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DVDs & Blu-rays: Contraband, The Wicker Tree and Czech New Wave

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Contraband

stars Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale; Baltasar Kormakur directs.

It's a role we've seen Mark Wahlberg in many times before -- the reformed bad guy trying to stay out of trouble and failing -- but he does it so well, we're willing to give Contraband a look. It was worth the effort. Wahlberg stars as Chris, a former smuggler who's forced back in the game when a drug lord threatens his family. The action scenes are satisfying and there's plenty of blood and violence for those of us that like that sort of thing.

Wahlberg is solid and he sufficiently anchors the cast, so we aren't really bothered by the lightweight performances by those around him. (Poor Kate Beckinsale, she doesn't have much to do and it's no wonder she turns in a less-than-committed performance. ) No, these aren't Oscar-winning performances, but it's the action that's the draw here. And in that respect, Contraband pays off.

Extras include deleted scenes, the featurette Under the Radar - The Making of Contraband, and commentary by director/producer Baltasar Kormakur and producer Evan Hayes.

The Wicker Tree

stars Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett; Robin Hardy directs.

Writer/director Robin Hardy revisits the themes he first chronicled in his horror classic The Wicker Man with a companion piece, The Wicker Tree. As with Wicker Man, Hardy sets up an us-and-them situation, with religion being the dividing factor. Two missionaries (Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett) from the evangelical group Cowboys for Christ land in a small town in Scotland. Trying to win over the locals, the two agree to be Queen of the May and Laddie in the annual town fair. Of course, they don't know that being crowned Queen and Laddie is pretty much a death sentence. The locals are devout pagans with violent tendencies. Christopher Lee, who starred in The Wicker Man, has a small role here.

Viewers should not think of Wicker Tree as a sequel by any means. It's the second in Hardy's Wicker trilogy, but it's a stand-alone film. We really can't blame Hardy for continuing the Wicker Man franchise, even though we doubt anything he does now will rival the original. But with the dismal 2006 remake of Wicker Man by Neil LaBute and starring Nicolas Cage, it's understandable that Hardy had to step in and protect his story.

In a change of pace from Contraband and Wicker Tree, our box set selection this week is Eclipse Series 32: Pearls of the Czech New Wave (Pearls of the Deep, Daisies, A Report on the Party and Guests, Return of the Prodigal Son, Capricious Summer, The Joke) from the Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection label always catches our attention and while the films in this box set are distinctly not mainstream, cinephiles with a taste for dark humor and surrealism will enjoy a look at some of the Czech New Wave's best offerings.

Making films in Czechoslovakia during the 1960s was as much a political action as an expression of art. Director -- and future Oscar winner -- Milos Forman led the New Wave movement, which was marked by a sense of duty to unmask the Czech regime as an oppressive and brutal system.

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