The Yes Men Fix the World (NR, 2009, Docurama)
Unless you’re in school and there’s going to be a test on it the next day, it’s likely you have no obligation to watch documentaries that strive to educate and/or mobilize. And if no one’s making you, and you aren’t interested enough to care about the subject matter in the first place… you see the problem here? It would seem the Yes Men — Andy Bichibaum and Mike Bonanno — do, which is why they turn to outrageous pranks to get their point across instead. “The Yes Men Fix the World” is the duo’s second feature film, and the marks this time include a roomful of post-Katrina opportunists, readers of The New York Times and 300 million BBC viewers. The stunts Bichibaum and Bonanno devise are hilariously ambitious, watching them being put into play is thoroughly entertaining, and whether the dupes call shenanigans immediately or play along without any suspicion whatever, the reactions often are priceless. The film’s messages are undeniable, and “World” kind of loses itself in a vat of unreasonably syrupy preachiness during its last batch of scenes. But Bichibaum and Bonanno’s sense of humor — and the surprising level of humility and occasional terror they display when a prank enters the wild — makes them potentially thoroughly likable even if their ideas don’t mesh with yours. If the point is to make a point, there’s no better way than 90 minutes of juvenile civility to break the ice.
Extras: A bonus stunt, deleted scenes and bonus footage, filmmaker bios.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (R, 2009, First Look)
Everything about “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” from that completely awkward title on down, is just weird — though not necessarily in a bad way. As different parts of that title suggest, Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage) is something of a despicable (albeit effective) member of the New Orleans Police Department, and it isn’t clear what — a taste for cocaine, contempt for the people he’s vowed to serve, a gambling problem that might leave less influential people with severe injuries — is his biggest ill. There’s an investigation at the center of the storyline, and it provides all the means necessary for Cage to interface with a great roster of supporting characters (Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Fairuza Balk, Xzibit, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Shawn Hatosy), but at the same time, the details of the case almost don’t even matter. This is McDonagh’s story, and Cage goes absolutely crazy bringing his every extreme emotion to blindingly vivid and entirely unsubtle light. That, along with the style choices “Lieutenant” makes and the unusual trajectory the story takes (to say nothing of its resolution at the end), makes for one strange movie that is likely to leave some completely perplexed while others step away thoroughly entertained. But either outcome beats outright boredom, and “Lieutenant” is entirely too out there to ever deserve the dull tag. So if you’re feeling adventurous, take a chance on it and see where it takes you.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature
Loins of Punjab Presents (NR, 2008, Indiepix)
Just about everything brushes up against some degree of cute in “Loins of Punjab Presents,” which finds a confusingly-assembled collection of promotors and personalities putting on a Bollywood pop idol competition in (where else?) suburban New Jersey. Fittingly, the seven featured hopefuls all have weird makeups of their own — a small-time inventor of an off-brand yoga variant here, a failed Hollywood actress hoping to fake her way into Bollywood there, an Indian who moved to America only to watch his job get outsourced to India somewhere in between. “Punjab” plays the mockumentary card a little bit early on, settles in nicely as a slightly dry comedy later, and dabbles in some drama before finally — at least for one would-be winner — homing in on a happy ending. It isn’t exactly a chancy formula, and even when “Punjab” has its straight face on, there’s an air of aw-shucks adorability to the whole thing. But that works just fine: “Punjab’s” characters are roundly likable at best and amusingly obnoxious at worst, and the film builds them up enough to make the outcome strangely compelling in spite of how self-depreciatingly slapped-together the whole competition is established as being. Jameel Khan, Shabana Azmi, Ajay Naidu, Manish Acharya, Michael Raimondi, Ayesha Dharker and Seema Rahmani, among others, star.
Extras: Two short films “The Driver” and “Partner,” director/writers/critics commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, three behind-the-scenes features, two music videos.
The Collector (R, 2009, Vivendi)
You might call it streamlined and refreshingly free of pretense; someone else might see the same thing and call it lazy and an elaborate excuse to break out the blood buckets. Either way, it’s no small point to note that “The Collector” reveals next to nothing about the motives and means of the character (Juan Fernandez) who gives the film its name. Whether it even needs to is somewhat arguable, thanks to an imaginative premise that finds the titular character descending on a suburban family (Andrea Roth, Michael Reilly Burke, Karley Scott Collins, Madeline Zima) the very same evening a contractor (Josh Stewart) who knows the family attempts to rob the place. Character development duty falls to him and his struggle to convince the family he’s there to help them — which, of course, he initially wasn’t, which naturally makes the rescue talk a hard sell. If that’s good enough, you’re in luck, because while “The Collector” arguably goes overboard in the gore-for-effect department — the squeamish absolutely need not bother — it certainly knows what it’s doing in the unsettling suspense department. It’s just too bad it’s all happening for reasons we’ll largely never know.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, alternate ending, deleted scenes, music video.
Dirt! The Movie (NR, 2009, Docurama)
It might be packaged under the pretense of being a spirited and fun look at its namesake, but anyone who takes one look at “Dirt! The Movie” can assume with high confidence what’s in store. And after a start that indeed revels in refreshing levels of whimsy, those assumptions are realized. This isn’t really a knock: A feature-length discussion about soil almost invariably must touch on sobering concerns about not only the environment, but also the expensive and often counterproductive trajectory the farming industry has taken since big companies started bullying everyone else out. “Dirt,” to its credit, does a nice job of conveying people’s concerns without losing itself in a sea of preachiness. But the sobering stuff appears during the heart of the movie and easily commands more minutes than “Dirt’s” more lighthearted (and often, more illuminating) material, and the turn from fun and fascinating to slightly depressing is so stark as to undermine the mood more than convey its importance. Fortunately, the fun stuff makes a comeback in the third act. And if you fancy a movie about all the cool things dirt can do but have had your fill of the sobering stuff for a while, there’s still enough great material (and yes, whimsy) to make “Dirt” worth seeing.
Extras: Additional scenes, extended interviews and animations, filmmaker bio.
Worth a Mention
— “The Lord of the Rings: Original Animated Classic: Remastered Deluxe Edition” (PG, 1978, Warner Bros.): Before Peter Jackson came along and made the film adaptation trilogy to end all film adaptation trilogies, there was this 133-minute animated treatment, which was and remains a rather magnificent treatment in its own right. In addition to bringing the film to Blu-ray for the first time and giving ardent fans the first new cut of the film in nearly 10 years, the new edition includes a new 30-minute intervi
ew with the film’s director, Ralph Bakshi. The new cut is available in DVD-only form, but videophiles for which neither money nor format is an object will prefer the combo pack that bundles the Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy versions for $10 more.