DVD 10/2: 1408, The War, Sun Dogs, Day Night Day Night, The Sarah Silverman Program S1, Docurama Film Festival IV, Jericho S1, New Special Editions roundup

PDF Clip: DVD 2007-10-02

1408: Two Disc Collector’s Edition (PG-13/NR, 2007, Dimension)
Baggage-riddled occult writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is much too jaded to believe his own stories, much less the legend of the Dolphin Hotel’s Room 1408, which the hotel’s manger (Samuel L. Jackson) describes simply as an evil bleeping room. Naturally, this being a two-hour film based on the writings of Stephen King, there’s some merit to the manager’s warning. Outside of some moments that will awaken your inner claustrophobe, “1408” isn’t a particularly frightening movie. But it’s such a messed-up and imaginative trip, starring a fascinating and startlingly well-developed cast of characters, that the absence of cheap frights doesn’t even matter. Unpredictability is far more valuable, and this film is rich with it in ways large and small. A point near act three seems to indicate a descent into random wackiness, and it temporarily appears that “1408” is a film that doesn’t know how to wrap itself up. Stick with it, though, because it quickly finds its footing before delivering a knockout of a final scene.
Extras: Extended cut with alternate ending, director/writers commentary, three behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes (with commentary)

The War: A Ken Burns Film (NR, 2007, PBS)
Upon completion of his legendary Civil War documentary, Ken Burns publicly proclaimed he was done telling stories about war. Fortunately, his filmmaking skills are more apparent than his promise-keeping talents. Burns takes on World War II in “The War,” and the finished “film” — to use his words — is so unmistakably Burns that he need not even put his name on the door. That, mind you, isn’t a bad thing. No one dissects a subject quite like Burns does, and the 15 hours he presents here are so dense with top-flight storytelling and unbelievable, one-of-a-kind images that the minutes just melt away. Despite the “film” designation, “The War” actually splits itself into seven chronological episodes of varying length. Thus, you need not feel any unreasonable obligation to watch it in one sitting or without taking time to watch some lighter fare in between. That, of course, isn’t to say you won’t want to. “The War” isn’t always an easy program to watch, but it’s an even harder problem to turn off once it’s on.
Extras: Burns commentary, making-of feature, deleted scenes, bonus interviews, bios, photo gallery, educational resources.

Sun Dogs (NR, 2006, Palm Pictures)
Lest there be no confusion — because it wouldn’t be the first time — “Sun Dogs” isn’t about the unlikely rise of the Jamaican bobsled team. Rather, it’s about the even more unlikely formation of a Jamaican dogsled team. Lack of snow on which to practice is one thing; training stray dogs of all shapes and sizes to pull a sled in tandem is entirely another. Among other things, “Dogs” captures the entire process, rolling camera as a confused pack of dogs endure their first practice and continuing to roll as the same dogs joyously fly down the same path like a well-oiled machine only a short time later. But “Dogs” also manages, with compelling results, to place its story in a larger context — namely, an island with tremendous international renown that nonetheless is crippled by crime and a damaged educational system. The dogs easily steal the show, but the story of a musher (dogsled-speak for rider) named Newton is every bit as intriguing.
Extras: Four mini-features, dog bios.

Day Night Day Night (NR, 2006, IFC FirstTake)
The less a movie says, the more room it leaves for people to interpret whatever message it supposedly has. That leaves a whole lot of room for interpreting “Day Night Day Night,” which follows a 19-year-old woman (Luisa Williams) as she prepares to carry out a suicide bombing mission in Times Square. “Night” is an extremely sparse movie, with little outside of mission prep and the mission itself comprising the film’s 91 minutes. Wait for the film to make a sweeping statement or for the main character to suddenly bust into monologue mode, and you’ll be waiting a while. That leaves the floor open to all kinds of discussion — whether “Night” is sympathetic to Williams’ character, whether it’s making a statement about the goodwill of Americans, or any number of other interpretations in between. Your best bet, in fact, may be to sit back and see “Night” for what it is: suspenseful entertainment. Will she or won’t she? Avoid reading the back of the DVD case, with spoils far too much, and see for yourself.
Extras: Writer/director commentary

The Sarah Silverman Program. Season One (NR, 2007, Comedy Central)
Sarah Silverman is a one-woman cottage industry dedicated to slamming overexposed blonde Hollywood princesses, but that’s not all she is. Surprisingly — if you’ve never heard of it, anyway — “The Sarah Silverman Program” isn’t a sketch show or a standup show or anything of that sort, but a sitcom starring an alternate-universe Silverman, an alternate-universe version of her sister (Laura Silverman), a mustached cop (Jay Johnston) and two token gay neighbors (Brian Posehn and Steve Agee). That said, the fingerprints on the show are definitely hers, and the finished product resembles a mix between “Strangers With Candy’s” absurd melodrama and “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” failed experiments in social behavior. It’s not as ingenious as either of those shows, and the musical numbers are a bit much. But it’s definitely different and — particularly when Posehn and Agee are on screen — often very funny.
Contents: Six episodes, plus commentary, musical performances, karaoke, animatics.

Docurama Film Festival IV (NR, 1989-2007, Docurama)
Docurama’s annual DVD film festival seems to bring out the best in its catalog, and the 10 selections (nine new) that comprise “Docurama Film Festival IV” might be the festival’s most compelling body of work yet. Subjects include secret atomic bomb-making apparatuses (the glib but scary “Building Bombs”), a 29-year-old nobody taking on the political machine (“Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Anymore?”) and what five teachers experience in their first year on a very tough job (“The First Year”). If you’d prefer something lighter, there’s always “Wanderlust,” which dissects the phenomenon known as the road trip movie, and “I Like Killing Flies,” which takes us inside one of the most unique restaurants on the planet. (No, they don’t serve flies.) As always, you can buy the films separately or together at a discount, and you can log onto docuramafilmfestival.com to “experience” the festival and discuss the films with others. (In a nice touch, Docurama actually updated the site this year after puzzlingly ignoring it last time.) Details on all 10 films, including extras, can be found at the site.

Jericho: The First Season (NR, 2006, CBS)
Without anybody’s help, Jericho, Kan., was a pretty small town. But even the smallest of towns can shrink ever more when a nuclear mushroom cloud lights the horizon a few hundred miles away and subsequently knocks out power and communication with the rest of the country. As ensemble dramas go, “Jericho” is a funny breed. It’s not hurting for characters and stories to tell, but it’s not likely to inspire favorites in the same way other ensemble shows often do. Even the main character (Skeet Ulrich) is a bit annoying, and that’s to say nothing of the morose teenager (Erik Knudsen) and the big-city IRS employee (Alicia Coppola) who constantly reminds us she’s from a big city. Fortunately, “Jericho” has enough storytelling angles so as not to lean on its characters for too much support. Uncovering the secrets of the town — and, naturally, finding out what caused the explosion and what happens next — makes for some fun television. Lennie James, Gerald McRaney and Kenneth Mitchell, among several others, also star.
Contents: 22 episodes, plus commentary, deleted scenes, a making-of feature and a feature on the post-World War II nuclear arms race.

Just the Extras: New Special Editions Now Available
— “Misery: Collector’s Edition” (R, 1990, Fox): Director commentary, screenwriter commentary, seven behind-the-scenes features.
— “The Jungle Book: 40th Anniversary Platinum Edition” (G, 1967, Disney): Mixed commentary with animators from today and yesterday, making-of feature, seven bonus songs, alternate take of “Bare Necessities” song, and a look at a character who never made it into the finished film.
— “Babel: Collector’s Edition” (R, 2006, Paramount): Feature-length behind-the-scenes director video diary.
— “Elizabeth: Spotlight Series” (R, 1998, Universal): Director commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, photo gallery, sneak peek at the sequel.
— “Species: Collector’s Edition” (R, 1995, MGM): Cast/director commentary, director/crew commentary, seven behind-the-scenes features, alternate ending, image gallery, sneak peak at the sequel.
— “Funny Face: 50th Anniversary Edition” (NR, 1957, Paramount): Paramount retrospective, two behind-the-scenes features, photo gallery.

DVD 9/25: Knocked Up, Tekkonkinkreet, Severance, Bug, A Dog's Breakfast, Next, Broken, Zoo

PDF Clip: DVD 2007-09-25

Knocked Up: Extended & Unrated (NR, 2007, Universal)
She (Katherine Heigl) is successful, pretty and semi-semi-famous. He (Seth Rogen) is jobless, not very pretty, and living with four roommates (Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Jason Segel and Martin Starr) who are different versions of him. But alcohol is a funny thing, and you know where this one is going just by the title on the box. Fortunately, “Knocked Up” isn’t pushing unpredictability as its main asset, and it barely matters that you largely can guess what happens in act three just as easily as you can predict act one. What matters is that the movie is funny — sometimes broadly, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes through a simple throwaway line that makes you laugh a full 30 seconds after someone says it. Best of all, the only bodily function joke come in the form of a grumbling stomach. “Knocked Up” does comedy the nice, hard way, and it manages to be that extremely rare guy film that the women will cherish just as much as the men. This is as feel-good as feel-good comedy gets.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, bloopers, 10 behind-the-scenes features, video diaries, live music, two “best lines” compilations.

Tekkonkinkreet (R, 2006, Sony Pictures)
Numerous camps are fighting for ownership of Treasure Town, a once-proud metropolis that is rotting away at an alarming rate. Interested parties include a cracking Yakuza and a posse of impossibly powerful aliens, but it’s the smallest party of all — a boy named Black and his little brother, White — that elevate “Tekkonkinkreet” from an exquisite anime to an absolutely enchanting one. The no-nonsense premise allows “Tekkonkinkreet” to run wild in areas of higher concern, and the result is a fascinating cast of characters, a city with real history and a dense, arguably epic story that practically tells itself. The attention to detail in “Tekkonkinkreet’s” art is stunning, but it’s merely keeping up with the rest of the film’s appetite for nuance. You need not love anime to love this. Were “Tekkonkinkreet” a live-action film with the same storyline, people would lose their minds en masse.
Extras: Filmmaker commentary, making-of feature, interviews.

