This week's DVD report (June 8)

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June 8, 2008

New Releases | Tom Russo

Yet another superhero movie hops to it

It's tough to conceive of such a thing as an overlooked superhero movie these days, given the recent unrelenting hype for "Iron Man," "The Incredible Hulk," "The Dark Knight," and "Hancock." And yet "Jumper" (2008) just might be that movie. Hayden Christensen stars as David Rice, the genre-standard social misfit who discovers he can teleport, or "jump," to any spot he can picture, from mundane crosstown haunts to a perch atop the Sphinx to the occasional locked bank vault. David is living a high life of great power and zero responsibility until encounters with his old high school crush (Rachel Bilson) and a jumper-hunting zealot (Samuel L. Jackson, hair bleached for kicks) throw it all into chaos. Jamie Bell, as an attitudinal Brit and fellow teleporter, might be able to help - heck, he can jump a car, in the movie's sense of the word - but he mostly just wishes David would shove off. You'll likely feel differently, though, given how the film's 80-minute running time leaves a sense of a world not fully explored. (That's mostly a good thing here, just as it was, on a more notable scale, with the first "Matrix" installment.) At one point, director Doug Liman ("Swingers," "The Bourne Identity," and regrettably, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith") shows David lazily using his gift to get over to the fridge, even while ignoring Katrina-like news footage on his TV. Intriguingly, the moment is never bookended; it's one more way that you'll be left hungry - for David's inevitable shift from heroic awakening to the heroic big time.

Extras: One essential stop is a featurette detailing the movie's evolution from a young-adult novel series by Steven Gould. You'll suddenly understand why the whole emotional escape metaphor, while engagingly effective, is so utterly on the nose. (Fox, $29.98; two-disc version, $34.98; Blu-ray, $39.98)


Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson are all darkness and light as Anne Boleyn, the social-climbing wife of England's Henry VIII (Eric Bana), and younger sister Mary, who had her own, equally dysfunctional relationship with the lusty king. Adapted from Philippa Gregory's novel by director Justin Chadwick (PBS's "Bleak House") and screenwriter Peter Morgan ("The Queen"), the film doesn't fret about boiling down history into stark contrasts. Anne is cast as a vamp and Mary as a reluctant innocent, but both characterizations make for effectively skeevy melodrama when the Boleyn family confabs about how to get them into the king's bed. Another royally uncomfortable moment comes when Henry furiously, carnally, declares an end to Anne's manipulations. The pain on Portman's face is genuinely hard to watch.

Extras: The DVD makes the effort to cover historical background, but there's something silly about framing the cast's standard interview sound bites as a scholarly discussion. (Sony, $28.96; Blu-ray, $38.96)

"FUNNY GAMES" (2008)

High-minded European director Michael Haneke ("Caché") delivers an English-language remake of his own 1997 home invasion shocker, with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth heading to their cushy country home and running into preppie psychos Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet. The film is said to be an ironic commentary on audiences' voraciousness for the sick stuff, but it's got a show-off streak that both contradicts and subverts that intent. The violence is disturbing in a way that lingers, but when Pitt breaks the fourth wall to conspire with (read: castigate) viewers, it feels like Haneke is getting off on his own cleverness as much as any torture-porn hack.

Extras: None - which is either Haneke letting the film speak for itself, or ducking everyone's questions, depending on your view. (Warner, $27.95)

"JOHN ADAMS" (2008)

If you held off watching TV to power-view this miniseries adaptation of David McCullough's tome, you'll be struck straightaway by its boldness in frontloading the image of Adams (Paul Giamatti) as a man of reason first, and a patriot second. With Laura Linney.

Extras: Featurettes spotlighting McCullough, fittingly, and the handsome production work. An onscreen pop-up historical guide is also provided. (HBO, $59.99)

Television DVD | Sarah Rodman

The world turned for the Tates, Campbells

Watching "Soap: The Complete Series" in the year 2008 is startling for two reasons. First, the ABC sitcom, which ran for four seasons from 1977-1981, is still laugh-out-loud funny. The fashions of the upper-crust Tate and blue-collar Campbell families at the heart of this spoof of daytime dramas may be woefully dated - check out the high waistlines and feathered 'do sported by future "Blossom" dad Ted Wass as thug Danny Dallas - but the guffaws have not gone out of style. Whether it's vituperative ventriloquist's dummy Bob (via puppeteer Jay Johnson's Chuck) spewing one-liners like so much sarcastic sawdust, or Richard Mulligan's masterful mugging and slapstick, creator and head writer Susan Harris knew how to mine humor from familial dysfunction.

The second surprise is what Harris and her producing partners Tony Thomas and Paul Witt - who would go on to create a bevy of shows including "Golden Girls" and "Empty Nest" - were able to get past the broadcast standards department. (Although Harris had experience in envelope-pushing as the scribe behind the infamous abortion episode of "Maude.")

In the first season alone, the main cast included Billy Crystal's Jodie Dallas, a comfortably out gay man, aggrieved black butler Benson - so expertly played by Robert Guillaume he got his own spin-off - and a story line involving a mother and daughter sleeping with the same man. (It was Robert Urich, we understand.) With language that was racy for the time, "Soap" skewered sexual, class, and racial stereotypes with acid-tipped swords.

