Note release dates, which are spaced from today through next Sunday.
Burn After Reading (12/21)
The Coen Brothers shine a bright light on Washington spy silliness, and then, by extension, all of the silly extremes we indulge in, producing a very funny comic fable that should reward multiple viewings. With George Clooney and Brad Pitt. Available on DVD and Blu-ray. Buy it.
The House Bunny (12/19)
Anna Farris' comic brilliance transcends the shopworn material. As Erik Davis suggested, "enjoy the movie for what it is: A simple, seductive slice of late-summer sunshine." Available on DVD and Blu-ray. Rent it.
Mamma Mia! The Movie (12/16)
I think you'd do better to spend your money on another album by Abba; this musical has bewildering choreography and a wandering camera that doesn't know where it should be. Still, Meryl Streep has a lot of fun with it, and her presence covers a multitude of sins. Available on DVD and Blu-ray. Rent it.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (12/16)
Big budget, big battle scenes, and big nothing when all is said and done. A huge waste of talent and time that fails to entertain on the most basic of levels. (But I still like Maria Bello!) Available on DVD (wide screen and full screen) and Blu-ray. Skip it.
Death Race (12/21)
Jason Statham I can understand, but how did Joan Allen keep a straight face? A monstrous disappointment for action fans, with its hyped-up CGI'd incomprehensible racing scenes. Available on DVD and Blu-ray "unrated," though you'd do better to leave it "unwatched." Skip it.
Also out: Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (Amazon.com Exclusive) (12/19), The Women (2008) (12/19), Traitor (12/19), We Are Wizards (Amazon VOD).
Hamlet 2 (12/21)
Steve Coogan as a high school drama teacher trying to save his department by putting on a fundraiser. His idea for a sequel to Shakespeare -- "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" -- inspires protests. Andrew Fleming's comedy wasn't well received, but it sounds like the kind of movie that will find its audience on home video. In a week with very few options for fans of indie cinema, this is the best bet I could find. Rent it.
Criterion is the gold standard for DVD releases, noteworthy for the quality of their audio /visual presentation and the unique extras and additional features. They are now beginning to issue titles on Blu-ray.
Of the first four titles out of the pipeline, Chungking Express is the only one that is new to Criterion; the others were previously available from the label on DVD. Wong Kar-Wai's film is one of my absolute favorites. Divided into two parts, the first half tracks a mysterious woman dealing with drug mules and a heartbroken police officer; the second follows another heartbroken police officer and a sprightly, bored food stand worker. Together the stories form an exquisite portrait of lonely souls bouncing against one another in a teeming metropolis.
The other three titles are just as spellbinding in their own way. Bottle Rocket features Wes Anderson at the beginning of his career, and may be his most appealingly down to earth work. The Man Who Fell to Earth practically demands multiple viewings, just to get some sense of what Nicolas Roeg was trying to accomplish. The Third Man is much more traditional in its storytelling, but who can forget the zither music and Orson Welles on the Ferris Wheel?
Into the Wild
Sean Penn's wilderness drama should look splendid on Blu-ray. With a raft of good performances, highlighted by Emile Hirsch as a young man who gave away everything and walked into the wilderness of Alaska.
Also out: Coach Carter, Death Proof, The Heartbreak Kid (2007), Hot Rod, In the Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, Old School, Planet Terror, Tommy Boy, Wedding Crashers.