Severance (R, 2006, Magnolia)
A handful of employees from Palisade Defence [sic] are headed, whether they like it or not, to a cabin in the woods for a team-building retreat. That alone is enough to strike fear in the hearts of many, but “Severance” ups the ante by unleashing a crazed killer who is hiding in the woods and has nothing to do with any planned workplace activities. Aside from the workplace twist, “Severance” arranges itself in a fashion similar to so many cabin-in-the-woods horror films. But it’s that little twist that pushes the movie ahead of the pack, and “Severance” takes uses that nudge to balance gore, comedy and some genuine “oh no” moments in a way few horror films are equipped to do. (Wait, for instance, until you see how the paintball team-building exercise ends. Not pretty, and yet strangely relatable.) Also nice: A second twist near the beginning of the film’s climax that throws a wrench into the story, modernizes it on a wholly different level, and ensures it won’t run out of steam before the credits roll.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, eight behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes, outtakes, alternate ending storyboard, Palisade corporate video.

Bug (R, 2006, Lions Gate)
It’s a little too easy to make assumptions about “Bug” on first glance. We’ve all seen enough horror films to practically bet farms on “Bug” being about some onslaught or another of bugs. Guess what? That, technically, is what it is. But calling “Bug” a film about bugs is like calling “The Wizard of Oz” a film about a road trip. There’s a point A and there’s a point B, but what happens between those points lies one of the wildest mishmashes of contemporary foil-hat paranoia and classic horror hat-tipping ever crammed into a single space. Details will not be spilled here, because sitting in cold disbelief as the film descends into madness is what seeing “Bug” is all about. Just know that it’s completely insane, totally fun, and powered by some of the most fantastic acting that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences won’t touch with a 10-foot pole. Ashley Judd, Michael Shannon, Harry Connick, Jr. and Lynn Collins star.
Extras: Director interview and commentary, introduction.

A Dog’s Breakfast (PG-13, 2006, MGM)
Patrick (David Hewlett) is a bit unbalanced. And when he hears what he believes is his sister’s (Kate Hewlett) would-be husband (Paul McGillion) plotting her murder, he does what any unbalanced good brother would do and tries to off him first. Unfortunately, as with everything else in Patrick’s life, murder isn’t easy. Comedy isn’t much easier, but “A Dog’s Breakfast” hits more often that it misses. The comedy is awfully broad for the most part, and while “Breakfast” manages its share of great lines, the domino of resulting hijinks is more amusing than laugh-out-loud hilarious. Still, amusing is miles better than bad, and that’s something “Breakfast” never is. The story is fun, the characters are likeable in spite of themselves, and a big twist down line is satisfying regardless of whether you see it coming or not. It’s riddled with logic holes, but the film is so beyond ridiculous at that point that it hardly matters.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, deleted scenes, four behind-the-scenes features.

Next (PG-13, 2007, Paramount)
Illusionist Cris ‘Frank Cadillac’ Johnson (Nicolas Cage) isn’t your typical magician, because your typical magician can’t see into the future like he can. The catch is, he can see only his future, and he can only see two minutes ahead of present time. At least that’s mostly the catch, but the caveats are hard to explain unless you see the movie yourself. That’s part of the problem with “Next.” The hook is pretty clever, but when you pad the film with a story about terrorists, a kidnapping and a nuclear weapon set to detonate in Los Angeles, something is bound to break at some point. Sure enough, “Next” gets careless with its rules, and the film gets sloppy before delivering an ending that, while interesting, will strike some as a cop-out. It doesn’t help matters that, even with the original initial setup, “Next” generally feels pretty stock, touting a predictable love interest (Jessica Biel), a threat that never feels like a real threat, and an gaggle of FBI agents who resemble actors playing FBI agents more than actual agents. Julianne Moore also stars.
Extras: Four behind-the-scenes features.

Broken (NR, 2006, Dimension Extreme)
When Hope (Nadja Brand) awakes, she finds herself inside a reinforced pine box. Upon being let out by her captor (Eric Colvin) — and after discovering she’s already been badly injured — she’s given a choice: Do something terrible to stay alive and see her kid again, or give up die. In other words, this is, at least at first, a lost episode of “Saw.” But rather than continue down that road, “Broken” slows it down, and the film becomes a tug-of-war between Hope’s emerging Stockholm Syndrome and her desire to punish her captor and escape. Unfortunately, that simply leads to more punishment and precious little else. Like far too many contemporary horror films, “Broken” seems more concerned with getting off on torturing its cast than explaining why he’s a predator and she’s the prey. It also gives you nothing to truly root for — a small problem that unexpectedly blossoms into a soul-sucking deal-breaker during the film’s last scene.
Extras: Filmmakers commentary, making-of feature, Brand interview, photo gallery.

Zoo (NR, 2007, ThinkFilm)
No sense dancing around it: “Zoo” is a documentary about bestiality. Specifically, it’s about Kenneth Pinyan, a Seattle man who died after attempting to have sex with a horse. No sense dancing around this either: It’s terrible. Presumably to avoid the shock film tag, “Zoo” tries to tell Pinyan’s story with delicate strokes. Footage of the encounter exists, but it’s not here, and the film largely consists of actors reenacting the various accounts that provide the film’s narrative track. Many who see “Zoo” will interpret the soft approach as a means of sympathizing for Pinyan rather than condemning him or abstaining from editorializing at all. But even if you can look past whatever your gut tells you, it’s hard to overcome the complete feeling of emptiness all that dancing leaves behind. The acting often is silly and overdone, the soundtrack is relentlessly heavy, and the film’s climax is so absurdly pretentious that it makes you forget what little insight into Pinyan’s behavior the preceding hour-plus might have offered. Whatever “Zoo” set out to accomplish, mission failed.
Extras: Filmmaker commentary.

DVD 9/18: Flock of Dodos, Death Proof: Extended and Unrated, Snow Cake, Closing Escrow, Upright Citizens Brigade S1/S2, Brothers and Sisters S1, The Condemned

PDF Clip: DVD 2008-09-18

Flock of Dodos (NR, 2006, Docurama)
Is there such a thing as a humorous film about the evolution-intelligent design debate? Well, there is now. “Flock of Dodos” comes courtesy of evolutionary biologist-slash-filmmaker Randy Olson, and if his title doesn’t lay bare his stance on the issue, he happily volunteers it himself. But rather than make yet another case for evolution and preach to his choir, Olson instead talks to anyone who will talk back — doctors, authors, professors, school board members, regular folks, even his mom. What he discovers, more than anything, is that the debate is far more civil and far more reasoned than the talking-head media would have us believe. People, as it turns out, are nice — even when, say, Olson wears his “Evolutionist” hat at a pro-intelligent design family’s dinner table. “Dodos” doesn’t make light of the debate’s gravity, nor does it ignore the impassioned arguments constantly bubbling underneath. It does all the things a good debate film should do, but it adds a two-way perspective that, sadly, is more endangered than even the poor dodo. That alone makes it a must-see film for those who have both an interest in the debate and an open mind.
Extras: A 60-minute “Ten Questions” film, panel discussion, outtakes, additional animation sequences, behind-the-scenes feature, “Shared Visions” skit, filmmaker bio.

Death Proof: Extended and Unrated (NR, 2007, Dimension)
The idea behind the “Grindhouse” double feature was inspired, but it’s little surprise audiences didn’t wish to sit en masse through two films at once. So people took a pass and waited for the inevitable and much more palatable “Grindhouse” twin-bill DVD set … which isn’t happening, because Dimension decided instead to sell the films separately under their less-known individual names. Whose great idea was that? In any event, “Death Proof” is Quentin Tarantino’s contribution to the twosome, and his name need not even be on the bill for that piece of knowledge to shine right though. Don’t enjoy the way Tarantino’s characters like to get talkative in the middle of many of his films? You’ll probably hate “Proof,” which essentially is 113 minutes of meandering, absorbing conversation punctuated by two completely awesome action sequences. But Tarantino has been on a collision course with this film for years, and the “Grindhouse” umbrella allows him to unabatedly play with his influences without having to stop for explanation or tie it into any sort of audience-friendly convention. For that reason alone, the experiment is a creative, if not commercial, success — and hopefully not the end of the road.
Extras: Six behind-the-scenes features.

Snow Cake (NR, 2006, IFC FirstTake)
Against his better judgment and arguably by accident, Alex Hughes (Alan Rickman) has offered a lift to a female hitchhiker (Emily Hampshire) who’s on her way to visit her mom (Sigourney Weaver) in small-town Wawa, Ontario. “Snow Cake” is a much different movie by the time that trip ends, but we’ve merely reached the tip of the iceberg by that point. If the preceding plot description seems vague, it’s not by accident. The less you know about the handful of early surprises that change “Cake’s” direction, the better chance those surprises have of disarming you and completely warping your expectations for the hour-plus that still remains. Fortunately, surprise isn’t “Cake’s” only commodity: A handful of great characters and a cast equipped to take them on see to that. If your familiarity with Rickman’s career starts and ends with Severus Snape, his turn here is bound to open your eyes. That goes double for Weaver, regardless of whatever acquaintance you’ve made with her. Carrie-Anne Moss also stars.
Extra: Deleted scenes.

