DVD of the Week
Co-creator Larry David left the show before this 1996-1997 season to make Sour Grapes, and the remaining writers used that as an excuse to slip into self-parody and surrealism. There are some classic Seinfeld-isms to be found -- both "The Muffin Tops" and "The Yada Yada" episodes came in this year. And there's some inspired lunacy based around the time-honored characters, like when Kramer adopts a section of the highway and Jerry meets his "Bizarro" alter-ego. The 13 hours of extras include commentary from the cast and crew, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and featurettes on 14 episodes.
This effort to replicate the success of The Nutty Professor is DOA, but inexplicably became a huge hit. Murphy heroically dons not one but three fat suits as the put-upon Norbit, his harpy-like wife and the velly, velly offensive "Mr. Wong." As an actor, Murphy is better than he's often given credit for, but his disciple Martin Lawrence brings more warmth to this kind of thing in the Big Momma's House series, and the stereotypes on display here are like Dave Chappelle never happened. For Ku Klux Klan-ers and Murphy fans only. With Cuba Gooding Jr.
In 2002, Hong Kong's Pang brothers made The Eye, one of the most disturbing horror movies ever. They've been handed a dud for their first American movie, in which wannabe farmers Dylan McDermott and Penelope Anne Miller spend more time than the audience trying to figure out why they're plagued with crows. Struggling with a B-list cast and a script stuffed with cliche, the Pangs remorselessly cut to several different POVs of the same scene, which only serves to drag matters into the mire. Get the message: Avoid.
Word is the sequel is far better than expected, so maybe it's time for a refresher course on the world's greatest superhero team. Just as Peter Parker has his teenage problems to deal with, this is a squabbling family who -- after encountering some cosmic dust -- discover the responsibility that comes from turning invisible, turning orange and, in the case of Mr. Fantastic, turning plain Fantastic. The 20 additional minutes restore the sense of character to what was a pretty incoherent action movie to begin with, but its real flaws lie in the half-baked effects. The featurettes are worth buying the disc for on their own. The first is an insightful making-of documentary. The second profiles Fantastic Four creator Jack "King" Kirby.
In At World's End Johnny Depp makes his entrance as a giant nose sniffing at a peanut. He's trapped in an endless desert, and bedeviled by the constant twanging of the soundtrack. All of which would have been impossible without Italian director Sergio Leone, whose 1960s Westerns with Clint Eastwood (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) turned the close-up into an art form and reinvented the American frontier as an absurdist universe. His visual style is endlessly imitated today, while the cold brutality of his films -- where a leading character could suddenly be killed off by a random blast of dynamite -- is now taken as a given by filmmakers as diverse as Eastwood himself and Quentin Tarantino. This eight-disc package also includes 1971's Duck, You Sucker! An IRA bomber (James Coburn) and rancid outlaw (Rod Steiger) tear across a post-Revolutionary Mexico in a story that would be transferred to post-war Iraq in David O. Russell's Three Kings.
Crooner Dean Martin and gimp Jerry Lewis were a '50 cultural phenomenon, and last year's first DVD volume of their film work together revealed the curious homo-social dynamic that bound them. Imagine, say, Wayne's World with Mike Myers singing and Dana Carvey a few evolutionary stages short of full human status. Um.... Anyway, when they were teamed with former cartoonist Frank Tashlin on Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), they became genuine pop art. Tashlin made real life cartoons around the pair and cast a satirical eye on both comic books (Artists) and the movie biz (Bust, which also contains more t*t gags than a Benny Hill marathon.). Paramount's transfers retain the eye-popping color. The other three movies are the diverting Living It Up, You're Never Too Young and Pardners.
I like to imagine a trio of drag queens lolling around and moaning, "I wish someone would release a special edition of The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert." Well, now Eva Destruction, Devoida Taste and Tess Tosterone can kick up their cha-cha heels, because it's here. This 1994 road movie, in which three sassy trannies (played by Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terrence Stamp) cross the outback in an RV called Priscilla and sing ABBA songs, has a cheerful vulgarity that is more Australian than Vegemite. Extras include cut scenes, making-of featurette and director Stephan Elliott's commentary.
Having revitalized the Doctor Who franchise, the BBC turned their attention to Sir Robin of Locksley, whose green tights had been previously filled by the likes of the ballsy Errol Flynn and the weak Kevin Costner. As played by newcomer Jonas Armstrong, Hood's a man out of time -- a veteran of the Crusades coping with how his country has changed during wartime, and still clinging to noble ideals even while living off berries. Yes, he steals from the rich and gives to the poor, but this class-conscious take never forgets that all this redistribution of wealth has a somewhat condescending air to it. And Lily Allen's dad Keith makes a wicked Sheriff of Nottingham. But whither Sir Mortimer of Leeds? 13 episodes on five discs.
Like The Sopranos in red suspenders, Denis Leary's fireman drama upped the tragedy in 2006. The central struggle comes from Leary grieving for his lost son while trying to cope with his wife leaving him for his cop brother. Got that? But there's some entertaining sideline action, too, as Daniel Sunjata gets entangled with Susan Sarandon in Fatal Attraction mode, and the 62 truck crew becomes truly combustible. Some of the strongest character-driven drama since the late, lamented Homicide. 13 episodes on four discs.
When Springsteen reunited the E Street Band, the audience hissed at political material like "21 Shots" and went to grab a beer when he played "Youngstown." Undaunted, Springsteen went and recorded a whole album of protest tunes that left many asking "Seeger who?" It doesn't matter. In these performances culled from three Irish dates last year, The Boss plays with the fire of a man half his age. The rejuvenating ire of "Jesse James" and "Pay Me My Money Down" also inspires him to dig out some of the more obscure (and best) songs from his career, including "Atlantic City" and Asbury Park-era classics "Growin' Up" and "Blinded By a Light." Watch one of America's legends make some of the best music of his life.