What better way to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama by watching Oliver Stone’s W. this week on DVD? While a handful of middling studio releases hit home video this week (Nights in Rodanthe, Soul Men, Blindness), the Certified Fresh pick (and Oscar nominee), Frozen River, hits as well. Celebrate Black History Month with the latest from Spike Lee (Miracle at St. Anna) or go indie with the moving directorial debut of actor Giancarlo Esposito (Gospel Hill). Finally, peruse the week’s more eclectic offerings for a break from the norm — and a well-placed roundhouse kick or two (Chocolate, Street Fighter Extreme Edition, and Bruce Campbell in My Name is Bruce).
The politically-inclined movie lover should take note of Oliver Stone’s latest, a shockingly tame envisioning of the early adult life of former US President George W. Bush. As Dubya, Josh Brolin turns in an astoundingly acute and yes, often humorous, portrayal of the Texan playboy-turned-Commander in Chief, and fellow cast members Elizabeth Banks (as Laura Bush) and James Cromwell (as George Bush Sr.) drew praise from critics. The problem, however, lies in relevance — Stone opts to ignore much of Bush’s Presidential choices in lieu of speculating a psychological case study of power ascendance and daddy issues, in the process neutralizing his too-subtle damnation of the former Prez. Learn more about Stone’s approach in a filmmaker commentary available on the standard release, with more materials (making-of featurettes, deleted scenes) found on Blu-ray.
Next: Spike Lee’s latest joint falls south of Fresh
While his impressive track record boasts more fresh movies than the average director (he’s got a 75 percent Fresh filmography), Spike Lee has known the occasional flop. Unfortunately, Lee’s latest flick, Miracle at St. Anna, is one of those Spike Lee joints; an over-earnest World War II fable about an all-black squadron in Nazi territory, it careens back and forth between war actioner and mystical legend and runs well overtime. That said, Lee’s epic has something to say about black American soldiers in battle and their depictions (or lack thereof) in American cinema, and that’s worth watching for. Expect no additional bonus materials, however, unless you spring for Blu-ray.
Next: The schmaltzy Nights in Rodanthe
Richard Gere and Diane Lane reunite (after starring as a married couple in the thriller Unfaithful) in this schmaltzy romance about two middle-aged strangers who meet at a seaside B&B. How much schmaltz are we talking, you ask? Perhaps these two words can give you an idea: Nicholas Sparks. The author of goop-fests like The Notebook and Message in a Bottle offers up another three-hankie romance full of sentiment that is only for those with the strongest tolerance for cornball contrivances. Featurettes, deleted scenes a commentary by director George C. Wolfe (Lackawanna Blues) and more appear — but only on the Blu-ray disc.
Next: Remembering Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes…with Soul Men
If we are to remember the late comic Bernie Mac and the late musical legend Isaac Hayes, let it not be through watching Soul Men. The two artists, who passed away last year, deserve more of a send-off than this tepid R&B buddy comedy, though the disc fittingly includes separate tributes to the careers of both men. The film itself, directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother, Roll Bounce) follows the reunion of two former singers (Mac and Samuel L. Jackson) who reunite for a concert; humorously delivered expletives and adult humor mar much of the proceedings. If that’s your cup of tea, so be it, though there are more fitting ways to pay tribute to the memories of two such well-loved entertainers.
Next: Blindness, from the director of City of God
A city-wide epidemic mysteriously leaves the population without sight — save for one woman (Julianne Moore) — in Blindness, the latest film from Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener). As in his previous films, Meirelles tells a story of human conflict in a strikingly visual manner; that story, however, was too bleak and muddled for many critics. Although this allegory fell short of the freshness mark, the dynamics of post-apocalyptic society and the social cannibalism of Lord of the Flies may appeal to fans of science fiction. An hour-long behind-the-scenes documentary and deleted scenes bolster the DVD, which lacks what would have been an intriguing commentary track.