Closing Escrow (PG, 2007, Magnolia)
Three couples are in the hunt for a new house, and three rather unique real estate salespeople are ready to make their respective dreams come true. That’s the premise of a really boring reality show, but it’s also the premise of “Closing Escrow,” a mockumentary that not only isn’t boring, but is actually pretty funny. “Escrow” plays out like your typical Christopher Guest film: Mundane stuff happens, characters say funny things during interviews, repeat. But “Escrow” also voyages to frontiers Guest would dare not explore, touching on such family-unfriendly topics as racism, violence and the threat powers of dead rabbits. That allows it to be something Guest’s films won’t be while still successfully cribbing the sense of humor that makes them so good. Most of “Escrow’s” cast is comprised of talented unknowns, but “Reno 911!” fans most certainly will recognize two of their own — Cedric Yarbrough and Wendi McLendon-Covey — in big roles. If you like that show’s approach to comedy, “Escrow” should suit you just fine.
Extras: Two behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes.

Upright Citizens Brigade: The Complete First Season (NR, 1998, Comedy Central)
Upright Citizens Brigade: The Complete Second Season (NR, 1998, Comedy Central)

A handful of you might be scratching your heads at this one. Didn’t the first season of “Upright Citizens Brigade” already appear on DVD? Why, yes it did. But that was four years ago, and even Amazon doesn’t stock it anymore. Fans who have the old set can skip right past this release, which is the same content inside a slightly redesigned package, and go right to season two. But for those unfamiliar, Comedy Central’s thirst for new business presents a second chance to make acquaintance with a sketch comedy show that more closely resembles a high-concept sitcom than a collection of sketches. Each episode finds the Upright Citizens Brigade (Amy Poehler, Matt Besser, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh) attempting to disrupt the status quo in the face of a similarly deranged public (played by the same people) that isn’t exactly normal in the first place, and the plotlines often end up in places no conventional sitcom could realistically go. Sometimes it’s laugh-out-loud funny; far less often but occasionally, it’s borderline painful. But even at its worst, “UCB” never is dull.
“First Season” contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary, the pilot (with commentary), original live performances, deleted scene.
“Second Season” contents: 10 episodes, plus commentary (including live commentary at the UCB Theater), audience Q&A, original live performances, deleted scenes.

Brothers and Sisters: The Complete First Season (NR, 2006, Buena Vista)
As promised by the title, there are brothers and sisters in “Brothers and Sisters.” But there also are parents, kids, an uncle, a mistress, a company, an embezzlement and some other folks who may or may not join the family someday, and they all collide in what shakes out as a pretty heavy first couple of episodes. Repackage these first two episodes as a movie, and it’d be too obnoxiously heavy-handed and angst-ridden to qualify as recommendable entertainment. Fortunately, “B&S” has a little more time to spread itself out, and once all the introductions are made, that’s what it does. Eventually, “B&S” emerges as a well-written, topical and occasionally funny family drama, and the huge cast that initially burdens the show gradually morphs into its best asset. Calista Flockhart, Sally Field, Rachel Griffiths, Ron Rifkin and Dave Annable, among many others, star.
Contents: 24 episodes (one unaired), plus commentary, three behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, deleted scenes.

The Condemned (R, 2007, Lions Gate)
In hopes of becoming the next big Internet reality sensation, a sleazy producer (Robert Mammone) has assembled a game of last-man standing featuring a bunch of dangerous criminals (“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Vinnie Jones and eight more) on a deserted island. All but one will die, and the one left standing will be freed from prison. It’s a great idea, and if “The Condemned” had given it the over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek treatment, it might have been a great movie as well. Instead, the film chooses to wax philosophical about the morals of the product at hand, and too much of “The Condemned” consists of a bunch of idiotic producers and crew members suddenly realizing that killing nine people has moral implications. Seeing as we already knew that, there’s no reason for us to care. Sadly, the action on the island provides no respite: The criminals are so dull, you wonder what made the producers suddenly care about them so much. And with this being WWE Films production and an Austin star vehicle, is there any doubt who’s going to win the thing in the end?
Extras: Austin/director commentary, second director commentary, five behind-the-scenes features, appearance and other footage, storyboards.

DVD 9/11/07: Demetri Martin. Person., The Dog Problem, Grey's Anatomy: S3, Rick & Steve S1, Dirty Sanchez, Even Money, New Special Editions

PDF Clip: DVD 2008-09-11

Demetri Martin. Person. (NR, 2007, Comedy Central)
You might know Demetri Martin as that nerdy-looking guy who does those not-so-edgy but very funny “Trendspotting” segments on “The Daily Show.” On stage in front of a live audience, Martin is even less edgy, riffing on such hot-button topics as ice, rock/paper/scissors, the agility of the spotlight guy, signing casts, the Microsoft Word paperclip and what to say when someone asks if you’re ticklish. Fortunately, he’s just as funny here as he is there — a new-generation Steven Wright with more hair and a little more energy. “Demetri Martin. Person” drags ever so slightly when Martin pulls out a guitar and threatens to go Adam Sandler on the crowd, but even here it’s hard not to laugh at the totally random observations that, in another context, could bring a party or date to a screeching halt. That goes as well for the charts segment, which is full of funny information for which you’ll never have the least bit of use.
Extras: “Comedy Central Presents” episode, Martin commentary, bonus footage and deleted scenes, tiny poster.

The Dog Problem (R, 2006, ThinkFilm)
Solo (Giovanni Ribisi) has failed as a novelist, wasted a lot of money and time on therapy, and landed himself in some heavy debt with the wrong crowd (specifically, Kevin Corrigan and Tito Ortiz). The worst part? After all that time and accrued debt, the only advice his therapist (Don Cheadle) can whip up is for him to get a dog. Don’t ask why; like many plot points in “The Dog Problem,” the doc’s advice doesn’t really come with any logical prerequisite. Nor does the fact that just about everyone in the movie really, really wants the dog Solo picks out. It just sort of happens, and frankly, it doesn’t much matter anyway. The dog is adorable as can be, and that’s good enough. And beyond sporting a cute dog, “Problem” manages to be rather cute itself, a silly film that’s genuinely amusing enough to sidestep its occasional inability to explain itself. Go in with measured expectations, and the result may pleasantly surprise you. Scott Caan, Mena Suvari and Lynn Collins also star.
Extra: Cast/director commentary.

Grey’s Anatomy: Season Three: Seriously Extended (NR, 2006, Buena Vista)
As if a shot doctor, dead love interest and some extramarital fallout aren’t bad enough, “Grey’s Anatomy’s” third season hits the ground running with a little something called the plague. Once that bit of business is done, it’s back to the normal for the show — and that’s not always a good thing. Self-absorbed doctors whining like kids in a middle school cafeteria was cute two years ago, but it’s getting old now. Ditto and then some for the tired “will they or won’t they” between Drs. Grey (Ellen Pompeo) and Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey). What saves “Anatomy,” poetically, are the guest stars and unsung cast members (James Pickens Jr., Kate Walsh, Christina Ho) who sneak up on their more heavily-publicized castmates before rightfully stealing the scene from under their feet. That goes triple for Chandra Wilson, who sometimes steals entire episodes as Dr. (and whiny doctor babysitter) Miranda Bailey.
Contents: 25 episodes (several with extended cuts), plus commentary and three behind-the-scenes features.

Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the World: The Complete First Season (NR, 2007, Logo)
You best can believe some parent somewhere will accidentally buy “Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in the World” for his or her kid. Maybe the Playmobil toy-like characters on the cover will seduce them, or perhaps the rainbow or the playful font will do the trick. In any event, despite the cute nature of this animated show, “R&S” most certainly isn’t for kids and probably will be too much for a lot of adults to handle. The show follows the half-hour sitcom format, but the content isn’t exactly coming to a network near you this fall. But that speaks more to network television than “R&S,” which regularly reaches for the shock stick but is more silly (and, after acquaintances are made, harmlessly likeable) than anything else. Some will knock “R&S” for pandering to stereotypes and doing little to raise the level of discourse on the topic, but a disclaimer makes it clear the show is more concerned with having fun with toys than moving the awareness needle in either direction. It’s merely an irreverent show about gays in much the same way countless other sitcoms are about the other 90 percent of the population, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Contents: Six episodes, plus two behind-the-scenes features, 12 shorts and cast interviews.

Dirty Sanchez: Unrated & Uncensored (NR, 2006, Dimension Extreme)
For those unfamiliar, “Dirty Sanchez” essentially is the British version of “Jackass.” In fact, if the DVD case is to be believed, “Sanchez” makes “Jackass” look like a PBS Children’s show. Sure enough, while the claim is an exaggeration, “Sanchez” does move the gross-o-meter up by a few degrees. But it does so at the complete expense of what really makes “Jackass” so fun to watch in the first place. Every stunt, and sometimes random moments in between, comes accompanied by exaggerated jumping around and attention-starved screaming, and the whole thing is akin to watching a stand-up comedian who belly-laughs at his own jokes in a desperate attempt to convince the audience he’s funny. The glibness that makes “Jackass” stunts and pranks so hilariously memorable is completely lost on these guys, and you’ll wish Dimension had included earplugs instead of a barf bag with the DVD. Still, if all you need to be happy is to be grossed out, you may not mind as much. Just keep that mute button handy.
Extras: Directors/cast commentary, unseen footage, barf bag insert.

Even Money (R, 2006, Fox)
Generally, when a movie comes equipped with a cast of known commodities, it’s a sign that the thing is at least watchable, if not necessarily good. “Money” definitely has that going for it, with Kim Basinger, Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta, Danny DeVito, Kelsey Grammer, Nick Cannon and Carla Gugino all on board. Now all that remains to be explained is how one film tricked so many established actors with such a lousy script. The running theme in “Money” is gambling, and the multiple disconnected stories touch on everything from losing track of time at the casino to shaving points to getting a “lesson” from a bookie who wants his money. The fact that many of the characters don’t even cross paths is bad enough, but “Money” could’ve neutered that problem by at least telling some good individual stories. Unfortunately, a windfall of clichés creates an even bigger problem than our first problem. “Money” amounts to little more than a tired collection of gambling-themed Aesop’s Fables, and unless you were born yesterday, you’ve seen it all countless times before. No extras.

