This is one hell of a big release week for DVDs, quantitatively speaking, but there are only a handful of high profile titles among the flood of new-to-you releases. But what are these big titles you wonder? Well I could tell you, or I could make you click through to discover them for yourself. So how about this… if I can guess the answer to a math problem where YOU provide the numbers then you have to read through the entire column. Deal? Ok.
Pick a three digit number where all three can’t be the same, reverse it, then subtract the smaller from the larger (ex. 997 <-> 799… 997-799=198). Now reverse the difference and add them (ex. 198<->891… 198+891=1089), and I bet I can guess your answer. It’s 1089 isn’t it? I’ve just blown your mind haven’t I? Now you’ll read the column, won’t you?
This is what common sense looks like. The basic tenets of Bjorn Lomborg’s argument, an argument that has upset many in the war against global warming, are fairly simple and possibly misunderstood. Global warming is real, mankind bears some responsibility for it, it’s not as bad as the alarmists would have you believe, and there are far better ways to spend $250 billion than trying to focus on cutting CO2 emissions… China and India will never go for it, and the end result is negligible anyway. His plan is admittedly limited in details, but he provides more than a few great ideas and starting points. And it still leaves $100 billion for education, health care, and irrigation support throughout the world. These are not ideas that should be ignored.
Pitch: New footage, old atrocities…
Why Buy? This six part documentary looks at WWII from 1939 to 1944 using historical footage from multiple sources. Much of it has rarely or never been seen publicly before, and it ranges from the mundane to the absurd to the disturbing. The only possible knocks against it are its basis as a French production and that it’s lightly colorized, but it’s thorough and well edited and the colorization adds depth and life to the events. Plus, any doc that introduces Henry Ford as “the anti-Semitic automaker” is aces in my book.
Pitch: Natalie Portman may have only performed 10% of the dancing, but she was 100% involved in the love scene with Mila Kunis…
Why Buy? A young dancer (Portman) gets a big break when she’s cast as the lead in a new rendition of Swan Lake, but the stress on her body and mind play havoc with her fragile personality as she struggles to achieve an elusive greatness. Portman won the Academy Award for her fearless performance here, and that plus Darren Aronofsky’s creative and often freaky visuals help make this a film worth owning. The DVD also includes a fairly thorough ‘making of’ doc highlighting different aspects of the production.
Pitch: On the one hand it’s a Lifetime miniseries. But on the other it stars TV’s Ed and JD’s older brother from Scrubs…
Why Rent? The true story behind one of the Pacific Northwest’s most notorious serial killers makes for compelling television even if it is from the Lifetime channel. Tom Cavanagh trades in his usual smirks for some serious acting as a sheriff who spends more than a decade in pursuit of the killer, and while his may be one of the only recognizable faces in the movie the other actors are just as capable. This is far from the level of David Fincher’s Zodiac, but it still manages to engage the attention throughout.
Pitch: “Do you believe this is the rapture? God calling all the bees back up to heaven…”
Why Rent? The strange disappearances of honeybees in recent years is a real and still unexplained phenomenon, and this doc takes a look at Colony Collapse Disorder through the eyes of researchers as well as the beekeepers whose livelihood depends on them. In addition to the mystery it attempts to understand this film also features some fairly beautiful scenes of the bees at work and buzzing through the air.
Pitch: Goddamnit. Just, goddamnit…
Why Rent? A film producer divides his time between a busy work life and a rewarding home life, but sometimes outside forces can intervene and disrupt them both. Mia Hansen-Løve’s family drama is a beautiful punch to the gut that lulls the viewer in with a living rhythm, constant movement, and smiling faces. The film highlights a family full of love, unaware of the tragedy awaiting them and then follows their search for understanding and survival afterward. The acting is first rate across the board, but it’s the quiet tears on a daughter’s face that will break your heart.
Pitch: Why’d it have to be scarecrows…
Why Rent? A group of friends get stuck in the middle of nowhere. And take refuge in a creepy old house. Which is in the middle of a cornfield haunted by murderous scarecrows. So you know that doesn’t end well. The movie makes several missteps, but it more than earns a watch thanks to some scary and frightening scenes. Granted, you’d have to go out of your way to make scarecrows anything less than creepy, but the movie does a great job with their look as well as their intense rage.
Pitch: Has Jamie Oliver taught us nothing…
Why Rent? The idea of knowing not only what’s in the food we’re eating but also where it came from is foreign to most people, and that’s pretty sad. (It’s also evident in America’s growing waistline.) Combating the growing reliance on manufactured, modified, and otherwise artificially enhanced “food” products shipped in from elsewhere is the idea that real food can and should be local and sustainable when ever possible. This doc looks at the people across the country trying to do just that and the roadblocks they face. I live by a school here in Berkeley that successfully feeds their students with locally grown foods, and it’s a vast improvement over the usual garbage the government deems appropriate. (And the lobbyists and farm subsidies involved in the US school food program are ridiculous enough to deserve their own documentary.)
