DVD 3/30/10: The Baader Meinhof Complex, An Education, I Sell the Dead, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Steven Seagal: Lawman S1

The Baader Meinhof Complex (R, 2008, MPI Home Video) If your knowledge of world history falls in line with a dog’s understanding of the U.S. Postal Service, “The Baader Meinhof Complex” might look like nothing more than a wonderful confluence of guns, blood, romance, ideology, international espionage and stuff exploding. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because for all you might care, “Complex” dabbles in a palette of all those things and tells a pretty awesome story in the process. The bonus, of course, is that it’s a true story — that of the 1967 rise of Germany’s Red Army Faction and what ostensibly became the ground floor for terrorism as we know it today. Despite running 150 minutes long, “Complex’s” reenactment of a decade of history is illustrated with surprising efficiency. More importantly, it’s admirably objective: This is neither a romanticism nor condemnation of neither revolution nor the status quo, but instead an exciting, fluid look at two completely disparate bodies of power that each find themselves completely overwhelmed by the situations in which they find themselves. A few characters fall disappointingly to the wayside, but “Complex’s” general attention to character detail is terrific, and that makes the continual payoffs even more rewarding than all the explosions, gunfire and lip-locking already make them in the first place. Who said a history lesson has to be boring? Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek and Nadja Uhl, among numerous others, star. In German with English subtitles. Extras: Four behind-the-scenes features, three-part interview with “Baader Meinhof” author Stefan Aust, two-part interview with film writer/producer Bernd Eichinger.

An Education (PG-13, 2009, Sony Pictures) On paper, “An Education” — which finds 16-year-old student and book-smart Oxford University hopeful Jenny (Carey Mulligan) suddenly finding herself enchanted by an older man (Peter Sarsgaard as David) with a thirst for living in the moment by any means necessary — sounds as plain as its name. But in short order, it becomes clear the film understands the difference between what it means to just watch a movie and what it means to briefly vicariously live through one. “Education” doesn’t run wild in the twists department outside of a few good ones, and it opts more for semi-predictable authenticity over keeping viewers pinned to the edges of their seats. That, by the way, is fine — not only because contrivance would spoil the mood, but also because Jenny’s and Peter’s stories really aren’t the point anyway. The real satisfaction with “Education” is all the different things it stands to represent to all who see it and see themselves through either character’s eyes. The battle between living smart and living well, and the belief that they need not be mutually exclusive, is more than resonant enough in “Education” to make it far more engrossing than its pedestrian plot outline might otherwise suggest. Extras: Director/Mulligan/Sarsgaard commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

I Sell the Dead (NR, 200x, IFC Films) A former cohort (Larry Fessenden as Willie Grimes) just took a hard one under the guillotine, and now Father Duffy (Ron Perlman) has come to collect a confession from body parts dealer and suspected murderer Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) before he, too, fulfills his hastily-arranged death sentence. Arthur’s recollection of a lifetime’s worth of misdeeds, told predominantly through flashbacks, comprises the bulk of “I Sell the Dead,” and what follows is a remarkable lesson on how to turn a story about grave-robbing, murder, deceit, literal arms dealing, arguable mutants and inarguably despicable people into a positively personable, almost feel-good comedy. “Dead” doesn’t try too hard to be unnecessarily cute or even likable, but the script is too sharp and funny and the characters too endearing in spite of themselves for likability not to happen anyway. Amidst a sea of horror and monster movies that all seem to aim for gratuitous self-seriousness or gratuitous parody, “Dead’s” credibly playful tone, and its ability to smartly nail that tone all the way to the credits, absolutely is a welcome shift. Extras: Monaghan/Fessenden commentary, director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, 40-page color comic book.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel: Two-Disc Special Edition (PG, 2009, Fox) First, the possible bad news: If you’re a child of the 1980s and still hold out hope that “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” won’t trample your memories of the “Chipmunks” cartoon the way the first film so thoroughly did, stop hoping. The good news, though, is that “Squeakquel” at least approaches the goofy, somewhat earnest tone of the cartoon in a way its precursor didn’t even bother trying to do. Alvin’s almost likable, Simon and Theodore completely are, the Chipettes make an entirely agreeable debut, and even the generally dependable David Cross, whose turn as greedy music producer Ian Hawke crystalized the first movie’s soulless cynicism so detestably well, is a harmlessly silly cartoon character this time around. “Squeakquel” relies on easy gags, well-worn themes and yet another plot that inexplicably has a bunch of rodents as dreamy pop idols, but the vibe is a lot more playful the second time around. It won’t appease those in the mood for some nostalgia fulfillment, but that ship has sailed anyway. As good-hearted family films go, it suffices just fine. Extras: 10-minute “Chipmunks” retrospective, eight behind-the-scenes features, Chipmunk jukebox (shudder), five music videos.

Steven Seagal: Lawman: The Complete Season One (NR, 2009, A&E) It sounds like a joke or a stunt, but it isn’t. Steven Seagal has served remarkably quietly for more than 20 years as an unpaid reserve deputy in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, and while “Steven Seagal: Lawman” seems like a case of a television show tail wagging the dog of reality, it’s actually the other way around. Beyond the possible shock of discovering a movie star has been pulling this admirable double duty at no cost for this long, “Lawman” doesn’t really offer any huge surprises. It follows a similar format to “Cops,” riding along with Seagal and his fellow officers while they answer calls that sometimes are dangerous and sometimes mundane. Episodes also regularly cut away from the street to document some other facet of the job, be it Seagal passing his martial arts knowledge down to police recruits or training his dogs to act as responsible guardians of the house when he’s away. The sum total of “Lawman” occasionally feels like a bit of image rehabilitation for an actor dismissed as a has-been years after being dismissed as a single-note charismatic black hole. But Seagal’s fellow officers share the spotlight with him, and the footage captured in “Lawman” never stinks of contrivance the way almost every other celebrity-fronted reality show does, so where’s the harm in that? Contents: 13 episodes, plus bonus unaired footage.