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DVDs In Brief: December 7, 2010

There are few filmmakers who have the ability—and fewer still with the freedom—to fuse challenging, thematically ambitious concepts with the grand-scale spectacle that puts asses in seats during the summer. Cashing his chips on his Batman revival, director Christopher Nolan made Inception (Warner Bros.) into a puzzle picture every bit as dense and complicated in its meditation on dreams and loss as earlier films like Memento and The Prestige, all while wowing audiences with mind-blowing dreamscapes… 

The profound laziness of Shrek Forever After (Paramount) extends to pretty much every aspect of the production. Its plot rehashes It's A Wonderful Life, as Shrek sees what his world would be like if he was never born. It repeats the themes of the last two Shrek movies, as Shrek chafes under the constraints of family life. The execution is a series of halfhearted gags and riffs on past series jokes. Even some of the animation is recycled. The seeds of a few interesting ideas are here, but nurturing them was clearly way too much work for this apathetic "final chapter"…

For their powerful documentary Restrepo (National Geographic), filmmaker Tim Hetherington and journalist Sebastian Junger embedded with an Army unit in the Korengal Valley, an especially treacherous outpost in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. The footage they got is charged with “you are there” immediacy, as the men of the 173rd Airborne Brigade try to make inroads with the locals while the Taliban and other insurgents pepper them with gunfire. The documentary asserts nothing beyond the reality of their situation, but it’s achingly clear that these tough, brave young men will leave forever shaken… 

The brainchild of Bill Simmons, a.k.a. “The Sports Guy,” ESPN’s 30 For 30 series has mostly been a triumph, offering a range of filmmakers the chance to make personal documentaries about sports stories that have taken place over the 30 years the network has been on the air. The 30 For 30 DVD Gift Set, Vol.1 (ESPN) includes the first 15 films from the series, including such highlights as Dan Klores’ Winning Time: Reggie Miller And The Knicks, a joyous accounting of a taunt-filled NBA rivalry; Steve James’ No Crossover: The Trial Of Allen Iverson, a complex assessment of race relations from the director of Hoop Dreams; and Brett Morgen’s June 17th, 1994, an innovative media montage of one particularly wild day in sports history…