This week’s home video releases include two of the best movies to hit theaters in 2009, plus a handful of also-rans.
The Hurt Locker
3½ stars (out of four)
Rated R for war violence and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
With best picture nominations from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards, this taut military drama has become an Oscar favorite. Director Kathryn Bigelow did an excellent job creating an Iraq War drama that has a broad enough scope to put the conflict in perspective, yet keeps an emotional edge by focusing on a small group of soldiers in a bomb disposal unit.
At the heart of the action is Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), an explosives expert assigned to work with Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Spc. Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) after their former commander is killed by an improvised bomb. Although James is adept at disarming explosives, his cavalier attitude doesn’t sit well with Sanborn and Eldridge.
Bigelow leads us through the dangers the soldiers face each day, painting a frightening picture of urban combat and detailing the problems the soldiers have with one another. The movie is more than a war film, however, as it takes time to examine the mindset that allows certain men to excel even when faced with life-threatening danger.
The entire cast is first-rate, but Renner and Mackie turn in particularly compelling performances. Their work combined with Bigelow’s breakneck pacing gives the movie an intensity that starts early and never lets up.
DVD extras include an image gallery, behind-the-scenes featurette and audio commentary with Bigelow and writer Mark Boal.
Rated R for language
Sony Pictures Classics
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Sam Rockwell is stunning in this science-fiction drama about Sam Bell, a lonely astronaut wrapping up a three-year contract with a mining company that runs an outpost on the dark side of Earth’s moon. Because the company only stations one man on the moon, Sam’s life involves working, running on a treadmill, conversing with the base computer (the voice of Kevin Spacey), and dreaming of the day he can return to Earth.
His routine is generally predictable until he discovers another version of himself (also played by Rockwell) in a wrecked Lunar vehicle. Although he is no longer alone, Sam is startled by his double and each man is driven to figure out what the appearance of the other means.
The movie was made on a modest budget, but there is nothing minimalistic about the plotting. Writer Nathan Parker and director Duncan Jones have conceived a piece that strikes at the heart of what it is to be human, all while asking viewers to think about what they would do if given the opportunity to meet themselves.
Rockwell’s performance is phenomenal, in part because he commands 95 percent of the screen time, but also because he gives the two Sams brilliant nuances. They are the same man, but one version seems older from his years working in isolation while the other is a fresher, more vibrant reading of the same persona.
Whether Jones could have made the film with another actor is debatable, but it’s pointless to speculate. Rockwell signed on, and the result is one of the best performances of 2009 in one of the best films of 2009. Be glad that we’re getting the video release so early in the new year.
Blu-ray and DVD extras include several featurettes on the making of the film and two audio commentaries, one with Jones and producer Stuart Fenegan and another with Jones, director of photography Gary Shaw, concept designer Gavin Rothery and production designer Tony Noble.
Rated PG for thematic material including teen drinking, a sexual situation and language
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
Director Kevin Tancharoen’s 2009 update of the 1980 movie “Fame” isn’t terrible, it’s just pointless. Anyone who wants to immerse themselves in the struggles of young performing artists living in the big city can always rent the original film or take in director Robert Altman’s gorgeous 2003 ballet movie “The Company.” Anyone who wants to see a group of talented dancers-actors-singers light up a stage, can tune into the great Fox TV series “Glee.” Because those options exist, it’s tough to imagine a scenario where I would recommend watching “Fame” 2009.
Still, the movie has some merits, most notably a talented cast that attempts to show viewers how difficult it is to make it through a high-end performing arts academy in New York City. Tancharoen breaks the film into segments, giving viewers a glimpse of the lives of numerous students during their freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior years, and the film is at its best when they are performing.
Unfortunately, the structure is part of “Fame’s” problem. Tancheroen tries to do too much with the sparse, 107-minute run time, jumping from one student to the next while giving very few of them a solid story arc. There’s a singer/pianist (Naturi Naughton), a street-smart actor (Collins Pennie), a would-be filmmaker (Paul Iacono), and many more characters, but we don’t learn much about them except that they are talented and driven. Making things even tougher is the fact that they split their screen time with faculty members (played by Debbie Allen, Kelsey Grammer, Megan Mullally and Bebe Neuwirth). Again, all the actors are fine, but we don’t learn anything about them because they’re essentially playing cameos.
