THE BLOG
10/31/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

DVDs -- Even George Clooney's Flops Are Cool

George Clooney is such a savvy, old school Hollywood star that even the movies he makes that don't quite work just seem to add to his stature. The Good German was a fascinating exercise in classic Hollywood movie-making. Burn After Reading and Intolerable Cruelty might not be consistent, but they do let Clooney goof around with aplomb, so no one thinks he takes himself too seriously. Heck, even Batman & Robin let Clooney mock himself with charm. His most recent directorial effort is no different: Leatherheads ($29.98; Universal) barely opened at the box office (grossing $12 million its opening weekend and dropping fifty percent on the next). People might have questioned his drawing power. Instead, the movie shows Clooney rescuing a script that had bounced around Hollywood for years, making a period romantic comedy, telling about the early days of football and namechecking Preston Sturges. Of course, Man -- even a man like Clooney -- can't live on noble failures alone. Among these interesting flops are some terrific movies: Michael Clayton, Good Night and Good Luck, O Brother Where Art Thou, Ocean's Eleven (though not Twelve or Thrteen), Syriana, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Out Of Sight, The Thin Red Line and Three Kings. On top of it all, he even weighs in on politics just like Humphrey Bogart did -- like a man who knows what's important and won't be quieted just because he's famous. There may be bigger stars (Will Smith is pretty unbeatable at the box office). But there's no better one right now. Even when he stumbles.

An Offer I Should Have Refused...Seven Years Ago -- The Godfather: The Coppola Restoration ($69.99; Paramount) is as essential a DVD release as they come. (The Blu-Ray is reportedly even better, but I didn't receive that one.) You know how brilliant the first two are and no one ever has to watch The Godfather Part III (and if you haven't -- don't). Just comparing the first scene is exciting. On my previous DVD, the undertaker looms out of the murky shadows. In the new one, every detail is clear and precise -- his clothing, the furniture in the background, everything is beautifully lit. It's not an inky blackness; the scene and the movie are more subtle than that. And the real revelation is the sound -- on the older DVD, Brando sounds raspy and unclear; on the new one, his every grunt is precise and nuanced. So why am I angry? Because in 2001, they released The Godfather Collection with tremendous fanfare. Francis Ford Coppola was all over that boxed set with loads of extras. It was presented as definitive but in fact when you compare it to the new release, it was simply unacceptable. (Indeed, when it was released there were many complaints about the picture quality and especially the poor sound.) I understand that the ability to remaster grows by leaps and bounds all the time, but if a DVD was inferior, Coppola shouldn't have lent his name to it and done all those extras. I didn't have anything to compare those old DVDs to, but looking at them now, I'm shocked he would be associated with it. Coppola should have insisted they do a better job or wait until it could be done right before taking part. Is something better than nothing? Not when it comes to one of the all time greats. If you own that old boxed set, you might as well give it away. You need to buy it again.

The Controversial Smothers Brothers? -- It's hard to picture now, but when the Smothers Brothers were on TV, those clean cut lads who complained about mom liking the other one better were radicals. The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour -- The Best Of Season 3 ($49.98; Time Life) captures the third and final season when Tommy and Dick wrassled with network censors, spoke out about Vietnam and when skits were censored simply told viewers to change the channel and check out what was happening on Bonanaza. (That alone makes them pretty darn remarkable.) If only their material had dated as well as their politics. Most of the "dangerous" material is modestly in your face by today's standards, though putting it in context helps a little. The best segments by far are the top-notch musical guests like The Doors, Ike and Tina Turner, Joan Baez and more. Tommy kept his name off the writing staff so they'd have a better chance at winning an Emmy (which they did) and that gesture was repaid this year when he received an honorary one. And the DVD extras, such as hundreds of letters and telegrams between the network and the brothers as well as Tommy's commentary, prove the behind the scenes fights were more riveting than what made it onto the air.

The Iron Man Of Actors -- He's only 43 but Robert Downey Jr. has already had more than 25 years of ups and downs in the industry where one thing remained constant: his talent. Iron Man ($39.9; Paramount) works almost solely because of his wit and charm as businessman Tony Stark. (And like so many super hero movies, the scenes away from the suit are far more interesting than the ones in it.) Riding the wave of that success, they've reissued The Singing Detective ($14.95; Legend Films), one of his quirkier films, and Chaplin ($19.98; Lionsgate -- out October 14), in which Downey is just brilliant but director Richard Attenborough proves he hasn't a clue about how to direct a movie.

Too Much "Sex?" -- I'm sorry, but no romantic comedy should be two hours and 27 minutes long. As if that weren't bad enough, this DVD release of Sex and the City Extended Cut ($34.98; New Line) is padded out even more to two hours and 31 minutes. Quick, Carrie! Get an editor.

Horatio Hornblower Collector's Edition ($59.95; A&E) -- This top notch series of TV movies is by far the best adaptation of the classic seafaring novels by CS Forester about the upright, self-lacerating Horatio, embodied to perfection by Ioan Gruffud and an excellent cast. You get all eight adventures in one tight, economical package. Hopefully, there will be more to come: the books follow Hornblower through his entire career to old age and I pray that they're just waiting for Gruffud to get older before tackling more of the tales. Ideally, this could be a 40 year project with the actor aging in real time. In any case, the stories they've already told are great fun.

Top Notch Movies -- FW Murnau's The Last Laugh ($29.95; Kino) is a devastating silent classic about an old doorman who loses his job and his dignity. Now why aren't I angry about this upgrade in quality from the 2001 release the way I am about The Godfather? Because this film was released in 1924, as opposed to being a recent blockbuster and because Murnau wasn't around to give it the thumbs up the way Coppola did the shoddy earlier edition. Also out is Ozu's final film An Autumn Afternoon ($29.95; Criterion); Aki Kaurismaki's Proletariat Trilogy ($44.95; Eclipse), a fun collection of three deadpan gems; and Beaufort ($29.95; Kino), an Academy Award foreign film nominee about Israel trying to extricate itself from Lebanon after 18 years.