Roundup of the Week: New Special Editions on DVD
— “The Graduate: 40th Anniversary Edition” (PG, 1967, MGM): Cast commentary, director commentary, four behind-the-scenes features. Selected, marked DVDs also include a four-song CD soundtrack, though this appears to be a limited-time bonus.
— “The Return of the Living Dead: Collector’s Edition” (R, 1985, MGM): Cast/crew commentary, two behind-the-scenes features, zombie subtitles.
— “Troy: Director’s Cut” (NR, 2004, Warner Bros.): Extended cut of film, director introduction, six behind-the-scenes features. An “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” version also is available with special packaging, photo stills, an art book and pages from the shooting script. Both versions available September 18.
— “Wall Street: 20th Anniversary Edition” (R, 1987, Fox): Director introduction, cast interviews, two behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes. Available September 18.
— “Commando: Director’s Cut” (R, 1985, Fox): Extended cut of film, director commentary, deleted scenes, six behind-the-scenes features, photo galleries. Available September 18.
— “Flashdance: Special Collector’s Edition” (R, 1983, Paramount): Six-song CD soundtrack, five behind-the-scenes features. Available September 18.
— “Saturday Night Fever: 30th Anniversary Special Collector’s Edition” (R, 1977, Paramount): Director commentary, seven behind-the-scenes features, dancing lessons, Fever challenge, Discopedia. Available September 18.

DVD 9/4/07: God Grew Tired of Us, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia S1&2, 30 Rock S1, Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Standup S1, Rules of Engagement S1, Private Fears in Public Places, Robot Chicken S2, The Office S3, Prison Break S2, South Park S10, Spongebob Squarepants S5V1

PDF Clip: DVD 2008-09-04

God Grew Tired of Us (PG, 2006, Sony Pictures)
Unable to return to their Sudanese homeland for fear of persecution, a group of boys instead trekked for thousands of perilous miles in search of some kind of salvation. A handful of those boys hit the jackpot when a special program allowed them to start a new life in the United States. “God Grew Tired of Us” follows some of those boys — three in particular detail — as they adjust to a wildly different daily routine full of bus commutes, processed food, timecards and technology beyond anything they’ve ever dreamt of, much else witnessed firsthand. Making a living in the U.S. is tough for anyone, and it’s exponentially difficult when you’re all alone and trying to provide for yourself and a family thousands of miles away. “GGTOU” isn’t the first movie of its kind; “Lost Boys of Sudan” covered similar territory four years ago. But any opportunity to revisit this remarkable story is one worth experiencing, and Panther’s, John Bul’s and Daniel’s adventures are every bit as funny, heartfelt and inspiring as Peter’s and Santino’s were in the previous film. For anyone who has longed to put a face with the news, both films are must-sees.
Extras: Director/Lost Boys commentary, making-of feature.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1&2 (NR, 2005, Fox)
Among the sitcom taboos explored on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in potentially uncomfortable detail: racism, abortion, homophobia, underage drinking, faking cancer, gun control, molestation, Nazism, and lying to a hot girl about her recently-deceased grandfather. Guess what? That’s all within the first seven episodes. “Philadelphia” doesn’t mess around. Much more importantly, though, “Philadelphia” doesn’t subsist on shock value alone, despite what appearances might suggest. It’s actually funny and well written, and by the time the novelty of the bizarre plot synopses wears off, the foursome that comprises the cast (Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Kaitlin Olson) has sunk its collective claws in. It’s a stretch to call “Philadelphia” the new “Seinfeld,” but there is a definite resemblance once you get past the surface of the premise. Word of warning, though: Despite the appearance of Danny DeVito all over the DVD packaging, he doesn’t surface until the second disc.
Contents: 17 episodes, plus cast/crew commentary, pilot outtakes, other outtakes, audition footage, making-of feature and a “Making A Scene” episode.

30 Rock: Season 1 (NR, 2006, Universal)
In 2006, for whatever reason, two shows about roughly the same thing —sketch comedy television — premiered on the same network. One contained the number 30 in its title; the other, the number 60. One was a drama, the other a comedy. And because everybody was confused, both struggled to find an audience. In the end, “30 Rock” — the funny one — survived, if barely. Good thing, too, because after a rocky growth period that created some so-so introductory episodes, “Rock” eventually emerged as the year’s most cunningly funny new comedy. That’s perhaps to be expected: “Rock” stars and comes courtesy of former “SNL” star Tina Fey, co-stars another former castmate (Tracy Morgan) and the show’s best guest host (Alec Baldwin), and gets a hand from a number of former players (including Rachel Dratch, who steal scenes under multiple guises). If these people can’t make a funny show about a funny show, who can?
Contents: 21 episodes, plus cast commentary, five bonus shorts, two behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes, wrap party footage, bloopers and more.

Martin Lawrence Presents 1st Amendment Standup: Season 1 (NR, 2005, Starz)
Are you ready for the craziest, most fearlessly extreme standup comedy you’ve ever heard in your life, with topics ranging from race to sex to scathing commentaries about race and sex? What’s that, you say? You’ve already seen that countless times on everything from “Def Comedy Jam” to “Whiteboyz in the Hood” to “Big Black Comedy Show” to “P. Diddy Presents The Bad Boys of Comedy” to countless midday Comedy Central specials? Yeah, you have. Despite the name and bold promises on the back of the DVD case, “1st Amendment Standup” doesn’t break any ground that wasn’t already ground into dust. If anything, it’s a bit pedestrian at this point, with most of the show’s comics sounding like weak imitations of the Richard Pryors, Eddie Murphys, George Carlins and other taboo-breaking comedians who paved their way. “Standup” does feature some funny performances, but nothing here is any better than what you can hear on cable TV, for far less money, on any given night.
Contents: 11 episodes, plus two “best of” episodes (which more or less feel like reruns and might be a DVD first).

Rules of Engagement: The Complete First Season (NR, 2007, Sony Pictures)
How’s this for a crazy idea: Take one seasoned married couple (Patrick Warburton and Megyn Price), one newly-engaged couple (Bianca Kajlich and Oliver Hudson) and one single guy with no prospects (David Spade), add a laugh track, and call it a sitcom. Sure enough, most of “Rules of Engagement” feels a little too familiar: Married guy neglects wife, engaged couple does things that makes single guy gag, repeat. As a consequence, most of the episodes melt together, with Spade’s character typically collecting most of the show’s more unique storylines (and, subsequently, laughs). Still, despite its familiarity, “Engagement” never descends to unwatchable territory, nor is it near as banal as other CBS retreads like “Yes Dear” and “Still Standing.” If nothing else, a genuinely funny last episode offers hope that the show will come into its own in season two.
Contents: Seven episodes, plus two behind-the-scenes features, bloopers and DVD-ROM content.

Private Fears in Public Places (NR, 2006, Weinstein Company)
Over the course of what appears to be a week in snowy Paris, six people … do stuff and talk. The common theme is love, but “Private Fears in Public Places” — which never quite makes complete sense of its title — isn’t home to any monologues, tearjerkers or grand gestures. Overwhelmingly, “Places” is two hours of people talking and living mundane existences, neither an achingly powerful drama nor a side-splittingly wacky comedy. If the aforementioned description compels you to book it in the other direction, you’d best trust your gut, which almost certainly would be validated should you give this a chance. If you’re still here, though, know this: “Places” may be dangerously even-keeled and even more dangerously loose with its plot, but it’s also gifted with six good characters and enough strong writing to prop them up in spite if all the forces working against them. You may not remember it a year from now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it while it lasts. In French with English subtitles. No extras.

Roundup of the week: Notable returning shows on DVD
— “Robot Chicken: Season Two Uncensored” (NR, 2006, Adult Swim): You’ve very possibly seen “Robot Chicken” without even knowing it, because few shows get as many clips uploaded to YouTube as this one. That legendary clip in which Emperor Palpatine takes a collect call from Darth Vader? It’s in here. Also appearing in season two of the greatest stop-motion sketch show of our time: Godzilla, Twinkie the Kid, Pikachu, Harry Potter, the Burger King and so many more. Contents: 20 episodes (commentary on all), plus deleted scenes, deleted animatics, video diaries, bloopers, behind-the-scenes footage, image gallery and promotional material.
— “The Office: Season Three” (NR, 2006, Universal): Two offices merge into one, and the best comedic ensemble cast on television somehow gets better. If only all mergers were as fruitful as this one. Contents: 22 episodes, plus commentary, bloopers, Toby shorts, Dwight Shrute music video, “Make Your Own Promo” contest videos, “Lazy Scranton” video, live appearance excerpts and more.
— “Prison Break: Season 2” (NR, 2006, Fox): Ever wonder how someone could make a multi-season television series about breaking out of prison? Simple: Turn it into “The Fugitive.” Season two of “Prison Break” finds Michael Scofield (Wentworth Miller), Lincoln Burrows (Dominic Purcell) and company over the wall and on the run, but the attention to dramatic detail that made the first season so good remains intact despite the drastic change of scenery. William Fichtner joins the cast as the pursuit begins. Contents: 22 episodes, plus commentary, two behind-the-scenes features and a remix of the theme song.
— “South Park: The Complete Tenth Season” (NR, 2006, Comedy Central): Chef dies (cause of death: Scientology?), as does the gang’s social life after a run-in with “World of Warcraft.” Cartman wants a Wii, and worlds collide when Bart Simpson joins Cartman in a two-episode crusade to get “Family Guy” canceled. Contents: 14 episodes, plus mini-commentaries on each episode.
— “Spongebob Squarepants: Season 5, Season 1” (NR, 2007, Nickelodeon): It’s more of the same, really. But until “Spongebob Squarepants” gets old, is that such a bad thing? Season 5 includes the two-part “Friend or Foe?” episode, which previously was available separately and included five other episodes from this set. So if you paid $15 for that instead of waiting for this, you’ve learned a valuable lesson in patience (and corporate double-dipping). Contents: 21 episodes, plus bonus shorts and trivia.