Tancharoen is well known in the music video world, and he may have a solid feature film career ahead of him. Before he achieves that, however, he’s going to have to learn to devote more time to the development of characters.
Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases include the theatrical cut of the film, plus an extended cut that’s about 15 minutes longer. Other extras include character profiles, a couple featurettes and deleted and extended scenes.
Rated PG-13 for sexual situations and brief strong language
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray
At one point in “Post Grad,” Adam Davies (Zach Gilford) tells his friend Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) that she is so obsessed with her future, she forgets about everyone she’s supposed to care about. Adam might as well have been speaking to director Vicky Jenson because she gets so caught up in the “Post Grad” setup, she forgets the movie’s point.
On the surface, “Post Grad” is the story of Ryden’s post-college quest for the perfect job, but writer Kelly Fremon actually penned a romance. Trouble is, there’s nothing romantic about the first two-thirds of the film, so viewers may find themselves lost when it turns all mushy in the third act.
Because Ryden is in a situation that many young adults can relate to and because Bledel is such an appealing young actress, it’s easy to tolerate the missteps in “Post Grad,” but why would you? There are too many good movies lining video store shelves to waste time on one that’s still trying to find itself.
DVD extras include a handful of featurettes related to the film plus deleted and alternate scenes.
ALSO OUT THIS WEEK
“Halloween II”: Director Rob Zombie continues his reboot of the classic horror movie franchise with a sequel to 2007’s “Halloween.”
Scout Taylor-Compton is back as Laurie Strode and Tyler Mane reprises his role as her psychotic brother, Michael. The film, of course, follows Michael through another blood-soaked killing spree.
“Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself”: Writer-director-actor Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film. In this one, Madea catches several kids looting her home and decides to right two wrongs by insisting that they move in with their only relative, a hard-drinking nightclub singer (Taraji P. Henson) who can use some family in her life.
“In the Loop”: Film adaptation of the BBC series “The Thick of It.” The movie focuses on behind the scenes political maneuverings between the U.S. and England as the governments attempt to launch a war in the Middle East. Peter Capaldi, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee, Steve Coogan and James Gandolfini star.
“The Brothers Bloom”: This film has been available for rent since Sept. 29, but it’s now available for purchase. Con artist brothers Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrian Brody) are ready to give up their scheming ways, but not before one last hit on a wealthy, eccentric heiress (Rachel Weisz).
“Big Fan”: Patton Oswalt stars as a hardcore New York Giants fan who must take stock of his life after one of his favorite players beats him up in a strip club. The film was written and directed by Robert D. Siegel who also penned “The Wrestler.”
“The Simpsons” – The Complete Twentieth Season: It’s hard to believe this animated classic has been making people laugh for two decades, but this DVD set is proof.
“Top Gear” – The Complete Seasons 11 & 12: Extreme car entertainment show that aired on BBC America and BBC Canada. The program centers on hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May who attempt wild and wacky feats on four wheels. In Top Gear 11, Richard races an Audi against extreme skiers in the French Alps. Top Gear 12 has the guys attempting to travel the length of Vietnam in eight days.
“Becker” — The Third Season: Ted Danson plays Dr. John Becker, a grumpy physician with a not-so-good bedside manner and the ever-present ability to complain.
“10 Things I Hate About You” – Volume 1: This ABC family series is based on the 1999 romantic comedy film by the same title. The movie starred Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, but the series features Lindsey Shaw as Kat and Meaghan Jette Martin as Bianca, sisters who are polar opposites. Things get shaken up when Kat meets the alluring Patrick Verona (Ethan Peck).
“E.R.” – The Complete Twelfth Season: Another 22 episodes of the immensely popular medical drama about the doctors, nurses and other folk who work in and around County General Hospital in Chicago.
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.