BLOOD DIAMOND (2006). The message of this public service announcement masquerading as a movie is that consumers should take care not to buy "conflict diamonds," baubles obtained by mercenaries using slave labor, then smuggled out of war torn countries. Since the film (set in Sierra Leone) quickly establishes that these "conflict diamonds" are mixed in with legitimate diamonds at an early stage in the marketing process, it's never made clear how exactly consumers are supposed to avoid said jewels (buy roses instead?). At any rate, the movie's lofty intentions are hamstrung by having to coexist uneasily with stock characters; in fact, take away the self-important stance and you're basically left with a buddy action flick that usually stars the likes of The Rock and Martin Lawrence. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio in a strong performance) is a devil-may-care opportunist who discovers he has a heart of gold as large as the diamond he's seeking. Solomon Vandy (magnetic Djimon Hounsou, once again typecast) is a fisherman brutalized and forced into mining the diamond fields. And Maddy Bowen (Jennifer Connelly, working overtime to add spark to a thin character) is an American journalist who sounds like an Information Please almanac every time she opens her mouth. Director Edward Zwick and his team are presumably sincere in wanting to shed some light on a tragic real-world situation, but the clumsy Blood Diamond simply can't cut it. Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by Zwick, a documentary that follows a diamond from the ground to the store, interviews with DiCaprio and Connelly, and Nas' music video for "Shine on 'Em."
THE NAKED CITY (1948). New York City itself is the real star of this influential crime flick that broke from the established norm by being filmed on actual locations rather than on a Hollywood studio lot. Conceived by producer Mark Hellinger (a former journalist) as a fictional piece punched across in docudrama style (also a fairly original concept at the time), this focuses on a single murder case plaguing members of New York's finest: the drowning of a beautiful (and social-climbing) woman in her own bathtub. Wily vet Dan Muldoon (reliable Barry Fitzgerald) heads the investigation, with eager young Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) doing most of the legwork; their tireless efforts eventually lead them to the killer, who's hunted down in an expertly shot climax (both cinematographer William Daniels and film editor Paul Weatherwax won Academy Awards for their work on the picture). "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them," states the narrator (also Hellinger) at the end of the film, a tagline that was subsequently used in the television spin-off that ran for several years on ABC. The Criterion label has already released a handful of titles directed by Jules Dassin, including Night and the City and the excellent (and underrated) Thieves' Highway; up next is Brute Force, due April 17. DVD extras on The Naked City include audio commentary by the film's screenwriter, Malvin Wald, a discussion by film professor Dana Polan regarding the film's look at NYC's social strata, an exploration of the use of authentic locations by Celluloid Skyline author James Sanders, an interview with Dassin, and a stills gallery.
STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006). Harold Crick (Will Ferrell), an IRS agent whose dull life is marked by rigid routine, learns that he has inadvertently become the lead character in a book being written by reclusive author Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson). What affects the character also affects him, a disaster once he realizes that the author is plotting to kill off her creation. Despite the innovative premise, the script by Zach Helm never matches the existential, mind-bending depths of, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind or I Heart Huckabees. This remains a resolutely mainstream offering, with flights of fancy that lightly tickle the brain but never really challenge it. The upside is that this allows a conventional love story to take root amid the high concept, and as enacted by Ferrell and Maggie Gyllenhaal (playing a baker who awakens Harold's dormant passions), it's both charming and disarming. Stranger Than Fiction promises a heady experience, but it ultimately heads for the heart instead. DVD extras include deleted scenes and making-of featurettes.