Pitch: Imagine a time and a place where a nation’s number one enemy was a simple bank robber…
Why Rent? This is the second (and better) half of the Mesrine saga, and it features some stellar action scenes amidst the unfolding adventure that was Jacques Mesrine’s life. Vincent Cassel continues to excel in the title role with a performance that combines fierce tenacity with unbridled joy. Mesrine’s real-life antics were often crazy, and this film captures many of them including ballsy escapes from jail and even his own trial. Gun fights, car chases, and more smarmy French gendarmes than you can shake a croissant at fill out this exciting close to Mr. Mesrine’s tale.
Pitch: Is this from a deleted scene? Probably not…
Why Rent? Haven’t seen this one yet, but Zoë Gulliksen’s joyful enthusiasm for the film is unavoidably contagious, and she’s single-handedly forced me into renting the damn movie. Disney’s latest (non-Pixar) animated film is a retelling of Rapunzel but adds in more magic, romance, and comedy to help draw in a bigger audience. The eternally cute Mandy Moore voices the princess-type in need of a trim, and Chuck‘s Zachary Levi gives life to the comical thief who develops a strong desire to tug her hair from behind. That’s probably not true (or appropriate) but it’s my Mandy Moore dream and I’m sticking to it.
Pitch: At least something good came out of the last few years of Entourage…
Why Rent? Adrian Grenier co-writes and directs this look at the paparazzi in general and one teenage paparazzo in particular. Austin Visschedyk is an obnoxious little shit with a dream, and that dream is to photograph and harass people who pretend not to enjoy it. Grenier spends time with him and his family to explore the motivations behind these people and the result is an interesting look at the allure of celebrity. As a side note, the sharp eyed among you may realize that this is one of two Entourage references in today’s column. With any luck they’ll be the last.
Pitch: Quick, somebody tweet Landon Palmer that you really liked John Travolta’s performance in Blow-Up…
Why Rent? Michelangelo Antonioni is probably best known for 1966’s Blow-Up, but his earlier work still has some interesting things to offer viewers. This anthology (of sorts) from 1953 features three stories, one each from Italy, France, and the UK. Each of them looks at young people behaving badly to the point of murder. The film is an exploration of disaffected youth throughout Europe, and while it’s far from an exciting motion picture it’s an interesting one for fans of the director. The DVD from RaroVideo also includes interviews, biographies, an extended cut of one of the three segments, and a booklet documenting the film’s troubled road through production.
Pitch: Turtle. Turtle. Tuuurtle…
Why Avoid? A young couple stop to spend the night in a sparely populated motel, and strange things begin to happen. Unfortunately, they’re not very interesting things. This one’s all over the place yet doesn’t seem to go anywhere, and the eventual conclusion still feels obvious to anyone with prior film knowledge. Jamie-Lynn Sigler gets second billing but feels like a supporting character with nothing to do. And this is more a problem of perception and marketing and less a fault of the film, but it really appears to be a horror film when it is nothing of the sort.
Pitch: It’s Midnight Meat Train meets a much lower budget…
Why Avoid? A group of friends get stuck in the middle of nowhere. And take a ride in the back of a semi driven by a creepy guy. Who takes them to an abandoned factory inhabited by something hungry. So you know that doesn’t end well. Unlike Husk (the other AfterDark Original releasing this week), the creatures here are fairly bland, the revelation isn’t all that interesting, and the end is telegraphed from the opening few scenes. Almost worth a rental for the goofy and short “making of” though. Almost.
Pitch: In this apartment building it’s the landlord who leaves deposits…
Why Avoid? A doctor (Hilary Swank) moves into a recently renovated NYC apartment and discovers the landlord (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) may be up to something sinister. The new Hammer hasn’t had the best of starts, but while Let Me In was a commercial failure it at least was a critical hit. This thriller, Hammer’s second release (I believe) is a sad rehash of a hundred prior films with the same premise. Swank fans will enjoy the multiple baths she takes though. Perverts.
Pitch: It’s Sarah Silverman as you’ve probably seen her before…
Why Avoid? A stand-up comedienne catches the eye of a film crew bored with their medical documentary and soon they’re on their way to Hollywood as she vies for a network pilot. Silverman is a funny woman, but neither she nor the comedic stylings of David Cross and Andy Dick can make this work as anything more than a low budget home movie. There are a few laughs to be found, but most of it just sits there lifeless and amateurish. For big fans of the attractive and wickedly foul-mouthed woman only.
Also out this week, but I haven’t seen the movie/TV show, review material was unavailable, and I have no blind opinion:
All Good Things
Kenny Chesney: Summer In 3D
Mad Men: Season Four
Made In Dagenham
The Mikado (Criterion)
The Times Of Harvey Milk (Criterion)
Treme: The Complete First Season
Upstairs Downstairs: Complete Series
Read More: This Week in DVD
What are you buying on DVD this week?