OK, here's a rundown of the last few weeks. If you're looking for a good gift idea and want to make sure the person you're gifting hasn't already bought it, these new titles are a great place to start. Tons of titles, so they're going to come fast and furious.
24: THE COMPLETE SERIES ($349.98; FOX) -- Sure, some days were better than others (just like life!), but this is absolutely a landmark TV series. It combined the silly pleasures of a movie serial (what's going to happen next?) with a deadly serious take on world events packaged in a show with great casting throughout. Plus, the complete set let's you dare your friends to a marathon of watching one season over a weekend. The boxed set is reasonably big and can fit on a shelf nicely but also has complete seasons that are easily removable and fit alongside your other DVDs. Here's a hint if you're new to the show: the odd days (seasons 1, 3, 5, and 7) tend to be much better than the even ones. Great fun and the role of a lifetime for Kiefer Sutherland.
INCEPTION ($35.98 BluRay or $28.98 regular; Warner Bros.) -- As a technical accomplishment, this is clearly one of the best films of the year. Normally, it would be the sort of film you couldn't really enjoy at home. Can you imagine trying to watch a cropped version on VHS that cut off a third of the film, looked terrible and was shown on a 24 inch fuzzy old TV? Nowadays, with a great TV and sound system, you can come closer and closer to the theatrical experience. Certainly on BluRay the film is a stunner. Of course, all the stunts and special effects in the world don't matter without compelling emotions and director Christopher Nolan remains someone I admire greatly but find cold. Only Marion Cotillard sets things on fire. (And anyone who can make Joseph Gordon-Levitt seem stiff is suspicious in my book.) But it's a wonderful intellectual puzzle and well worth exploring a second time at home where you can pause the action, turn to your friends and say, "Now what exactly is happening right now?" Loaded with solid extras including an animated prequel.
P.S. By the way, have you seen Marion Cotillard's online shorts for Christian Dior. Her latest is a sexy, playful, over the top number called Lady London Grey; it was written and directed by John Cameron Mitchell and costars Ian McKellen and is a lot of fun. And if you're a John Cameron Mitchell fan, check out my interview with him for the AOL blog Queersighted about his new acclaimed new drama Rabbit Hole.
FANTASIA/FANTASIA 2000 ($45.99 BluRay; $39.99 regular; Disney -- A near-perfect presentation of one of Walt's dearest projects that is more noble than enjoyable but in patches very good indeed. I say "near" perfect because they decided to simply eliminate a very racist, very brief segment from the original movie. You don't tackle racism by whitewashing the past (pun intended). They could have handled this a number of ways but chose the worst option: pretending the offending passage never existed. It would be much better to have the films default to a family-friendly segment, but allow an option on the menu to show the film as originally made with appropriate context at the beginning (like a brief scrolled explanation). At the very least they should have included the segment uncensored in the bonus features and had experts discuss it. Put that aside and you have movies that were very bold and at times deliriously good, such as Mickey's career highlight "The Sorceror's Apprentice" and Disney's collaboration with Savador Dali called "Destino."
JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK ($27.98; IFC) -- This documentary about the trail-blazing comic was one of the year's genuine word of mouth hits. It ran and ran and ran in theaters and would probably still be drawing an audience if it were in theaters today. The film follows Rivers for one year in her life while recounting her career from the big break thanks to Johnny Carson to the tragic big break WITH Johnny Carson to her many ups and downs since. Rivers is tirelessly, relentlessly funny. But what the movie captures best is that drive, that desperate need for the spotlight that drives people like Rivers to push and push and push. By God, if you paid her, she'd show up in your home before you screened this movie and give you 20 minutes. It's funny, observant, pointed, a little unnerving and quite good. If it had been a little pushier in the questions this could have been one for the ages, but it's certainly one you should watch.
