DVD Round-Up: September 30, 2008

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    This week, Iron Man soars onto a two-disc DVD; comics legend Alan Moore discusses life, the universe and everything; Bigger Stronger Faster* takes on steroids in sports and Forgetting Sarah Marshall brings the funny.

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    Iron Man
    Paramount
    $39.99

    The Dark Knight may be this summer’s biggest comic-book success story (not to mention the highest-grossing comics-based movie of all time) but another little flick called Iron Man also racked up impressive grosses when it kicked off 2008’s summer movie season in May.  Despite coming from the same source, the two movies couldn’t be more different.  The Dark Knight is as dark and brooding as its titular hero, while Iron Man just aspires to be a good time.

    It mostly succeeds, thanks to Robert Downey Jr.’s witty, wonderful performance in the title role and his alter ego Tony Stark.  Refusing to take himself (or the movie) particularly seriously, the actor actually makes being a superhero look like fun instead of a depressing burden.  That’s why I hope director Jon Favreau avoids working one of the character’s best known storylines into the next film, one in which Stark’s alcoholism forces him to hand over his suit to a temporary replacement.  Do we really want to watch Downey Jr. wrestle with the “demon in the bottle” particularly considering his own history with substance abuse?  Better the filmmakers just concentrate on dispatching Iron Man on globetrotting adventures filled with lots of one-liners and exploisions and leave the dark soul-searching to the dude in the bat suit.

    Extras: Favreau surprisingly didn’t contribute a commentary track to the disc, but he and the rest of the cast appear in a multi-part making-of documentary that covers ever aspect of the movie’s production, from casting to shooting to the world premiere.  An additional six-part documentary examines Iron Man’s comic-book history and provides hints at what storylines we might see in future films.  Also included is Downey Jr.’s original screen test for the role, deleted and extended scenes and a featurette devoted to the movie’s impressive special effects.

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    The Mindscape of Alan Moore
    The Disinformation Company
    $29.95

    Alan Moore may have penned some of the greatest comic-book stories ever published—Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Killing Joke and his masterpiece From Hell among them—but he’s also one of the industry’s biggest critics.  The reclusive writer sounds off about the current state of comics, along with dozens of other topics, in this 78-minute documentary/feature-length interview directed by Dez Vylenz.  Surprisingly, Moore has very little to say about his own work, so don’t go into Mindscape expecting to hear in-depth explanations of how seminal graphic novels (a term that Moore ridicules at one point) like Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen came to be.  He’s more interested in discussing what comic books represent in our culture and how they all too often fall short of their true potential.

    An analog guy in a digital world, Moore is also preoccupied by the huge strides being made in communication technology, developments he sees as pushing the world to a tipping point where humanity is overwhelmed by the  sheer volume of information being transmitted at any given moment.  (Considering that this interview was conducted in 2003, one can only imagine how he feels about such recent innovations as the iPhone.)

    As you can tell, Moore is a bit of a crackpot, but he’s a completely engaging crackpot and the sheer force of his personality cuts through a lot of the unnecessary visual clutter Vylenz piles on top of the movie, from psychedelic computer generated backgrounds to silly recreations of scenes from classic Moore books.  (Let’s just say that based on this film’s bargain basement version of Watchmen’s Rorschach, Zack Snyder has nothing to worry about when his big-budget version hits theaters in March.)  I don’t know that anyone outside of die hard comic-book fanboys and fangirls will want to spend over an hour listening to Alan Moore, but if you fall into that camp, you’re probably already on your way to Amazon to order this DVD.

    Extras: Two hours of additional interviews with Moore collaborators like Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons and Lost Girls‘ Melinda Gebbie, a making-of featurette, an introduction to Moore’s comic book work and a commentary track.

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    Bigger Stronger Faster*
    Magnolia
    $26.98

    Between the ongoing Roger Clemens/Brian McNamee soap opera, Lance Armstrong’s return to cycling and the Beijing Olympics, the subject of steroids in sports has been in the news a lot lately.  Most of the time, we’re encouraged to look down on athletes that use performance enhancing drugs to get ahead, but Christopher Bell’s new documentary Bigger Stronger Faster* asks us to ponder the provocative question: “Are steroids really that bad?”

    The first-time director draws from his own life experiences to advance his argument.  Bell and his two brothers Mike and Mark grew up competing in amateur wrestling and weightlifting events and while Chris eventually left that world behind, both of his brothers have continued their careers with the assistance of steroids.  Instead of transforming into bulky monsters prone to bouts of irrational anger—as the “roid rage” stereotype goes—both guys seem like well-adjusted family men.  Furthermore, according to Bell’s statistics, steroid abuse in general results in far fewer emergency medical cases than addictions to substances like alcohol and hard drugs.

