Sunday, November 22, 2009

DVD Review:'Star Trek' prequel clings to style of TV show

mail to a friend | Print version | ShareThis | RSS Feeds

Click to enlarge

In "Star Trek" (2009, Paramount, PG-13, $30), the prequel to the classic TV series, director J.J. Abrams ("Lost") time-travels back to the beginning of the bromance between Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto).

In addition to charting their unique partnership, the film also illustrates how the captain assembled his crew and battled an evil Romulan named Nero (Eric Bana). Abrams doesn't boldly go where no "Star Trek" has gone before. In fact, he clings to all that was entertaining about the William Shatner/Leonard Nimoy space opera while upping the ante with gracefully soaring chases.

Extras: commentaries by Abrams as well as a gag reel and a galaxy of featurettes.

Also New This Week:

"Bruno" (2009, Universal, R, $30) For his latest escapade in envelope pushing, guerrilla comic Sacha Baron Cohen ("Borat") goes undercover as the titular fashionista, a gay TV talk show host who arrives in the U.S. with hopes of becoming "the biggest Austrian superstar since Hitler." He pulls the wool over the eyes of politicians (Ron Paul) and celebrities (Paula Abdul), tries to broker peace in the Middle East but confuses hummus with Hamas, and nearly incites a riot at a wrestling match by making out with his opponent. It's haphazard but occasionally hilarious. Extras: featurettes and deleted scenes, including the infamous sequence with LaToya Jackson that was trimmed from the film following Michael Jackson's death.

"My Sister's Keeper" (2009, Sony, PG-13, $29) Abigail Breslin stars as a young girl who sues her parents (Cameron Diaz, Jason Patric) for the rights to her own body after refusing to donate a kidney to her leukemia-stricken sister (Sofia Vassilieva). The solid performances aren't enough to lift this film from the depths of melodrama. Scenes with Joan Cusack as a grieving judge, Alec Baldwin as a showboating attorney and Thomas Dekker as a rebel chemo patient are spiked with humor and pathos but the rest of the film lacks true insight. Extras: 15 minutes of deleted scenes.

"The Limits of Control" (2009, Universal, R, $30) Do the words "a film by Jim Jarmusch" strike terror in your heart, as you recall the hours spent suffering through too-cool-for-school numbers like "Dead Man" and "Night on Earth"? Well, this "thriller" about an anonymous hitman (expressionless Isaach De Bankole) making his way across Spain one character actor (Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Bill Murray) at a time is the most abstract entry on Jarmusch's resume. There's no plot, just dreamy scenes of the killer ordering expressos, exchanging matchboxes with strangers and looking impassive. You're been warned. Extras: on-set interviews with cast and Jarmusch.

"Humpday" (2009, Magnolia, R, $28) A one-time free spirit named Ben (Mark Duplass) is now married and worried that all of the fun is draining out of his life. When his oldest, most adventurous friend (Joshua Leonard) appears on his doorstep, the buddies head off to a swingers' party where they accept a dare of sorts to shoot a porn film with each other for Seattle's Humpfest (which is, believe it or not, a real event). The provocative premise not only gives the movie an oddball tension but allows perceptive writer/director Lynn Shelton to examine the mysteries of male bonding. Extras: commentaries, featurettes and deleted scenes.

"Andy Barker, P.I. The Complete Series" (2007, Shout Factory, unrated, $25) Gloriously goofing on the TV detective genre, this short-lived NBC comedy, co-created by Conan O'Brien, stars Andy Richter as an accountant who gets into the crime-solving biz when he's mistaken for a private eye. The supporting cast (Harve Presnell, Clea Lewis, Tony Hale) is topnotch and Richter is at his befuddled best. Extras: gag reel, commentaries and featurettes.

"Downhill Racer" (1969, Criterion, PG, $40) Call it a Robert Redford showcase, a spare character study or "a savage attack on the American jock" (to quote director Michael Ritchie) — just don't miss this movie about a cad who maneuvers his way onto the Olympic team just in time to go for the gold. In between undermining teammates and disregarding advice from his coach (Gene Hackman), Redford hot-dogs it on the slopes. The amazing hand-held camera work puts you right in his boots for one nail-biting race after another. Extras: new interview with Redford and a rare promotional featurette.

"White Christmas: Anniversary Edition" (1954, Paramount, G, $25) If you're heading to Broadway to check out "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," make sure you experience the sparkling 1954 original first. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as two showbiz buddies who run a quaint Vermont inn where they put on shows for every season. Along the way, the pals find their perfect mates (Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen) and perform "Blue Skies," "Count Your Blessings" and, of course, the title tune. Extras: commentary by Clooney and a Santa's bag full of featurettes, including one that tours Clooney's Kentucky home.

"Eleventh Hour: The Complete Series" (2008, Warner, unrated, $35) With absolute jurisdiction, a biophysicist (Rufus Sewell) and his F.B.I. protector (Marley Shelton) criss-cross the country investigating everything from cloning to cryogenics. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer loads the series with terrific guest stars like Diane Venora, Daniel Roebuck and Jessica Hecht and jam packs each episode with plenty of twists and turns. It's a little bit like "The X-Files" if Mulder had been a science geek. The DVD set is available exclusively through Extras: none.

"Heat" (1995, Warner, R, $35) Michael Mann's most explosive shoot-'em-up- now on Blu-ray — is, first and foremost, a showcase for the acting talents of titans Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, who famously face off in the film's most tension-filled scene. Truth be told, the cops and robbers plot is nothing special but, in hi-def, Los Angeles plays itself so strikingly, it becomes almost another character in the drama. This one never gets old. Extras: Mann commentary, 11 additional scenes, and five featurettes.

"AC/DC: Backtracks" (2009, Sony, unrated, $40) A few years ago, the Aussie outfit's double-disc "Family Jewels" DVD package racked up sales in excess of a million copies. That's massive for a group many critics wrote off decades ago. The sequel "Family Jewels 3," which is included in this two-CD/one DVD package, boasts 16 videos which will melt your speakers like a blowtorch. Aptly named crunchers "Hard As a Rock" and "Rock 'n' Roll Train" are synapse scramblers of the highest order. Extras: bonus footage.

"North by Northwest: 50th Anniversary Edition" (1959, Warner, unrated, $25) Hitchcock's action bonanza about an adman (Cary Grant) put through the ringer after being mistaken for a spy has lost none of its dramatic power since its 1959 release. James Mason and Eva Marie Saint are superb in supporting roles but this is Grant's show all the way and no one this side of James Bond could look as good being crop dusted by the baddies. Extras: over three hours of new special features including commentary by scripter Ernest Lehman.

"The Velveteen Rabbit" (2009, Anchor Bay, unrated, $15) Loosely based on the 1922 novel by Margery Williams, this charmingly low-key family flick centers on a sad youngster named Toby (Matthew Harbour) who discovers, in his grandmother's attic, three magical antique toys (voiced by Tom Skerritt, Ellen Burstyn and Chandler Wakefied). The plush bunny, in particular, turns out to be a life-saver, especially when he comes alive, taking Toby along for an animated adventure or two. Gentle but never boring, this "Rabbit" is perfect for the tiniest tot. Extras: cast interviews and deleted scenes.

"Natalee Holloway" (2009, Sony, unrated, $25) Perhaps because this Lifetime TV movie had the full cooperation of Natalee's mother Beth Twitty (a shrill Tracy Pollan), there's an effort to adhere closely to the facts about the teenager who disappeared during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. It's a modest film that's worth seeing for its truth-is-stranger than fiction finale. Extras: a featurette and Twitty's tips for safe travel.