Thank You For Smoking
(20th Century Fox, 2005) D: Jason Reitman, w/ Aaron Eckhart, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott. Rating: NNNN
The supporting materials on the Thank You For Smoking DVD contain an unusual amount of self-congratulation for seeing such an "un-PC" project to fruition.
Un-PC? People have been painting the devil as charming and charismatic for a long time (paging John Milton...). They haven't made the hero of Thank You For Smoking a tobacco lobbyist. They've made the protagonist (Aaron Eckhart) a sharp-witted, fast-talking charmer who represents Big Tobacco. But he's not the hero. There is no hero, which is the unusual aspect of this adaptation of Christopher Buckley's novel.
That said, Eckhart was given the kind of part that's a huge gift to any actor; it's a full-blown star role, and he makes a meal of it. The strong supporting cast includes J. K. Simmons, Robert Duvall, Sam Elliott, Maria Bello and William H. Macy.
The key commentary is the director's. The one by the director and cast finds Jason Reitman repeating himself and Eckhart mostly silent, leaving David Koechner to basically quiz Reitman on things we've already heard in the director's commentary.
Extras Director and director/cast (Eckhart, Koechner) commentaries, making-of featurette, Charlie Rose Show appearance by Reitman, Eckhart and author Buckley, theatrical trailer. English and Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish, French subtitles.
X-Men: The Last Stand
(20th Century Fox, 2006) D: Brett Ratner, w/ Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen. Rating: NNN
For all the complaints, brett rat- ner - best known for the Rush Hour movies - didn't do that bad a job with X-Men III.
Let's face it, for all the praise lavished on Bryan Singer's work on the first two X-Men films, these are movies adapted from comic books. I do wish the director of The Usual Suspects hadn't been so eager to sell himself to make giant Hollywood movies for 14-year-olds.
Ratner's reportedly final sequel attempts to cram in a bunch of new characters and is a lot louder than the first two films, but it's a comic-book adaptation from the studio that gave us Elektra and The Fantastic Four, so we should be glad it's in focus.
Basic plot: Michael Murphy's scientist comes up with a "cure" for mutants, like you can give someone a shot that will alter their genetic structure. Magneto decides that this means war, and Dr. Jean Grey comes back from the apparent dead with her awesome powers unleashed. Big effects, final battle, very noisy. Less Mystique, which is disappointing for those of us who thought the principal virtue of the first two films was the sight of Rebecca Romijn-Stamos wearing blue paint.
The director/writer commentary is an idiot-fest. The producers' commentary has some solid making-of information. Note to 20th Century Fox: Can we come to a decision on the title? The box says X-III: The Last Stand, the disc says X-Men: The Last Stand. Which is it?
Extras Director/writer and producer commentaries, deleted scenes and alternate endings. (These are the extras on the single-disc edition. There's also a three-disc SE.) English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles. 6.1 DTS soundtrack.
(Mongrel Festival Collection, 2005) D: Mark Dornford-May, w/ Pauline Malefane, Andile Tshoni. Rating: NNN
It's a tribute to the archetypal structural solidity of Prosper Mérimée's novel and the tunefulness of Georges Bizet's score that Carmen may be translation-proof and director-proof. Here's a translation into Xhosa (an African language with clicks) set in contemporary South Africa, and it still works. Director Mark Dornford-May first mounted this production on stage, and here he opens it up successfully into the ratty confines of the South African townships.
There are no DVD extras, a situation we've come to expect from Mongrel's Festival Collection, but the presentation of U-Carmen in a 4:3 letterbox rather than true 16:9 wide-screen is annoying and almost inexcusable now that wide-screen TVs are actually achieving market penetration.
Extras None. Xhosa with English, French subtitles. Non-anamorphic letterboxed presentation.
Corner Gas: Season 3
(VSC, 2006) D: David Storey, Brent Butt, w/ Butt, Eric Peterson, Gabrielle Miller. Rating: NNN
What is it about corner gas? i don't watch the Canadian sitcom in the same way I watch Deadwood, Lost or CSI, setting up the DVR to catch it if I'm out. Going through this new season-3 box, I realized I'd already seen about half the episodes more or less accidentally. Flipping on the box, Corner Gas is there before what I want to see, and it just feels like home.
I'm not sure I've ever been to Saskatchewan, and I've certainly never worked in a gas station, but Corner Gas feels like Canada - low-key and a little sarcastic around the edges. Oh, and everybody's nuts, but not so you can tell. Season 3 is 19 episodes, and I know there's an exchange-rate joke in here somewhere.
VSC's three-disc DVD is exceedingly low on extras. No commentaries, no on-set stuff. It's a TV show, guys - where's the damned blooper reel?
Extras W5 special Beyond Corner Gas: Tales From Dog River.
Coming Tuesday, October 10
A Prairie Home Companion
(New Line/Alliance Atlantis, 2006)
Robert Altman's freewheeling adaptation of the Garrison Keillor radio show, with Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Virginia Madsen as the Angel of Death. No, really.
Hollywood Legends Of Horror Collection
A mix of films from Warner's horror archive including a couple of memorable titles, particularly Karl Freund's Mad Love, with Peter Lorre, and Tod Browning's The Devil-Doll.
Reds: 25th Anniversary Edition
First time on DVD. Hope they've done justice to Vittorio Storaro's Oscar-winning cinematography.
The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology
Bargain box set includes The Exorcist theatrical cut, the William Friedkin recut, the two sequels and both the Paul Schrader and Renny Harlin versions of the prequel.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb