Hitting The Play Button: Classic DVDs
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Dreamworks/Paramount, 2008, Color, 119 mins.- Dreamworks DVD

Michael Shannon: "Now you've said it. Plenty of people are onto the emptiness, but it takes real guts to see the hopelessness."

And Shannon should know, because his own impolite observations on the dark side of mid-1950s American culture have landed him a less-than-healing stint in the booby hatch. Still, he encourages ad man Leonardo DiCaprio and his wife Kate Winslet to follow their dream of escaping from straightjacketed suburbia to liberating Paris, which DiCaprio has always wanted to revisit after a stint there in WWII. Friends and coworkers are dubious, and Shannon's real estate agent mom, Kathy Bates, is particularly unhappy to see the couple leave after steering them into a house and keeping a friendly (that is to say, nosy) eye on them. Some dreams die hard, others just fade away...and in some cases, they die twice...

Director Sam Mendes revisits his "American Beauty" territory here, showing us that the middle class dream could also be a bunch of hooey back in the days when cars had fins. Mendes and screenwriter Justin Haythe, working from the Richard Yates novel, make it clear from the get go that this is not going to be an easy road to travel. Winslet has aspirations to be an actress that don't turn out as well as she'd hoped, and her real-life role of suburban housewife is similarly problematic. DiCaprio hits 30 and fears that he will end up just like his father did, commuting back and forth between a meaningless job and an unfulfilling home life. When their vague desire for a "Special" destiny butts up against their daily grind, repressed thoughts and feelings will reappear faster than last night's dinner from a backed-up garbage disposal.

There's enough drama and discord here for an entire season of a 1950s soap opera, and at times it feels like one. Shannon acts the heck out of his part, but his "Crazy guy who speaks the truth" character is rather on-the-nose, and Bates' neighborly chatterbox routine is so overdone that you half-expect the characters from "I Love Lucy" to show up. Still, while leads DiCaprio and Winslet are stuck with characters that could have been better developed, they do deliver the goods- when they get into an argument, watch out. If you're interested in seeing the pair tackle a grimmer sort of romance than their previous "Titanic" match up, this is worth a look.

Extras include audio commentary with the director and writer, deleted scenes and a featurette.


Warner Bros., 2008, Color, 116 mins.- Warners DVD

Clint Eastwood: "Get off my lawn."

A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, even if it means going out with his Korean War rifle to keep gang bangers from messing both with his new neighbors and his impeccably maintained grass. Eastwood is the throwback of his deteriorating Michigan neighborhood, using his old autoworker's skills to keep up his house and car, the latter a vintage example of Detroit iron that gives the movie its name. The death of Eastwood's wife gives him plenty of time to hang out with his dog and live off of beer and beef jerky, while griping about everything from the state of the country to the shortcomings of various minorities to his mercenary kids and grandkids. But the flipside of this old grouch is a nagging drive to do the right thing as he sees it, and he winds up getting involved with neighbors Bee Vang and Ahney Her and the local Hmong community. Vang is a hapless young guy who can benefit from Eastwood's old school manning-up techniques, and his sister Her impresses Eastwood with her trash-talking spunkiness. Eastwood builds up his tally of good deeds in the ?hood, but sometimes good deeds aren't enough. Sometimes you've got to get out on that lawn.

Nick Schenk's screenplay for the latest Eastwood flick gives the actor/director a fun character to play around with, sort of a retired Dirty Harry crossed with Archie Bunker. The story is serviceable, if unsurprising, and there's a good balance between the lighter and darker aspects. You can load a lot of symbolic freight onto Eastwood's character as a stand-in for the country's problems with a changing demographic, or with the decline of its industrial base- most specifically and topically with the car industry. But that's just some film school frosting on the cake of Eastwood's Mr. Crusty Old McHardcase routine. He can rasp out the most clichéd dialogue and make it funny or moving, and he's gotta be the only believable pushing-eighty tough guy out there. His Hmong costars don't have his acting chops, but they get the job done. The rest of the supporting cast is good, with Christopher Carley's over-solicitous priest and John Carroll Lynch's barber standing out- a scene where Lynch and Eastwood teach Vang to "Talk like a man" is a comic highlight. On the whole this is a solid drama that works better than you expect it to.

Extras are limited to a couple of car-focused featurettes.


Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog Mutant Enemy Productions, 2008, Color, 42 mins. - New Video DVD

Neil Patrick Harris: "So...transmatter is seventy-five percent, and more importantly the freeze ray is almost up. This is the one. Stops time. Freeze ray. Tell your friends."


When you're an evil genius trying to earn a spot in the famed Evil League of Evil, it pays to advertise. So Harris, as the titular Doc, drums up interest with a video blog- a good idea, although it leaves him open to emailed criticisms and unwanted attention from his nemesis, local (super)hero Nathan Fillion. Professional setbacks are bad enough, but when Fillion starts to move in on the gal that Harris has a crush on, Felicia Day, Harris gets royally steamed. If he can channel that anger into constructive horribleness, he might be able to attain his goals- but at what price?

A lot of Hollywood creative types found themselves with time on their hands during the writer's strike of '07-'08, and Joss Whedon, with the help of friends and coworkers, cooked up this little experiment in content creation for the internet. Whedon's fan base, created by "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and subsequent works, ensured that the all-volunteer production would garner a lot of eyeballs- which it did, leading to disc sales that put the whole enterprise into the black. It's a quickly-shot stunt project with a dinky budget, but it's clever and funny and has spiffy performances from the three leads.

Harris' comic expertise helps to make a wannabe supervillain sympathetic, and he tackles tongue-twisting lyrics with aplomb. Day comes to the table with a web series of her own, "The Guild," under her belt- she has a nerdy, vulnerable charm and optimism that contrasts well with Harris' cloudy outlook. And Fillion has smug jerkiness down pat- when you see how his low-rent superman operates, you'll have another reason to root for the bad guy. If all that sounds good to you, and the concept of a musical with a comic book style scenario doesn't set off your "Too geeky" alarm, you'll enjoy this thing.

Extras include audio commentaries (one of which is a satirical musical of its own), featurettes, and videos from fans hoping to join the Evil League of Evil themselves (now that's geeky!).