DVD 4/21/09: Frost/Nixon, Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews, The Wrestler, Notorious, Caprica, A Galaxy Far Far Away SE, Fight Night

Frost/Nixon (R, 2008, Universal)
David Frost’s (Michael Sheen) 1977 interviews of Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) were more than simply once-in-a-lifetime sit-downs with the only man ever to resign the American presidency. They also formed the basis of an extraordinary upset — a softballing entertainer pinning an experienced, airtight subject into spilling candidly on the scandal that pushed him out of office. Obviously, nothing compares to being there when it aired, and if you want to witness the full might of the interview, the source material is arriving in full on DVD next week. But none that is here or there when it comes to “Frost/Nixon” holding its own as an enthralling verbal duel between two completely polar personalities. If you’ve seen the interviews or already know the story, you also know how it ends, and if you haven’t but have seen enough movies in your time, you likely can venture a guess. But it doesn’t really matter, just as many of “Frost/Nixon’s” best scenes aren’t recreations of what made it to air. They’re the exchanges that happen right before the cameras roll — or, in one case, during a telephone exchange that singlehandedly takes the film to another level. The interview scenes are faithful to the source material, but in context with the scenes that precede and succeed them, they achieve a new and entirely unique level of effect. Sam Rockwell, Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Oliver Platt and Rebecca Hall also star.
Extras: Director commentary, comparison footage from the real interview, deleted scenes, making-of feature, Nixon Library materials.
— For further study: “Frost/Nixon: The Complete Interviews” (NR, Liberation Entertainment): The original program … all 400 minutes of it. Available next week. A single-disc edition, containing only the footage pertaining to Watergate, released previously from the same studio.

The Wrestler (R, 2008, Fox)

“The Wrestler” plays right into the hands of award season cynics who argue that the recipe for any potential Best Picture nominee calls for at least three cups of downer juice. But it’s not a fair criticism, because “The Wrestler” — which sometimes literally follows washed-up pro wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson (Mickey Rourke) as he very literally limps through hard times, growing obscurity and the fallout of a career gone south — isn’t telling a fairy tale. Numerous accounts of the hardships surrounding the pursuit of professional wrestling glory are out there for all to see, be they in a screening of the “Beyond the Mat” documentary or in one of the numerous Web sites or publications devoted to dissecting wrestling’s brutal backstage demands. It’s a hard, painful life, but it’s a life almost always chosen, and even though The Ram is a fictional creation, the sum total of Rourke’s performance and the decades of anecdotal evidence that paved its way feel entirely real. It doesn’t hurt, either, that “The Wrestler” fills its in-ring action with real federations and real independent wrestlers — and, as consequence, some really squirm-worthy illustrations of where all that long-term damage comes from. Soft stomachs, you’ve been warned: “The Wrestler” absolutely fulfills every corner of its promise, but it trudges through some ghastly waters to do so. Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood also star.
Extras: 42-minute making-of feature, music video.

Notorious: Unrated Director’s Cut (NR, 2009, Fox)
If you had your pop culture ear anywhere in the vicinity of the ground during the mid-1990s, you likely possess a skeletal or better understanding of the events that led to the separate murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace. “Notorious” doesn’t strive to recap, confuse or flesh out those events so much as provide dimension to the men who lost their lives as result, and at that, it capably does its job. Wallace (Jamal Woolard), in particular, is the focus of the film, and “Notorious” serviceably follows him from his roots as a dorky chubby kid with no backbone to the multiplatinum superstar who found himself in the throes of a tumultuous marriage and a meritless feud that turned one of his best friends (Anthony Mackie as Shakur) into his biggest enemy. Structurally speaking, the film is as elementary in practice as it sounds on paper, telling a straight story and keeping stylistic interference to a refreshing minimum. Given “Notorious'” real trick — separating the men from their images and exposing Wallace as the overgrown mama’s boy his mother (who participated in the film’s production) knew him as — anything more would’ve simply gotten in the way. Angela Bassett, Derek Luke, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith and Christopher Jordan Wallace (playing his late father during his childhood years) also star.
Extras: Theatrical and extended cuts, deleted scenes, seven behind-the-scenes features.

