As the movie weekend nears with 10,000 B.C. and College Road Trip, the hardcore film enthusiast has only one defense: hunker down with the best of today's DVD releases until the shitstorm ends, hopefully sometime this year.
PICK OF THE WEEK: Into the Wild
I ask you: How did Sean Penn's magnificent odyssey into one young man's yearning heart fail to be Oscar nominated as Best Picture, Best Actor (Emile Hirsch), Best Adapted Screenplay (Penn), Best Director (Penn) and Best Score (for the songs of Eddie Vedder)? Did Academy voters not see the passion in what Penn worked nearly a decade to get on screen? Did they side with Robin Wright Penn in her split with the volatile Penn after eleven years of marriage? Or are they just blind, deaf and stupid? I have to go with the last reason.
If you've never seen Into the Wild, or even you have, grab the 2-Disc Collector's Edition and let it work its magic. The film rewards multiple viewings. The "making of" features on Disc 2 aren't much, but the transfer of image and sound to DVD are staggering. Hirsch (see photo) takes you under the skin of Chris McCandless, an honors grad from Emory University who walked into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992 to find himself outside the confines of estranged family, well-meaning friends and any governing impulse besides his own questing heart. If you read Jon Krakauer's book and pegged Chris as a wacko narcissist who died out of arrogance and stupidity, then Penn's film version is not for you. If, like Penn, you mourn Chris' tragedy and his judgment errors but also exult in his journey and its spirit of moral inquiry, then this beautiful, wrenching film will take a piece out of you.
GREAT PERFORMANCE ALERT: Benicio del Toro in Things We Lost in the Fire
You might side with the critics who dissed this addiction-and-recovery saga as a safe, formulaic tearjerker. But there's no way to dismiss Benicio del Toro as Jerry Sunborne, a junkie who shows up at the funeral of his architect friend (the excellent David Duchovny), knowing that Brian's widow (Halle Berry) hates his guts. The film, the first in English from acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier (Open Hearts, Brothers, After the Wedding), pivots on the uneasy truce forged between Jerry and this woman who is impatient to have him "accept the good. " Berry does what she can with a contrived role, but del Toro is the film's force field. His is the great forgotten performance of 2007. This DVD shows you what you missed.
CLASSIC REVISITED: 12 Angry Men
Director Sidney Lumet, also skunked at this year's Oscars — the voters ignored his brilliant handling of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead — gets the 50th Anniversary DVD treatment for his first film, the still consummate legal thriller 12 Angry Men. The black-and-white picture looks newly minted, though the sound has gotten a bit ragged with time. But the power of the film, starring Henry Fonda as the jurist who must sway the other eleven not to jump so quickly at convicting the defendant, is unabated. The audio commentary from film historian Drew Casper intrigues, but why not Lumet himself? At eighty three, he's still ready to give em hell. That missed opportunity aside, this is must viewing. Daniel Ratcliffe, Harry Potter himself, recently told me 12 Angry Men was his favorite film of all time. The kid has taste.
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE: Awake
Hayden Christensen picked up some horribly bad reviews in the recent Jumper, but at least audiences are paying to see that one. In Awake, he plays a rich young stud who suffers anesthesia awareness during a heart transplant. He's conscious but the doctors don't know it. The condition is a metacritique of his own performance — a definition of lifelessness only surpassed by his portrayal of Anakin Skywalker in the Star War trilogy. If you get the DVD as a gift, use it as a Frisbee and aim it directly at the empty head of the giver.