Today's DVDs: No Strings Attached, Black Death and The Illusionist

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No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

stars Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, Cary Elwes, and Kevin Kline.

Here's what our critic Karina Longworth said about the movie:

Director Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached is extremely narrow in focus: It's "just" about two people in lust struggling to put away their respective baggage in order to have a real relationship with each other. Adam (Ashton Kutcher) drunkenly texts every girl in his phone and wakes up the next morning next to Emma (Natalie Portman). The more she warns him against falling in love, the harder he pushes to change her mind. Emma is so unfamiliar with anything like traditional romance that when it comes along, she panics.

It's to Reitman's credit that rather than just a sex romp disguised as a romantic comedy, No Strings Attached feels organic, a testament to the difficulty of accepting love at face value in a culture in which artificiality is the norm, sincere feelings are foreign enough to be frightening and old-fashioned romance can seem like a suspicious affect.

Here's our take: Sure, Ashton Kutcher is the closest thing we have to a romantic comedy leading man these days and his pairing with Natalie Portman had chemistry, but the real draw to No Strings Attached is that fans want to see Portman's panties hit the floor. After Black Swan, a heavy, angst-ridden film with lots of dancing and emoting and more dancing, audiences just want Portman to be sexy and funny and maybe show a little tit. It's a lighthearted story, and everyone on screen is pretty. It won't get Portman an Oscar, but it's a good use of an hour and a half.

DVD/Blu-ray extras: Commentary with the director Ivan Reitman, deleted scenes and alternate storyline scenes.

No Strings Attached is available on Netflix today (DVD and Blu-ray).

Black Death

Black Death

stars Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne and Carice van Houten.

Here's what our critic Mark Holcomb said about the movie: Black Death centers on a novice monk (Eddie Redmayne) in medieval Europe who joins a group of knights sent by the church to find a remote village rumored to be immune to the plague. There's also talk of a "necromancer" there who resuscitates the dead, whom the brooding leader of the band (Sean Bean) has sworn to kill. Once they arrive, however, the town appears disorientingly idyllic, and its high priestess (Black Book's Carice van Houten) is a gracious host who's also easy on the eyes. It's no surprise that things aren't exactly as they seem.

Here's our take: You had us at Sean Bean. The tough-but-sensitive Bean captures the audience's attention every time he's on screen. If the story wobbles from time to time, it's saved by a close-up of Bean brooding or looking quietly heroic.

DVD/Blu-ray extras: Interviews with the cast and crew, Bringing Black Death to Life featurette, Behind-the-Scenes featurette, deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

Black Death is available on Netflix today (DVD and Blu-ray). L'Illusionniste (The Illusionist)

L'Illusionniste (The Illusionist)

Here's what our critic J. Hoberman said about the movie: Sylvain Chomet's The Illusionist breathes life into a celluloid fossil, lovingly animating an unproduced script by the great filmmaker Jacques Tati. The title character, a middle-aged, itinerant stage magician, gives a series of mildly disastrous performances in Paris (where he is compelled to play straight man to his obstreperous rabbit) and London (sharing the bill with an obnoxious quartet of proto-Beatles mop tops). He gives his most appreciated performance in a pub. When he leaves for Edinburgh, the bar's naïve young slavey, an unprepossessing slip of a girl named Alice, tags along, convinced that his conjuring tricks really are magic.

No less impressive than Chomet's character animation is his sense of timing. For its 80 minutes, the movie creates the illusion that not just Tati but his form of cerebral slapstick lives.

Here's our take: The Illusionist is a rare gem, tender, sweet and able to transport viewers to another world. Did we mention it's by Sylvain Chomet?

DVD/Blu-ray extras: Commentary from director Sylvain Chomet and The Making of The Illusionist featurette.

The Illusionist is available on Netflix today (DVD and Blu-ray).

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