As the creators admit in this frills-free set's lone extra, the reason the outlandish story lines that were often used on the show - alien abduction, amnesia, demonic possession - actually worked was that the actors made you care about the characters. Never mind that none of them looked like they could possibly be related, the mostly theater-trained cast could turn on a banana peel from silly to grave with exceptional grace.

Another element of joy in watching any vintage series is spotting future familiar faces. "Soap" had many, including Gordon Jump ("WKRP in Cincinnati"), Doris Roberts ("Everybody Loves Raymond"), Sorrell Booke ("Dukes of Hazzard"), and Joe Mantegna, who played Central American revolutionary "Juan One."

While there are references and plot points that fall flat now - Anita Bryant, the idea that a gay man would automatically contemplate a sex change, the bizarre Jodie-turns-into-an-old-Jewish-man story arc - the basic premise is universal: family can drive you crazy, but laughing together may be the only way to stay sane.

Extras: a short featurette with the creators on the making of the show. (Sony Pictures, $59.95)

Indie DVD | Ty Burr

The life and death of a post-punk pioneer

The chilly industrial throb of Joy Division came as such a shock in 1978 they had to invent a new term for it: post-punk. Shooting in a precise black and white, Anton Corbijn's "Control" re-creates the Manchester, England, of the late '70s, when Ian Curtis (played by Sam Riley) and Bernard Sumner (James Anthony Pearson) were galvanized by the Sex Pistols show into starting their own group.

Riley's rather prettier than the real Curtis, which shouldn't matter but does. When he launches into "Transmission," though, you feel as if you're sampling a secret history; the actors play their own instruments and they successfully re-create that spare, unyielding wall of gloom. The backstage story, as told here, is less transfixing, messier, sadder. Curtis married too young, became a father too young, fell in love with another woman once fame came knocking. It's the old rock-movie cliche, but where another man - Johnny Cash, for instance - might howl at the moon and scratch wherever it itches, the Joy Division leader was tormented by indecision. The titles of the songs say it all: "Isolation," "She's Lost Control," "Love Will Tear Us Apart," the latter heard on the soundtrack in its magnificent original glory.

The last half of "Control" is a lucid portrayal of clinical depression and dramatically a bit stiff. Curtis was just 23 at the end, and Corbijn re-creates his last night with a faithfulness that stops just short of necrophilia. Mourn the man, says the film, but romanticize him at your peril.

Extras: director's commentary, interview with director, making-of featurette, extended film concert footage, music videos, stills gallery (Weinstein, $28.95, already available)



Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman get curmudgeonly for director Rob Reiner as terminally ill men who meet up in the hospital and continue their discussion of life and loss while adventuring around the world. Sure, they go skydiving, but overall, this saccharine palling around isn't what you want to see from them.

Extras: Screenwriter interview. (Warner, $28.98; Blu-ray, $35.99)

"OUT OF THE BLUE" (2008)

Filmmaker Robert Sarkies revisits a real-life, daylong shooting spree in a sleepy New Zealand community, focusing less on the gunman's horrific violence than on the heroism of the townspeople. Sensitively handled.

Extras: Commentary by Sarkies and Bill O'Brien, author of a book on the episode; background featurettes. (Genius Products, $19.95)

"THE GRAND" (2008)

Woody Harrelson, David Cross, Jason Alexander, and Ray Romano are among the many familiar faces dealt in for a mockumentary look at high-stakes poker. Not exactly a royal flush.

Extras: Commentary by director Zak Penn, and by Harrelson, Romano, and Cheryl Hines on select scenes. (Anchor Bay, $29.98)


Video hipster Spike Jonze executive-produced this unusual take on contemporary life in Iraq from the microcosmic POV of a local headbanging band determined to make music in this unlikeliest of venues.

Extras: (Arts Alliance America, $19.95)


Catch the Sox at their most memorable, from Carlton Fisk's willed-fair Series homer to last year's four consecutive dingers against the Yankees. Includes half a dozen games in their entirety.

Extras: Numerous mini-highlights. (A&E, $59.95)


"HIGH NOON" (1952)

Lawman Gary Cooper memorably unholsters both pistol and conscience in one of cinema's great genre landmarks, re-released here with a new 50-minute retrospective. (Lionsgate, $19.98)



Deneuve is all elegant sensuality in César-nominated roles as a runaway bride in "Le Sauvage" and a doctor drawn to an unbalanced new love in "Hotel des Ameriques." The set also includes "Manon 70," "Le Choc," and "Fort Saganne," and has a companion release in a collection spotlighting Sophia Loren. (Lionsgate, $39.98)



Pass the time waiting for Naveen Andrews to get "Lost" again with this early-career turn as a young Asian-English pleasure-seeker in '70s London wrestling with issues of identity and morality. Adapted from the debut novel by Hanif Kureishi ("Sammy and Rosie Get Laid").

Extras: Filmmaker commentary. (BBC Video, $29.98; available now)

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

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