DVD 8/28: Air Guitar Nation, Heroes S1, Year of the Dog, Ugly Betty S1, Friday Night Lights S1, Blades of Glory, Kickin' It Old School, A New Wave

PDF Clip: DVD 2008-08-28

Air Guitar Nation (NR, 2005, Docurama)
Were you perhaps unaware that the world of competitive air guitaring not only exists, but in fact thrives on a global scale? Don’t worry, you’re not alone — which is why Finland’s Air Guitar World Championship had never fielded a representative from the country that made the guitar famous in the first place. Things finally changed in 2003, and “Air Guitar Nation’s” cameras were rolling as American air virtuosos dueled for a chance to show the world they belonged. A rivalry emerges, some bad blood trickles out, a guy rocks out with a Hello Kitty backpack for a shirt, and “Nation” follows in the steps of “Spellbound” and “Wordplay” by documenting yet another hobby that mankind has transformed into a thrillingly legitimate sport. Many a skeptic will watch, and there’s no guarantee “Nation” will make believers out of its viewers. But it has a heck of a good time trying, and the energy it exudes is contagious in an entirely wonderful way.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes footage, bonus performances, updates on the air guitarists, deleted scenes.

Heroes: Season 1 (NR, 2006, NBC/Universal)
It’s rather staggering that it’s taken this long for a show like “Heroes” to hit the airwaves. Done right, the concept — ordinary people with banal existences developing powers ranging from mind-reading to invincibility to dimension-bending — is tailor-made for television. Happily, “Heroes” does more than simply get it right. Rather than employ the various powers as some means of fighting weekly crimes and reaching neat conclusions, the show instead takes the serial route, giving the heroes time to discover their powers, shoehorn it into their normal existences, and face a pending disaster that two of them have already witnessed in very different ways. The storytelling is top-notch, the different characters allow for vastly different moods within any given episode, and the show takes full advantage of its premise when it comes to taking the hard way out and leaving the viewer hanging around for just one more episode.
Contents: 23 episodes (12 with commentary), plus the unaired, extended pilot (with commentary), five behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and a Mind Reader game.

Year of the Dog (PG-13, 2007, Paramount Vantage)
Exteriorly speaking, “Year of the Dog” exudes cuteness. The font on the DVD case is playful, as is the mostly cartoony artwork. The pictures on the back imply that “Dog” is a fun date movie, and the description uses the words “quirky” and “charming.” But if all you know about “Dog” is what you learned from appearances, prepare to be blindsided. It’s impossible to describe the plot without spoiling a major turn of events that happens almost immediately, and even touching on the film’s themes is enough to rob it of its intended impact. Or not. It’s not entirely clear whether “Dog” is earnestly making a point about animals or intentionally beating us over the head for dark comedic purposes. Whether the main character (Molly Shannon) is a true hero or a caricature of a woman who [spoiler] isn’t entirely clear either. Perhaps that’s by design. Perhaps not. When a film hits you from behind like this, it’s awfully hard to get a good look at its intentions. John C. Reilly, Regina King and Peter Sarsgaard also star.
Extras: Director/Shannon commentary, four behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes, bloopers.

Ugly Betty: The Complete First Season (NR, 2006, Buena Vista)
With “The Devil Wears Prada” in our rearview mirrors and both “Lipstick Jungle” and “Cashmere Mafia” slated to debut this fall, we’re on the eve of perilous saturation when it comes to comedic-slash-dramatic portrayals of high-fashion professionals backstabbing their way to the top. Thank goodness, then, for Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), who fits into this world like a fork in a toaster but somehow manages to survive anyway. “Ugly Betty” lives and breathes on the energy of its terrific lead character, her family (Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Mark Indelicato) and her Queens neighborhood. That’s not always a good thing, because “Betty” isn’t always designed that way: When it tries to make us sympathize for Betty’s high-fashion peers (Eric Mabius, Vanessa Williams, Becki Newton, Alan Dale), it often can’t. But the not-so-sympathetic stuff still serves its storytelling purpose, thanks to a great overriding arc that slowly unravels as the season rolls on. And even when that grows tiresome, it’s merely a matter of time before Betty rolls in to steal another scene.
Contents: 23 episodes (four with commentary), plus three behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes and bloopers.

Friday Night Lights: The First Season (NR, 2006, NBC/Universal)
How badly does NBC want “Friday Night Lights” to become a hit? Here’s a clue: The network is offering a money-back guarantee for anyone who buys the first season DVD set and is unsatisfied. While that sounds like the kind of idea that will put an executive out of work, the studio does have a point about the show, which follows the maddening trials and tribulations of a high-profile Texas high school football team. “Lights” isn’t exactly the most unpredictable show on television, often treading on cliché and telegraphing its not-so-shocking twists sometimes episodes in advance. But while that’s a deal-killer for a lot of shows, this one avoids disaster by filling those well-worn roads with a relentless current of energy and some pretty watchable characters. The shaky-cam approach is a bit overused, but the fast, uncompromising pace — along with some great on-field action — make for a show that’s absorbing in spite of its obvious flaws.
Contents: 22 episodes, plus a making-of feature and deleted scenes.

Blades of Glory (PG-13, 2007, Dreamworks)
In much the same way “Talladega Nights” was Will Ferrell in a stock car, “Blades of Glory” is Will Ferrell in ice skates. Beyond the vastly different surroundings, the two movies have more in common than a couple of singles who met on eHarmony.com. The overlying plots are strangely similar, and you can guess, with deadly accuracy, how “Glory” is going to end by the 15th minute. Of course, if you’re familiar with the works of Will Ferrell, none of this should come as a surprise to you. Like “Nights” and so many films before it, “Glory” seems concerned only with taking a vessel — in this case, competitive figure skating — and filling it with so many inane characters (Will Arnet, Amy Poehler, Jon Heder, Craig T. Nelson, Jenna Fischer, William Fichtner) that the jokes almost write themselves. As such, it mostly coasts by on the talent of its cast, content with being consistently funny, if never legendarily hilarious. Hey, it works. And even though you absolutely know how it ends, the final showdown still manages to exude excitement in a palpable, entirely unexplainable way.
Extras: Deleted/alternate scenes, six behind-the-scenes features, bloopers, music video, “Moviefone Unscripted” episode, promo shorts, photo galleries.

Kickin’ It Old Skool (PG-13, 2007, Fox)
After spending more than half his life in a coma by way of breakdancing accident, Justin Schumacher (Jamie Kennedy) has finally awoken — a 12-year-old from the ’80s living as a twentysomething in 2006. Funny, right? Actually, for a brief while, it is. Kennedy’s movie career is becoming increasingly one-dimensional, but he manages some funny bits while playing the fish out of water. Before long, though, “Kickin’ It Old Skool” goes where you were afraid it was headed all along — a boring barrage of the same old fat/ethic jokes, body function gags and record-scratch sound effects. Some faces from the time capsule (David Hasselhoff, Emmanuel Lewis) emerge for cameos, but these don’t amount to much. All the while, “Skool” marches down the path of predictability, capped by an ending you saw coming after the first scene. Some of the film’s breakdancing sequences are pretty good, but you can see better stuff — sans bad story and lame jokes — on YouTube for free.
Extra: Deleted scenes.

A New Wave (R, 2007 ThinkFilm)
Wannabe artist Desmond (Andrew Keegan) works, unwillingly, in a bank. His friend Gideon (John Krasinski), a wannabe Tarantino, wants to rob the bank. Desmond agrees, but Gideon insists that the robbery must go according to his plan, which resembles the script of a bad Tarantino copycat film. And that’s the premise of “A New Wave,” except that it’s not. While the overlying plot would seem to have enough comic potential in its own right, “Wave” chooses instead to zig, zag, serpentine and run around like a headless chicken as it bounces between a cornucopia of side plots that swallow the main storyline alive. Even that might be okay if the side plots were funny enough to entertain, but “Wave” isn’t even sure it wants to be a comedy half the time. The resulting, horribly confused mess neuters whatever interest one might have in the characters, and it’s hard to care once we finally get to the culmination of all those plans. Perhaps that’s a blessing, because “Wave” botches this sequence as well.
Extras: Deleted scenes, outtakes, music video.

DVD 8/21: The Host CE, Dexter S1, Yo-Yo Girl Cop, The Ex, Renaissance, I Pity the Fool S1, Pandemic, new special editions roundup

PDF Clip: DVD 2008-08-21

The Host: 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (R, 2006, Magnolia)
Sometimes, it’s not about what you have so much as what you do with it. Witness “The Host,” which is home to not one (chemical disturbance in water creates unstoppable monster), but two (monster carries a deadly virus) completely banal plot synopses. A little character goes a long way, and “The Host” is simply loaded with it, led by a ragtag and wholly likeable family that has no business antagonizing a trout, much less one of the most awesome monsters to emerge from celluloid waters in decades. The creature, cast and culture “The Host” create allow for tremendous versatility, and the film responds by bouncing from thrilling to scary to funny to sweet and back without breaking a sweat. It’s the latest in an endlessly long line of monster and virus movies, but it’s also two hours of pure, unchained entertainment that puts most of that line to shame. Fans of either genre best not miss it. In Korean with English subtitles, but an English dub is available as an option.
Extras: Director commentary and reflections, deleted scenes, 10 behind-the-scenes features, interviews, casting footage, bloopers, storyboards.

