you out more than you expected.

The Darkest Hour

12%

As far as popular supernatural subgenres of film (vampires, zombies, etc) are concerned, it seems reasonable to expect one or two of every ten to be a decent flick; when it comes to the traditional alien invasion movie, for example, there's usually at least one Attack the Block to match up against the likes of Battle: Los Angeles, Skyline, and Cowboys & Aliens. Unfortunately, The Darkest Hour, which follows a group of tourists in Russia trying to survive an extraterrestrial attack, falls squarely in the company of the latter. Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella play Sean and Ben, two social networking entrepreneurs looking to market their software in Russia when strange lights in the sky descend up on Moscow and begin vaporizing humans. At 11% on the Tomatometer, it's probably easy to guess what the problems were with The Darkest Hour: critics found the plot devices trite and contrived, the special effects lazy, and the characters wholly unremarkable. Don't bet on getting many out-of-this-world kicks from this one.

Into the Abyss

91%

Few directors are as adept at plumbing the depths of humanity as Werner Herzog. Into the Abyss finds the great German director in a contemplative mood, as he explores the issues surrounding the death penalty through the lens of a pair of killers convicted for a particularly brutal murder in Texas. Into the Abyss is a relatively straightforward film for Herzog, though, as usual, he coaxes remarkable anecdotes and personal details out of his interview subjects -- some darkly funny, some just plain heartbreaking. Regardless of your opinion on the death penalty, Into the Abyss is powerful, disquieting stuff.

A Streetcar Named Desire - Blu-Ray

98%

It's considered an American classic, one of the greatest films to come out of Hollywood, and a cultural touchstone for many serious film fans, featuring outstanding, star-making performances -- one of the most iconic for Marlon Brando, in fact -- and some of the most referenced lines of dialogue. Director Elia Kazan's adaptation of the Tennesee Williams play, more of a character study than a plot-driven film, centers on the tumultuous marriage between Stanley and Stella Kowalski (Brando and Kim Hunter), which is interrupted by the unannounced arrival of Stella's sister Blanche (Vivien Leigh), an aging Southern belle whose carefully controlled demeanor conceals a troubled past of her own. Mining provocative themes like domestic abuse, the primal nature of attraction, and even rape, Williams's original stage production was thought to be too controversial for the screen, but even censored to an extent, Streetcar nevertheless delivered a powerful examination of sexual politics, winning three of the four Acting Oscars (ironically, Brando was the only one not to go home with a trophy). Unfortunately, if you already own the 2-disc Special Edition released back in 2006, then you already own all the special features found on this new Blu-ray, but by all accounts, the hi-def transfer is a good one, so it might be worth picking up anyway.

Dark Shadows - The Complete Original Series

When you can count Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Quentin Tarantino among your hardcore fans, you know you've struck a chord with a very specific cult audience, and such is the case for 1960s daytime soap Dark Shadows. Groundbreaking for its time, Dark Shadows was the first dramatic show of its type to rely heavily on supernatural themes, introducing vampires, witches, werewolves, and other creatures into its storyline and playing with ideas of time travel and parallel universes. Though it ended rather abruptly after six seasons, those who grew up watching it or discovered it through reruns have maintained a small, fervent fan base, so much so that Burton and Depp worked together to bring a big-screen adaptation to life (it opens on May 11, which explains why this box set is being released now). Now, this set contains all 1225 episodes of the show on 131 DVDs (you read that right: 131 DVDs!) and a ridiculous amount of extras, all housed within a nifty coffin-shaped box, so its price tag is hefty ($540 on Amazon) and it probably won't appeal to anyone other than Dark Shadows fanatics with lots of disposable income. But it's interesting, and it's timely, so it's here.

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