What are you renting this week? Let us know in the comments! To get you started, here's our look at more than a dozen new releases.
Joss Whedon's TV series Firefly inspired a rabid fan base, myself included. The sci-fi Western featured good-looking, likable characters, witty dialogue, and a breezy pace. The 2005 movie was a thrilling, fitting capstone for a series that ended far too soon, but stands on its own just fine. Previously released on DVD and HD-DVD, the Blu-ray version adds several new features (detailed by Peter Bracke at High-Def Digest). Serenity is buoyant entertainment and rewards repeat viewings. Buy it.
Woman on the Beach
A sublime tale, Woman is a leisurely, dramatic battle of the sexes that's funny and insightful. J. Hoberman of the Village Voice described it as "a rueful tale of karmic irony, self-deceived desire, squandered second chances, and unforeseen abandonment." He noted director Hong Sang-soo's affinities with Eric Rohmer and Albert Brooks "in his deadpan presentation of absurd antics." In Korean with English subtitles. The DVD includes a "making of," interviews, and a trailer. Woman on the Beach is an ideal choice for date night. Rent it.
Directed by Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under), this "controversial and polarizing" drama relates what happens to "a 13-year-old Lebanese-American girl living in Texas during the first Gulf War," per our own Eric D. Snider, who was writing in response to an Islamic group's call for a title change. The DVD includes a two-part featurette, "Towelhead: A Community Discussion." Sight unseen (by me), it sounds like a sure cure for a New Year's Day hangover. Rent it.
Depending on your mood and interests, you should find at least one of these films suitable to rent. I haven't seen this particular batch yet -- I'm leaning toward the Asian titles -- so caveat emptor. All are available only on DVD.
Battle for Haditha
Nick Broomfield, a very talented documentarian (Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer), dramatizes the massacre of two dozen people in Iraq, allegedly carried out by U.S. Marines in retaliation for the death of a fellow soldier by a roadside bomb. Battle received generally positive reviews, but seems to have been drowned out by the avalanche of films about Iraq.
Bloodsuckers From Outer Space
"Farmers in Texas become brainwashed bloodsuckers" in this 1984 direct-to-video zombie parody, featuring the immortal Pat Paulsen in a cameo as the President of the United States. What else do you need for your New Year's Eve celebration? I mean, besides generous amounts of alcohol and a designated driver ...
The Brave Archer
A Shaw Brothers production from 1977, The Brave Archer was the first in a series of four films and starred Alexander Fu Sheng. John Charles at Hong Kong Digital described it as "more romantic, complex, and poetic than the fare often associated with director Chang Cheh ... the quality of the martial arts and the inclusion of some interesting supernatural elements (including a giant snake) make this worthwhile viewing for those wishing to expand their horizons into more traditional Chinese fantasy." I think I'll slot this in for Saturday afternoon.
Gamera the Brave
Do you love giant alien turtles? Me too! This 2006 entry is reportedly more "kid friendly ... but once you get past the lighter approach, Gamera the Brave is still plenty entertaining in its own right," according to Dread Central. If you're inclined to watch football on New Year's Day and have little ones underfoot, consider renting Gamera for them. Then check it out yourself when you need a break from all that pigskin.
Comedian Katt Williams stars as a lonely bachelor who "creates an Internet dating profile, describing himself as a seven-foot-tall player for the Los Angeles Lakers. The ladies love him online, but they're in for a rude awakening when a five-foot, broke, bicycle-riding date shows up at their door," in the words of distributor Code Black Entertainment. Hmm, probably another candidate to accompany pre-gaming on New Year's Eve.
Live and Become
"Romanian-French director Radu Mihaileanu's ambitious coming-of-age fable is episodic and finally too eventful for its own good," wrote Adam Nayman in Eye Weekly. "But there is still plenty to admire." Family, intolerant countrymen, an identity crisis? If you're worn out by spending time with your family, Live and Become may not be for you, but otherwise it sounds like solid, challenging, arthouse fare. (Releases tomorrow, December 31.)
Do you want to laugh, get frustrated, laugh at a movie star, relive the 80s, or feel uplifted? Here are five choices for all you Blu-ray owners (I'm so jealous!) All five look like rentals to me rather then purchases.
Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams in a very funny comedy. Blu-ray doesn't appear to add anything new to the previously-released unrated special edition DVD.
I remember absolutely hating this sci-fi horror movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, but other people have defended it. In a thin week for horror releases, this might be worth throwing into your Blu-ray player at some point this week -- preferably late at night. With Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill.
Days of Thunder
I've never watched this all the way through. Yet I keep giggling at the idea of Tom Cruise as race car driver "Cole Trickle," one of the all-time great character names. I might be tempted to pick this up just to get back at my neighbors keeping me up late at night with their music.
Another one I've never had any motivation to watch. Still, I know it has many fans, and you die-hard romantics are welcome to your pleasures. Before picking up the Blu-ray, though, you might want to check Peter Bracke's comments at High Def Digest ("Won't blow you away, but it's worth a look").
The Truman Show
Jim Carrey's best performance ever? The concept is not particularly new, so it's the acting (I also loved Ed Harris and Noah Emmerich, not to forget Paul Giamatti and Philip Baker Hall), directing (Peter Weir), and music (Burkhard Dallwitz with Philip Glass). "Good afternoon, good evening, and good night!"
No fancy gift sets this week, but a couple of reissues caught my eye.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II - 20th Anniversary Edition
I am not a Hellraiser person, so I turn to our resident horror expert Scott Weinberg, who wrote (at another site): "Although it's certainly not the modern classic that the original has become, this sequel earns a lot of points for simply not doing the same old thing. ... if you can stand some truly disturbing gore scenes, then Hellbound is a horror movie that's worth your time." The new edition from Anchor Bay includes the audio commentary and other extras from their previous release, plus three new featurettes, totaling close to an hour of new material.
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands
This was a repertory theater perennial in the late 70s and early 80s, I think mainly because Sonia Braga was so sexy. She plays a woman haunted by her sexy (but dead!) first husband after she marries her second husband, a responsible but boring man. The new release from New Yorker Video supposedly features the original director's cut; Bruno Barreto directed.