'Charlotte's Web' spins its charms; 'Volver' invites return viewings
New on DVD, a family classic and a dark comedy from Spain.
Charlotte's Web (G)
Let's get this out of the way up front: Is it as good as the book? Of course not. But given the perfection of E.B. White's classic, there's no shame in that. This "Charlotte's Web," is certainly a huge step above the '70s cartoon that had White wishing he could fall on his sword. Charming and faithful to the book (barring some forgettable barnyard humor), the movie is anchored by two terrific performances: Dakota Fanning as Fern, the farm girl who fought to save a runty pig from the ax; and Julia Roberts as Charlotte, the spider who finished the job by proving that humans really will believe everything they read. Extras: Skip the gag reel and the features about the human cast. The most interesting documentaries focus on the animal actors. (All of the pigs who played Wilbur were adopted and will be able to live out their natural lives.) Grade: B+
"Volver" ("to return" in Spanish) is a fitting title for Pedro Almodóvar's new drama. It's a return to the women's stories the director is renowned for and features the return of his two protégées, Penélope Cruz and Carmen Maura. It's also a return to form for Cruz, who plays Raimunda, a hard-working mother whose teen daughter kills her stepfather when he tries to rape her. Meanwhile, Raimunda's sister, Sole, is visited by what appears to be an apparition of the sisters' long-dead mother (Maura). If you're unaware of Almodóvar's oeuvre, you'll be surprised to read that this is his most accessible movie in ages. As a story about second chances, it's also fairly moving. Grade: B+