I Want My DVD: Tuesday, October 18, 2011

by Ethan Alter October 18, 2011 11:56 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cameron Diaz gets bad, Batman begins (again) and Kevin Smith is too fat for 40 in this week's batch of DVD releases.

Bad Teacher
Cameron Diaz gets in touch with her dark side to memorable effect in Bad Teacher, which overcomes an uneven first act and blossoms into a pretty funny -- and very mean-spirited -- comedy of (poor) manners. Diaz plays the world's worst public school instructor, the kind that wheels out the TV to show movies to her class on the first day of school. But when she learns that there are financial rewards towards achieving high test scores, she becomes a militant educator overnight. And when that doesn't work, she gets really creative. Supporting players Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch and Phyllis Smith all get a chance to score laughs, but this is absolutely Diaz's movie and she delivers her funniest (and, strangely, most charming) star turn since There's Something About Mary.
Extras: Deleted scenes and outtakes and a fun behind-the-scenes featurette starring Segel and Timberlake.

Batman: Year One
The track record of DC Comics' line of direct-to-DVD animated movies has been pretty good so far, the occasional dud like Apocalypse balanced out by a gem like The New Frontier and First Flight (a better Green Lantern origin story than the recent live-action movie). Still, there was reason to be afraid, very afraid, of this attempt to translate Frank Miller's hugely influential 4-issue story of Bruce Wayne's first year as the Dark Knight to the (small) screen. Fortunately, the animated Year One doesn't desecrate the memory of the comic, hewing closely to Miller's vision and featuring some good vocal turns by Eliza Dushku as Catwoman and Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon. At the same time though, because it's such a faithful (if abbreviated) adaptation, it's a little like watching one of those motion comics instead of a standalone feature. If this is, as widely suspected, a trial run at adapting Miller's even more influential The Dark Knight Returns, Year One simply isn't good enough to convince us that that's a project worth pursuing.
Extras: The most prominent bonus feature is a standalone short film starring Catwoman, in which she tangles with a villain named Rough Cut. Warning: with its casual exploitation of the heroine's sexuality, this short feels like the product of those guys that messed with Starfire's rep. There's also a sneak peek at DC's next animated feature Justice League: Doom (an adaptation of the popular "Tower of Babel" story arc) and a look at the great Batman revival of the '70s and '80s that redefined the character after his turn towards camp in the '50s and '60s.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Johnny Depp returns for a fourth outing as Captain Jack Sparrow, pirate so brave on the seven seas, but even his usual rock star mincing can't overcome the inertia that's settled upon this franchise. Incoming director Rob Marshall (taking over for Gore Verbinski) displays little aptitude for staging large-scale action sequences and the storyline -- which sends Sparrow on a quest to find the Fountain of Youth -- is haphazardly plotted at best. But the film's biggest crime may be the way it wastes the talents of Ian McShane; cast as the dread pirate Blackbeard, the actor (who, as Deadwood fans know, excels at playing villains) is less imposing than Depp's facial hair.
Extras: Audio commentary by Marshall, bloopers and LEGO animated shorts starring Cap'n Jack. Sadly, Lonely Island's "Jack Sparrow" isn't featured here, not even as an Easter Egg. Too bad -- it's infinitely better than the movie.

Red State
Kevin Smith: Too Fat for 40
Kevin Smith SModimations: Season One
It's a red letter kinda day for Kevin Smith fans. The Jersey-born writer/director has three, count 'em three!, discs out today, beginning with Red State, his return to grass-roots indie filmmaking, as well as his first foray into thriller territory. The story of a renegade fundamentalist sect that finds themselves standoff with a squad of ATF agents, Red State lacks a certain polish, to say nothing of internal narrative logic, but it's the most interesting movie Smith has made in years. It may not be Chasing Amy, but at least it ain't Cop Out. (For a longer take, read our review here.) If you're looking to see Smith in his natural habitat, check out Too Fat for 40, another one of the filmmaker's lively, lengthy Q&A sessions where he dishes on his weight, sex life and experiences in Hollywood. Recorded before a live audience in his old Red Bank stomping grounds, this particular special features Smith discussing his own conversion to pot evangelism and revisiting that whole Southwest Airlines thing. And if you're not sick of Smith yet (and still have some cash left over), there's SModimations: Season One, animated versions of excerpts from his popular SModcast podcast with former producer and fellow jokester, Scott Mosier. Buy all three and Smith may show up at your door to thank you personally for keeping him from having to find a real job.
Extras: Red Stateincludes a making-of documentary, a batch of production-oriented podcasts, Smith's infamous speech at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and collections of deleted scenes, trailers and posters, all introduced by the always verbose filmmaker. Too Fat for 40 and SModimations all come with deleted scenes.

Also on DVD:
Andrew Rossi's documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times offers a fly-on-the-wall look at several months in the life of the Paper of Record as it confronts a changing marketplace and the rise of such new technologies as the iPad and Twitter. More successful as a series of vignettes (the best of which star grizzled media reporter David Carr) than a tightly focused feature, Page One is still must-see viewing for journalism junkies. Jumping genres with carefree abandon, the Spanish film The Last Circus begins as a war movie before morphing into, among other things, a love story, a revenge film and a live action comic book. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the kid-friendly rom-com, Monte Carlo is that it started its life as a Nicole Kidman picture before being transformed into a vehicle for tween stars Selena Gomez, Leighton Meester and Katie Cassidy. Too bad they didn't try that with The Hours. Music lovers can get their groove on with two well-reviewed rock docs, Cameron Crowe's Pearl Jam Twenty and Michael Rappaport's Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest. As a way to atone for directing a Twilight movie, Chris Weitz helmed the immigrant drama A Better Life, an homage to the classic Italian neo-realist film Bicycle Thieves that's earnest, well-meaning... and lacking any real emotional heft. Nice star turn by Demian Bichir, though. With plenty of free time on his hands now that $#*! My Dad Says is no more, William Shatner had the opportunity to harass his fellow Star Trek vets for The Captains, a documentary about what it's like to command a Starfleet ship... onscreen anyway. Vintage titles round out the week's releases, beginning with Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, which celebrates its 40th anniversary of freaking kids out this year. Another '80s kiddie favorite, The Goonies, arrives on Blu-ray; you haven't lived until you've seen Sloth's face in high-def. The knowledge that Brandon Lee died during filming makes The Crow a bit of a tough sit, but its moody visuals are well-served by the Blu-ray format. While it's not as revered as Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, Cape Fear is a pretty masterful piece of studio filmmaking by Martin Scorsese and paved the way for such future Scorsese-helmed mainstream successes as The Departed and Shutter Island.

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