Surfwise (R, 2008, Magnolia)
Contrary to what the title, DVD art and pastimes of just about everyone who plays a principle role in the film imply, “Surfwise” is not a documentary about surfing. It isn’t even really about suffers. Rather, it’s about a dad (Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz), the lifestyle philosophy he embraces, the woman he marries, the nine children they produce together, and the consequences that philosophy has on a family full of kids who existed outside of the system and the boundaries of what most would consider a normal upbringing. Were “Surfwise” simply a document of Doc’s lifestyle and approach to family-rearing, as most of the film’s first half is, it would have been a perfectly engaging piece of insightful entertainment. But when the shift turns to the kids, now grown, and the various effects that upbringing had on each, “Surfwise” enters an entirely new plane of must-see filmmaking. Every single Paskowitz who graces the screen — patriarch, matriarch, children, siblings, in-laws — has a couple cents to share, and the diversity and conviction of those opinions, as well as which side you take in the end, will keep you thinking and talking about “Surfwise” long after it ends.
Extras: Filmmaker/Salvador Paskowitz commentary, outtakes, behind-the-scenes feature, Surfers Healing PSA.
Rolling Stones: Shine a Light (PG-13, 2008, Paramount)
As is the case with most concert films, there’s little use in reviewing “Shine a Light,” which captures the Rolling Stones on stage through the eyes of one Martin Scorsese. If you like the Stones — or more accurately, if you’ve ever experienced them on stage and understand the full might of what that experience entails — “Light” almost certainly will touch the right nerves. It’s a bounty of gorgeous cinematography given the limitations of the genre, and in case this doesn’t go without saying, it sounds pristine. Though preceded by a brief look behind the scenes and punctuated by various clips from the band’s past, “Light” overwhelmingly keeps the camera trained on the stage. The lack of backstage material once the show starts is an arguable point of contention, and Stones fans of different stripes will inevitably lament the omission of one song or another from the set list. That said, the Stones haven’t lasted this long by putting on so-so shows, and “Light’s” ability to illustrate this in spite of the unavoidable disconnect enforced by the medium is, overwhelmingly, its greatest asset. Forgettable songs from the Stones’ recent catalog take on new life on stage, while a few selections (namely a beautiful rendition of “As Tears Go By” and a thunderous cover of “Champagne And Reefer” with Buddy Guy) may have you running back to the store to pick up the soundtrack.
Extras: Four bonus performances (including an awesome rendition of “Paint it Black”), behind-the-scenes feature.
Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay: Unrated Two-Disc Special Edition (NR, 2008, New Line)
One might assume that the art of making stupid comedies is no art at all. But if that’s the case, why are so many of them so bad, and what in the world is it about “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay” that makes it so good? It is, in fact, art in motion — in this case, the ability to reach past cliché, sidestep the usual vat of gross-out comedy devices, and come up with something that’s both incredibly stupid and ingeniously self-aware at the same time. Outside of a few unfortunate slips (including, alarmingly, the film’s very first gag), “HKEFGB” demonstrates an understanding of this art with almost miraculous consistency. Or maybe the writers just got lucky and we’re giving them too much credit. Doesn’t matter. If “Stoner Comedy” was an Academy Award category, “HKEFGB” would be commanding Oscar buzz, and Neil Patrick Harris would be in line for a lifetime achievement award for once again stealing the show as himself. John Cho, Kal Penn, Paula Garcés, David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas reprise their roles from the first film, and Rob Corddry, Roger Bart and Danneel Harris join the fray.
Extras: In what amounts to one of the more inspired bonus features in DVD lore, the first disc contains a horde of extra scenes and the ability, should you choose, to completely change the story’s direction using those scenes. Also: Theatrical and unrated cuts, two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, one behind-the-scenes feature, digital copy.
Barrio (NR, 1999, Studio Canal/Lions Gate)
Any bored teen or former bored teen can relate to the plight of Rai (Críspulo Cabezas), Javi (Timy Benito) and Manu (Eloi Yebra), who face a hot summer of nothing to do and so much to think about as they seek out signs of life in their working-class Madrid neighborhood. For the most part, that’s all “Barrio” is: Three teens passing time while doing that whole coming-of-age thing teens often do in movies. With one arguably regrettable exception, nothing truly seismic happens to any of the boys. But teen angst, tedium and the threat of a directionless day are a dangerous and entirely resonant combination, and even when nothing presumably is happening, “Barrio” still manages to inspire a sharp sense of curiosity about what will happen next. That’s a credit not only to the film’s ability to capture the moment, but develop its characters in all the right ways. When you shower your cast with the attention “Barrio” gives its chief threesome, heavy plot turns and other contrivances aren’t terribly necessary. And when something big does happen, it’s not necessarily a welcome development, even if it gives you something to talk about after the credits roll. In Spanish with English subtitles. No extras.
Parking Wars: The Best of Season One (NR, 2008, A&E)
The latest reality sensation to hit A&E — which at this point should just change its name or find new words to represent the “A” and “E” — follows the Philadelphia Parking Authority as it issues tickets, breaks out the boot, impounds cars and incurs the wrath and jeers of a not-so-adoring public. Set alternately on the streets and at the impound lot, “Parking Wars” simply rolls camera while the PPA does its job, and the result is what you’d expect: a thankless profession in which no excuse goes unmade and, in the case of the impound lot, no obscenity goes unbleeped. “Wars,” as even the name implies, is a train wreck with zero nutritional value outside the random bit of parking trivia. Fortunately, the producers seem well aware of the fact, inserting ridiculous sound effects and other silly tricks that typically are the domain of a “Saturday Night Live” skit making fun of reality television rather than actual reality television. Cringe-worthy though that may sound, it works for this purpose. “Wars” is trash television under any pretense, and if you’re going to make rubbish, you might as well go all the way and do it with pride. The tongue-in-cheek approach transforms a potential disaster into the arguable guilty pleasure of the season — no small feat given the present reality television landscape.
Contents: Seven episodes, plus 30 minutes of bonus footage.
Doomsday: Unrated (NR/R, 2008, Universal/Rogue)
Stop if you’ve heard this one before: A virus has wreaked havoc on the populace, and affected citizens not lucky enough to make it into walled-off cities of the future have created their own society of cyberpunk savagery and anarchy. A clash between the two societies was inevitable, and so here we are. To be fair, “Doomsday” does a few things differently, most particularly due to a mid-movie twist that significantly changes the landscape and rules of engagement. But when your film never stops moving for nearly two hours, it’s bound to do at least something different. Anyone on the fence about “Doomsday” already can glean that it’s a B-movie paying homage to well-worn concepts. But if you expect something — anything — more than an impenetrable wall of loud noise, mindless action, obnoxiously bad design and painful amounts of screaming, grunting and mugging, now’s the time to put that hope to bed. Despite all that “Doomsday” crams in, no allowance appears to have been made for character, subversion or even a sense of humor, any one of which would have done wonders to break up all that endless noise. As such, the resulting experience feels more like a blaring migraine than the guilty pleasure “Doomsday” should have been.
Extras: Theatrical and unrated cuts, cast/director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features.