‘The Impossible' gives a clear-eyed look at power of family

Based on the experiences of a Spanish clan who survived the 2004 tsunami, “The Impossible” (2012, Summit, PG-13, $29) is not only a harrowing disaster epic but also a clear-eyed look at the power of family.

When 100-foot waves crash into the Thailand hotel where the Belons are staying, Maria (Naomi Watts) and her oldest son Lucas (a fine Tom Holland) are instantly separated from her husband (Ewan McGregor) and younger sons. As the water swallows and bashes Maria and Lucas around, they dodge debris, and are eventually forced to cling to a palm tree to survive.

Their efforts to stay alive, while also helping others, are riveting. Don’t miss this one. Extras: featurettes, deleted scenes and commentaries.

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“Gangster Squad”(2012, Warner, R, $29) Set in Los Angeles in the late ’40s, this organized crime epic begins with Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) ordering an elite unit of coppers (Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick) to use any means necessary to bring down mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). The production design is superb, the acting is solid and the dialogue is entertainingly hard-boiled but the film occasionally feels over-loaded with shoot-outs and smackdowns. Still, even when “Gangster Squad” loses its authenticity, director Ruben Fleischer keeps it bristling with suspense and sexual tension. Extras: deleted scenes, featurettes and commentary by Fleischer.


“Promised Land” (2012, Universal, R, $30) Matt Damon stars as a salesman for a fictional natural gas company who, along with his associate (Frances McDormand), shows up in rural Pennsylvania to talk the cash-strapped locals into leasing their land for shale drilling (or fracking.) What seems like an easy job for Damon becomes complicated thanks to resistance from a farmer (Hal Holbrook) and an environmental activist (John Krasinski). Not unlike Elia Kazan’s similarly-themed “Wild River,” the film works hard to paint its characters in shades of gray. It doesn’t dig deep enough but a movie as potent and provocative as “Promised Land” is worth a look. Extras: featurette.

“A Haunted House” (2012, Universal, R, $30) The latest in a series of “Paranormal Activity” spoofs, this comedy takes off from the premise that after Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) invites his girlfriend (Essence Atkins) to move in with him, she becomes a monster who eventually winds up possessed by the devil. Despite director Michael Tiddes’ tendency to allow sight gags to go on way too long, there’s a few funny bits early on. Alanna Ubach and Andrew Daly score as swingers on the make but the film eventually collapses into a series of crude, unfunny jokes involving a gay psychic (Nick Swardson) and an inept exorcist (Cedric The Entertainer). Extras: featurette.

“The Central Park Five”(2012, PBS, unrated, $25) Ken Burns’ latest documentary is the very sad account of five Harlem teenagers who were convicted of one of New York’s most notorious crimes — the rape and brutal assault of Trisha Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker who was accosted while jogging in Central Park. In 2002, the Central Park Five’s sentences were overturned when serial rapist Matias Reyes (whose DNA was found at the scene) confessed to the crime. While Burns’ is annoyingly vague about the role the Five played in other crimes that night in the Park, the documentary is so absorbing, it’s hard to get it out of your head. Extras: featurettes.

“Any Day Now” (2012, Music Box, R, $25) Inspired by a true story, this 1970s-set drama pits a gay couple (Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt) who are raising an adopted Down syndrome son (Isaac Leyva) against a biased legal system claiming they’re unfit parents. Both Cumming and Dillahunt (“Raising Hope”) are terrific in roles that call for humor and heartbreak. “Any Day Now” might be a tear-jerker but it earns its tears with acutely-observed characterizations, a beguiling love story and a plot that continually springs surprises. Extras: featurettes.

“Save The Date” (2012, IFC, R, $25) Cartoonist Sarah (Lizzy Caplan) doesn’t like commitments, so when her indie-rocker boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) proposes, she goes running the other way. She winds up dating Jonathan (Mark Webber), a grad student who’s even more sensitive and mopey than Kevin was. When Jonathan pulls close, Sarah pushes him away, too. “Save the Dave” should have been a sharp look at the modern dating scene but most of the characters, particularly Sarah, are so unlikable, it’s hard to care who’s hooking up with whom. Extras: deleted scenes, featurettes, commentaries, outtakes and music video.