Next: Bruce Campbell goes post-modern in My Name is Bruce
Fans of the Evil Dead films, Brisco County Jr., or Bruce Campbell himself should pick up this week’s DVD release of My Name is Bruce, a post-modern horror adventure in which a small town is terrorized by an ancient demon, and Campbell (as himself) must step in to save the day. Similar to the recent JCVD, in which over-the-hill action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme plays himself as hero in a fictional situation, Campbell pokes fun at (and celebrates) his own movie star status as a B-movie actor of yesteryear. Featurettes, a fake trailer (for the faux film within a film, Cavealien 2), an hour-long making-of documentary, and a feature-length commentary by Bruce Campbell and producer Mike Richardson all make this a must-own for Campbell fans.
Next: Chocolate: Are you ready for the female Tony Jaa?
If the phrase “the female Tony Jaa” doesn’t grab you, then you’re not going to be hooked by this Thai import. (And you also have no sense of fun — because it gets even better.) Chocolate stars newcomer Yanin Vismistananda as Zen, a young autistic woman with an uncanny knack for Muy Thai who puts her martial arts skills to work to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments, leading to a battle with the Yakuza. Plot-wise, it may not make much sense, but amazing stunt work is the leading reason to give Chocolate a go; director Prachya Pinkaew also made the landmark Ong Bak, which made a star of Tony Jaa, and he’s looking to do the same with his agile 22-year-old female star. Chocolate opened in theaters in limited release only last week, so those in major metropolitan areas might even still catch it on the big screen.
Next: The Certified Fresh (and Academy Award-nominated) Frozen River
Independent cinema often needs the most help reaching the masses, so here are a few more reasons to check out Frozen River this week: at 86 percent and Certified Fresh, it’s the best-reviewed wide release of the week, and features an Oscar-nominated performance by actress Melissa Leo. The drama, directed by first-timer Courtney Hunt (who is also up for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), follows a financially-struggling mother (Leo) who takes to smuggling illegal aliens across the Canadian border to make ends meet. Morally complex, this thriller is made all the more relevant by today’s economic climate — not just in its story, but in the behind-the-scenes drama of how an independent film reportedly made for less than $1 million made it to the Academy Awards.
Next: Giancarlo Esposito’s directorial debut, Gospel Hill
Actor Giancarlo Esposito (Mo’ Better Blues) makes his writing and directing debut with this independently-made drama about race relations and community in the fictional town of Gospel Hill, screened at the Oxford Film Festival last week. As in many Southern towns today, Gospel Hill and its denizens are still hurting from ills committed during the civil rights movement; in examining the lingering specter of segregation, Esposito (who also stars) aims to help heal the social wounds that still separate black and white communities. Esposito managed to nab colleagues Angela Bassett, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson and Julia Stiles for his passion project, which also stars Taylor Kitsch, Adam Baldwin, and the RZA.
Next: Do you need the re-released Back to the Future trilogy?
If you already own the time-traveling adventures of Marty McFly from the previously-released box set, or are waiting patiently for the trilogy to get its as-yet unannounced Blu-ray treatment, then you’ll probably want to avoid double-dipping with this week’s 2-Disc Special Edition. But if not, you might want to take advantage of this week’s re-release of all three Back to the Future films, available for the first time individually. While each film has its own substantial set of extras and a commentary track featuring producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton, only the first movie comes with an additional disc that highlights Back to the Future: The Ride; Robert Zemeckis and star Michael J. Fox only appear in Q&As. Personally, where the future of home video is going, we will need more.
Next: Street Fighter hits Blu-ray!
Despite the lack of any indication that the world particularly needed a Blu-ray release of 1994’s Street Fighter, here it arrives in an “Extreme Edition.” What’s so “extreme” about this High Def release, besides the sight of seeing Jean-Claude Van Damme about to spiral into B-movie obscurity (in high definition)? Nothing much, though we are extremely sad to be reminded that such respectable thespians as Ming-Na, Raul Julia, and heck, Kylie Minogue, cashed in to bring such iconic characters as Chun Li, Bison, and Cammy to life. A plethora of bonus materials are on display here to commemorate the cheesy action flick, which helped to kick off an entire genre (the disappointing video game adaptation) and — surprise! — arrives just in time to help promote Capcom’s new game, Street Fighter IV.
Until next week, happy renting!