Dexter: The First Season (NR, 2006, Showtime)
How’s this for a concept? A guy named Dexter (Michael C. Hall) helps the police by day as a forensics expert with an advanced knowledge in blood splatter. He has a girlfriend (Julie Benz), a good relationship with his sister (Jennifer Carpenter) and a rather delightful personality. Come nightfall, though, this same Dexter is Miami’s most accomplished vigilante serial killer, trapping Miami’s nastiest scum, disposing them, and completely getting away with it. It’s a heck of a dichotomy, and it makes for one seriously interesting crime drama that’s gruesome, funny and psychologically searing, with an equally damaged supporting cast to match. That said, a fair warning: “Dexter” exercises impressive restraint given its subject matter and the freedom being on Showtime allows, but anyone expecting a show about a serial killer-slash-forensics expert to be clean and easy on the eyes is living in dreamland. Still, if you can handle it and couldn’t see it until now, this is the can’t-miss show of last year.
Contents: 12 episodes (commentary on two), plus two episodes of the Showtime show “Brotherhood,” a free “The Tudors” episode download, two behind-the-scenes features and DVD-ROM content.

Yo-Yo Girl Cop (NR, 2006, Magnolia)
A Web site is counting down the days, hours and minutes to an unknown event, and the only possible lead is a high school that allegedly is harboring an unknown number of terrorists bent on leveling their surroundings. Fortunately, a troubled but violently capable girl (Aya Matsuura), armed with a special yo-yo, has accepted a government deal to infiltrate the school and get to the bottom of things. Why a yo-yo, you might ask? Eh, who knows? Like a vast many things in “Yo-Yo Girl Cop,” the weapon of choice doesn’t exactly hold water on the sensibility scale. The good news is that authenticity doesn’t appear to be the film’s intention any more than its strength. “YYGC” might be construed on some small level as a metaphor for any number of phenomena related to school shootings and suicide bombings, but it’s much more fantasy — and fun, action-packed fantasy at that — than anything else. In Japanese with English subtitles, but an optional English dub is available.
Extras: Making-of feature, original Japanese trailer.

The Ex: Unrated (NR, 2007, TWC)
Like its name, “The Ex” is short. Even in unrated form, the film only clocks in at 84 minutes long. So it says something when, despite the short length, “The Ex” still feels a bit long. The concept is sound: Loser husband (Zach Braff) moves with frustrated wife (Amanda Peet) back to frustrated wife’s hometown, only to get a job working under both her father (Charles Grodin) and her wheelchair-bound ex (Jason Bateman). Furthermore, the comedic potential of the aforementioned cast members — with reinforcements from Donal Logue and Amy Poehler — is immense. But while “The Ex” does have the occasional laugh-out-loud moment, most of the valuable time is wasted on elaborate plot turns that don’t really go anywhere (or worse, lead to one of those dreaded “serious scene within a comedy” moments). Calling “The Ex” a bad movie is too harsh, because it’s not altogether bad. Calling it a disappointment, though, isn’t. (On a side note, nothing about this edition screams R, much less unrated, so don’t let the packaging excite you.)
Extras: Deleted scenes, alternate endings, bloopers.

Renaissance (R, 2006, Miramax)
Like a young starlet at a red carpet interview, “Renaissance” is better at looking impressive than sounding impressive. The monochromatic, ultra-high-contrast, computer-animated visual style immediately grabs the eye, and there’s little denying the high level of visual flair on display throughout the picture. Unfortunately, once the novelty inevitably wears off, all that’s left behind is an all-too-familiar story of a corrupt corporation, a lone wolf cop, a love interest, some mad science and the cold, futuristic world in which they exist. The hokey, wannabe-noir dialogue merely exacerbates the story’s problems. “Renaissance” still works as curiosity fulfillment, and any film that experiments with the medium is worthy of applause on at least some level. It’s just too bad the style-to-substance ratio leans so heavily toward the former. A little balance would’ve done wonders. Daniel Craig, Romola Garai and Ian Holm, among others, lend their voices.
Extra: Making-of feature.

I Pity the Fool: Season 1 (NR, 2006, Lions Gate)
Perhaps the most amusing thing about “I Pity the Fool” is the fact that the very first word uttered in the opening theme is “reality.” That’s amusing because, even by reality television’s completely damaged perceptions of reality, this one rates awfully low. In “Fool,” helpless car dealerships, dance troupes, families and more call on Mr. T to help them get their act together. Mr. T arrives, spits out a few clichés about trust/leadership/respect/insert your own word here, and generally acts like a parody of himself. Twenty minutes later, after a few very predictable and TV-friendly twists, all appears resolved. One can only conclude that these people (a) never needed Mr. T’s help in the first place or (b) are so far beyond help that Mr. T’s cocktail napkin advice actually looks good to them. Either way, the results are neither enlightening nor particularly entertaining.
Contents: Six episodes, no extras.

Pandemic (NR, 2007, RHI Entertainment)
ABC went for the jugular when it aired an awful movie about a bird flu pandemic that may or may never happen. But that’s child’s play next to “Pandemic,” which leapfrogs the avian flu and instead imagines the ramifications of an even worse virus. As it turns out, a really bad movie is what happens. “Pandemic” leaves no cliché unexploited, trotting out scheming politicians, mad dog reporters, selfish businessmen, surfer dudes, militia nuts, drug lords and other wholly unlikable characters whose deaths are somehow supposed to touch us. A barrage of useless, tired side plots push the run time past 170 minutes, and the film outdoes itself with a pat, rushed ending that effectively neuters whatever impression the preceding 165 minutes aimed to leave. Had “Pandemic” left any such impression in the first place, that would be most disappointing news. As it happens, it’s merely the last in a long line of disappointments in what amounts to nothing short of an embarrassment for all involved. Tiffani Thiessen, Faye Dunaway, French Stewart, Vincent Spano and others star.
Extras: Cast interviews, behind-the-scenes feature.

Roundup of the Week: Latest Special Editions
— “Hard Boiled: Two-Disc Ultimate Edition” (R, 1992, Dragon Dynasty): New transfer, Bey Logan commentary, interviews, behind-the-scenes feature, trailer gallery, location tour. Playstation 3 owners, take note: A Blu-ray edition of “Boiled” will come packaged with the special edition of the “Stranglehold” video game, which takes place following the events of the film.
— “Bubba Ho-Tep: Limited Edition” (R, 2003, MGM): Bruce Campbell/director commentary, commentary by “The King,” Joe R. Landale reading, deleted scenes (with commentary), four behind-the-scenes features, promo spots, photo gallery, music video, special Elvis jumpsuit packaging.
— “Kung Fu Hustle: Axe-Kickin’ Edition” (R, 2003, Sony Pictures): Deleted footage, three behind-the-scenes features, storyboards, interviews, outtakes, DVD-ROM game.
— “Robocop: 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition” (NR, 1987, MGM): Extended and theatrical cuts, crew commentary, six behind-the-scenes features, storyboards (with commentary), deleted scenes, galleries, promo spots, tin case.
— “Serenity: Collector’s Edition” (PG-13, 2005, Universal): New commentary with Joss Whedon and cast, deleted/extended scenes (with commentary), outtakes, six behind-the-scenes features, “Sci-Fi Inside” episode, fancy packaging.

DVD 8/14: Aqua Teen Hunger Force CMFFTFDVD, The Method, The Lookout, Fracture, Live Free or Die, Cashback, 51 Birch Street, MGM Movie Legends Collections, Elvis! LCE Collection, Hanna Barbera Cartoon sets, other cartoon collections, Space 1999 Megaset

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres for DVD (R, 2007, Warner Bros.)
Remember that Lite Brite-like sign that recently sent the city of Boston into a terror-related panic? This is the movie that sign was promoting. If that’s all you know about “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres,” be warned: This wasn’t created with your best interests at heart. “ATHFCMFFT” is expressly made for fans of the “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” cartoon, and the evidence lies in the dizzying array of characters who pop in with little introduction and explanation. Fans will cheer their arrivals; you’ll just wonder who they are. Still, to those who fancy the bizarre and have a sense of humor to match, “ATHFCMFFT” nonetheless comes recommend. Watching a manic 11-minute cartoon transformed into a manic 85-minute movie is an exercise in endurance, but it’s made easier by how genuinely funny it is. That it remains funny all the way to the last scene is an accomplishment precious few TV show-to-movie conversions can claim.
Extras: A deleted movie (no kidding), 10 fake endings, extended/deleted scenes, half-hour making-of feature, music video, music video making-of, image and music gallery, movie poster and more.

The Method (NR, 200, Palm Pictures)
Seven candidates for one job assemble for what they assume will be a series of final interviews with an as-yet-unseen HR manager. What happens instead is a daylong series of psychological tests that set out to eliminate them, one by one, until a single candidate remains. Say, doesn’t that sound like [insert reality TV show here]? It sure does, but here’s the irony: Despite being a scripted film with paid actors, “The Method” achieves a level of biting, darkly funny authenticity far beyond anything attained by the heavily-contrived television programs that share its concept. The film flirts with excessive complication toward the end, but by then the metaphor has sunk its teeth in so deep that it almost doesn’t matter. Some might find “The Method” a bit claustrophobic — a good 97 percent of the movie takes place in a single conference room — but those who can handle the coziness will discover a beautifully ugly picture of human nature that may hit a little closer to home than most would care to admit. In Spanish with English subtitles.
Extra: Making-of feature.

