Dec. 6 DVD Corner

Posted Dec. 05, 2008, at 4:57 p.m.

“The Dark Knight” DVD, Blu-ray: A knight to remember. Christopher Nolan deftly accomplishes all one could hope for — and then surpasses it — in a movie that’s the very best of its kind. The film isn’t just a triumph — it’s that rare pop-culture oddity: a genre masterpiece. If that sounds like a stretch, consider that every once in a great while, all of the necessary elements come together and fall into place for greatness to conspire onscreen. While it’s rarely true for sequels of lauded films to achieve a new plateau, that’s nevertheless the case here, just as it was in “The Godfather II.” Back in the bat suit is Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne, the troubled billionaire with a secret life known to only a few — his childhood friend and former flame (whom he still loves), Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal); his protective butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); and the technological mastermind behind Batman’s suit and his many gadgets, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). As the Joker, a man for whom chaos and evil are more satisfying than such trivialities as wealth and power, Heath Ledger plays the role with such skill and seductive force that all of those Oscar rumors likely will prove true — and not because of the man’s untimely death. If Ledger does receive a nomination, it will be because he earned it. His performance is slippery, unhinged and transfixing, with echoes of a young Brando in how loose he is onscreen, how easily he disappears into the role, and how for him, evil has the taste of something sweet. Look beyond his cracked clown makeup, his red scar of a mouth and his crazed whinny of a laugh, and you’ll find the corrupt heart of a terrorist. By far, this is one of the year’s best films, featuring a key performance by Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s idealistic new district attorney, Harvey Dent. Rated PG-13. Grade: A

“Deadwood: Complete Series”: Set in late 1800s South Dakota, HBO’s superb Western series, now available in a complete boxed set, is stellar, with Deadwood itself, first a camp, working to become a town in spite of all the blood that will be spilled in order for that to take place. Violence, power plays and deception are rampant in each episode (the set features all 36 episodes on 19 discs), with Timothy Olyphant’s Seth Bullock and Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen (lovely use of the language, that man) once again stealing the show. Taut and atmospheric, the series generates real tension between its clashing characters. The set includes four hours of bonus content, including commentaries from cast and crew, and two featurettes: “The Real Deadwood: Out of the Ashes” and ““The Meaning of Endings: David Milch on the Conclusion of Deadwood.” Grade: A

“Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!” DVD, Blu-ray: Really, this is two movies in one — but let’s not consider that a bargain just yet. Some elements in this computer-generated extravaganza are a shade too bargain basement, especially when compared to the richness of its source material. While none of those qualities extends to the film’s beautifully detailed animation, which captures the bizarre quirkiness of Dr. Seuss’ world, the same can’t be said for the awkward way the screenwriters try to bridge the gap between Seuss’ work and their own. What we have is a movie that shrewdly takes as much of Seuss’ words and story as possible — that’s the good news — before it fleshes out the slim story with less-creative elements. And that’s the problem. The world Seuss created in 1954 for “Horton Hears a Who!” is timeless. It might have been created by Seuss as a reaction to McCarthyism, but its strengths nevertheless exist in imagination. So the idea that the filmmakers have updated the story with a host of pop-culture references — from global warming to the addition of the Who phone — is unnecessary and distracting, and it robs the film of some of the book’s charm. But not all of it. In spite of its flaws, this is, in fact, the best big-screen adaptation yet of Seuss’ work, easily trumping the live-action wrecks “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat.” Rated G. Grade: B-

“I Am Legend: Ultimate Collector’s Edition” DVD, Blu-ray: Another day, another movie that features a virus wiping out humanity. In this case, the exception to the rule is Will Smith’s resourceful Robert Neville. Save for his faithful dog, Neville is alone in this science-fiction-horror potboiler — or so he thinks before the undead start charging after him at night. Based on Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, which has been filmed twice before, first with Vincent Price in 1964’s “The Last Man Standing” and then in 1971 with Charlton Heston in “The Omega Man,” the new film is strong until its final third, when it lapses into a funk of cliches and sentiment that undermine much of the good that came before it. Still, since what comes before it is involving — the special effects are especially good here — the movie is recommended, albeit with reservations. The “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” includes a 44-page concept book, collectible motion lenticular images, new commentary, deleted scenes and more. Rated PG-13. Grade: B-

Also on DVD and Blu-ray disc:

“Perry Mason: Third Season, Volume Two” is now available from Paramount and 50 years out, the series still proves addictive. The third season finds Raymond Burr bulldozing his way through his iconic role as Mason, the Los Angeles defense attorney who, along with his assistant, Della Street (Barbara Hale, wonderful), took people to task at the stand and let them have it by drawing them into webs from which few could flee. The episodes in this collection are so retro hot, you can almost smell the Brylcreem. To those fans of the series, that fact — and Burr himself — will prove a big part of its appeal. Also available and recommended from Paramount are the fourth season of the comedy series “Happy Days”; a young Clint Eastwood rides high in the Western series “Rawhide: Season Three, Vol. 2”; Joe Penny and William Conrad take down crime (OK, Conrad mostly sits and lets Penny do the work) in the mystery series “Jake and the Fatman: Season One, Vol. 2”; and there’s Conrad again, this time mostly mobile, in “Cannon: Season One, Vol. 2.” Finally, for those seeking something edgy, turn to the first season of “Swingtown,” where in 1976, times apparently were so loose for some in the Chicago suburbs, several couples shared more than just friendly conversation and a glass of chablis when they first met. As for the ramifications of such behavior, it’s safe to say much of it leads to one major downer.

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