images-6Kate Winslet won her recent best actress Oscar for her work in “The Reader,” not the vastly superior “Revolutionary Road.” Yet, on a second viewing, her performance in “The Reader” is not only the best thing in the movie, but also provides a coherent emotional throughline, which, I think, one would expect to emanate from the Ralph Fiennes character (played as a teen by David Kross ).

Perhaps that’s why I enjoyed “The Reader” more at home on DVD. What on-screen comes off as meandering, confused and self-important finds a focus when viewed on a more intimate scale. Instead of trying to follow the story — about a man (Fiennes) who learns the mysterious woman (Winslet) who’d taken him as a lover when he was a teenager is now on trial for Nazi war crimes — you can simply concentrate on Winslet, (and maybe glean some clue as to why this performance was Oscar-blessed instead of her superbly observed diary of a mad ’50s housewife in “Revolutionary Road”).

The key, perhaps, is that she does so well with so little. “Revolutionary Road” is a juicy tale of a lost cause. Several actually — not just her marriage to Leonardo DiCaprio but the state of the feminine mystique pre-Pill and women’s rights. I’m not saying it’s an easy role; just one with more dramatic potential and ample audience-grabbing opportunities.

Her character in “The Reader” is, by comparison, a cipher. Yet Winslet fills in the blanks with a wonderfully nuanced portrayal that, as I said, is much easier to appreciate on a small screen. That she gets nekked a lot is probably a plus for certain viewers, too.

The extras are the usual: a making-of featurette, an interview with Kross and director Stephen Daldry; deleted scenes, trailers, etc.

It’s always a nice surprise when a film that disappointed on screen — especially one with “quality filmmaking” stamped on every frame — comes off better in another setting. Another plus for home viewing: you can pause the DVD to give yourself a moment to try to figure out what’s going on. Or just to see Winslet.

And speaking of nekked …

The documentary “American Swing” can’t seem to make up its mind. Is it meant to be taken as pure kitsch or do the filmmakers intend it as a no-smirk-zone chronicle of the glory days (?) of the ’70s swingers’ paradise (again, ??) Plato’s Retreat?

Part archival footage of some of the ugliest ’70s self-styled swingers getting it on at the legendary (???) nook (sorry) that flourished for a time on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, part talking-head reminiscences from the likes of Ed and Gloria and Karen and Danny the Pony (don’t ask), the movie has a certain tawdry fascination.

As did Plato’s Retreat. Founder Larry Levinson, who died in the mid ’90s, has the same uncertain pudgy appeal as Sonny Bono, but his crowd of regulars, whether their slim ’70s selves or today’s relatively gross incarnations, are laughable grotesques. Again, the movie leaves us unsure as to whether they (or the filmmakers) are in on the joke or not. But if you ever wondered what it was like to swing at a bargain-basement Playboy Mansion, here’s your chance.

To quote one sad reveler, “I found myself with a construction worker from Connecticut!”

Editor’s note: Eleanor Ringel Cater is a founding contributor to This article was distrbuted by Georgia Online News Service.

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater, long-time movie critic for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, also has been a regular contributor to CNN, MSNBC, Entertainment Weekly, Headline News and WXIA, Atlanta's NBC affiliate, and a columnist for TV Guide.

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