“Australia” DVD, Blu-ray:
Circus on the range. Since there isn’t enough space in this column – let alone in the Land of Oz – to fully explore the Baz Luhrmann epic “Australia,” let’s just cut to the chase and hope for the best. Luhrmann (“Moulin Rouge!”) set out to make a massive film, and he succeeded – at least there. The first third of the movie is pure camp (not in a good way), and the last two-thirds manage to settle into something reasonably engrossing. Set in 1939 and extending through to 1942, when Australia was attacked by the Japanese as World War II rolled over that continent, the film stars Nicole Kidman as Lady Sarah Ashley, whose pale, parasol-shielded skin belies the mettle underneath. When she is forced to travel to the Northern Territory to take over her husband’s cattle ranch before an evil cattle baron (Bryan Brown) can claim it, she does so with the reluctant help of a cattle driver named Drover, who is played by Hugh Jackman in a performance that underscores why we need fewer celebrities and more movie stars. Jackman is the latter – he commands the screen with a physical presence that isn’t really mortal, which is part of what being a movie star is all about. Given Kidman’s own beauty, she assists to that end. She and Jackman at least help make “Australia” a good-looking film even if, structurally, it’s kind of a mess. This is, after all, also the story of Nullah (Brandon Walters), a half-Aboriginal boy ridiculed for his mixed-race status. Sarah and Drover come to love him as their own, but when he’s torn away from them by the government, Luhrmann finds the real meat of his tale, stakes his claim to it, and the movie lifts as the emotions suddenly become real. Rated PG-13. Grade C+.
“Beverly Hills Chihuahua” DVD, Blu-ray
A cinematic taco of ill execution. Here is a movie filled with talking dogs that has all the makings of a headache. And it is. The movie involves the trials and tribulations of Chloe (voice of Drew Barrymore), a seriously spoiled Chihuahua decked out in diamonds and haute couture who loses her way while on vacation in Mexico. But never fear–while her handler, Rachel (Piper Perabo), tries to find her before Chloe’s owner, Aunt Vivo (Jamie Lee Curtis), has a meltdown, Chloe soon is learning the scrappy ropes with several rough-and-tumble Mexican Chihuahuas, all of whom work hard to reinforce Mexican stereotypes while trying to teach Chloe the importance of finding herself via her bark. It’s a ghastly movie, strictly for the most medicated in your household. Or for Paris Hilton. Rated PG. Grade: C-
“Brokeback Mountain” Blu-ray:
Ang Lee’s celebrated drama begins in a picturesque nowhere of tall mountains and big skies, where cowboys and cattle roam, the air is clean, and the only stone wall here is the real thing, with nothing political muddying the mortar. It’s 1963, we’re in Wyoming, and what’s even bigger than the sky is what is about to build between the two young men standing beneath it, Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal). When these two meet in the vast reaches of Brokeback Mountain, they are unprepared for what is about to hit them – love – as well as all of its ramifications. This beautifully measured film, with its mounting passion, halting emotions, societal pressures and devastating personal demons, is as much a love story as it is a tragedy. The movie continues to be a divining rod, with some vilifying it, others fearing it, and still others dismissing it because of its subject. It’s that unfortunate truth that suggests that some mountains, Brokeback or otherwise, remain just as insurmountable today. And that fact is Lee’s coup de grace. Rated R. Grade: A-
Also on DVD the Blu-ray disc
Two television shows from Paramount are available, the best of which is the sixth season of “Girlfriends,” a fine option for those seeking an alternative to “Sex and the City.” The show isn’t as daring or as baring (it didn’t, after all, appear on HBO), but its humor is cheeky and it does tackle similar issues, with its four female leads fighting to make it in Los Angeles. For family entertainment, the eighth season of “7th Heaven” has settled upon Earth, not that anyone should expect lightning to strike with its presence on the scene. This hollow, soapy confection follows the highs and lows (mostly the lows) of the Camden clan, whose canned lives are explored with lots of life lessons, plenty of tears, a good dose of struggle–all of it strained through cheese cloth.
Joining it in the “skip pile” is the second season of “Nash Bridges,” with Don Johnson and Cheech Marin mainly here to trade so-so asides amid a corny police procedural set in San Francisco. It’s a weird pastiche of family dramas wedging their way into all of the gun toting and sleuthing that goes along with the show, but few angles here connect and nothing ever is as retro cool as the 1971 Barracuda Nash (Johnson) calls his own.
Making up for that set is a solid British television show from Acorn Media. It’s “Trial and Retribution: Set 2,” a dark, authentic crime series about murder unleashed within the villages of Midsomer County. Fans of British mysteries shouldn’t miss it. Also from Acorn is “East of Eden,” a mini-series that over the course of six hours finds Jane Seymour landing what might be the best role of her career. Based on John Steinbeck’s novel, the set is by far the novel’s most faithful adaptation yet, with Seymour scoring a Golden Globe win for Best Actress in 1981 for her performance.
Ending on a high note are several films new to the high-definition Blu-ray format. Each is recommended, such as the release of the Academy Award-winning “Amadeus,” with Tom Hulce terrific as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart–he captures the conflicted soul of a musical genius, and offers insight amid the man’s spectacular unraveling. For comic book fans, check out “Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic” and “Wonder Woman,” the latter of which is the first full-length animated feature film starring that character. Catch them both also on DVD.
Finally, there’s “The French Connection” and its sequel, “The French Connection II.” The latter is slight and not as defining as what came before it, but it’s still a reasonably good entertainment. The latter is a classic in the action/crime genre, having won five Academy Awards in 1971, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Gene Hackman as narcotics detective “Popeye” Doyle, and Best Director for William Friedkin. In high definition and with the proper sound equipment, the film’s infamous car chase remains amazing to watch unfold.