Good news, blockbuster fans: this week in home entertainment features a crowd-pleasing toe-tapper (Hairspray), the return of John McClane (Live Free or Die Hard), another harrowing star turn by Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn), and plenty more (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Ghosts of Cite Soleil, Chappelle’s Show Collection). Just watch out for that one early holiday dud (The Santa Clause 3: Escape Clause) — unless 14 percent Tomatometers are your cup of eggnog.
The movie musical is officially back, as evinced by this year’s Hairspray — a big screen version of a Broadway remake of the John Waters cult film, of all things. Newcomer Nikki Blonsky shines as the chubby yet effervescent teenager who teaches all of 1960s Baltimore about acceptance, equality, the mashed potato and the pony. If only impossibly teased hair and a megawatt smile were all it took to land a heartthrob like Zac Efron! Pick up the two-disc DVD release for an added behind-the-scenes documentary that charts the film’s journey from film to stage to film, song sing-along tracks, dance routine tutorials, and more. Then, go rent Waters’ original Hairspray to see what a real man (Divine) looks like in drag. (Take that, Travolta-in-a-fat-suit!)
Bruce Willis has long had difficulty dying (not so his career – zing!) when it comes to this franchise, and the twelve years since Die Hard With a Vengeance have not taught him any better to let loose his mortal coil at the hands of evil thieves, terrorists, and the like. Enter Live Free or Die Hard, a John McClane joint for the 21st century, featuring the most terrifying of 21st century foes: Internet hackers! In line with this progressive techno-thinking, the 20th Century Fox release includes a digital copy of the film that you can download onto your computer or portable DVD player, or whatever other newfangled gadgets the kids are using these days. (Bonus for grown-ups: an unrated version of the film in addition to the theatrical PG-13 cut. Yippee-ki-yay!)
In 1997, Werner Herzog documented the real-life prisoner of war experience of a German-born American pilot named Dieter Dengler in his acclaimed Little Dieter Needs to Fly; ten years later, Herzog reviss the inherently dramatic tale as a feature film starring Christian Bale. The result is not only another critically lauded film, but the director’s most commercial and accessible work to date. Watch it for a harrowing Vietnam War survival tale — and so you can finally drop some Herzog knowledge on even the snootiest of cinephiles at this year’s holiday party!
Much more than your average making-of feature, Hearts of Darkness — on DVD for the first time this week — gets up close and personal with director Francis Ford Coppola during the production of his 1979 Vietnam epic, Apocalypse Now. While Coppola was shooting the modern classic, about men going mad in the midst of war, his wife Eleanor took notes and shot on-set footage of the cast and crew; her documentation of how the overstuffed project, skyrocketing budgets, and production delays threatened the film and the sanity of Coppola himself became this award-winning 1991 documentary. Co-directors Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper (who would go on to direct 2003’s Mayor of the Sunset Strip and last year’s Factory Girl) contributed extensive interviews, and the film went on to earn praise at Cannes. The DVD includes a new commentary track by Coppola as well as an hour-long accompaniment on his new film, Youth Without Youth.
Luc Besson (The Professional, The Fifth Element) takes his penchant for action down a notch in this light charmer about a down-on-his-luck con man saved from suicide by a chain-smoking statuesque blonde. Although critics were split, this Paris-set Wings of Desire-meets-It’s a Wonderful Life is worth a view, if only for the breathtaking experience of seeing the City of Lights shot in beautiful monochrome.
Director Jennifer Baichwal filmed acclaimed photographer Edward Burtynsky as he traversed Asia shooting various industrial landscapes; her award-winning documentary captures not only the striking imprint of global progress on the earth, but provokes thought by using beautiful images composed, ironically, of industrial wastelands.
Ghosts of Cite Soleil
A few months before the 2004 military coup that deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, filmmaker Asger Leth (son of Danish director Jorgen Leth) embedded himself and a small crew deep within the slums of Cite Soleil, filming the complicated relationship between two fatefully charismatic gang leader brothers. The result — a powerful and terrifying glimpse into lives dictated by violence, guided by American gangsta rap — is an incredibly intimate and surprisingly humanizing portrait of brotherhood, poverty, and the quagmire that is modern Haiti.
Chappelle’s Show Series Collection
Combining Season One, Season Two, and the “Lost Episodes” of Dave Chappelle‘s masterfully amusing sketch comedy show, this six-disc box set is an arguable necessity for Chappelle enthusiasts. But while the Comedy Central release offers up all 28 episodes, audio commentaries, bloopers, unaired sketches, stand-up, and even two new True Hollywood Stories by Charlie Murphy, one wonders if any true Chappelle fan should put more profits in the pockets of a network that effectively cancelled all possibility of Chappelle’s return to the show by running the unfinished third season to begin with.
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
“Escape from this Clause.” “Ho Ho Hum.” The reviews write themselves, but just for added measure, here’s what else is in store should you pick up this new release: Jack Frost played with nuance by Martin Short as if the love child of Liberace and Liza Minnelli, Tim Allen phoning in his third performance as a reluctant Santa, and a plot shamefully derivative of such holiday classics as It’s a Wonderful Life and even The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Happy renting to us, every one!