This week’s DVD releases include two films nominated for multiple Oscars, plus a biopic about the late rapper Notorious B.I.G.
3 1/2 stars (out of four)
Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
No matter what anyone says about “The Wrestler,” it will be remembered for Mickey Rourke’s Oscar-nominated lead performance.
The plotting? Great. The direction? Spot on. Marisa Tomei’s Oscar-nominated supporting turn? Solid.
In short, there are many reasons to praise “The Wrestler” but none of them slap you in the face the way Rourke’s lead outing does. Perhaps it’s because his career has been so erratic. More likely it’s because he jumped back into the spotlight looking as though he’s been doing nothing but pumping iron for the last 10 years.
Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed-up professional wrestling star trying to claw his way back to the top despite being in his 50s. So, he scrapes by on blue collar day jobs and spends his weekends wrestling in small-time matches that are physically demanding and bloody.
Randy has few social outlets, but he does develop a tentative friendship with a stripper named Cassidy (Tomei), and she encourages him to connect with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Evan Rachel Wood).
As the film progresses, viewers get an in-depth look at what makes Randy tick, and they follow him through a number of his matches. As well-staged as the wrestling is, that’s not the point of the film. Rather, it’s a character study of a flawed but fascinating individual, and Rourke and director Darren Aronofsky deliver at every turn.
DVD extras are limited to a feature on the making of the film and a music video for “The Wrestler,” a song Bruce Springsteen recorded for the soundtrack.
3 1/2 stars
Rated R for some language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Turning a series of taped television interviews into a compelling drama is a daunting task, but director Ron Howard has proven himself up to the challenge. “Frost/Nixon” is an adaptation of the 2006 play by British dramatist Peter Morgan and, despite talky moments that recall its literary past, Howard’s movie is engaging.
The reality-based story centers on British journalist David Frost’s (Michael Sheen) post-Watergate interviews with former U.S. President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). While these interviews were insightful in their own time, it can be tough to build interest in three-decades-old material, particularly when presented primarily through dialogue. But Howard and Morgan (who adapted his own material to the screen) succeeded by focusing not only on Frost and Nixon but on what the interviews meant to each man personally.
By making the events of Watergate less important than the personal struggle between the two lead characters, Howard has achieved timeless relevance.
Michael Sheen is charming as Frost, a journalist who knows he’s in over his head with Nixon but who also knows that the interviews could be the best work of his career. As good as Sheen is, Langella is better. His portrayal of Nixon is so startling, that it’s easy to forget he’s just an actor plying his craft.
“Frost/Nixon” received five total Oscar nominations, including nods for Langella as best actor, Howard as best director and Morgan for best adapted screenplay.
This one’s a must for fans of political and relationship dramas.
DVD extras include deleted scenes, a making-of feature and an audio commentary by Howard.
2 1/2 stars
DVD contains rated and unrated versions of the film. The rated version received an R for pervasive language, some strong sexuality including dialogue, nudity and drug content
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
20th Century Fox
The short, tragic life of rapper Christopher Wallace, known by fans as the Notorious B.I.G., seemed custom written for the screen.
He went from dealing drugs on the streets of New York to becoming one of the best-known musicians in the world, all while keeping company with other musical superstars, including Sean “Puffy” Combs, Lil’ Kim and his former wife Faith Evans. Wallace was also at the center of the East vs. West rap feud that pitted him against the California rapper Tupac Shakur.
Despite the rich material he had to work with, director George Tillman Jr.’s biopic is merely serviceable. Jamal Woolard turns in an excellent performance in the title role, and he is well supported by Derek Luke as Combs, Antonique Smith as Evans, Naturi Naughton as Li’l Kim and Dennis L.A. White as Damion “D-Roc” Butler. The movie hits on most of the key moments in Wallace’s life, but it is undermined by an odd structure, poor editing and the unfounded use of narration.
The result is a disjointed feature that is frequently interesting but unmistakably flawed.
“Notorious” is available on multiple DVD configurations, including a three-disc special edition with a director’s cut, the theatrical release and a digital copy of the film. Extra features vary.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“My Own Worst Enemy” — The Complete Series: This TV drama was short-lived, but fans can now relive the action on DVD. Christian Slater stars as a secret agent with a purposely manufactured split personality. With little effort, his handlers can either switch on his superspy persona or convert him to a mild-mannered fellow with a middle-class lifestyle. But when the chip that allows this to happen goes bad, his personalities reveal themselves to one another. This two-disc set includes the nine episodes that aired on NBC. Mike O’Malley, Saffron Burrows, Mädchen Amick, and Alfre Woodard also star.
“Battlestar Galactica — Caprica”: The latest installment of the “Battlestar Galactica” science-fiction franchise, this movie looks at events that occurred 50 years before the most recent TV series. The focus is on Joseph Adama (father of Battlestar commander William Adama) and Daniel Graystone, powerful men who find themselves at odds in an ethical dilemma. A “Caprica” TV series is slated to begin airing on the SCI FI Channel in 2010, and this release is an uncut version of the pilot.
“Top Gear” — The Complete Season 10: The BBC television series focused on motor vehicles is coming to DVD for the first time in North America. The program follows its hosts as they race across difficult terrain, convince stars to take laps around racetracks and press automobiles to their limit.
“Science Is Fiction” — 23 Films by Jean Painlevé: French scientist and filmmaker Jean Painlevé created hundreds of short nature and science movies during his career. This three-disc set features nearly two dozen of them, along with an eight-part French TV series focused on the man and his work. Presented by the Criterion Collection in French with English subtitles.
“Rhoda” — Season One: The 1970s “Mary Tyler Moore Show” spin-off is finally available on DVD. Valerie Harper stars as the title character, and much of the action centers on her move from Minneapolis to New York City.
“Into the Blue 2 — The Reef”: Direct-to-DVD sequel to the original “Into the Blue.” This film focuses on two scuba divers (Chris Carmack and Laura Vandervoort) who meet a wealthy couple (Marsha Thomason and David Anders) willing to invest in their treasure hunting activities. But when the divers get close to discovering the goods, they learn unnerving things about their benefactors.
“Glass — A Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts”: Director and cinematographer Scott Hicks’ documentary film about renowned composer Philip Glass.
“The Burrowers”: Direct-to-DVD horror film set in the Dakota Territories during the late 1800s. When a family is abducted during a nighttime attack, their friends think it’s the work of Indians and form a rescue party. But the would-be rescuers soon learn that the attackers were something far more frightening than humans. William Mapother, Sean Patrick Thomas, Doug Hutchison, Karl Geary and Clancy Brown star.
“Wolverine and the X-Men: Heroes Return Trilogy”: The first three episodes of the animated, Nicktoons series that began airing in January. The plot has Wolverine working to reunite the X-Men so that they can bring order to a world that has descended into chaos. This title is out now to tie in with the May 1 theatrical release of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and fans would do well to realize that a full-season release can’t be far behind.
“A Galaxy Far Far Away” — Inside the Universe of a Phenomenon”: Reissue of a late 1990s documentary about “Star Wars.” Directed by Tariq Jalil, the film takes viewers to movie conventions and premieres and features interviews with average fans and celebrities.
“Kicking the Dog”: Teen sex comedy about a group of youngsters spending one last party-heavy summer together before heading out to take on the world. Carl T. Evans, Elizabeth Schmidt, Vedette Lim and Laura Bach star.
— Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at Forrest@ForrestHartman.com.