MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY (2008). Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is the sort of airy confection that will be dismissed by many as a pleasant but forgettable bauble, and that's OK. But catch it on the proper wavelength, and its pleasures are not only bountiful but durable. It's romantic without being cynical, witty without being puerile, and blessed by two divine performances from Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. McDormand plays the title character, a British maid in 1939 London who all too suddenly finds herself unemployed. Desperate to remain off the streets, she dupes her way into the position of social secretary to American actress Delysia Lafosse (Adams), an opportunistic if sweet-natured starlet whose biggest problem seems to be choosing between two playboys (Tom Payne and Mark Strong) who can advance her career and a struggling pianist (Lee Pace) who truly loves her. Yeah, I know: It's a no-brainer guessing who gets her hand by the fade-out. Yet despite Adam's screwball-style performance – as enchanting as her turn in Enchanted – the film's true delight doesn't rest with Delysia's affairs of the heart but with Miss Pettigrew's. A prim woman who lost her beloved during the First World War, Miss Pettigrew has long given up on any chance at romance. That a potential suitor comes along in the form of a successful clothing designer (Ciaran Hinds) seems just right, not only by the demands of the storyline but by the demands of our own hearts. McDormand sells her character with utter conviction, and the only thing possibly more praiseworthy than Miss Pettigrew is the movie that bears her name.
DVD extras include audio commentary by director Bharat Nalluri, eight minutes of deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.
NIM'S ISLAND (2008). If your kids have been totally weaned on ADD-addled animated flicks that mostly coast on crude humor and instantly dated pop culture references, then this clearly isn't the film for them. If, however, said children still find as much enjoyment (if not more so) in opening a book as in piloting a video game's remote control, then this lovely family film will satisfy them in no small measure. Like last year's Bridge to Terabithia, it views a child's imagination as a tangible playground, and this angle is sharply delineated by the colorful flourishes of directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin. Jodie Foster, the most prominent child actress of the 1970s, here hands the torch to Abigail Breslin, with the latter playing Nim, a precocious girl who lives on a remote island with her scientist father (Gerard Butler). When she's not frolicking with her animal friends, Nim enjoys reading adventure novels featuring the Indiana Jones-like Alex Rover, so when her dad goes missing and strangers invade the island, she naturally e-mails Alex Rover to help her. What her young mind doesn't grasp is that her hero doesn't actually exist; instead, the books are written by Alexandra Rover (Foster), an eccentric agoraphobe who carries on conversations with her fictional creation (also played by Butler). Nim's Island is occasionally silly (as befits a movie aimed at youngsters), but the sumptuous visuals as well as the presence of Foster and Butler insure that adults will also find it worthwhile.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Foster and Breslin, separate commentary by Flackett and Levin, three making-of featurettes, and three deleted scenes totaling 15 minutes.
SMART PEOPLE (2008). Even when he's grinning, Dennis Quaid generally bears the sour disposition of someone badly in need of an Alka-Seltzer; that pained grimace serves him well in Smart People, a dark comedy that turns out to be only moderately intelligent. Quaid stars as Lawrence Wetherhold, a miserable English professor whose disdain for his students is matched only by his intolerance of his fellow teachers. A widower who sorely misses his wife (Mark Jude Poirier's foggy screenplay never makes it clear if her death caused his surliness or if he was always something of an SOB), Lawrence lives with his daughter Vanessa (Juno's Ellen Page), a Young Republican who's as unhappy as her dad, and has to contend with an extended (and decidedly unwelcome) visit from his deadbeat brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church). A minor injury temporarily places Lawrence in the hospital, where his doctor, Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), turns out to be a former student who once had a crush on him. Lawrence and Janet tentatively try their hands at dating while Chuck tries to get Vanessa to loosen up and enjoy life; both scenarios contain interesting components yet never transcend their lukewarm presentations. All four stars are fine – Quaid and Church are the more memorable of the quartet, but that's largely because the men have the most interesting roles.
DVD extras include audio commentary by director Noam Murro and Poirier, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, cast and crew interviews, and a hidden Easter Egg.