20th Century Fox
Plot: At last, the origin story behind everyone’s favorite adimantium-laced mutant (played once again by Hugh Jackman) is revealed.
Opinion: Filmed from a script that doesn’t feel so much written as cut-and-pasted together out of a number of rough drafts, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a complete and utter mess, one that makes the third X-Men flick look like The Dark Knight. Where to begin with the film’s list of offenses? Let’s start with the story, which attempts to shed light on Wolverine’s past but instead winds up making his origin murkier. Nonsensical and downright dumb plot points abound, from the revelation of how Wolverine got that famous jacket (some old guy on a farm gave it to him) to the explanation for his amnesia in the original X-Men trilogy (it’s because…sorry, that bit is just too idiotic to reveal). The film’s relentless stupidity might be easier to forgive-or at least ignore-if it offered well-executed battles or lively performances. But director Gavin Hood appears to have little sense of how to choreograph a coherent action sequence and the sub-par special effects don’t help matters. Despite a budget that’s reportedly in the neighborhood of $150 million, Wolverine all too often resembles a cheaply made direct-to-DVD movie, with distractingly bad CGI and digital backgrounds that are so poorly rendered, you can almost see the greenscreen. The cast brings nothing to the table either; even Jackman seems to have lost the effortless cool that he brought to the character nine years ago in the first X-Men adventure. That Wolverine was someone we wanted to see more of-this guy is a total drag.
Bonus Features: Two commentary tracks-one with Hood and the other with the producers-both of which avoid mentioning a lot of the behind-the-scenes turmoil that was widely reported during the shoot as well as a bland making-of featurette and an equally bland batch of deleted scenes. There is one highlight through: a lively 16-minute chat between Marvel Comics wizard Stan Lee and Wolverine creator Len Wein who discuss, among other things, the enduring popularity of the X-Men and Wolverine’s mystery-shrouded origin in the comic book.
Verdict: Skip It
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray: $29 each
Plot: Three classic mid-’90s ‘hood movies, released in new deluxe editions.
Opinion: Hood movies were all the rage in the ’90s and now three of the genre’s best-remembered titles are being re-released as extras-laden, deluxe edition DVDs. Interestingly, the film that holds up the best is the funny one. Owing more to offbeat comedies like Clerks and Slacker than Boyz n the Hood, 1995’s Friday remains a laugh riot, thanks largely to the potent comic chemistry of co-stars Ice Cube and Chris Tucker in his first major film role. Unfortunately, the Hughes Brothers’ blistering 1993 debut, Menace II Society, hasn’t aged quite as well. Though the directors have visual flair to burn and the nihilistic ending still packs a punch, the lead character, the troubled Caine, is simply too much of a bitter pill to swallow. Both films also suffer from a dearth of complex female characters, a problem that 1996’s Set It Off attempted to resolve, with modest success. Centered around a quartet of women bank robbers (played by Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise), the movie’s fierce attitude almost makes up for its dramatic clumsiness.
Bonus Features: Each of these deluxe editions feature a new director’s cut of the film and a variety of other bonus features, including commentary tracks, retrospective featurettes and vintage music videos
Verdict: Buy It
Plot: A collection of music videos, commercials and short films culled from the archives of Hollywood heavy-hitter Brett Ratner.
Opinion: A spiritual sequel to The Director’s Series-a 2003 set of DVD’s that collected early music videos and commercials by such cult filmmakers as Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze-Lionsgate’s new Shooter Series is a grab-bag assortment of early work by filmmakers-including The Hughes Brothers and F. Gary Gray-that have since graduated to the big time. Leading off the line-up is Brett Ratner, who went from helming Public Enemy and D’Angelo videos to directing Chris Tucker in Rush Hour and Hugh Jackman in the third X-Men flick. Almost every music video he directed is included here, along with commentary from Ratner himself-although his comments rarely extend beyond “This was really cool” or “I really liked working with that person.” There’s also a reel of several commercials he’s made over the years and four inscrutable short films from his NYU days. Finally, Ratner and his past and present colleagues-among them, Russell Simmons and Mariah Carey-sing his praises in a relentlessly positive half-hour documentary about his career. If you’re not a fan of Ratner, this disc won’t do anything to convince you otherwise. However, if you are into some of the musicians featured here, having all their videos in one place is nice.
Bonus Features: Technically, the entire DVD is one long bonus feature.
Verdict: Rent It
Also on DVD:
The independently produced documentary Big Pun: The Legacy (Vivendi, $20) covers the short life and premature death of one of the biggest-selling rappers of the ’90s. Featuring new interviews with his family, friends and co-workers as well as never-before-seen home movies, The Legacy is a surprisingly compelling video biography. From rappers to blacklisted screenwriters, Peter Askin’s Trumbo (Magnolia, $27) is a moving tribute to the author of such classic movies as Spartacus and Exodus. The HBO series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (HBO, $60), based on the best-selling series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith, debuted to strong reviews earlier this year, but costs may keep Jill Scott from reprising the role of South African sleuth Precious Ramotswe for a second season. In other TV news, Fame: The Complete Seasons 1 & 2 (MGM, $40)-a box set containing the first two seasons of the TV-series based on the hit 1980 movie-hits shelves two weeks before the big-screen Fame remake dances its way into theaters. Paramount continues to roll out enhanced versions of the Friday the 13th franchise, this week releasing Part VII and Part VIII (Paramount, $17) on DVD and Blu-ray. Jessica Biel tested her range in the British comedy Easy Virtue (Sony Pictures Classics, $29) and while the movie (as well as her performance) isn’t a revelation, it’s solid enough to merit a rental. Finally, Miramax unleashes four recent kung-fu hits in sparkling new Blu-ray versions, including Zhang Yimou’s gorgeous Hero, the Jackie Chan adventure The Legend of Drunken Master, Takeshi Kitano’s update of Zatoichi and the very entertaining Iron Monkey (Miramax, $45 each). Hero is also available in a standard Special Edition (Miramax, $20) with all-new bonus features.