DVD 4/8/08: There Will Be Blood, Resurrecting the Champ, Lions for Lambs, John From Cincinnati, P2, Alvin and the Chipmunks

There Will Be Blood: Collector’s Edition (R, 2007, Paramount/Miramax)
Could the most timely and relevant illustration of the maddening effect oil has on otherwise normal men be a tale about an oilman (Daniel Day-Lewis) mining for black gold in early-20th century California? Given the explosion of contemporary material on the subject, that’s a pretty special feat. But guess what? “There Will Be Blood” — based on the 1927 Upton Sinclair book “Oil!” — is a pretty special movie. And in a bit of an ironic twist, it’s probably the source material’s complete disconnect from modern times that makes it so. The parallels between “Blood” and the front page of today’s paper are deniable only to the blind eye, but the film stands in no position to preach about a time that its source material precedes by some 80 years. So it doesn’t, instead devoting its 158 minutes to a self-contained and brutally entertaining story about men, the dollar signs in their eyes, and the greed that transforms them into well-dressed but wild animals. Those parallels quietly settle in the background, and you can acknowledge or ignore them to whatever degree you wish without any diminishing returns in entertainment value. More than a tirade or a metaphor, “Blood” is just a film about a fight. And at that, it’s deviously entertaining, ugly in all the right ways, and almost embarrassingly more fresh than most works eight decades its junior.
Extras: “The Story of Petroleum,” a 25-minute, 1923 silent film chronicling the oil business during the 1920s. Also: Behind-the-scenes feature, outtakes.

Resurrecting the Champ (PG-13, 2007, Fox)
Middling sportswriter and husband Erik Kernan (Josh Hartnett) has made a potentially career-turning discovery: The homeless man (Samuel L. Jackson) he just rescued from a pack of teenagers happens to be a former boxing legend who was believed to be long dead. How’s that for a scoop? Here’s another scoop: Don’t read too much about “Resurrecting the Champ” if you want to see (and, more importantly, enjoy) it. As films go, it’s reasonably good in all the important ways — pretty good characters, pretty good cast, and a pretty good story that goes places in spite of the seeming limitations placed on it. What “Champ” also has is a few surprises, and the less you know about these surprises going in, the more fun it is to see where the plot takes you when those developments enter the picture. Advance knowledge of them, on the other hand, places all the pressure on the film’s third act, and if you’re counting on it delivering something special here, you’re asking for too much. Kathryn Morris, Alan Alda and Rachel Nichols also star.
Extras: Director commentary, behind-the-scenes feature, interviews.

Lions for Lambs (R, 2007, MGM)
Gather round, everyone, because “Lions for Lambs” has something to say — about war, about the price of freedom, about American entitlement and its effect on global events. And talk it does, to the tune of 92 minutes dominated by back-and-forth dialogue between a reporter (Meryl Streep) and Senator (Tom Cruise), professor (Robert Redford, who also directs) and student (Andrew Garfield), and two soldiers (Michael Peña and Derek Luke) who gave up comfortable college existences to fight in Afghanistan. Problem is, all of these mouths seem to be vessels for the same pen. “Lambs,” at least in film terms, desperately wants to be a defining voice of this generation. But even when skillfully delivered, its observations about the times in which we live rarely amount to more than the same generic platitudes we’ve been hearing on cable television for more than seven years already. Worse, they sound like the thoughts of one as acted out by a cast of several. That might be fine, perhaps even desirable, had “Lambs” strived to be something more experimental than it is. But it’s not, and all that remains is a film with unintentionally comical delusions of grandeur.
Extras: Redford commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, United Artists retrospective.

John From Cincinnati (NR, 2007, HBO)
Contrary to any implications brought forth by the title, John (Austin Nichols) isn’t really from Cincinnati. In fact, none of the Yosts — a three-generation surfing family fighting various demons and each other — know where John came from, why he says the strange things he says, and why seemingly mystical things have started happening since he arrived. Unfortunately, we can’t really help them figure it out. “John From Cincinnati” brings with it some intriguing storylines, but it channels them through an inaccessible assemblage of characters ranging from caustic to obnoxiously opaque. A certain “what will happen next” curiosity emerges in spite of this, and perhaps a chance to chip away at all those shells would have revealed some good characters and a truly great show over time. We’ll never know: “Cincinnati” was canceled after a single season that ended without any kind of real closure. Even if you enjoy the 10 episodes that lie ahead, you’re still going to end up feeling burned by all the episodes that will never come next. Rebecca De Mornay, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Van Holt, Ed O’Neill and Keala Kennelly, among others, also star.
Contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature.

P2 (R, 2007, Summit Entertainment)
It’s Christmas Eve, and workaholic Angela Bridges (Rachel Nichols) is late leaving the office for her sister’s house. Now, thanks to her poor time management skills, she’s stuck in a large building with nothing but locked doors and a dead car in the parking garage (level P2, hence the name of the film). To no fault of her time management skills, the only person remotely capable of helping her out has decided instead to keep her for himself. In other words, “P2” is your standard guy-stalks-girl film, only taking place in a parking garage, which turns out to be a pretty fresh setting for such a tired idea. Unfortunately, “P2” seems to be fully aware of how tired its concept is, and once it runs out of excuses to toss in some gore and gratuitous cleavage shots, it completely loses its mind. Apologies to anyone who enjoys the first two acts, because the finale abandons the entire premise in favor of … well who knows, really? Clearly, someone didn’t know how to tie this one together in any workable fashion, and the cobbled mess of a climax turns an average horror film with long-shot potential into a laughable mess with amnesia. Wes Bentley and Philip Akin also star.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.

Alvin and the Chipmunks (PG, 2007, Fox)
Just in case the evisceration of Underdog and the Transformers wasn’t rough enough for you, perhaps this third piece of the live-action-childhood-memory-destroying triumvirate will finally push you past your pain threshold. “Alvin and the Chipmunks” starts off simply enough as it details how three talking chipmunks and a guy named Dave (Jason Lee) crossed paths for the first time. Fine. It’s not very inventive and some of the jokes are obnoxiously tied to acute pop culture gags, but it could be worse and the CGI chipmunks look good enough. But then, “Chipmunks” realizes it has to do something with the 45 or so minutes that still need filling. And it’s here that things take a turn for the disastrous, with our tolerable beginnings giving way to an obnoxiously pedestrian story about a down-on-his-luck songwriter and a cartoonishly evil music mogul (David Cross, of all people … why, David, why?) who exploits him in exchange for access to his chipmunk friends. It’s impossible to fathom how the resulting mess could possibly be entertaining to kids, and it’s even more ridiculous to presume any functional adult could enjoy this. If there’s anything genuinely amusing about “Chipmunks,” it’s the explosive irony of a film crafted from the hands of cash-grabbing film executives preaching about the evils of corporate greed.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, “Chipmunks” retrospective.