Caprica (NR, 2009, Universal)
Telling “Caprica’s” target audience to check it out is like a asking a roomful of kindergarteners to give candy a chance. “Battlestar Galactica” just ended its run on a high note, and the “Caprica” series — which takes place 50 years before “Galactica” and purports to illustrate the happenings that formed that show’s basis — doesn’t air until next year. So until then, we have this, which pulls triple duty as a feature-length film, a pilot episode and a tease. Happily, it succeeds on all three fronts and fulfills its mission of leaving you wanting more. “Caprica” makes an imposing entrance by trotting out an entirely new cast of characters (Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson, Alessandra Toreson) and taking its time establishing any intriguing connections between them and the “Galactica” universe. Centering the narrative beginnings around an angst-ridden teenager and the implications of virtual-reality dimensions doesn’t bridge the gap. But “Caprica” uses the extended runtime to its advantage, and by film’s end, the ties between the two series are established and effectively compelling, capping it off with an excellent endgame twist that brings the whole thing around. It’s hard not to want to know what happens next. Shame we have to wait so long to find out.
Extras: Director/writer/producer commentary, deleted scenes, video blogs.

A Galaxy Far Far Away: 10th Anniversary Special Edition (NR, 2000, Cinevolve Studios)
Sometimes all that propels a documentary from also-ran status into full-blown greatness is timing. And of all the films, books and other media that have attempted to understand the phenomenon that is “Stars Wars,” perhaps none benefits from timing better than “A Galaxy Far Far Away,” which sets its table exactly six weeks prior to “Episode I’s” theatrical debut. “Away” probably would be great fun either way: Its subject matter has no shortage of character and material to chew on, and filmmaker Tariq Jalil — who states upfront that he admires “Star Wars” but doesn’t quite understand the obsession — uses his own bewildered perspective as a funny and balanced starting point. But “Away’s” touches down in the eye of a perfect storm of renewed “Star Wars” hysteria, where fans climb over each other for new toys and camp in line a full 42 days before the movie even starts playing. It’s also there for the culmination of that hysteria … as well as the fallout when people actually see “Episode I” for themselves. If you know anything about that film’s critical reception, the few minutes “Away” spends in its aftermath may be the most fascinating part of all. “Away’s” biggest knock is that it’s so short — barely 60 minutes, and far short of the 80 minutes the box promises. Fortunately, some excellent extras provide the necessary value compensation.
Extras: 10th Anniversary video commentary (shot “Mystery Science Theater 3000”-style), new and original producer/director audio commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, old and new trailers.

Fight Night (R, 2007, Peace Arch)
“Fight Night” is two movies in one reel, but don’t mistake that for a value proposition so much as an identity crisis. For a good half of its runtime, “Night” plays like a collection of clichés blown to pieces by an attitude bomb: There’s the slick-talking underground fight promoter (Chad Ortis), the scrappy female fighter (Rebecca Neuenswander) he finds living in squalor, and a series of events that has him hustling male fighters in shady backroom rings while people from his past (Kurt Hanover, Adrian Bartholomew) return with trouble on their minds. Everyone, in fact, appears to have trouble on the brain, and the first half of “Night” absolutely reels with unintentionally funny exchanges of bad dialogue as one character tries to out-attitude the other. Perhaps if that’s all the film did, we could enjoy it as a relentless piece of cornball entertainment with a few good fight scenes to boot. But “Night” takes a stiff right turn halfway through, transforming its toxically (and seemingly intentionally) unlikable main characters into attempted objects of sympathy. A goofy twist sets the table for what should have been an enjoyably cheesy climax, but “Night” suddenly seems so concerned with making us like everyone that it misfires wildly, culminating in a final scene so hokey, you almost feel guilty for laughing it off. Unfortunately, the film offers little alternative.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes.