Pick Of The Week: New
The Dust Bowl (PBS)
Released on DVD/BD the same week it premiered over two nights on PBS, Ken Burns’ latest may not sound enticing, based on a documentary style that’s become much-parodied in the years since The Civil War and Baseball, but in his “A” review, The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff calls The Dust Bowl Burns’ best film in years. Over four hours, Burns explores this manmade catastrophe of the mid-’30s, when poor agricultural methods of Great Plains farmers combined with a severe drought to produce horrifying dust storms (or “black blizzards”) throughout the region. Burns collects many of the (very old) survivors for interviews—they remember it vividly, which is a testament to its searing power—and naturally suggests the dire consequences that can result from humans messing with Mother Nature. As VanDerWerff writes, “[Burns] gets right down into the grit with them and shows us viscerally what it’s like to be at the mercy of the natural world—and what we might have to look forward to if we don’t heed the warnings of our own time.” The special features include six “bonus clips” consisting of footage that didn’t make the final cut, ranging from five to 31 minutes in length.
Pick Of The Week: Retro
Tarantino XX (Lionsgate/Miramax)
It’s been 20 years since Quentin Tarantino broke through with Reservoir Dogs—let that soak in for a bit, Gen-Xers—and the anniversary has occasioned the holiday gift of the season, a box set including eight Tarantino films (Reservoir Dogs, True Romance, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kill Bill Vol. 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds) and two discs’ full of bonus features. Each film comes with its own set of extras, most ported from previous editions, from three (!) commentaries on True Romance to Mary Elizabeth Winstead performing “Baby, It’s You” on Death Proof, and the bonus discs have a “critics’ corner” wherein critics discuss Tarantino’s themes and legacy, and 20 Years Of Filmmaking, a complete documentary look at his career. Add to that the original MONDO artwork and “collectible packaging” and the collection amounts to one director’s astonishing monument to himself.
Don’t Break The Seal
The Expendables 2 (Lionsgate)
The changing face of action films—from the macho, physical, jingoistic, explosion-filled star vehicles of the ’80s to the slick, bloodless, CGI plasticity of today—made Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables seem like a refreshing throwback to an age when Cannon Films held sway. But nostalgia can be a bitch, and The Expendables 2 is bad enough to make the whole enterprise like a dumb mercenary venture about dumb mercenaries on an adventure. The plot involves Stallone, other fossils, and a handful of newcomers taking down an Eastern European plutonium mine or some such nonsense. The 72-year-old Chuck Norris shows up to absorb some applause, but he doesn’t look like he can raise his arms above his head. Director Simon West does an audio commentary and there are deleted scenes and a gag reel, too, presumably consisting of Over The Top in its entirety.
Heaven’s Gate (Criterion)
It’s been a long road to respectability for Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, a cinematic fiasco to end all cinematic fiascoes, credited with nearly bankrupting a major studio (see Steven Bach’s classic book Final Cut for details) and ending an era of unfettered auteur excess in Hollywood. But now, Cimino’s sumptuous depiction of the West’s painful expansion has been given the Criterion treatment—in the full director’s cut, of course—the clearest sign yet of its (only somewhat deserved) critical resurrection.
The Replacements: Color Me Obsessed (What Were We Thinking)
The most vital rock band of the 1980s—we’re not even going to use a modifier like “arguably” to make that statement—gets a two hour-plus testimonial to its greatness in this documentary. Over 140 interview subjects chime in to tell the story, from fellow musicians like Colin Meloy and Craig Finn to music critics like Ira Robbins and Robert Christgau to famous and not-so-famous fans. Look for a review on the site in the coming weeks.
Grave Of The Fireflies (Section 23)
Isao Takahata’s 1988 anime touchstone is one of the bleakest animated films ever made, following two young children who wither away in the days that follow the firebombing of their city by American warplanes in WWII. According to The A.V. Club’s Tasha Robinson, “Grave Of The Fireflies makes its doomed subjects seem utterly human, with the wealth of personal details and believable characterizations common to Studio Ghibli's peerless animated films.”
Bringing Up Bobby (Monterey)
A European con artist (Milla Jovovich) drags her 10-year-old American-born son around the country, eventually landing in Oklahoma, in Famke Janssen’s directorial debut. The A.V. Club’s Alison Willmore is not impressed, laying much of the blame on Jovovich, “who can’t ground the film’s attempts to tie together sentiments from Paper Moon and Miss Saigon.”
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