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‘The Reader’ aided by strong cast

Washington Post

‘The Reader’

Bernhard Schlink’s highly regarded novel receives a graceful, absorbing screen adaptation by director Stephen Daldry, who conveys a technically and morally complicated story with consummate skill and smoothness. Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes deliver fine performances as the tortured souls at the center of this wrenching portrait of Germany reckoning with its Nazi past. But the standout here is 18-year-old German actor David Kross, whose portrayal of a teenage Michael Berg suggests a promising future.

In 1958, Michael meets Hanna (Winslet), a 36-year-old tram worker who seduces the boy, then mysteriously disappears. Eight years later, as a law student in Heidelberg, Michael encounters Hanna again, this time in the troubling context of wartime atrocities. Traveling back and forth in time, from the 1950s and 1960s to the 1980s and 1990s, the story traces how Michael copes with the secret he and Hanna share and, by extension, the shame and silence that shrouded his country’s past. Winslet’s performance earned her the Oscar for Best Actress. DVD extras include featurettes, deleted scenes. (2:03; rated R for scenes of sexuality and nudity)

‘The Spirit’

Frank Miller’s latest film plays like a “Batman” knockoff and wants to be sure everybody knows it. Denny (Gabriel Macht) is a murdered cop “reborn” as a vigilante crime fighter with supernatural healing powers. The story begins as the Spirit arrives at the place where, moments earlier, a beautiful woman (Eva Mendes) emerged Venus-like from computer-generated waters and shot a cop. The cop tears a locket from a chain around the woman’s neck, which is how the Spirit discovers that his old flame and international jewel thief, Sand Saref, is back in town. He quickly realizes that the real cop-shooter is the villain, the over-the-top Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson).

Macht’s Spirit is cute, goofy and utterly vapid. At times, the movie resembles an incredibly expensive, and expressionistic, puppet show. DVD extras include commentary by Miller and producer Deborah Del Prete; featurettes; trailer. (1:43; rated PG-13 for intense sequences of stylized violence and action, sexual content and brief nudity)

Also available: “Dark Matter,” “House of Saddam,” “Malcolm and Eddie: Season 1,” “My Best Friend’s A Vampire,” “The Pope’s Toilet,” “Splinter,” “Trust Me,” “Zombie Apocalypse: the Movie.”

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