Denzel Washington burns through “Book,” while Kristen Bell finds love in “Rome”

By Sean O’Connell stays on top of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases so you know which films are worth your time and money. This week, we review:

“The Book of Eli” (Blu-ray)
Post-apocalyptic America has become a popular place for filmgoers to hang, whether we’re walking “The Road” with Viggo Mortensen or seeking “Salvation” in the latest “Terminator” installment. Maybe Hollywood’s preparing us for the planet’s demise in 2012?

We head back to the scorched-earth landscapes of an undetermined future in “The Book of Eli,” a pensive thriller from Albert and Allen Hughes that arrives on pristine Blu-ray this week. The title sounds metaphorical, but there’s an actual tome carried by dutiful Eli (Denzel Washington) as he marches silently through endless miles of ash and dust. Black-clad Carnegie (Gary Oldman) wants the book – the title of which is a minor spoiler that I’ll leave for you to discover – and sends a small army of “Road Warrior” rejects to retrieve it. Easier said than done.

Washington’s arresting, as always, playing the lethal keeper of this literary flame. His trademark sunglasses can’t distract from the actor’s forceful solemnity and indistinguishable charm. Oldman’s a worthy foil, underplaying his character’s menace to good effect. Mila Kunis chips in as the prettiest (and cleanest) nuclear-holocaust survivor we’ve ever seen. The searing, white-washed landscape – New Mexico, mostly – is gritty enough, with the Hughes brothers’ spectacular production teaming going to great lengths to construct a believable, foreboding future. “Eli” does wander, and the pace gets noticeably quicker during a balletic fire-fight at an isolated farmhouse, which finds the brothers zooming their cameras to impossible angles during seemingly unbroken shots. More of that experimental artistry would have been appreciated. Overall, though, “Book” is well worth flipping through, and you’ll have much to discuss afterwards.

Conversation can only be stimulated through Warner’s solid Blu-ray, which comes with its fair share of bells and whistles. The studio’s patented “Maximum Movie Mode” provides tons of insights from the Highes brothers and their assorted collaborators. “Focus Points” takes us behind the scenes for extensive, in-depth looks at the film’s fight choreography, bare-bones production designs, weaponry, music, and much more. “A Lost Tale” provides an animated backstory for Carnegie. Deleted and alternate scenes fill in a few of the story’s gaps. The Hughes brothers provide a lengthy commentary about the film’s soundtrack. And the overloaded disc rounds out with online BD Live content as well as a digital copy of the film for your portable devices.

The movie – *** out of 4
The DVD – ***1/2

“When In Rome”

Only about 10 minutes of Mark Steven Johnson’s “When In Rome” actually takes place in Rome. That’s long enough for harried career gal Beth (Kristen Bell) to climb into a magic Italian fountain, rescue a few coins from the “despair” of true love, and return to Manhattan with a bevy of unlikely suitors on her tail.

All of “Rome” is harried, however, from the overall pace to the rabid-fire attempts at humor. Johnson – who helmed superhero actioners prior to this – doesn’t want to slow down long enough for “Rome” to settle in, so some very funny people (including Will Arnett, Dax Shepard, Danny DeVito and Bobby Moynihan) must perform comedy on the fly. It rarely gets off the ground.

Bell, while adorable, is also a gifted physical comedian, and she forms a nice pair with love interest Josh Duhamel. Maybe a sequel can follow them on their honeymoon, where the couple – and the comedy – can learn to relax.

As for the DVD, it comes with a three-minute blooper reel (mostly cast members flubbing their lines), three deleted scenes, and two music videos.

The movie – *1/2 out of 4
The DVD – **

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