The post-holiday torpor has set in, so it's a light release schedule this first week of 2008. But there are new titles worth checking out, including an outrageously over-the-top actioner with (no kidding) Paul Giamatti as the chief badass.
Shoot 'Em Up (New Line)
It's not just that writer-director Michael Davis's Shoot 'Em Up is violent and excessive and bloody and brutish and shameless and overripe with "OMG!" moments (a brothel that caters to lactation fetishists is just one of its perversities). It's that Shoot 'Em Up is an affectionate, often very funny Simpsons parody of its whole eponymous genre. It's a live-action McBane as co-directed by Quentin Tarantino and Chuck Jones. With Clive Owen as the deadpan, wise-crackin', pistol-packin', carrot-chompin' hero, the film winks at the old Warner Brothers cartoons of glorious yore as easily as it blows the top off every Robert Rodriguez and John Woo movie you've ever seen.
Forget plot coherence, subtlety, the laws of physics and any redeeming social value. Just revel in Owen's hardcore nihilistic loner Mr. Smith going gun-barrel to gun-barrel with the marvelously cast Paul Giamatti as the crazed and increasingly flustered assassin who has to stop and phone his wife that he's going to be a little late. Monica Bellucci is the heart-of-gold hooker protecting the newborn baby -- a bullet cuts the umbilical cord -- that's the cause of all the commotion. Bellucci (in full-on babe mode) and Owen (scruffily handsome in his Stubble of Moral Ambiguity) deliver the funniest sex-and-violence combo scene of the decade so far.
Yeah, everyone's slumming, and the script doesn't fully achieve its witty-clever-smart potential, but they look like they're having fun going at it. Shoot 'Em Up is Hot Fuzz gone to the Dark Side, and you can double-feature them for a full evening of "firing two guns while jumping through the air," "violence is one of the most fun things to watch" over-the-topitude.
New Line's DVD brings us a seriously good-looking image (anamorphic 2.35:1) with clear and appropriately surround-pounding audio options of Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS-ES 6.1 Discrete, along with the standard DD 2.0 stereo. The DVD extras stack up a feature-length audio commentary by Davis, nine deleted scenes with optional commentary by Davis, 16 animatics from Davis's storyboards (also with optional commentary), and a thorough five-part, 52-minute "making of" documentary, Ballet of Bullets. Three trailers bring up the rear. Windows XP users can view the movie augmented by following the original script, on-set photos and a damage stat counter that racks up the body count and bullets spent.
Resident Evil: Extinction (Sony)
The third entry in the reliable Hot Chick Blasts Zombies And Stuff Blows Up Good video-game franchise, this time with Milla Jovavich in the Las Vegas ruins meeting up right on cue with Heroes' Ali Carter, a vast flock of zombie birds, hordes of infectious undead, and some guys. "We fought the infection. We survived the apocalypse. And now, we face extinction." Not when there's a fourth one coming, sweetie. Ordinarily I'd suggest checking your brain at the door, but it might get eaten.
Sony delivers the viral goods (in standard-def and Blu-ray editions) with a terrific anamorphic 2.40.1 image and aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound audio. Bonus body parts include a commentary track from director Russell Mulcahy, producer Jeremy Bolt and writer/producer Paul W. S. Anderson; eleven deleted scenes; four short "making of" featurettes; the Devil May Cry 4 video game; and a preview for the upcoming Resident Evil: Degeneration.
The Tudors: Season One (Paramount)
Showtime's steamy, brawny and Golden Globe-nominated series based on the early reign of Henry VIII, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the young, virile and sexy king, dumps historical accuracy for a Henry VIII: The O.C. approach. Nonetheless, this four-disc box's ten one-hour episodes offer up sumptuous sets and costumes along with 16th-century court intrigue both political and religious (as if there's a difference then or now), power struggles, murder plots and plenty of yummy -- I mean, historically relevant -- graphic sex.
Although lascivious and arrogant Henry is married to his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy), who has given him a daughter but no son as heir, his eye and other parts are aimed at Katherine's saucy, clever lady-in-waiting Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer). "Your neck, I love your neck," coos Henry to Anne in one of the show's many ironic self-aware lines. At season's end Anne is not yet the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, so she still has her head, but the coitus interruptus ploy she has just done on Henry leaves us guessing that she might not be getting a hat come Christmas.
Rhys Meyers is too underwear-model pretty and pouty to really convince us that he's the athletic, intelligent, cruel and sexually precocious young warrior-king -- but it's true that having his Henry remind us of Charles Laughton's is quite obviously not on the agenda. (How he'll stand in comparison to Eric Bana's interpretation in the upcoming film The Other Boleyn Girl will be determined soon enough.) The rest of the cast includes Sam Neill as cunning Cardinal Wolsey, Callum Blue as Henry's longtime friend Anthony Knivert, Jeremy Northam as Thomas More, Steven Waddington as the Duke of Buckingham, James Frain as the Earl of Essex, Gabrielle Anwar as Princess Margaret Tudor, and Kate O'Toole (Peter's daughter) as Lady Salisbury.
It's all a lavishly appointed and juicy soap opera in fancy dress, although not as meaty or compelling as HBO's template-setting Rome. But as a miniseries it improves somewhat on DVD, where you can enjoy the comforting throne of your couch, surround yourself with legs of mutton and obsequious hangers-on, and indulge in an all-day guilty-pleasure binge before deciding to form the Church of England.
Showtime's DVD presents The Tudors: Season One with an exceptional widescreen image and sound options of DD 5.1. and DD 2.0. The bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, free episodes of Showtime's Californication, This American Life and Penn and Teller's Bullshit!, plus "more Showtime series episodes via N Technology," namely streaming video of the first two episodes of Dexter: Season Two.
War (Lions Gate)
We still want to like Jet Li in all his running-jumping-leaping katana-fu martial arts ass-kickery. But movies as run-of-the-mill and plain bad as War just wear us down until we're simply begging for him to stop now because stopping while he was ahead seems so long past. This time (sigh) San Francisco FBI agent Jack Crawford (Jason Statham, of the Transporter films) vows to avenge his partner's murder at the alleged hands of (ho hum) a mysterious killer for hire, Rogue (the 44-year-old Li). But will Crawford's thirst for vengeance get the better of him as the violence escalates between (hmm, I want chocolate) rival underworld Asian gangs? The final act's plot twist is a welcome uptick, but it's too little, too late and can't make up for the surprising lack of zazz between the two leads.
The DVD lipsticks the Moo Shu Pork with an audio commentary by director Philip G. Atwell and an inexplicable second commentary by the two credited writers (all of whom refuse to apologize). Also here is an audio trivia track, nine behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted/extended scenes, a featurette on the musical scoring, and a gag reel.
Other releases this week:
Extreme Movie (Weinstein Co.)
Indie Sex (IFC Films)
Jinki - Extend Complete Collection (ADV Films)
Jimmy and Judy (Anchor Bay)
Kanon - Volume One (ADV Films)
Martian Successor Nadesico - Perfect Collection (ADV Films)
Resident Evil Trilogy (Sony)
SeaQuest DSV - Season Two (Universal)
September Dawn (Sony)
Solstice (Genius Products)
Weird Science - The Complete Seasons 1 and 2 (AandE)
Words and Music by Jerry Herman (Paramount)