THE QUINTESSENTIAL GUY MADDIN ($49.98; Zeitgeist) -- This is an absolutely essential collection of some of the best work from Guy Maddin, the Canadian auteur who is easily one of the most distinctive and memorable film directors of the past 20 years. There's simply nothing like Maddin and his obsession with old silent films, Russian classics, and taking the detritus of his Winnipeg childhood and turning it into hilarious pop art. You get five films, six shorts (including the masterpiece "The Heart Of The World," probably the most acclaimed short of the decade), a documentary narrated by Tom Waits (just to let you know what strange, beatnik territory you've wandered into) and it doesn't even include some of his best work. But this is a great primer for anyone who claims to be a serious film buff. You just have to watch Maddin to talk about film. Start with Careful, the absurd virtually silent film about a small village where everyone has to be quite for fear of triggering an avalanche but sexual tension threatens to explode. Utterly original. Is that enough superlatives for you?
DOCTOR WHO THE COMPLETE FIFTH SERIES ($89.98 BluRay or $79.98 regular) -- I would have said no. Who would want to be the next Doctor following David Tennant? But darned if Matt Smith didn't just dive right in and charm the pants off us. He's still bumbling around to establish his own rhythm but it's a pleasure to see him figure out who HIS Doctor is while we do the same. The stories? Oh, the usual saving of Earth/The Universe/The Multiverse and so on. Good family fun.
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP ($29.99; Oscilloscope)
I'M STILL HERE ($29.98 BluRay or $26.98 regular; Magnolia) -- This tricksy documentary film begins as a survey of brilliant street artists as captured by a crazy French guy who tags along on their nightly romps to spread graffiti and just films and films everything he sees. Then the movie takes several unexpected turns and the legendary Banksy (an anonymous artist who has done some of the most memorable pieces in the genre) takes over the movie and starts to make a film about the French guy. I'm so trusting it never even occurred to me the movie might be one elaborate stunt by Banksy. Having watched it a second time, I know believe even more that it's genuine OR that it's one of the cleverest put-ons ever. Still, the story is a rollercoaster and a hilarious indictment (or satire) of the frenzied art world. One of the best films of the year. On the other hand, we now definitively know that the Joaquin Phoenix/Casey Affleck movie I'm Still Here was in fact an elaborate, Andy Kaufman stunt. Luckily, we can judge the film on its own terms (Affleck rightly pleads with people to appreciate how intensely good Phoenix is) rather than feeling duped the way some critics obviously did.
KNIGHT AND DAY ($39.99 BluRay or $34.99 regular; FOX) -- This fitfully amusing spy caper has a nice, clever tone that Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz savor. Though attitude is half the battle, there is the other battle of an intelligible script, scary villains and so on. The plot here is too much of a mess and director James Mangold's witty decision to fade to black just as some dramatic new action kicks into high gear and the star wattage of the leads isn't enough to cover that. It fizzled in the US but Cruise proved his drawing power by making this Fox's top-grossing release worldwide for the year.
WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY
THE BOYS: THE SHERMAN BROTHERS' STORY
WALT & EL GRUPO ($29.99 eachl Disney ) Here are three good documentaries exploring different facets of the Disney empire. Walt & El Grupo is the one I haven't watched yet -- it's a look at a goodwill tour of South America in 1941 that led to several animated films being based there. Waking Sleeping Beauty is the best known. It's about the resurgence of Disney's animated film department under the aegis of Jeffrey Katzenberg. Yes, Katzenberg. To some, he's the villain of the piece, hogging the spotlight when The Little Mermaid starts to put Disney back on top in a big way. But you only have to see the excellent quality of animated films made while he was there and the immediate drop in quality (and ultimately box office) when Katzenberg left right after the premiere of The Lion King. It's only now that Disney has matched the work it did without him on the film Tangled. (Pixar movies are a different story.) But I most looked forward to The Boys because the Sherman Brothers are the unsung heroes of so many Disney projects including two out and out classics: Mary Poppins (whose brilliant score is better appreciated now that it's being heard on Broadway) and The Jungle Book. (Ooh, that'll come to Broadway someday soon too, I bet.) Made by their sons, it details how they drifted apart and now barely ever speak to each other except briefly at public events. It's nothing special as a movie but the story is compelling enough to keep you watching and boy did they write some great, great songs. Almost every Friday, Walt would call them into his office and say "play it," and they'd go to the piano and perform his favorite, "Feed The Birds." It's especially moving to see them both choke up in separate interviews about the first time Walt invited them to join the studio. Animation and music buffs shouldn't miss it.
