The Boondocks: Complete First Season
(Sony, 2005), D: Aaron McGruder, w/Regina King, John Witherspoon. Rating: NNNN
Aaron McGruder's superbly provocative adaptation of his comic strip arrives on DVD uncut and uncensored.
It's about two young black kids transported to suburbia by their grandfather, who wants them to grow up in a better environment than Chicago's South Side.
As sharp as The Simpsons and more politically astute than South Park, The Boondocks is one of the most beautifully drawn cartoons on TV. The use of shadow is striking, and the character detail is superb. The Boondocks works because of the interesting opposition between the two brothers, leftist Huey and rapper-worshipping Riley. McGruder's portraits of contemporary black America are a daring lens turned on his own culture: The Return Of The King gives us Martin Luther King as Rip Van Winkle, horrified at the changes wrought since he went into his coma, and The Story of Gangstalicious is a blindsiding assault on the posturing of hiphop culture.
It's also a triumph for Regina King (Ray, Miss Congeniality 2), who voices both the brothers.
EXTRAS Commentaries by McGruder and the creative team (a bit crowded to be helpful), making-of featurette, deleted scenes, animatics, storyboards, promos.
A Canterbury Tale
(Criterion/Paradox, 1944) D: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, w/ Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, John Sweet. Rating: NNNN
It's a sign of both really good and ferociously awful directors that when you see one of their films you can't imagine anyone else making it, a rule that applies to both Edward D. Wood at the low end of the scale and to Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger at the high end. One of their exquisitely odd second world war dramas, A Canterbury Tale is about soldiers caught up in a peculiar local mystery while planning to visit Canterbury.
Pilgrimage, buddy movie, mystery, meditation on the English character Canterbury is all that and more, with an exquisite performance by Powell veteran Eric Portman as both the villain and the other characters' fairy godfather. Go figure.
We're given a beautiful transfer by Criterion, whose laser disc Powell issues were the first to include a commentary track with a smart academic commentary by Ian Christie and an unexpected treat in Humphrey Jennings's legendary tone poem/documentary Listen To Britain on the second disc.
EXTRAS Critical commentary; excerpts from the framing story used on the U.S. version; Humphrey Jennings's 1942 documentary Listen To Britain; A Pilgrim's Progress featurette on the cast; booklet essays by Graham Fuller, Peter Von Bagh and John Sweet.
Ask The Dust
(Paramount, 2006) D: Robert Towne, w/ Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Donald Sutherland. Rating: NN
Sometimes those dream projects that certain directors hold onto for a couple of decades should just be allowed to die a natural death. Robert Towne's adaptation of John Fante's portrait of Depression-era L.A., Ask The Dust, may be one of them.
One can see why Towne, a lifelong Angelino, would want to make the film as an essay on American prejudice and the possibility that it might be conquered by love, but he's failed to note that while the leads are very attractive, Colin Farrell's Bandini is made unattractive by his demons. Bandini may or may not be the great writer he dreams of becoming, but he's definitely a mean little bastard with an inflated sense of self-worth.
On the other hand, Farrell's and Salma Hayek's performances are reasons to rent the film. If you like happy endings, though, this may not be for you. When a romantic heroine is named Camilla and starts coughing in the middle of the second act, it's never a good sign.
EXTRAS Director/cinematographer commentary with Towne and Caleb Deschanel, making-of featurette, theatrical trailer.
Final Destination 3: Thrill Ride Edition
(New Line, 2006) D: James Wong w/ Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ryan Merriman. Rating: NNNN
The rating is more for the superb DVD package, designed and loaded for people who are interested in movies on which university-educated adults have spent enormous amounts of time, money and creative energy figuring out increasingly elaborate ways to slaughter teenagers.
Writer-director James Wong and producer/co-writer Glen Morgan also did the first Final Destination and are vets of the Chris Carter school of spookiness, having worked on The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen. So they are indeed clever, and there's a whole lot of cleverness in this series, in which groups of teens are saved by a vision of doom, then tracked down by "Death" for violating his delivery schedule or something. Death is apparently fond of incredibly elaborate devices and doesn't worry much about collateral damage.
The most innovative element of this DVD package is that a viewer control option has been added: you can determine the fates of the characters. I haven't checked that out yet, as I believe that choosing the fate of the characters is the job of the filmmakers, but I showed the disc to a younger colleague at NOW who said, "Cool, like Choose Your Own Adventure," so I suspect this feature has appeal that I'm missing. Other extras are good, including a full 90-minute making-of documentary.
EXTRAS Filmmaker commentary, feature-length making-of documentary, additional scenes, alternate endings, Choose Their Fate feature, Dead Teenager Movie genre study, It's All Around You animated short on death. English with English captions and Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, August 1
(20th Century Fox) Epic apocalyptic animation series, all 12 hours and 24 episodes, with extras and commentary.
V For Vendetta
(Warner) Natalie Portman goes bald to fight political repression. Produced by the Wachowski Brothers.
Rebus: Set 1
(Acorn/Paradox) Two full-length episodes of the BBC mystery series adapted from Scottish crime novelist Ian Rankin's Edgar-winning novels.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season Five
(HBO/Warner) The ongoing adventures and social embarrassments of Larry David.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb