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DVD Report

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May 4, 2008

New Releases | Tom Russo

Plugging in to Bob Dylan, the music biopic

Watching "I'm Not There" (2007), writer-director Todd Haynes's characteristically idiosyncratic meditation on Bob Dylan, you'll be impressed by the passion that went into the film - an exercise that makes solid music biopics like "Ray" and "Walk the Line" look facile by comparison. But unless you've got more than a greatest-hits appreciation for Dylan, you might also feel as though you've tagged along with someone who's got an all-access pass, and who's left you stranded at the stage door. For those who skipped the liner notes, Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, and others are cast to represent six different "aspects" of the musician's life, work, and legend. Blanchett's Oscar-nominated "Jude Quinn" - the acerbic, fame-fatigued Dylan of the mid-'60s - is nuanced but fully accessible, particularly his (her?) sparring with a British journalist (a chameleonic Bruce Greenwood). But Richard Gere's turn as a quasi-contemporary Billy the Kid, a riff on the musician's outlaw affinity, is a slog. In the past, Haynes has demonstrated great skill at selling his particular fascinations; you didn't have to be, say, a hanky-clutching Douglas Sirk devotee to enjoy the neo-melodrama of "Far From Heaven." Here, Haynes just gets too tangled up in his obsession for the film to sing to generalists the way it does to ardent fans.

Extras: To his credit, Haynes does play to all audiences with his commentary and a 40-minute conversation segment, deconstructing everything with enough detail to satisfy Dylanologists and casual viewers alike. There's also the text of Haynes's initial pitch memo to Dylan himself, and unreleased trailers of the cast re-creating Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" cue card tossing. And just when we'd lost virtually all trace of Blanchett behind Dylan's shades, there she is in an outtake cursing about breaking a nail. (Genius Products, $28.95)

"TEETH" (2008)

In filmmaker Mitchell Lichtenstein's feminist twist on vagina dentata mythology (there, we said it), Dawn (Jess Weixler) is a fresh-face high schooler whose cheerleading for chastity is motivated by her realization that she's different in a way that health class can't explain. Cue hormonal boys' shrieks of terror. At its less-polished moments, and there are many, this splatter satire feels like a gimmicky cheap ticket onto the festival circuit. Still, when the plot-drivingly inevitable aggression of some of the guys forces Dawn into sex, the movie succeeds as the sort of shlock horror outlandish enough that it can't be scrubbed off your psyche.

Extras: Lichtenstein (son of Roy) supplies intermittent, low-volume commentary that almost sounds like he's a little embarrassed to be here. (Genius Products, $24.95)

"STEEL CITY" (2007)

Writer-director Brian Jun's low-profile indie takes an artfully shot look at blue-collar family members struggling to make their way. It's a somber, everyday grind that has gotten considerably tougher for Thomas Guiry (TV's "The Black Donnellys") since his father (John Heard) was jailed. Jun's storytelling has its clumsy moments, but they're offset by some understated performances - for "Ugly Betty" fans, there's America Ferrera as Guiry's underappreciated girlfriend - and a nagging mystery about the fatal car wreck behind Heard's troubles.

Extras: Commentary by Jun and cast, including Heard; short film by Jun. (Peach Arch Entertainment, $26.99)

"DELIRIOUS" (2007)

Indie filmmaker Tom DiCillo ("Living in Oblivion") weaves another shaggy inside-showbiz tale, this time looking at a cantankerous paparazzo (Steve Buscemi) who turns even more obnoxious when his young, homeless sidekick (Michael Pitt, "Funny Games") stumbles into celebrity himself. Buscemi's performance as Les plays like a variation on his recent work in "Interview" - another self-important, self-pitying newshound both contemptuous of fame and seduced by it. Pitt seems to be doing Leo DiCaprio doing "Being There," but the characterization isn't actively played for laughs. You'll keep watching mainly for the scattered on-target bits, like rival publicists tensely negotiating which celebrity foot should touch red carpet first.

Extras: Commentary by DiCillo; production featurette. (Genius Products, $19.95)

Television DVD | Christopher Muther

Hey, folks, the aftertaste isn't so sweet

Despite its power to induce memories of Saturday mornings lounging on the Chesterfield with heaping bowls of sugary cereal, revisiting vintage children's TV isn't always a cheery time capsule. When several Sid and Marty Krofft children's programs from the late 1960s and early '70s were released recently on DVD, it became clear to many adults - after the first blush of theme-song recognition - that the only redeeming quality to once-cherished shows such as "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Lidsville" was the strong use of primary colors. The painful realization that you wasted Saturdays watching Charles Nelson Reilly chase around a bunch of giant hats is no comfort at such moments. With the new collection "Hiya, Kids!! A '50s Saturday Morning," it's apparent that the Krofft brothers weren't the only ones who were limited in their ability to tell cohesive stories to children.

The four-DVD collection replicates a Saturday morning spent in front of a snowy black-and-white TV, collecting a single episode from 21 different shows that were popular with Cold War tykes. Full disclosure: I wasn't born yet, so these shows hold no memories for me. But I grew up listening to my parents chatter warmly about "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," "Lassie," and "Howdy Doody," and, from what I heard, I assumed that their children's programming trumped my boyhood diet of "Super Friends." Well, not exactly.