REGINA SPEKTOR/LIVE IN LONDON ($21.98; Sire)
ABBA/GOLD ($29.98; Universal Music) -- Music releases increasingly come with a DVD to convince people it's worth buying a CD/DVD combo and not just a digital download (and certainly not streaming it illegally online; shame on you!). Spektor's album is good for fans. She's a delightfully quirky performer and the audio captures her charm on stage performing hits like "Radio" and "Fidelity." And if you are a hardcore fan, the DVD will probably be fine. But this London concert film (which was shown briefly in theaters) exemplifies everything wrong with modern convert films -- it's strictly for the ADD set, with cuts every few seconds, even in the middle of a sentence, heck even in the middle of words. It's also poorly lit and shot and generally a mess. But it's no worse a mess than most other contemporary concert films. Unfortunately, the bar is so low that's not saying much. On the other hand, ABBA's iconic greatest hits set Gold comes with a DVD bursting with their music videos. Most if not all of them seem to have been directed by Lasse Halstrom (who knew?). The videos are very simple, despite a few with some crazy costumes and an animated one made during their peak of popularity. The videos really do present them in a casual, no-frills manner (as the liner notes attest), making ABBA seem like the band next door. This despite their absurdly catchy tunes that might have encouraged a lesser director to go crazy with angles and costumes and editing. But no, the four just play their instruments and maybe stroll along a river or do a few simple but memorable dance moves on a bare stage and the moments get emblazoned on your mind. Their videos are a tribute to simplicity. When you've got songs this good, you don't need any fireworks. Too bad Spektor's director didn't realize the same thing.
TROUBLE IN MIND ($19.97; Shout) -- One of my favorite movies of the year it came out, this Alan Rudolph gem remains sinfully unappreciated. At the very least, it should be a cult favorite and yet few people know it. Perhaps this DVD release will change that. An offbeat romance set in the mythical town of Raincity, it recreates the mood of classic Hollywood gangster flicks with the great Kris Kristofferson as the grizzled hero, Keith Carradine as the not-so-bad guy drawn into the wrong crowd and Lori Singer as Carradine's girl. She's willing to do anything to save him -- even give herself to Kristofferson. Throw in Divine as the male owner of a nightclub and you've got a corker with enough good memorable lines to fill up ten screenplays. if you've ever liked the work of any of the people involved, give this one a chance.
DESPICABLE ME ($49.98 BluRay 3-D or $39.98 BluRay or $29.98 for regular; Universal) -- I found this animated film about a not-so-bad guy (Steve Carell) who wants to dominate the world but is easily softened when saddled with three adorable little kids to be harmless but unmemorable. But somehow it became one of the big hits of the year, so obviously you disagreed with me. It certainly took the wind out of the vaguely similar Megamind. Loads of extras including three new shorts starring the Minions, the little yellow guys.
SID & MARTY KROFFT'S SATURDAY MORNING HITS ($14.93; Vivendi/SMK) -- This is the perfect way to enjoy the nutty worlds of Sid & Marty Krofft, the psychedelic heroes of live action Saturday morning TV. They created weirdo gems like H.R. Pufnstuf, Bugaloos, Lidsville, Sigmund & The Sea Monsters and more. Sure, hardcore fans should be able to buy complete sets of any of these shows (not to mention a complete set of their whole, trippy catalog). But for 99.99% of us, an episode or two of any of these is hilarious and just the right amount. This DVD has two and a half hours of crazy fun. Ideal for a little kid...or a college student.
THE TOWN ($35.99 BluRay or $28.98 regular; Warner Bros.) -- Ben Affleck is developing into a solid director. Let's hope he keeps making movies as quickly as possible so he can continue to grow. The cast is solid but unfortunately the script he cowrote takes everything original out of the novel Prince of Thieves and turns the gang of bank-robbers from cautious careful men led by Affleck who do everything they can to minimize danger for themselves and others (pros, in other words, who'd rather spend the weekend breaking in so they can get away bloodlessly) to thugs who smash and shoot their way out of a jam and recklessly endanger dozens of people in the very first job we see them pull. What's to root for? Numerous other missteps diverge from the book as well, making it more generic and uninteresting every step of the way. Authentic accents can't make up for a rote story.