Documentaries -- The Rape Of Europa ($29.95; Menemsha) is a fine documentary whose fairly interesting if unremarkable story (the Nazis looted art museums; we got the artwork mostly back) should play much better on TV than in the movies -- it's like a superior episode of Nova; Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook ($24.98; City Lights) is a follow-up to Geraldo Rivera's worthy claim to fame -- an expose of horrid conditions at a state-run school for people with developmental disabilities (his original report is included as a bonus); Bigger Stronger Faster ($26.98; Magnolia) is a documentary about steroids that wonders if it's still cheating when seemingly everyone does it; The Mindscape of Alan Moore ($29.95; Disinformation), which takes a look at the graphic trailblazer on the eve of the long-gestating film version of Watchmen; and Larry Flynt -- The Right To Be Left Alone ($19.97; Anchor Bay) focuses heavily on the sleaze merchant's necessary First Amendment battles.

TV on DVD -- I have an unreasonable dislike of actor Ron Perlman -- he's been in good movies and has quirky good taste and a lot of directors clearly like him. But even fans might have been surprised when he turned into a swooning romantic lead thanks to Beauty and the Beast -- The Complete Series ($89.98; Paramount), a truly unusual romantic fantasy unlike anything else in primetime before or since. Loads of extras, including a run-down of the Beast's romantic letters to Linda Hamilton. Also out: the surprisingly successful This American Life Season One ($19.99; Showtime), which transferred the Ira Glass radio show to TV; the even more unlikely (and far less successful) Click & Clack's As The Wrench Turns ($29.98; PBS) which bizarrely turned NPR's "Car Talk" radio show into an animated series; a typically star-studded British miniseries about royalty, Edward The King ($59.99; Acorn), including John Gielgud and Charles Dance; Samantha Who First Season ($29.99; ABC), which like so many sitcoms these days has a cast -- Christina Applegate and especially Jean Smart -- far superior to the material; the late, unlamented soap Cashmere Mafia -- The Complete Series ($29.95; Sony); the under-appreciated crime drama Numb3rs Fourth Season ($59.98; Paramount), which benefits greatly from Judd Hirsch, Rob Morrow and David Krumholtz, who add up to a lot more together than they would on their own -- and even make a convincing family; Inside The Actors Studio: Robin Williams ($14.99; Shout) is reportedly the most requested episode of all, which just goes to show how much good will those reruns of Mork & Mindy can get you -- includes 40 minutes of extra footage; Rob & Big 3rd Season ($39.98; MTV) is a harmless odd couple type sitcom that proves how little MTV has to do with music anymore; Gangland Complete Season One ($39.95; History) is a run-down of all the gangs and how they rose to power, a good primer for those who want to know the difference between the Crips and the Bloods and the Almighty Black P Stone (no, I hadn't heard of them either); Lynda La Plante, the creator of Prime Suspect, proves how crucial Helen Mirren was to that show with Trial and Retribution Set 1 ($59.99; Acorn), a standard policer that has none of her classic work's distinctiveness; Friday The 13th The Series 1st Season ($54.99; Paramount) comes to DVD and what's really scary is that I never even knew it had been a series; Ken Russell at the BBC ($59.98; BBC Video), shows the flamboyant director delivering six ground-breaking arts documentaries in the 1960s; Brothers & Sisters Second Season ($59.99; ABC) is the steadily improving soaper giving Sally Fields her best work in years. And finally no one -- I mean NO ONE - has ever said, "Gee, I'd love to buy HALF a season of my favorite TV show," so why do they keep putting out sets like My Three Sons The First Season Volume One ($39.98; Paramount). As if that's not bad enough, these are "edited" versions from the original broadcast episodes (maybe they're the shorter syndicated editions) and they didn't get the music rights to all the original cues. So that's going to be $80 for one full season of a 48 year old sitcom in truncated form without the original music. To get all 12 seasons would apparently cost $960. Nearly $1000 for My Three Sons? Have they lost their minds?

Odds & Ends -- The umpteenth repackaging of Grease: Rockin' Rydell Edition ($19.99; Paramount); New York Yankees: The Essential Games Of Yankee Stadium ($59.95; A&E) has six complete games from the 70s and on, plus extras, which might take a little sting out of the closing of the venue, not to mention a season that has ended in (gulp) September; Jewel: The Essential Live Songbook ($29.99; Koch), a performer still overshadowed by her massive debut album who is captured here in two concerts, one of which includes a chamber orchestra; School House Rock Election Collection ($19.99; Disney) includes 15 videos, highlighted by the all-time classic "I'm Just A Bill;" Forgetting Sarah Marshall ($34.98; Universal), is a so-so comedy that had a great ad campaign and is well-presented on DVD since this edition includes the theatrical version, an unrated version most people will only want to watch once and a digital copy for watching on your computer and portable devices; CSNY/Deja Vu ($14.98; Lionsgate) is an OK look at the gang touring with their in-your-face political songs condemning Bush that didn't always get a rousing welcome from people just there to hear "Our House" -- the highlight is definitely Neil Young having a local TV reporter reference the song ""Let's Impeach The President" and then ask, "What's that song about?"; Travel With Kids London and Travel Wth Kids England ($14.98 each; Porchlight) are just under one hour visits to the top sites with some tips for parents traveling with children, though I can't decide whether they're better as previews to show kids what they'll see or as souveniers afterwards for kids to remember what they did.