The Lookout (R, 2007, Miramax)
Once upon a time, Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had the world at his feet. One car crash and subsequent head injury later, he’s barely able to cook dinner, much less manage his own life. What a perfect time for someone from his past to come along and … something. Plot details for “The Lookout” are intentionally left vague here, because the less you know going in, the better. Miramax did a lousy job of promoting this one, but the advantage there is that countless trailers, commercials and press haven’t spoiled the film’s first act, much less its third. What should be known about “The Lookout” before going in: It’s a thriller and a multiple-character study, and it excels in both respects. Jeff Daniels, Matthew Goode, Isla Fisher and Sergio Di Zio round out a great cast, whose performances are as essential as the script they follow.
Extras: Crew commentary, two behind-the-scenes features.

Fracture (R, 2007, New Line)
Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins) shot his wife. This isn’t a spoiler, nor is it a mystery: We see it happen during one of “Fracture’s” first scenes. Arresting officer Rob Nunally (Billy Burke) is 100 percent sure he did it, and hotshot district attorney Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling) sees no reason to feel differently. Of course, given that “Fracture” is a two-hour film and not a 10-minute short, there’s more to the story than you’re reading here. And that’s where the mystery, different feelings and fun take over. “Fracture” is an old-fashioned thriller, investing all its gold into its story and characters and letting the twisting narrative dominate in place of excessive style and other tricks. The strategy leads to a few dry scenes midway through, but it also delivers a terrific final showdown in which everything that was in front of us the whole time is cleverly laid bare. Rosamund Pike and David Strathairn also star.
Extras: Two alternate endings, deleted scenes, DVD-ROM content.

Live Free or Die (R, 2007, ThinkFilm)
Given the scarcity of good comedies on TV these days, it’s almost a shame “Live Free or Die” is merely a film instead of something bigger. Among other sitcom-perfect pieces, you have a troubled cop on the brink (Michael Rapaport), a sleazoid hardware store owner (Judah Friedlander) who doesn’t keep secrets terribly well and a con for hire (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) whose methods are excruciatingly questionable. But “Die” isn’t even primarily about these people, who instead play second fiddle to a criminal nobody with grand delusions (Aaron Stanford) and an idiot sidekick (Paul Schneider) who can’t decide whether he’s excited or scared to be in on his friend’s disastrous tumble toward oblivion. Potential runs wild in “Die” (not to be confused with the similarly-titled Bruce Willis film), and it’s a real shame to say goodbye so soon after we say hello. Fortunately, the film makes the most of the 90 minutes it gets. Zooey Deschanel also stars.
Extras: Cast/crew commentary, alternate ending, making-of feature, deleted scenes, bloopers.

Cashback (R, 2005, Magnolia)
In a sense — and perhaps bolstered by the pitch on the DVD case — “Cashback” is another comedy about bored employees finding ways to have fun at a boring job (in this case, a grocery store). But “Cashback” is just a workplace comedy like “Titanic” is just a film about going on a cruise. It began life as an Oscar-nominated short film about the power of heartbroken insomniac/art student Ben Willis’ (Sean Biggerstaff) imagination, and it remains that more than anything else. (Case in point: The entire short film returns, untouched, as one the feature-length film’s narrative turning points.) Wacky workplace hijinks and imagined existentialism make for strange bedfellows in a not-quite-two-hour film, and “Cashback” will inevitably aggravate and alienate as many people as it enchants. What some see as funny and inventive, others will find pretentious and scrambled. Neither argument is without merit. If the point of the film is to get people talking, mission definitely accomplished.
Extras: The original “Cashback” short film, making-of feature.

51 Birch Street (NR, 2005, Image Entertainment)
One day, somewhat casually, filmmaker Doug Block decided to turn on his camera and film his parents, who to that point had been a model of domestic consistency after more than 50 years of marriage. But as he attempted to chronicle what made them work after all these years, everything stopped working. Block’s new problem: How do you reminisce about two people’s lives when the two people in question won’t, for vastly different reasons, reminisce with you? “51 Birch Street” ultimately ends up fulfilling its nostalgic mission, albeit on much different terms than originally intended. The result lies in the eye of the beholder: Some will see a selfless sharing of hard lessons learned, while others will see an ungrateful child selfishly exploiting the two people who raised him. Some simply will feel smothered by a heavy-handed soundtrack that regularly undermines the film’s many moods. The filming style and subject matter make “Street” impossible to universally recommend, but those who find common ground in Block’s predicament will almost certainly take something away — maybe good, maybe not — from his work.
Extras: Feature on the family’s reaction to the film, “I Flunk Adultery” music video (makes sense after you’ve seen the movie)

Roundup of the Week: New Collections on DVD
— “MGM Movie Legends” Collections (NR, various years, MGM): Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Frankie & Annette are the three newest honorees in MGM’s excellent “Movie Legends” series. The Elvis collection features four films (“Kid Galahad,” “Clambake,” “Follow that Dream,” “Frankie and Johnny”), while Sinatra gets five (“A Hole in the Head,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Kings Go Forth,” “The Manchurian Candidate,” “The Pride and the Passion”). But Frankie & Annette fans win this round, reaping eight films (“Beach Blanket Bingo,” “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini,” “Beach Party,” “Bikini Beach,” “Fireball 500,” “Thunder Alley,” “Muscle Beach Party,” “Ski Party”) on four discs. No extras in any of the sets.
— “Elvis!: Lights! Camera! Elvis! Collection” (NR, various years, Paramount): Perhaps Elvis fans win after all, thanks to this set, which packs eight films (“King Creole,” “G.I. Blues,” “Blue Hawaii,” “Roustabout,” “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” “Fun in Acapulco,” “Paradise Hawaiian Style,” “Easy Come Easy Go”) into one very attractive box. No extras.
— New “Hanna Barbera Classic Collection” sets (NR, various years, Warner Bros.): Space Ghost and Birdman have found new lives as a talk show host and lawyer, respectively, on the Cartoon Network. But if you’d like to see what they were like before they settled down, “Space Ghost & Dino Boy: The Complete Series” (20 episodes, plus a retrospective) and “Birdman & the Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series” (20 episodes, plus a different retrospective) can shine all the light you need.
— Speaking of Cartoons: Complete series sets for “Todd McFarlane’s Spawn” (NR, 1997, HBO) and “The Archies” (NR, 1968, Genius Entertainment) also are available, as is “The Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection: The Walter Lantz Archive” (NR, various years, Universal), which compiles 75 remastered theatrical shorts from the original cartoon. Each set comes with extras, including behind-the-scenes material and interviews.
— “Space 1999: 30th Anniversary Edition” (NR, 1975-77, A&E): This sci-fi classic is the latest series to get the A&E Megaset treatment, with all 48 episodes (three with commentary) packaged together on nine discs. A bounty of extras includes production/promotional galleries, behind-the-scenes features, interviews, alternate scenes and a fan-made series ending.

Black Snake Moan, An Unreasonable Man, Film School, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, Standing Still, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List: Season 1, Shooter

Black Snake Moan (R, 2006, Paramount Vantage)
You might have seen a commercial for “Black Snake Moan.” And you may have noticed that, in that commercial, a craggily Samuel L. Jackson had a bedraggled Christina Ricci literally leashed to his house by way of iron chain. And you might be wondering what that’s all about. It’s simple, really: “Moan” is, like many films before it, a tale of co-dependent redemption — one soul trying to save itself by saving another’s first. But “Moan” turns this theme on its ear by repackaging it as a snarling, muggy and somewhat sultry look at two people who are on opposite ends of the world but still holding hands at the brink. To say this movie won’t speak to everyone is some kind of understatement: This likely will be one of 2007’s most potent “love it or hate it” films. But for those to whom “Moan” speaks, it sings. Watch it with abstract eyes, and it might be one of the best you see all year. Justin Timberlake also stars.
Extras: Writer/director commentary, three behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes.

An Unreasonable Man (NR, 2006, Weinstein Company/IFC)
Hey look, it’s that guy who cost Al Gore that election in 2000! Actually, no it isn’t — and if you don’t believe this review or Ralph Nader himself, take it from a Gore supporter who did the hard math on Nader’s supposed spoiler job. “An Unreasonable Man” covers Nader’s run in fantastically compelling detail, in the process shaming both the powers that be who tried to shut him down and the two-faced American left that turned on him after 2000. More than that, though, the film serves as reminder of all the incredible, planet-altering things Nader did to catapult himself into such a position in the first place. While “Man” gives voice to both sides of the election issue and remains consistently evenhanded throughout, Nader’s body of work is hard to deny (unless you’re, say, anti-seatbelt). It’s also, beyond any contrived controversy, an inspiring lesson about the power of an outsider who isn’t afraid to remain an outsider.
Extras: Deleted scenes, a second disc with seven bonus features.

Film School: An IFC Original Docu-Series (NR, 2004, Docurama)
If you liked the idea of “On the Lot” but had no appetite for yet another faux-reality show that more closely resembles a gimmick-riddled game show, this far superior 2004 series might be more your taste. “Film School” follows a handful of New York University film students as they complete a highly exclusive 10-week class (and, ideally, come away with a finished film for their efforts). On the reality show scale, “School” scores a zero in terms of interference and producer contrivances. That’s a good thing. A 10-piece documentary about the perils of film creation is fascinating enough to stand on its own, and the students IFC chose to spotlight are far more interesting than most of the also-rans Fox’s show trotted out.
Contents: 10 episodes, no extras.

The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3 (NR, 1990, Shout Factory)
In case the two volumes of “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” didn’t overwhelm you with top-shelf animated entertainment (and yes, that’s sarcasm), perhaps this third helping will finish the job. Piggybacked on top of the “Captain N” cartoon, “The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3” more or less resumes where the previous Mario cartoons left off, only with the “Super Mario Bros. 3” video game as its inspiration instead of “Super Mario Bros. 2.” That means everything from Bowser’s kids to the raccoon suit making an appearance. The episodes in which Mario (who sounds like Louie from “Taxi”) and Luigi (Barney Rubble, for some reason) travel to America to save Hollywood, the White House and Milli Vanilli? Harder to explain. As with Shout’s other video game cartoon compilations, “TAOSMB3” gets a 10 for nostalgia and presentation and a generous six for actual show quality.
Contents: 26 cartoons, plus concept art galleries, jukebox, character profiles, two other mini-features.