SPACE 1999: THE COMPLETE SEASON ONE ON BLURAY ($99.99; A&E) -- A&E has not always had the resources to completely remaster some of the specialty titles they handle. But that's certainly not the case here. This Gerry Anderson spectacle with the deadly serious tone and the seriously lavish special effects (for TV) is presented in all its glory, looking very impressive indeed and superior to earlier releases. Yes, the show is so stiff you'd swear Anderson was still using puppets a la Thunderbirds rather than fine actors like Martin Landau. But if you're a fan it's loaded with bonus features and the shows themselves have never looked better.
DAVID BOWIE: RARE AND UNSEEN ($14.95; Weinerworld)
THE SACRED TRIANGLE: BOWIE, IGGY & LOU 1971-1973 ($14.95; Weinerworld) -- These compilations of odds and ends are strictly for hardcore fans. Bowie's DVD includes press conferences, interviews and anything else the producers could lay their hands on. The sacred Triangle is a proper 107 minute documentary about the three artists and how they influenced and worked with each other but the closest you get to the real deal is Bowie's ex-wife Angie, an assistant from Andy Warhol's Factory and other bystanders.
THE BOB HOPE COLLECTION ($34.93; Shout) -- A movie star whose entire persona was as a girl-hungry coward? Yep, there's no one like Bob Hope anymore and maybe never will be. This top-notch sampler contains two Road movies with his pal/rival Bing Crosby, the fun musical The Seven Little Foys, My Favorite Brunette and one of his best vehicles The Lemon Drop Kid. Plus, The Lemon Drop Kid introduced the holiday classic "Silver Bells" so it even doubles as an offbeat holiday movie.
THE A-TEAM ($39.99 Bluray or $29.98 regular; FOX) -- Hopelessly dumb, but then so was the TV show. So what did you expect?
FRANK SINATRA: CONCERT FOR THE AMERICAS ($19.98; Shout) -- I'm a huge Sinatra fan and if you are too this 1982 concert (widely bootlegged both as a CD and on VHS) is well worth getting. Sinatra is in top voice for this stage of his career -- despite playing to a huge crowd in an open-air concert space in the Dominican Republic, he doesn't just lean on hard swinging numbers like "I've Got The World On A String" and "The Lady Is A Tramp." No, Sinatra also holds the crowd in complete silence while he duets with Tommy Mottola on guitar doing "Send in the Clowns" and "Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars" to name just two softer moments. Well-paced and with great songs throughout (not counting the well-intentioned but dull "The House I Live In"), it's as good a show as he gave in the 80s. And happily, the 90 minute show isn't filled with frenetic editing and crazy camera angles -- it's just the Voice and 20 standards.
RUSH HOUR ($24.98 BluRay: New Line) -- Hey, I'm not showing hindsight here. Even when this fun buddy comedy came out, I thought it was strange that even the New York Times was anointing Chris Tucker as the next Eddie Murphy. The movie is sweet (thanks mostly to the great Jackie Chan) and Tucker was fine but it seemed a little over-eager to dub him the next anything when he hadn't even proved himself yet. Of course, Tucker failed to capitalize on Rush Hour in any meaningful way. But he'll always have this franchise to point to -- how many actors get to be in even one big hit comedy/action film, much less one co-starring one of the biggest names in show biz? Not so bad.
THE BLACK PIRATE ($34.95 BluRay; Kino) -- Frankly, with the Johny Depp franchise Pirates of the Caribbean keeping those outlaws of the sea in the public eye, I'm surprised no one has done a remake yet of this swashbuckling tale about the survivor of a ship overrun by pirates who wins their trust and joins their band to get revenge and rescue a princess. It's not peak Douglas Fairbanks but it is fun and the Technicolor imagery in this 1926 film may look more like a colorized black and white film to our modern eyes but it was thrilling at the time. Kino offers exceptional extras including two scores, commentary tracks, 47 minuts of outtakes (!) and a complete "talkie" version narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
CYRUS ($39.99 BluRay or $29.98 regular; FOX) -- This offbeat drama about a loser guy finally dating a nice girl only to find himself stymied by her clinging son doesn't know what it wants to be. it's not dark and weird enough to be a black comedy and it's not sweet and real enough to be a film rooted in genuine emotions. But John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill are more committed to the story than the film is and keep it watchable and vaguely interesting while you wait for the movie to make up its mind and find its purpose. It never does.
NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS ($39.98 Bluray or $29.98 regular; Universal) -- I love Emma Thompson. I want her to have a franchise. I really do. I just wish it were a better one than the tepid Nanny McPhee movies. I find the books rather limited and formulaic. The movies are the same, only broader and less subtle, if that's possible. Plus, the basic conceit -- Nanny McPhee arrives looking grotesque and slowly becomes more lovely as the family she's "rescuing" gets to know her -- is exactly backwards. Nanny McPhee should arrive looking lovely and yet the family and everyone around her sees McPhee as grotesquely unattractive. Then as the movie progresses, she slowly becomes uglier but the people around her start to treat McPhee more and more as a sweet lovely person. By the end, we'd see what McPhee "really" looks like and appreciate the inner beauty everyone else now appreciates is what we saw at the beginning. Right now, the stock message is bad because people only treat McPhee nicely when she looks nice and surely that's not what we want kids to take away.
ROBERT KLEIN: UNFAIR & UNBALANCED ($19.97; HBO) -- Robert Klein did HBO's first stand-up comedy special in the 1970s. This is his ninth and he's still pretty funny. Sure, it's hard for him to surprise us after so many years and his beats, his obsessions haven't wildly diverged. But he's an old pro who can still deliver if you're not too demanding or expecting revelatory new stuff. Plus he plays a mean mouth organ: why hasn't Craig Ferguson had a show down with him yet (or have I missed it)?
HARD BOILED ($19.97 BluRay; Weinstein/Dragon Dynasty) -- The movie of course is John Woo's masterpiece, an action classic starring Chow Yun Fat with some of the best shoot-outs in movie history. Dragon Dynasty has been putting out some great titles in so-so DVD releases. The image quality looks solid on this one though I can't judge the sound quality where I'm screening it. Since it's only a few dollars more than the standard DVD, it seems a safe bet if you don't own the movie already but probably not a necessary upgrade if you already have it.
ARMY WIVES SEASON FOUR ($39.99; ABC Studios) -- This cable drama is a soap, a guilty pleasure with the backdrop of the military to keep it grounded in reality more than most soaps and better for it. Jobs, pregnancies, career changes all roil their lives throughout season four, with the only certainty God and country and the fact that a tiny minority of military families bear the burden for the rest of us. It may be a soap, but this show gives a glimpse of the sacrifices they make. And meanwhile, we continue to wait for China Beach to come out on DVD.
BOYS LIFE 7 ($24.99; Strand) -- The latest in a long line of gay short collections, this seventh edition is admittedly thin on the ground. "The Young and Evil" is interestingly in your face about its mean-spirited young protagonist but can't develop it further. "Spokane" is a wedding night dalliance between two buddies of the groom that fizzles out. "First Date" shows a guy out of prison desperate to meet the boy he's connected with online. But none of them are interesting visually or for their scripts or performances. The exception is "Raw Love." This 16 minute short marvelously captures the pain of a teenager whose best friend is about to graduate high school and leave him behind to wallow in unrequited love. (While, not that unrequited -- his friend does allow the guy to pleasure him when they share a bed.) it's directed with flair by Martin Deus, who uses music well, gets good performances from his two leads and tells much of their story visually. He's a talent to watch.
THE MILK OF SORROW ($29.95; Olive Films) -- This Peruvian drama by Claudia Llosa was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Film but was overshadowed by A Prophet, White Ribbon and the winner The Secret In Their Eyes. But it has some very strong reviews and tells the compelling, wrenching story of women living with the constant threat of rape and violence and how it affects them long after the Shining Path war has ended. Don't let it slip through the cracks.
THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE ($39.99 BluRay or $29.99 regular) -- Nicolas cage reportedly said he wanted to play a good guy and a sorcerer and that led Jerry Bruckheimer to make a very flimsy connection to the old Mickey Mouse short from Fantasia and launch this would-be franchise starring Jay Baruchel. He seems like a nice guy but Baruchel is no leading man, though perhaps it's unfair to judge him based on such a tepid story. Tiresome from the laborious beginning to the flat finale.