Two traits run through "Hiya": innocence and no-budget production values. Both are particularly endearing. How can you resist the appeal of the stock-footage animals stampeding when Sheena, Queen of the Jungle blows her tusk? Or the frantic love-me-please creepiness of Pinky Lee and his plaid ensemble as he sings and dances in front of a set that looks like a second-grade art project? But there is a point where the charm grows thin, and in the case of "Hiya," that moment can be traced directly to the cardboard acting in "Flash Gordon." There are also moments when "Hiya" is a genuine pleasure to watch. A young girl on Jack Barry's "Juvenile Jury" predicts the game show scandals when she awkwardly confesses that her parents fed her an answer, and Lassie proves that she's a better actress than Jeff Holland's Flash Gordon. But "Hiya, Kids!!" also makes a strong case for leaving these memories in the past, much like those sugary cereals.

(Shout! Factory, $34.99, no extras)

Documentary | Janice Page

Corn-fed snack that's light yet nourishing

"King Corn" manages to win us over in part because it does not announce its outrage through a bullhorn. Instead, this soft-spoken film directed by newcomer Aaron Woolf gets its point across by settling in among its rural Iowa subjects and following the lead of its goofy everyman co-producers/stars, Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis, as they attempt to farm a single acre of corn.

Like many a documentary before it (say, Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me"), "King Corn" manufactures a slice-of-life approach to examining a complicated pie. Cheney and Ellis quickly deduce that their little acre is a microcosm of the average modern American farm, where chemical fertilizers and government subsidies encourage high yields without regard for organic edibility or consumer need. And when they follow their harvest through the commercial food chain, they're even more distressed by viewing corn-fed cattle concentration camps and listening to a spokeswoman for the Corn Refiners Association extol the virtues of high-fructose corn syrup in a country grappling with rampant obesity.

"King Corn" insists that we recognize the Corn Belt's beauty and intelligence along with its somewhat self-induced plight. The film never takes itself too seriously and only occasionally feels not serious enough, such as when it illustrates one too many economic points with the help of a Fisher-Price farm. It's fair to say that a meaner documentary might have packed more punch. But it's hard to imagine Michael Moore turning out anything that feels as pleasantly nourishing.

Extras: deleted scenes, music video, photo gallery, and fake instructional film, "The Lost Basement Lectures" (Docurama, $26.95, already available)

ALSO THIS WEEK "A COLLECTION OF 2007 ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORT FILMS"

A couple of months late, here's your chance to explore the various mini-dramas and bits of artsy animation that presenters breezed through in between handing out statuettes to the Coens and company. French live-action Oscar winner "The Mozart of Pickpockets" plays as a worthy choice, an impish doodle about likable losers with a kicker that's Mentos-refreshing. (Magnolia, $29.98)

"P.S. I LOVE YOU" (2007)

Hilary Swank loses husband Gerard Butler ("300") to a brain tumor, but hangs onto him in spirit through letters he wrote to her before the end. Not the tearjerker it unabashedly aspires to be; Swank's casting feels especially off. Adapted by writer-director Richard LaGravenese ("The Bridges of Madison County"), from the novel by Cecelia Ahern.

Extras: Ahern interview; deleted scenes. (Warner, $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99)

"BELLA" (2007)

New York waitress Tammy Blanchard gets pregnant, gets fired, and gets unexpected support from cook with a past Eduardo Verástegui in this familiar but positive-minded drama.

Extras: Director commentary; production featurettes. (Lionsgate, $27.98)

"MOOLA" (2008)

Don "Ralph Malph" Most directs an oddball, straight-to-video comedy about a glowstick manufacturer whose product ends up having an unexpected farming application as dairy cows' equivalent of a Barry White record. Buoyed by a familiar cast that includes Charlotte Ross ("NYPD Blue") and Efren Ramirez ("Napoleon Dynamite").

Extras: Commentary by Most. (Allumination Filmworks, $29.99)

"RED SOX MEMORIES: THE GREATEST MOMENTS IN BOSTON RED SOX HISTORY" (2008)

Here's where Major League Baseball Productions reminds us - and younger Sox fans in particular - that there was a whole lot of big-time ball played before the team's recent return to glory, from Cy Young, Ted Williams, and Carl Yastrzemski to Dick Radatz and Bill Lee. (Shout! Factory, $19.99)

REISSUE

"SERIAL MOM" (1994)

Kathleen Turner gets a quirky career boost courtesy of John Waters, as she plays a perky homemaker-from-hell who insists on having everything just so - and who turns homicidal to keep it that way. Routine for Waters, but a good mesh of sensibilities. (Universal, $19.98)

FOREIGN

"DANS PARIS" (2007)

Writer-director Christophe Honoré ("Ma Mère") actively courts comparisons to the French New Wave with his stylistically loaded story of two brothers (Romain Duris and Louis Garrel), one gripped by depression, the other giddy with love, or at least lust. Study up on your Jacques Rivette, mes amis.

Extras: Honore short film. (Genius Products, $24.95)

Capsules are written by Tom Russo and titles are in stores Tuesday unless otherwise specified.

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