    But Bigger Stronger Faster isn’t a promotional video for the benefits of steroids.  Bell also highlights the health complications that can result from prolonged use and openly wonders whether athletes that use steroids should be branded as cheaters.  Bigger Stronger Faster* may not be a perfect documentary—Bell could be a more probing interviewer, for starters—but it does leave viewers with plenty to think about.
    Extras: 40 minutes of deleted scenes and additional interviews as well as a five-minute featurette that outlines the multi-year process of making this documentary.

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    Forgetting Sarah Marshall
    Universal
    $34.98

    Written by and starring Jason Segel, formerly of Freaks and Geeks and currently of How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another loose and rambling comedy from the Judd Apatow Factory.  Segal plays Peter, a musician who experiences the worst break-up in the history of break-ups at the hands of actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell a.k.a. Veronica Mars).)  Distraught, the poor guy heads off to a Hawaiian resort to recuperate.  But guess what?  His ex and her new rocker boyfriend (Russell Brand) are also vacationing there and can be spotted canoodling all over the place.

    Enter Rachel (Mila Kunis) the gorgeous concierge who starts hanging with Peter, first out of pity and then because she genuinely likes him.  I’m also not entirely certain that the film does right by its female characters, who seem to have no inner lives beyond their relationship to Peter.  The fact that Kunis and Bell are so appealing in their respective roles makes the script’s shortcomings that much more pronounced.

    That said, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is frequently very funny and is a great showcase for Segel’s peculiar comic stylings. The movie’s ace in the hole though, may be Brand, who is absolutely hysterical as pompous British musician Aldous Snow. Any other leading man might worry about being upstaged, but Segel seems more than happy to cede the biggest laughs to his co-star.

    Extras: Forgetting Sarah Marshall is available in a single disc edition for the price tag conscious, but the meatiest bonus features can be found on the three-disc release that sports at least an hour’s worth of deleted scenes and outtakes, as well as numerous featurettes and a digital copy of the film for your portable media players.

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    Also on DVD
    There’s one reason I’m curious to check out Pulse 2 (Dimension Extreme, $19.97), a direct-to-DVD sequel to the awful American remake of the creepy J-horror film Pulse and that’s because it features Jamie Bamber in his first non-Battlestar Galactica American production.  Set after the events of the first movie, where the spirit world found its way into our reality via the Internet and cell phones and wreaked ghostly havoc, Pulse 2 opens in a devastated cityscape and follows a devoted dad (Bamber) searching for his missing daughter.  Maybe he should consider making an alliance with the Cylons.

    September 16 was ’80s teen movie day here on the DVD Round-Up, so it’s only appropriate that we end the month with a ’90s favorite, Can’t Hardly Wait: 10 Year Reunion Edition (Sony, $19.94).  Released in 1998, this comedy featured a Who’s Who of then-famous teen stars, including Jennifer Love Hewitt, Seth Green, Ethan Embry and Lauren Ambrose.  This special edition reunites some of the cast for a new commentary track and also features a new retrospective documentary.

    Two new concert films from ’60s rock icons make their way to disc this week.  Directed by artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel, Lou Reed’s Berlin (Genius Products, $22.95) is the first time Reed has performed his classic 1973 album Berlin in its entirety in over three decades.  CSNY/Déjà vu (Lionsgate, $14.98), meanwhile, presents select performances from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s recent “Freedom of Speech” tour, which traveled around the country in 2006.  Neil Young himself directed the film under his pseudonym Bernard Shakey.

    In TV-news, A&E continues to thrill fans of British television, this week by releasing an anniversary edition of the classic ’80s miniseries The Jewel in the Crown (A&E, $39.95), a stunning adaptation of Paul Scott’s four-book series The Raj Quartet, set in the waning days of British rule in India.  On the lighter side of things, The Best of Mr. Bean, Volume 2 (A&E, $9.95) collects six episodes of Rowan Atkinson’s Chaplin-esque Mr. Bean.  Sure, Atkinson has since torpedoed this character by starring in sub-par fare like Mr. Bean’s Holiday, but the original TV sketches remain hilarious almost two decades later.  Finally, Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series (Paramount, $90.99) houses all three seasons of the cult ’80s TV sensation, which starred Linda Hamilton as a New York district attorney who falls in love with a human/animal hybrid named Vincent (played by Ron Perlman a.k.a. Hellboy).  Wow…who knew that bestiality was once permitted on TV?  The ’80s really were a wild, weird time.

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