LENNON NYC ($24.95; A&E) - How much grief should you give a movie over its title? Lennon NYC, you naturally assume, will try to shed fresh light on Lennon by seeing him through the lens of his relationship with New York. Nope, the movie dallies for a moment in NYC, heads to LA for his lost weekend and gets back to New York after about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, it devotes a great deal of time to his fight for a green card, a story that was told much better recently in the film The U.S. Versus John Lennon. This movie finally covers some new ground by digging deeper into the Double Fantasy sessions and those final days, but it doesn't fulfill the idea of the title or do anything else terribly original. And as my friend Noam said sadly at the end as the film inevitably approached the shooting, "It always ends the same way, doesn't it?" Yes, sadly, it does.
COMING OUT DECEMBER 21 COMING OUT DECEMBER 21 COMING OUT DECEMBER 21
THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW: THE BEST OF MAYBERRY ($24.99; Paramount) -- This is the standard by which TV show greatest hits sets will be judged. Indeed, I've long begged for Greatest Hits collections for long-running shows like The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, Cheers, The Cosby Show, Family Ties and the like. This three DVD set gets everything right. It includes 17 fan favorite episodes from throughout the show's run, the wildly popular TV movie reunion film and the episode of Make Room For Daddy that served as a pilot. Such a set might include the first and last episodes as bookends, but really there's very little to complain about here. It's great to have complete seasons but many fans would love to be able to buy something exactly like this for I Love Lucy and many, many other shows. Here's hoping it's a big success and they're encouraged to do more. Certainly it makes an excellent gift for anyone who is a fan of the show or anyone with kids.
STEP UP 3 ($49.99 for 3-D or $39.99 for BluRay or $29.99 for regular DVD; Touchstone) -- Okay, this movie is witless even by the standards of the Step Up franchise. But look at the crazy pricing: $30 on sale for a movie in 3-D? Really? 3-D almost never works well at home, so to charge a premium for it is crazy. And even BluRay should be the same price as a regular DVD or AT MOST a few dollars more. Seven dollars more (for the sale price at Amazon) is ridiculous. Studios need to provide BluRay for no extra charge and be glad people are still buying DVDs. Ditto 3-D. Improving sound and picture shouldn't be a premium service; it should be the goal of every release.
JOHN GIELGUD: AGES OF MAN ($29.98; E One) -- I'm so busy getting ready to drive down south for the holidays that I haven't had a moment to watch this TV special. But it's such an acknowledged classic I don't want to rush it. It's one of those TV landmarks (and theatrical landmarks) that you've always heard namechecked as one of the medium's peaks but never actually seen. And no wonder: it's apparently never been released on VHS or DVD. So now it's out and we can watch Gielgud as he explores our existence from birth to death via selections from Shakespeare. it originally aired on CBS in 1966 and now, finally, we can watch it again.
SALT ($34.95 Bluray or $28.96 regular; Columbia) -- So over the top crazy I found myself kind of enjoying this absurd thriller. Angelina Jolie is a government agent who must go on the run to prove her innocence. OR she's a Russian mole sent here to wreck havoc and bring Mother Russia back to world domination. OR it doesn't really matter and you should just soak up the silly accents, the wigs, the logic-defying action scenes and have a good chuckle. Mindless entertainment is not to be scoffed at and Jolie can hold a screen as good as anyone working today.
FAMILY GUY: IT'S A TRAP! ($29.99 BluRay or $22.99 regular DVD; FOX) -- Some people prefer their Star Wars spoofs via Robot Chicken. Others prefer it via Family Guy. If you love both, you must own Phantom Menace on DVD...and watch it. I must say, Stewie does make an inspired Darth Vader, but then parodying Lord Vader seems to bring out the best in everyone.
THE FILMS OF RITA HAYWORTH ($59.95; Columbia) -- There never was a woman like Rita Hayworth. Actually, she had her antecedents, of course, just like everyone else. But that flip of her hair and that role in Gilda made her a star forever when her Life magazine pin-up might have just left her an iconic bit of cheesecake. Five solid movies give a good overview of her career with Gilda joined by Cover Girl , Tonight and Every Night, Salome (not so hot, that one) and Miss Sadie Thompson. She had genuine talent and the studio system knew how to package her well. This set includes intros by Martin Scorsese, Baz Luhrmann and Patricia Clarkson.