Standing Still (R, 2005, Weinstein Company)
“Standing Still,” about a group of friends who reunite on the eve of a wedding between two of those friends, doesn’t exactly make the best of first impressions. At first, it resembles a weak episode of “Entourage” that features neither Turtle nor Johnny Drama and replaces Ari Gold with some lousy parallel-universe substitute. But once the fronting subsides and all the introductions are made, things turn around. “Still” comes equipped with a huge cast (Colin Hanks, Amy Adams, Menu Suvari, Jon Abrahams and several more star), but it manages to give just about everyone some meaningful face time. The surprising mix of humor, likeability and generally competent storytelling transforms a potential disaster into what feels like a mid-twentysomething version of “Can’t Hardly Wait.” If you liked that film’s mood and style, chances are high this one will leave you similarly satisfied.
Extras: Cast interview.

Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List: Season 1 (NR, 2005, Bravo/Universal)
The opening episode of “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” finds the celeb-baiting comedian acting very much like a pampered celebrity herself — which, despite her self-deprecating claims, she is. After delivering 44 minutes of Griffin trying to get lots of stuff for free despite having more money than roughly 95% of the planet’s population, there’s nowhere for “D-List” to go but up. And that, gradually, is where it goes. Griffin isn’t much more loveable after six episodes than she was after one, but “D-List” nonetheless is a fascinating and strangely entertaining look at the incredibly tiring amount of work that goes into Griffin’s overwhelmingly phony existence. If being famous is fun, it’s certainly news to this show.
Contents: Six episodes, plus a rather lengthy season two preview and Griffin’s stand-up special, “Kathy Griffin Is… Not Nicole Kidman.”

Shooter (R, 2007, Paramount)
Marine rifleman-turned-hermit Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg) has no interest in serving the government again, but when a group of supposed government officials dangle the chance to prevent a possible presidential assassination, he bites. Too bad the group isn’t what it claims to be. “Shooter” eventually reveals itself to be another man-on-the-run film, albeit with sniper rifles instead of the usual pistols. It also reveals itself to be, after some rocky beginnings, pretty entertaining. It won’t tattoo itself to your consciousness the way “The Fugitive” or the “Bourne” series perhaps have, but it might make for an entertaining couple of hours if you don’t expect your mind to be blown. Not the world’s most glowing recommendation, but that’s the way it goes. Michael Peña, Kate Mara and Donny Glover also star.
Extras: Director commentary, deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes features.

DVD 6/19: Maxed Out, Things to Do, The Prisoner, Breach, Henry Rollins: Uncut from NYC/Henry Rollins Show, The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai, Kill House

Maxed Out (NR, 2006, Magnolia)
“Maxed Out” is the second documentary to surface in as many months about the American plague known as credit debt. But while “In Debt We Trust” served up enough damning information to make the blood boil, “Maxed Out” sends it bubbling over the pot and all over the floor. Yes, America’s credit woes are, in many ways, a self-made problem brought on by impulsive spending and careless disregard for long-term consequences. And yes, “Maxed Out” doesn’t adequately address this part of the equation to the degree that it should. But you can have all of that sitting in the back of your mind and still be devastated by the human carnage the film leaves in its wake. “Maxed Out” won’t teach you how to fix your credit problem if you have one, but it might be the match that lights the fire. And if you don’t have an issue, one viewing will fiercely compel you to keep it that way.
Extras: Uncut “Wise Use of Credit” filmstrip, explanation of a credit report, bankruptcy feature, personal responsibility feature (hey, here it is!), affil.org feature.

Things to do (NR, 2006, LifeSize Entertainment)
A quote on the DVD case describes “Things to Do” as a less self-serious version of “Garden State” mixed with a little “My Name is Earl.” It’s not exactly model journalism to swipe another critic’s thoughts in a review, but this is exactly what “TTD” is, only without Zach Braff’s character’s prescription drugs and Earl’s long list of people in need of an apology. Instead, we get a guy suffering a garden-variety quarter-life crisis (Michael Stasko) and another guy (Daniel Wilson, who isn’t as pretty as Natalie Portman but is funny enough to let that slide) who serendipitously helps him stave it off. “TTD” starts off awkwardly, and it’s not immediately clear whether it’s something special or just another indie also-ran. Before long, though, it starts to find its footing. The familiar premise develops a personality, and some genuinely funny moments follow suit. “TTD’s” busy plot cuts some corners, but its characters are so affectionately developed that it barely matters. By the time it ends, it’s hard to believe only 85 minutes have ticked by.
Extras: Director commentary, outtake, behind-the-scenes feature.

The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (NR, 2006, Magnolia)
We’ve heard stories about the way Saddam Hussein used brutalize his prisoners, and we’ve read accounts (and seen pictures) of the things certain American soldiers did to detainees at Abu Ghraib. Iraqi freelance cameraman Yunis Khatayer Abbas is one of the few people in the world who has experienced both firsthand — three months in Saddam’s prison, nine more in Abu Ghraib. In both cases, Abbas ended up imprisoned simply for doing his job. That isn’t where the similarities end, either. “The Prisoner” provides an unfettered and damning account of the Abu Ghraib calamity, but don’t mistake this very stylish documentary for yet another indictment of all things American. To the contrary, “Prisoner” gives ample face time to Benjamin Thompson, an American soldier who inherited the prison, post-debacle, and developed a friendship with Abbas and other prisoners that may have saved their lives. In spite of all the devastation “Prisoner” lays bare, it’s this bond that elevates the film to must-see status.
No extras.

Breach (PG-13, 2007, Universal)
It didn’t receive a tremendous amount of buzz in the news, but the 2001 takedown of traitorous FBI agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper) marked the end of the single worst intelligence breach in American history. Sounds like a thrill-a-minute thrill-o-rama that’s destined to stop your heart, right? Well no, not really. “Breach” is a very capable movie on a number of levels — as long as you don’t expect the kind of skin-crawling thrills several critics puzzlingly implied were coming. The film’s explosions are almost exclusively cerebral, and the burden of storytelling falls heavily on the interplay between Hannssen and the young agency hotshot (Ryan Phillippe as Eric O’Neill) charged with both befriending and sniffing him out. Fortunately, what “Breach” sets out to do, it does very well. Hanssen’s fate is old news to anyone who follows the stories of the day, but his journey there is another frontier entirely. Laura Linney and Dennis Haysbert also star.
Extras: Commentary with O’Neill and director Billy Ray, “Dateline NBC” segment from 2001 about Hanssen, two behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes.

Henry Rollins: Uncut From NYC (NR, 2006, IFC/Genius)
The Henry Rollins Show: Season One (NR, 2006, IFC/Genius)
Henry Rollins’ fans should be pleased with this twofer, but what about the rest of us? That’s harder to say. The 90-minute “Uncut from NYC,” which features a stint from Rollins’ spoken-word concert tour, is a mishmash of rants about current events (Bush, the war, Bush) and observational comedy. Problem is, you’ve heard these rants a million times before from a million different people. Rollins has good stage presence, but it’s not enough to elevate him past also-ran status. The less topical bits don’t fare much better, often running far too long and feeling out of place among Rollins’ bread-and-butter material. “The Henry Rollins Show” provides better entertainment value, but it’s due mostly to the guest selection (Kevin Smith, Peaches, Chuck D, Bill Maher) and their ability to rescue Rollins from his dodgy interviewing skills. The musical selections (Thom Yorke, Slayer, Jurassic 5) are pretty great as well. Rollins’ rants, on the other hand, too often feel like stock arguments wrapped inside empty wordplay. They’re entertaining, but neither substantial nor thoughtful enough to carry out the host’s presumed mission of educating and mobilizing those who tune in.
“NYC” extras: 13 bonus minutes of Rollins on politics and America.
“Show” contents: 20 episodes, no extras.

The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai (NR, 2003, Palm)
Sachiko Hanai (Emi Kuroda) is both a call girl and a private tutor … at once. Upon getting shot in the head, though, her senses and intellect spike to ridiculous levels, making her both smarter and capable of destroying the world. Encouraging her to do just that: A detached, cloned (and bright red) finger of George W. Bush, who is voiced by a man who sounds nothing like George W. Bush. You can watch “The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai,” but that doesn’t mean you’ll ever understand it. The bizarre explosion of schizophrenic storytelling, manic acting, hilariously awful special effects and random blasts of nonsensical nudity makes for an awful film that nonetheless is a riotous good time when viewed with an open mind and a few friends. It’s so terrible, it’s wonderful. You’ll be hard-pressed to ever watch it a second time, though, so rent if you can.
Extras: The 65-minute film that inspired this film’s creation, bonus short, behind-the-scenes feature.

Kill House (R, 2006, Trinity)
It sure is rough what struggling actors sometimes must do for a credit and some rent money. A dozen or so of them, for instance, somehow agreed to appear in “Kill House,” a semi-farcical horror film about a murderous real estate agent. Then again, the acting is often so spotty that you wonder how serious some of these people really are about their careers. That, along with some tragically stupid victims (a girl hypothesizes that an intruder’s in the house, so she … puts on a bikini and goes swimming?) and amateurish kill scenes that don’t so much scream “low-budget” as bleed it from every pore, leave us with a film that won’t look good on any résumé. Still, “House” is as fine a selection as any for a group of friends in search of some “so bad it’s good” entertainment. If nothing else, you get a ton of plot inconsistencies to tear apart, along with lots of nudity that could not be more gratuitous. Solo film connoisseurs, on the other hand, should stay away.
Extras: Behind-the-scenes feature, deleted scenes.