“Wuthering Heights”(2012, Oscilloscope, R, $30) Director Andrea Arnold, who brought so much energy and authenticity to “Fish Tank,” stumbles with her adaptation of the Emily Bronte classic. Her mistakes are many and include casting novices in the roles of Heathcliff and Cathy, draining the drama of much of its dialogue, and employing cinematography so dark its hard to see what’s going on. It’s a great idea to bring a bit of dank atmosphere to this tale of passion on the moors but Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” is all atmosphere and not much else. Extras: featurettes.

“Mr. Selfridge” (2013, PBS, unrated, $50) If you’re still missing “Downton Abbey,” check out this Masterpiece mini-series which brings to life the story of American entrepreneur Harry Gordon Selfridge (Jeremy Piven), the forward-thinking founder of Selfridges, London’s first department store. While Piven is the star of the show, there are plenty of subplots involving the store’s workers, including an accessories clerk (Aisling Loftus) with a complicated love life. Sure, “Mr. Selfridge” is a soap opera but it’s a plucky, well-toned one. Extras: featurettes.

“Jurassic Park 3D” (1993, Universal, PG-13, $50) If ever a movie called out for a 3D conversion, it’s Steven Spielberg’s dino epic about a handful of people (Laura Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards) trying to survive the prehistoric predators who’ve taken over a remote island near Costa Rica. Two decades after the movie’s release, the CGI-generated tyrannosaurs and velociraptors are as astonishing as ever. The new set includes the 3D Blu-ray, the 2D Blu-ray and the DVD. Extras: new and vintage featurettes, storyboards and production archives.

“Last Shop Standing”(2012, MVD, unrated, $20) Timed to coincide with Record Store Day on April 20, this British documentary traces the rise and fall and rebirth (thanks to vinyl) of the indie record shop. Filmmaker Graham Jones’ blames the demise of the stores not only on the digital revolution but also on big box chains selling CDs at cost. The doc is slight but it’s fun to hear shop owners reliving their glory days, especially a Liverpool eccentric who both sold records to the Beatles and sold Beatles records. Extras: additional interviews.

“Never Let Me Go”(1953, Warner Archive, unrated, $22) Director Delmer Daves, who scripted the swoony “An Affair to Remember” and directed the action-heavy “3:10 To Yuma,” combines his talents for romance and suspense with this exciting Cold War thriller about a newspaperman (Clark Gable) who risks his life to smuggle his ballerina wife (Gene Tierney) out of Russia. The first half is all slow-burn tension as Gable and Tierney fall in love and work towards securing an exit visa. The second half, which details the daring rescue mission, is a marvel of controlled intensity. Daves delivers the goods. Extras: none.

“College: Ultimate Edition” (1927, Kino, unrated, $35) Kino continues its Buster Keaton-on-Blu-ray restoration project with this wonderful showcase for the comic’s slapstick skills. Buster plays a bookworm who discovers the only way to impress the girl (Anne Cornwall) of his dreams is to become an athlete. He tries baseball, track and rowing with disastrous results. Unlike Keaton’s smoother features, the film is little more than a series of vignettes but those vignettes are funny enough to put a big, dumb grin on your face. Extras: commentaries and “The Scribe” (1966), Keaton’s last film performance.

“Maverick: The Complete Second Season” (1958, Warner, unrated, $40) James Garner and Jack Kelly are Bret and Bart Maverick, cardsharp brothers in the Old West who, over the course of 26 episodes, get themselves into all kinds of trouble. Thanks to Garner’s sly performance, Bret Maverick is irresistible even when he upends western clichés by claiming to be both a coward and a slow draw. Not for nothing was Bret called TV’s first anti-hero. Extras: none.

Amy Longsdorf is a freelance entertainment writer. Her DVD reviews appear Sunday in The Mercury.