SOUL KITCHEN ($24.98; IFC) -- Fatih Akin is easily one of the best directors working today. The Edge Of Heaven was one of my favorite films of 2007 and he's had other major work like Head-On. This light comedy is far less weighty than those two, though he has done romantic comedies in his early work. I can't decide whether I'm being lenient because of his track record or harder on it because Soul Kitchen is not an out of the ballpark triumph. But the pleasures are many. Our hero (Adam Bousdoukos, the best friend and collaborator of the director) has a run-down restaurant, a girlfriend leaving for Shanghai and a brother who gets weekend passes from jail and still thinks burglary is a good idea. It's all set in the multi-culti stew of Hamburg, Germany where Akin was born of Turkish parents. Cultures bounce up against each other with vibrant pleasure, however much shouting there may be. The real enemy in this idealized world are corporate developers who want to buy his waterfront warehouse of a building and put up a shopping mall. Slowly, Zinos -- or rather, the community of friends and neighbors he's attracted -- bring the restaurant to life, thanks to a touchy but brilliant Romany chef, a waitress who falls for his inveterate thief of a brother despite her better judgment, a soul band, a dj and the cranky old man who lives in a space there but never seems to pay rent. It's boisterous, silly fun and though all is resolved nicely, life is just messy enough in the movie to make it feel honest. Hopefully, it will bring Akin the wider audience he deserves. At the very least, the soundtrack will be a blast.
LEGENDS OF THE GUARDIANS: THE OWLS OF GA'HOOLE ($35.99 BluRay or $28.98 regular DVD; Warner Bros.) -- This animated film by Zach Snyder, the director of 300, is gorgeous to look at frame by frame. The film also makes some smart changes to the series of books it is based on, turning a risible plot twist involving two brothers into a much more natural and organic storyline. But nothing can disguise the generic nature of the books as a whole. A simple change in creature (owls certainly haven't been done to death) can't make a boring story feel new again.
GROUCHO MARX: TV CLASSICS ($24.95; Synergy) -- Don't expect anything more than rudimentary sound and picture quality and you might be pleased by this grab bag of Groucho Marx appearances. You get 16 episodes of the game show he hosted, You Bet Your Life, 2 episodes of him hosting The Hollywood Palace (a variety show that tried to duplicate the success of Ed Sullivan), plus a radio appearance on The Dinah Shore Show. It ain't Duck Soup but it's not the mock, either.
CAPRICA SEASON 1.5 ($49.98; Universal) -- Maybe this prequel to Battlestar Galactica was getting a little better and finding its feet dramatically. I doubt it since the show seemed to have no purpose from the get-go. The cast led by Eric Stoltz was very good but they didn't seem to have any more clue as to where it was headed than the rest of us. Too bad, since BG was such a great show they shouldn't have messed with it so soon.
THE MATADOR ($19.97 BluRay; Miramax/Weinstein) -- If you've got a fan of Pierce Brosnan or the Bond films, you can't go wrong with this wry spoof of the conventions of a lone assassin. Greg Kinnear is the sad sack who unexpectedly finds himself caught up in international intrigue. Brosnan is the hitman who just wants a friend. Funny stuff and one of Brosnan's best.
THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER VOLUME FIVE ($39.99; ABC Family) -- I love a good guilty pleasure as much as the next guy. But I prefer my serialized shows to grow while staying true to themselves, not just throw plot twists around to kill time before they do the inevitable. That's my problem with this show, which seems fated to ultimately bring Amy and Ben back together but is doing everything it can string out their estrangement before caving and doing what we expected all along. Secret weapon of the show? Bad boy Daren Kagasoff.
Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.
NOTE: Michael Giltz is provided with free copies of DVDs to consider for review. He typically does not guarantee coverage and invariably receives far more screeners and DVDs than he can cover each week. Also, Michael Giltz freelances as a writer of DVD copy (the text that appears on the back of DVDs) for some titles released by IFC and other subsidiaries of MPI. It helps pay the rent, but does not obligate him in any way to speak positively or negatively of their titles.