‘Tis the season for gift-giving, which means home video distributers are making the most of the holiday spirit by adding a few irregular release dates to the shopping week. Therefore, look for new releases to hit shelves on Sunday (Burn After Reading), Tuesday (Death Race), and next Saturday (Eagle Eye)! We begin this festive week’s RT on DVD with an exclusive look at Shia LaBeouf’s techno-thriller, and wish you the very LaBeouf-iest Christmas (or your Labeouf-iest non-denominational holiday of choice). See what else is new and coming your way below!
Shia LaBeouf continued his rise through the ranks of Young Hollywood this year by following May’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with his own starring vehicle, the techno-thriller Eagle Eye. While critics went “pshaw” at Eagle Eye‘s preposterous, derivative plot — in which a young loser (LaBeouf) finds himself a pawn at the beck and call of a mysterious, omniscient terrorist — the DJ Caruso flick performed decently at the box office. But hey, it’s Shia!
The 2-Disc Special Edition DVD is stuffed with making-of featurettes, an alternate ending, filmmaker interviews, and more.
Next: Burn After Reading
2. Burn After Reading (Dec. 21) — 79%, Certified Fresh
Delight in the latest Coen brothers’ comedy (and watch Brad Pitt and George Clooney act — on purpose — like fools) with Burn After Reading, a black comedy-caper of sorts set on the periphery of Washington D.C.’s political scene. John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and an unforgettable homemade sex contraption co-star in the tale of a bumbling meathead (Pitt) and his middle-aged, cosmetic surgery-obsessed co-worker (McDormand) who stumble upon what may or may not be sensitive documents belonging to a former CIA operative (Malkovich), whose estranged wife (Swinton) is involved with a philandering Treasury agent (Clooney).
The film, nominated for two Golden Globes (Best Comedy and Best Actress, Frances McDormand) comes to DVD with only three featurettes — not a theatrical trailer or commentary to be seen. (At least, not in this first issue.)
Next: The Women
3. The Women (Dec. 21) – 13%
During the year of 2008 there were certainly a handful of bona fide stinkers (One Missed Call, Disaster Movie, I’m looking at you) and yet I reserve my own personal wrath for this insulting clunker of a remake of the far superior film of the same name: The Women. Just saying the title makes me shudder; ditto my lingering contempt for all parties responsible, beginning with director Diane English, continuing on to the plasticized Meg Ryan-bot that we’ve come to see in recent years, and even trickling down to the film’s A-list roster of supporting actresses (in a gimmick borrowed from the 1939 film, not a single male actor appears onscreen): Annette Bening, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fisher, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler, and even the incomparable Cloris Leachman, who somehow got herself mixed up in this mess.
What’s The Women about? Ryan plays society maven and housewife Mary Haines (who, since it’s 2008, must be given some measure of independent means and is therefore a fashion designer), who learns (thanks to the age old female practice of gossip) that her husband is cheating on her with a department store perfume girl (who, like young and attractive women are wont to do, is willfully gold-digging her way into marriage). Cat-fighting, moping, and more gossiping ensue in this critically-lambasted tale of womanhood and friendship that belies its own “woman power” message. Even with its handful of featurettes and deleted scenes, anyone who gifts The Women to the females in their family this holiday season will be doing their mother/daughter/girlfriend/wife/platonic female friend a huge disservice; stick with George Cukor’s original version instead.
Next: American Teen
In the grand tradition of archetypal teen flicks like The Breakfast Club, Nanette Burstein’s American Teen introduces us to five high school seniors on the brink of adulthood and independence: the jock, the queen bee, the artsy girl, the heartthrob, and the geek. The difference here is that these kids are real — American Teen‘s a documentary — and yet their experiences, their angst, and their relationships are as rife with drama-rama as any fictional film.
Burstein’s focus lands on the students of Warsaw, Indiana — a Midwestern town chosen for its remarkable unremarkableness — and her camera gains intimate (some critics call it suspiciously-staged) access to her subjects. MTV-style editing gives the doc a fresh feel, while a smattering of bonus features (deleted scenes and video blogs by “artsy loner” Hannah) enhance your voyeuristic glimpse into the kids’ lives.
Next: Death Race
For many of you, the words “Death Race remake” and “Jason Statham” were enough to send you into a frenzy of anticipation; unfortunately, according to critics it would seem that Death Race (42 percent on the Tomatometer) is no Death Race 2000 (82 percent). The R-rated demolition derby-prison survival tale begins in the near future, where a corrupt prison warden (Joan Allen) coerces framed inmate Jensen Ames (Statham) to drive in a pay-per-view auto race where freedom is the ultimate prize; directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil), Death Race is naturally short on character development but long on explosive, violent action — which might just be enough for a certain kind of viewer.
We recommend picking up Death Race on Blu-ray, where the mindless action will be most enjoyable, a plethora of special features (director commentary, Picture-in-Picture, make your own commentary and scene sharing) are available, and you can opt for watching an Unrated, extended version of the film.
Next: Hamlet 2
Although Hamlet 2 came to rest just a few shades north of rotten (at 63 percent on the Tomatometer), those who loved it really, really loved it. So let this be your guide; if you find Steve Coogan’s brand of zesty, hangdog comedy hilarious, you should enjoy watching his manic high school theater teacher tear Shakespeare a new one. [Supplemental question: Does the idea of a song entitled “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” (which is eligible to be nominated for an Oscar) make you titter, or gasp in horror?]
Next: The Duchess
Keira Knightley’s agent is sure of at least one thing: she looks good in a corset. See Knightley in yet another handsomely-shot period piece in The Duchess, based on the true story of Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire. A natural fashionista, Georgiana enthralled the social circles of 18th century England with her audacious outfits, her charm, and her hobby of dabbling in local politics (and with one handsome politico in particular). Yet Georgiana’s domestic life was a women’s rights nightmare, locked in a loveless marriage with her strict, controlling husband (Ralph Fiennes, who earned a Golden Globes nomination for his role) and forced to bear the humiliation of having his mistress move in with them.
A DVD-special documentary about the real Duchess sheds additional light onto her fascinating life and struggles, while Georgiana of Devonshire biographer Amanda Foreman leads a roundtable discussion of her non-fiction book about the woman herself. And for those who’d prefer to look at all the pretty costumes, there’s a featurette on the film’s Oscar-baiting designs.
Next: Ghost Town
Brit comedian Ricky Gervais continues to teach America that he’s got more up his sleeve than the original version of The Office with his first starring Hollywood vehicle, in which he plays a man whose near-death experience leaves him with a lingering side-effect: he can see (and hear) dead people. As the uptight dentist Bertram Pincus, Gervais puts his brand of deadpan British humor to good use, and contrasts pleasantly with on-screen foil Greg Kinnear. (We’re not as sold on any palpable chemistry between Gervais and Tea Leoni, who plays Bertram’s anthropologist love interest, though the two share nary a single kiss on screen. Phew.) Ghost Town is recommended especially for the commentary track by director David Koepp and Gervais himself, whose riffs on any subject we’d listen to any time.
You may not have seen or heard about it, but this little indie is one of the best horror pics of the year. Well, horror-comedy, to be specific; the Duplass brothers film (The Puffy Chair) follows four aspiring actors on a weekend trip to the woods, where they hope to write a starring vehicle for themselves that will help launch their careers. When the bag-wearing killer from their script begins showing up for real, terror and hilarity ensue in equal measure. The mumblecore movement could gain a wider audience thanks to this Certified Fresh film, and genre fans finally get that elusive prize: a horror movie that isn’t rotten.
Until next week, happy renting (and happy holidays)!