Samuel Fuller's follow-up to The Big Red One was shelved by Paramount Pictures before its scheduled release in 1982 because of fears that its premise -- a white dog has been trained to attack black people -- would stir up more controversy than box office. Fuller was understandably outraged; in his autobiography, A Third Face, he wrote: "The studio has used me as a scapegoat for their lack of determination and courage." The film, co-written by Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential), with a score by the legendary Ennio Morricone, later received acclaim when it was released in Europe but never received a home video release in the US and has rarely been seen here. Kristy McNichol plays an actress who adopts the dog; Paul Winfield is as an anthropologist who tries to reverse the training. The Criterion Collection DVD includes a featurette with Hanson, producer Jon Davison, and Fuller's widow, plus a print interview with the dog trainer and essays by J. Hoberman and Armond White. I'm buying, but even if you're not a huge fan of Samuel Fuller, you'd want to check it out. Rent it.
Combining Will Farrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, and Mary Steenburgen under one roof, Step Brothers mines familiar territory with sharp timing and plenty of belly laughs. Mine is, admittedly, a distinctly minority opinion. Available on DVD (single-disc rated, single-disc unrated, two-disc unrated) and Blu-ray, with an audio commentary by Farrell, Reilly, director Adam McKay, and a score by Jon Brion. Other features include deleted scenes and alternate takes, a gag reel, 'making of,' and a couple of gag featurettes. Rent it.
Much more on Wanted, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian after the jump, plus Indies on DVD, Blu-ray Picks, and Collector's Corner.
For all the spectacularly silly, 'did they just do that?' action sequences, Wanted has a thin layer of contempt for the audience that curdles into smugness by the end of the movie, like a chef trained in fine dining being forced to cook burgers at a roadhouse diner. Wanted serves up what we came for, and then makes us feel stupid for admitting we like fast food. While I have no desire to revisit the film, if you just want to toss that contempt off as another sick joke, or have a great desire to freeze frame Angelina Jolie's naked rear end, feel free to choose from among the six editions available: four on DVD (single-disc, two-disc, full screen, and limited edition collector's gift set) and two on Blu-ray (two-disc and the collector's set). Features include an alternate opening, an extended scene, seven "making of" shorts, and, on the two-disc versions, a digital copy. Rent it.
The X-Files: I Want to Believe
As a half-hearted fan of the original series (I loved about half of the episodes), I was completely disappointed by the second movie version. No evident chemistry between the leads, a flat mystery, and indifferent pacing killed it for me, which is why my decision is to skip the home version. I know many fans loved this movie, though, and for those true believers, the single-disc DVD offers both the "Theatrical Version" and the "Extended Cut" with a few extra scenes, an audio commentary by director Chris Carter and co-writer Frank Spotnitz, three deleted scenes, two featurettes, gag reel, photo galleries, and trailers. The two-disc edition includes a 86-minute "making of" doc. Rent it.
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The second in a series based on the books by C.S. Lewis got middling reviews and concerns expressed about its PG rating (because of its violent, if non-explicit, content). If you're a fan, you have multiple options. On DVD, you can choose between a single-disc edition with audio commentary by director Andrew Adamson and a three-disc collector's edition that includes bloopers, 11 minutes of deleted scenes, 'making of' features, and a digital copy. On Blu-ray, the two-disc edition includes the extras, while the three-disc version adds the digital copy. Personally, I have no interest, which explains my thought: Skip it.
Also out this week:
Fly Me to the Moon (3D Version). Three flies want to become the first insects on the moon.
The Longshots. Ice Cube coachs the first female quarterback in Pop Warner history.
The Man Called Flintstone. The TV show's first big-screen adventure, from 1966, in glorious lo-fi animation. Legal issues that have long delayed its release on DVD in the US have finally been cleared.
Not much to choose from this week, I'm afraid, so you might want to catch up with some classic television.
Frost/Nixon: The Original Watergate Interviews
The film version of Peter Morgan's stage hit comes out this week in limited release, so what better way to get ready than to revisit the original 1977 television interviews by David Frost of Richard Nixon? This disk apparently includes just 88 minutes of the complete 28 hours of interviews, but it should give a nice taste of the proceedings.
The epic (in dramatic, not production, values) mini-series ran on PBS back in the late 70s; when I caught up to it, I was mesmerized by the acting and the treachery and the political chicanery, which (speaking of Mr. Nixon) had a great deal of resonance at the time. It was released on DVD in 2000, and Image Entertainment is now re-releasing it on four discs with a bonus doc on Alexander Korda's failed attempt in 1937 to film Robert Graves' novel. Don't watch I Claudius for sex or violence; watch it for Derek Jakobi, Sian Phillips, John Hurt, and a host of memorable performances that sent me scurrying to encyclopedias to investigate the Ceasars.
In contrast, the Blu-ray offerings are very extensive. My picks from the bounty:
The Shawshank Redemption
Director Frank Darabont exercises some weird kind of voodoo, making the quiet lives of inmates Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman incredibly captivating and, ultimately, moving. The Blu-ray includes all the extra content from the Special Edition DVD, plus a 38-page book including actor and director biographics, film trivia, and, presumably, more.
The Day the Earth Stood Still
See the original before the remake -- and in glorious black and white! Robert Wise's 1951 film may feel a bit preachy and clunky today, but its humanist message and sheer sincerity keep it relevant and effective. The Blu-ray appears to include the extra content from the 2001 DVD release, which ported over most of its features from a 1995 release on laserdisc, and apparently adds a second audio commentary by four film and music historians.
Also out this week:
Children of Men. Alfonso Cuaron's gloomy tale of a dire future with one ray of hope.
Erin Brockovich. Julia Roberts' Oscar-winning performance in Steven Soderbergh's dramatization.
Home Alone. Has it really been 18 years since Macauly Culkin screamed?
La Femme Nikita. Anne Parillaud tries really hard to be a deadly assassin in Luc Besson's messy thriller.
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc. Milla Jovovich tries really hard to be sacred and not profane in Luc Besson's messy epic ... hmm, notice a pattern?
Paranoid Park. Gus Van Sant, an unsolved murder, and Portland skaters.
Sin City. Robert Rodriguez brings Frank Miller's sordid world to life. Mickey Rourke steals the show.
Stranger Than Fiction. Before he messed up Bond, Marc Forster made this sleek-looking, almost-excellent fantasy; with Will Farrell, Emma Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman.
Casablanca (Ultimate Collector's Edition)
What makes this the "Ultimate Collector's Edition"? A bonus disc of the featurette "Jack Warner: The Last Mogul," plus "48-Page Photo Book, 10 One-Sheet Reproduction Cards, Archival Correspondence, and Exclusive Passport Holder and Luggage Tag." Whew! There's probably a movie in there, too. Available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Austin Powers Collection: Shagadelic Edition Loaded with Extra Mojo
If your taste doesn't stretch back to the classics, you might want to remember a time, not that long ago, when Mike Myers made everybody laugh. Available only on Blu-ray, this collection has all three films (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Austin Powers in Goldmember), plus "hours of hilarious extras, including commentary with star/writer Mike Myers and director Jay Roach, over 40 deleted scenes, awesome music videos with Madonna, Lenny Kravitz, Beyoncé and Britney Spears, shagadelic featurettes and more." There should be enough bodily fluid gags to last everyone through the holidays.