DVD reviews: 'The Expendables 2' and 'The Dust Bowl'
“The Expendables 2” (2012, R, 102 min., $29.95). The machismo flows freely in this second helping of an action-packed franchise that never saw an explosion it didn't like. Yes, “The Expendables 2” picks up where its 2010 predecessor left off, cranking up the firepower and toning down the story building. It's a tremendous movie for fans of those 1980 action flicks like “Rambo,” “Predator” or “The Delta Force” because they serve as motivation. The sequel gathers up much of the same cast (Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) as the original, and peppers in some new names (Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Liam Hemsworth). A new adventure puts Barney (Stallone) and his pack of mercenaries on what looks to be an easy job tracking down a mysterious package from a downed airplane. The crew swings in and acquires the target, but is soon attacked by a gang lead by Jean Vilain (Van Damme). Vilain and his men take the package from Barney. Bent on revenge, Barney and his soldiers track down Vilain, and things get explosive. The same extras can be found on Blu-ray and standard DVD sets, and there are some good featurettes. Specifically, “Big Guns, Bigger Heroes: The 1980s and the Rise of the Action Film” is a cool documentary that delivers some background. Featurettes on the cast and the weapons used in the film are also exciting. 3 Stars.
“The Dust Bowl” (2012, NR, 240 min., $24.99). Ken Burns has become one of America's great documentarians. He can be a bit long-winded, but, at the same time, he covers big topics like World War II and the Civil War. His latest documentary, which just aired Sunday and Monday on PBS, tackles a much different subject. “The Dust Bowl” gives viewers a rich and vivid portrait of what has been called the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history. Burns' film, narrated by Peter Coyote and Patricia Clarkson, explores the decade-long drought and terrifying dust blizzards that brought great terror and suffering to farmers, general residents and their families along the southern Plains that included Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. A few extras — deleted scenes, additional interviews and a behind-the-scenes featurette — are available on Blu-ray and standard DVD. 3.5 Stars.
“Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection” (2012, R, $119.99). A few weeks ago “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection” arrived in stores as the must-have set of 2012. Now comes “Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection,” a very close runner-up. The 10-disc package holds almost everything genius filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has done. It includes “Reservoir Dogs” (Harvey Keitel, 1992, R, 100 min.); “True Romance” (Christian Slater, 1993, R, 121 min.); “Pulp Fiction” (Samuel L. Jackson, 1994, R, 154 min.); “Jackie Brown” (Pam Grier, 1997, R, 154 min.); “Kill Bill Vol. 1” (Uma Thurman, 2003, R, 111 min.); “Kill Bill Vol. 2” (Daryl Hannah, 2004, R, 136 min.); “Death Proof” (Kurt Russell, 2007, R, 113 min.) and “Inglourious Basterds” (Christolph Waltz, 2009, R, 153 min.). Each motion picture is accompanied by plenty of special features, including commentaries, interviews with cast and crew, photo galleries, making-of featurettes and extended scenes. However, the gems of this collection are two excellent featurettes that explore Tarantino's career. “Critics Corner: The Films of Quentin Tarantino” is an in-depth discussion that has the experts weighing Tarantino's impact on the world of film. “20 Years of Filmmaking” goes back to the director's roots, and runs all the way to present day. 4 Stars.
“Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups” (2012, NR, 88 min., $29.99). There's an overabundance of cute to be had from this Disney picture set in the North Pole. The film follows four mischievous, but good-spirited pups looking to spread the holiday cheer for Santa. In an attempt to help out, the pack almost sends Christmas away for good.
“Natural Selection” (2011, R, 90 min., $29.95). Rachael Harris and John Gries are in lead roles for this quirky dramedy about a Christian housewife who sets out on one last wish for her dying husband. He wants her to track down an illegitimate son that she never knew about. The bizarre journey turns into one of self-discovery for the woman.
“The Day He Arrives” (2011, NR, 79 min., $29.95). Filmmaking and relationships take center stage in this quiet Japanese film from director Hong Sangsoo. When a director heads to Seoul to meet up with an old friend, he's forced to fend for himself when he's stood up. A three-day stay allows the man to catch up on the joys of life.
“Last Call at the Oasis” (2011, PG-13, 105 min., $29.95). Oscar-winning director Jessica Yu takes on the subject of the world's water crisis in this climate-centered documentary. The picture sheds light on the role water plays in all of our lives, the defects in the system and the communities that are dealing with the ill effects.
“They Call it Myanmar: Lifting the Curtain” (2012, NR, 84 min., $29.95). Burma is exposed, as filmmaker Robert H. Lieberman puts together a fascinating look at one of the world's most isolated countries. Lieberman shot the documentary over three years, and show viewers an overview of the nation's history and the everyday activities of its people.
“Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story” (2012, NR, 90 min., $26.95). Director Raymond De Felitta takes a look back at the story of Booker Wright, a black waiter in Mississippi who was beaten and ostracized for speaking out on racism in an NBC News special in 1965. Coincidentally, De Felitta's father, Frank, shot the footage.
“Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” (2012, NR, 224 min., $29.95). Broken into five segments, this powerful documentary from PBS has celebrities detailing the activities of individuals across the globe that are attempting to make life better for women.
“Objectified” (2009, NR, 75 min., $34.95). Only available on Blu-ray, “Objectified” is a documentary that takes an interesting look at our complex relationship with manufactured objects and those people that put them together. Mostly, the designers are featured in Gary Hustwit's picture.
“Paradise Lost Trilogy” (includes “Paradise Lost,” Paradise Lost 2” and Paradise Lost 3”; 2012, NR, 401 min., $49.95)
NEW ON BLU-RAY
• “Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure” (Keanu Reeves and George Carlin, 1989, PG, 90 min., $19.99)
TV ON DVD
• “Ancient Aliens: Season Four” (science series, four discs, 10 episodes, $29.95)