Video Verdict: New DVDs for Sept. 30

It’s a slow week for mainstream video releases, but the two big titles hitting stores are among the best of the year so far.

Iron Man
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated PG-13 for some intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence,
and brief suggestive content
Paramount Pictures
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray

“The Dark Knight” may be the superhero film of 2008, but “Iron Man” is a close second. Based on the popular Marvel Comics books, the film centers on Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), a brilliant scientist who heads a weapons manufacturing company.

When viewers meet Stark, he’s arrogant and careless, but that changes when a military convoy that he’s traveling with is attacked and he’s nearly killed by one of his own weapons. Suddenly awakened to the horrors that his products inflict, Stark manufactures a suit of high-tech armor and begins playing hero in hopes of making amends.

“Iron Man” packs all the action and special effects one expects from a summer blockbuster, but it’s also an intelligent film with solid plotting and interesting political undertones. Downey, a brave choice to play a comic book hero, is wonderful, and his supporting cast — Gwyneth Paltrow, Terrence Howard and Jeff Bridges — is outstanding.

Bottom line: “Iron Man” is super.

The film is available in single-disc and two-disc versions. Extra features vary.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
3 1/2 stars
Unrated
Universal
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray

“How I Met Your Mother” star Jason Segel proved he is more than a television front man by writing and starring in this outstanding and raucous romantic comedy. Segel wrote himself the role of Peter Bretter, a Hollywood composer famous for his relationship with actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). He’s fine playing second fiddle to her stardom until she dumps him for a ridiculous rock star named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand).

In despair, Peter books a Hawaiian vacation to get Sarah off his mind. Then, she and Aldous show up at the same resort. In a stubborn effort to prove that he’s fine without her, Peter refuses to leave, leading to a series of wonderful relationship gags and the possibility of a new romance with a beautiful hotel employee (Mila Kunis).

“Sarah Marshall” is inventive, unusual and consistently funny. It’s also extremely raunchy, with graphic nudity and profanity making its way into countless scenes. This won’t be a problem for folks who enjoy movies like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” but those who prefer tamer fare could be offended. That’s worth chancing though because movies as funny as “Sarah Marshall” don’t come along often.

The picture is available in single-disc and three-disc unrated versions. Extra features vary.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster
3 stars
Rated PG-13
Magnolia Home Entertainment
Available on: DVD

Director Chris Bell’s documentary on anabolic steroid abuse in the U.S. is entertaining, informative and surprisingly personal. That’s because Bell and his two brothers grew up idolizing famous muscle men like Hulk Hogan, and both of his siblings are consistent steroid users.

Although hardly pro-steroid, “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” shows a side of steroid use that rarely makes its way into the media. For example, the movie questions the difference between athletes who take steroids and musicians who take anti-anxiety medication. The film also dares to question whether steroids are really as unhealthy as their reputation suggests.

The real point of the film, however, is not to make a judgment on steroid use. Rather, it’s to examine the mentality that drives people to take them. Ultimately, Bell asserts that the American quest to be No. 1 has a poisoning effect on society, and it’s tough to argue against his premise.

Folks with no interest in athletics or drug abuse may find “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” long-winded, but Bell does his best to keep the tone light and entertaining. The result is a documentary that leaves viewers with some thinking to do.

DVD extras include 40 minutes of deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Taxi to the Dark Side”: This documentary about government abuse of power — particularly as it relates to the torture and killing of an innocent Afghani taxi driver — won the 2007 Oscar for best documentary feature.

“Beauty and the Beast” — The Complete Series: Fans of this 1980s fantasy drama can now catch every episode on DVD. In the first two seasons, Linda Hamilton stars as a New York assistant district attorney and Ron Perlman plays the man-beast who befriends her. Hamilton left after two seasons, leaving Jo Anderson to take over as the new female lead in season three.

“Ax Men” — The Complete Season One: All 13, first-seaon episodes of the History Channel reality series about loggers in the Pacific Northwest.

“When We Left Earth” — The NASA Missions: Four-DVD set looking at human space exploration. This material was originally broadcast on the Discovery Channel as part of a documentary miniseries, but this set contains nearly four hours of material that wasn’t shown on TV.

“Numb3rs” — The Fourth Season: Another season of the FBI crime drama where special agent Don Eppes (Rob Morrow) engages the help of his mathematical genius brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), to solve crimes.

“Pulse 2”: Direct-to-DVD horror sequel about phantoms who haunt the living through cellular phones and wi-fi devices. Jaime Bamber and Boti Bliss star.

“My Three Sons” — The First Season, Volume 1: There’s something charming about old-school sitcoms. In this one from the 1960s, Fred MacMurray plays Steve Douglas, a widower doing his best to raise three sons on his own.

“My Name is Earl” — Season Three: The continuing adventures of a one-time ne’er do well (Jason Lee) trying to make up for all the bad things he’s done. Doesn’t sound like it, but it’s a comedy.

“An Autumn Afternoon”: The final film of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, this 1962 effort focuses on a widower overseeing the wedding of his grown daughter. Presented by the Criterion Collection.

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