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Devotion: An Unauthorized Tribute to Michael Jackson

Infinity

$20

Plot: A look back at the King of Pop’s iconic career and unexpected death.

Opinion: Even the most devoted Michael Jackson fan would be wise to avoid purchasing this shoddy video tribute, which offers no new insights into Jackson’s life.  How cheap is this 50-minute biography?  So cheap, the filmmakers weren’t able to afford the rights to any of Jackson’s music, which means you’ll hear lots of folks talking about Thriller, but can’t actually hear any of Thriller.  Say what you will about VH1’s muckraking Behind the Music franchise-at least they were able to score on-camera interviews with musicians’ friends and colleagues (both past and present) as well as, in some cases, the actual musicians themselves.  Devotion consists entirely of repurposed news footage and interviews granted to other sources.  And since this is an “unauthorized tribute,” none of the Jackson family sits down for the film, not even LaToya, who will pretty much talk to anyone.  If you really want to honor MJ’s memory, spend your $20 on advanced tickets to the upcoming authorized tribute Michael Jackson: This Is It instead.

Bonus Features: 20 minutes worth of extended scenes dealing with such topics as Jackson’s charity work.

Verdict: Skip It

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State of Play

Universal

$30

Blu-ray: $40

Plot: A veteran Washington D.C. journalist (Russell Crowe) investigates the sudden death of a Capitol Hill employee and discovers an elaborate plot involving corrupt senators and a multi-national corporation willing to do whatever it takes to protects its own interests.

Opinion: I have to admit that I was prepared to hate State of Play because it’s based on a British miniseries that ranks as some of the best television I’ve ever seen.  Condensing the original six-hour story into a more Hollywood-friendly two hours seemed like a bad idea from the get-go, even with such talented screenwriters as Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Matthew Michael Carnahan (The Kingdom) and Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) attached to the script.  Well, guess what?  The movie doesn’t suck.  In fact, State of Play is a lot of fun, the kind of well-made, well-acted, wholly entertaining big-budget thriller that major studios seem to have trouble producing these days.  Naturally, it’s not as good as the series, largely because it has a lot of material to get through in very little time and the plot mechanics do get gummed up on occasion, particularly in the final act when several major events occur in ways that don’t make a lot of sense when you stop to think about them.  Considering how badly the translation from TV-to-film could have turned out though, State of Play is a better adaptation than I could have expected.  I’d still encourage viewers to check out the series first, but the movie is an above-average Cliffs Notes version.

Bonus Features: Deleted scenes and a routine making-of featurette.

Verdict: Rent It

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Earth

Disney

$30

Blu-ray: $40

Plot: A year in the life of three animal families: polar bears, elephants and humpback whales.

Opinion: A condensed version of the multi-part BBC series Planet Earth (which remains a best-seller on DVD), Earth offers up some extraordinary images of this big blue ball we call home.  No matter how jaded and cynical you might be, it’s hard not to feel a thrill at the sight of polar bear cups scrambling through the Arctic wilderness or a leopard stalking and then pouncing on its prey.  As stunning as Earth is to watch-particularly in its Blu-ray edition-James Earl Jones’ intrusive, overly cutesy narration threatens to detract from the experience.  It’s a shame that Disney didn’t include a “music only” track on the DVD so you can appreciate our planet’s natural beauty without someone talking your ear off.

Bonus Features: A behind-the-scenes look at how Earth was made.  The Blu-ray version also comes with an in-movie “pop-up facts” feature that lets you learn even more about the planet.

Verdict: Buy It

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Also on DVD:

For anyone who still cares, Heroes: Season Three (Universal, $60) arrives this week looking to generate some excitement among the show’s dwindling fanbase for the impending debut of the fourth-and possibly final-season.  The set boasts over 20 hours of bonus features, which will probably be more entertaining than the actual episodes.  In other TV news, The Game: The First Season (Paramount, $37) collects the entire freshman year of the recently cancelled CW series, a casualty of the network’s increasing interest in churning out remakes of ’90s teen soaps.  Sugar (Sony Pictures Classics, $29) sheds light on a little-discussed aspect of our national pastime-the recruitment and training of players from the Dominican Republic to fill out major league baseball’s farm system.  One of the most beautifully photographed films so far this year, the Mexican drama Sin Nombre (Universal, $30) follows a soulful gang member who offs his outfit’s leader and rides the rails north to the U.S. border.  Finally, Christina Milian headlines the latest Bring It On sequel, Bring It On: Fight to the Finish (Universal, $30), directed by Bille Woodruff, the same person who taught Jessica Alba all her dance moves in Honey

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