Are you suffering from sequel-itis? Does the current crop of summer blockbusters leave you hungering for something different to watch? I know I am, which is why I skipped out on last night’s last minute screening of “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.” (There’s usually a reason they don’t show a film until the night before opening day.) Instead, I offer you an alternative. Here is a sampling of some of the best stuff to come out recently on DVD:
The Third Man – 2-Disc Criterion Collection
Long known for their excellent transfers of classic films, Criterion has been upgrading many of their early releases to comply with current standards, and this version of Carol Reed’s 1949 thriller gets the pristine clean up it deserves, along with tons of great new extras. Graham Greene wrote the novella back-to-back with the film’s screenplay, a model of shrewd plotting and subtle characterization.
Joseph Cotten arrives in occupied postwar Vienna to find that his friend Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is dead under suspicious circumstances. Idealism has been replaced by corruption, and everybody’s honor is compromised in a city where much is to be gained if conscience is not an inhibiting factor. Long known as one of the cinema’s greatest villains, Welles makes the most of a limited amount of screen time. The dead soul of an amoral man stands in for a cynical attitude that spread like a plague after World War II. Includes 2 audio commentaries, a new 90-minute documentary, an hour-long 1968 TV show on Greene, and more extra features.
Narrated by a spirited but detached voice (Will Lyman from PBS’ “Frontline”), Todd Field’s scathingly funny film tackles infidelity and immaturity in modern suburbia with the blackest of humor. Oscar nominations for Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley are well deserved (Haley probably should have won), and kudos to Field and novelist/co-screenwriter Tom Perrotta for not letting anybody off the hook.
By pointing out only the ever so obvious, Lyman’s narrator talks down to the viewer, as if he were reading from a children’s storybook. This bold stylistic choice bathes the film in a sarcastic light, challenging you either to laugh at its darker moments or regard the entire thing as a put-on. Some commentary from Field and Perrotta would have been nice, but for now this bare bones disc of a provocative movie will have to do.
Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series (5-Disc Set)
This ambitious 11-part documentary combines stunning high definition cinematography with a surprisingly engaging narrative flow to create what it calls “the definitive look at the diversity of our planet.” A slightly abbreviated version, narrated by Sigourney Weaver, recently appeared to much fanfare on the Discovery Channel. This is the entire series, without trimming for commercials or content, as originally narrated by David Attenborough.
To better understand the magnitude of covering the Earth’s widely divergent locations with a camera, each episode concludes with a 10-minute diary chronicling the crew’s struggles to bring you amazing helicopter footage, epic time-lapse photography and up-close fly-on-the-wall perspectives. The newest DVD version, released on April 24, adds three additional documentaries that focus on conservation and saving endangered species, and running just under an hour each.
Not Just the Best of the Larry Sanders Show (5-Disc Set)
23 episodes of HBO’s early-90s groundbreaking comedy series starring Garry Shandling as the world’s most neurotic talk show host are finally available on DVD. (Season one has been out-of-print for awhile, but it looks like this compilation will do much in the way of seeing all six seasons come out eventually.) Because it spans everything, this collection may suffer from some plot inconsistencies, but it is a terrific introduction to a show that hilariously plumbed the depths of show business selfishness.
It may seem commonplace now, but “Larry Sanders” was a weird mix of reality and fiction that pre-dates all of today’s character-driven ‘reality’ shows. To play yourself on the show-within-a-show, a celebrity had to submit to a becoming parody of themselves (similar to Ricky Gervais’ “Extras,” currently running on HBO), and no actor went as far as David Duchovny, whose crush on Larry became the focus of several of the funniest episodes. A new documentary and lots of audio commentaries round out a set that features some of today’s best comedic talent both in front of and behind the camera. Writer/director Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”), Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Jeremy Piven, Bob Odenkirk and Alec Baldwin are all on hand for uncomfortable in-character interviews and/or actual reflections on the show that appear to be genuine.