New DVD releases include 'Tropic Thunder'
Directed by Ben Stiller, who also plays a lead role, the explosive "Tropic Thunder" uproariously attacks egotistical actors and the movie-making process. And, taking some clever pokes at past war films such as "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon," it's undoubtedly one of the funniest films of the year. Between the uproarious turn of Tom Cruise and the performances of Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black, a jocular and testosterone-driven dialogue is put into the hands of these accomplished actors and churns out the laughs. "Tropic Thunder" follows a handful of high-maintenance actors through the making of a big-budget war film. They include the award-winning character actor Kirk Lazarus (Downey), the comedy star Jeff Portnoy (Black), the rapper-turned-actor Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), the action player Tugg Speedman (Stiller) and the no-name thespian Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel). These characters are introduced to viewers through some slick clips before the introductory credits. When complaints from the actors force the film off of its production schedule, a grizzled veteran consultant (Nick Nolte) makes the suggestion to put the actors in the wild and let them fend for themselves. It all adds up to an explosively outrageous trek toward the completion of a disastrous film. The feature is available in a two-disc director's cut and a cheaper single-disc package. For the director's cut, alternate ending and laugh-out loud documentary alone, the two-disc set is worth the extra cash. There's also a ton of other extras. R; 2008. Our Take: 3.5 Stars.
Buy It: Rumors point to Downey getting an Oscar nom for his role.
'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2'
The girls with the magic pants are back for a second helping of solidarity and excitement, as Amber Tamblyn, America Ferrera, Blake Lively and Alexis Bledel reprise their roles in "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2," another film based on the best-selling series of novels from Ann Brashares. The sequel finds the girls growing apart in their separate lives at different colleges. Still, the one thing that keeps their relationships strong is a pair of jeans they exchange through the mail. With a full summer ahead after an initial year of school, the feature, directed by Sanaa Hamri, follows each girl taking on their individual endeavors around the globe after freshman year. The bottom line here, though, concerns itself with adolescent issues such as relationships with boyfriends, family and the bond of friendship. Throw in a pregnancy scare, and it gets a little edgy at best. "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" is fine enough for the upper high school lot, but it won't find any fans outside that demographic. Eerily enough, it's best described as a very early prequel to "Sex and the City." The special features aren't anything to get excited about, either. A lousy featurette on the closing scene is on board with deleted scenes, commentary and a gag reel. PG-13; 2008. Our Take: 2 Stars.
Rent It: Another predictable teen dramedy suitable for a younger crowd.
The list of hits coming out of Disney's Pixar Animation Studio has continued to grow since the early 1990s when it jumped into the animated-movie business. The studio's latest, and perhaps greatest, features a trash-collecting robot with a big heart and the simple name of WALL-E. The film includes the flawless animation viewers have come to expect -- even take for granted -- from Pixar. Additionally, the story that unravels in "WALL-E" completes a tremendous feature that honestly can be adored by moviegoers of all ages. The draw of "WALL-E" is the range of emotions exhibited by the characters, the futuristic vision presented throughout the plot and the adventure that unravels in the 98-minute picture. WALL-E lives a lonely life on heavily polluted earth, a planet that's been abandoned for space. Day by day, WALL-E collects and stacks garbage. That is until a sleek new robot shows up, and WALL-E falls hard in love. Eventually, WALL-E finds out that love is a lot harder than it looks. The feature is available in five different packages -- three standard DVD sets and two Blu-ray -- all carrying their fair share of extras. Slick featurettes on the birth of WALL-E's world, commentary and an entertaining bonus short can be enjoyed in several different packages. G; 2008. Our Take: 4 Stars.
Buy It: Another fascinating creation from the folks at Pixar.
'Encounters at the End of the World'
It's not that director Werner Herzog is bored with the landscapes, the marine wildlife or even the weather on display in Antarctica. Those aspects of the continent are well covered in Herzog's new documentary "Encounters at the End of the World," but they're not the focus of this wonderful picture. Most of the attention is paid to the humans inhabiting Antarctica. The scientists, travelers, explorers, blue-collar workers and general inhabitants are the centerpiece of this film, as Herzog tries to understand the appeal of living in such a desolate area of the Earth. He more or less gets it, too, as plenty of interviewees are more than happy to shed light on their attraction to one of the last frontiers this planet has to offer. In the process, the viewer is treated to the occupations of some of these folks. While the people who find themselves in front of Herzog's camera share a certain sense of remarkableness, the setting of this continent kicks the documentary up a notch. The mix of these elements makes Herzog's doc one of the best of the year. The film's available in a two-disc set with a handful of extras. A group of featurettes continue Herzog's exploration, and they are teamed with commentary and interviews. Unrated; 2008. Our Take: 3.5 Stars.
Buy It: Take a trip to Antarctica without the crazy flight fees.
Other new releases
• "Charmed: The Complete Series": The late Aaron Spelling has had a number of TV hits, and "Charmed" is somewhere near the top. Now, the whole collection is available. The series in its entirety can be found in creative packaging with 49 discs, 173 episodes and a superior set of extras. The limited deluxe edition resembles a coffee-table book and is made to look like the series' Book of Shadows. Special features take a look at every aspect of the supernatural sitcom. Unrated; 2008. Our Take: 3 Stars.
• "Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson": This entertaining documentary on complex journalist Hunter S. Thompson is a riveting look at the man who puzzled so many with his antics. This is the closest one will ever get to the writer, and filmmaker Alex Gibney essentially gives the viewer an incredible opportunity to experience the late Thompson in all his glory. A great amount of Thompson-influenced special features also are available with the DVD. Unrated; 2008. Our Take: 3 Stars.
• More TV releases: "Night Gallery: Season Two" (five discs, 22 episodes, extras), "Odd Couple: The Final Season" (three discs, 22 episodes), "Hawaii Five-O: The Fifth Season" (six discs, 24 episodes), "Star Trek, The Original Series: Season Three" (seven discs, 24 episodes, extras) and "Hannah Montana: The Complete First Season" (four discs, 17 episodes, extras).
• More movie releases: "The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition" (21 discs, unrated, extras), "Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan" (documentary, unrated, extras), "Toots" (documentary, unrated, extras), "Mister Lonely" (Diego Luna, unrated, extras), "Garden Party" (Vinessa Shaw, unrated, extras), "Zombie Diaries" (Russell Jones, R, extras), "Madame Bovary" (Rudolphe Boulanger, unrated, extras) and "Bachelorman" (David DeLuise, R, extras).