- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2008

The Hammer (Genius Products, $15.99) - Radio talk-show host Adam Carolla understands if some people forever associate him with “The Man Show,” the Comedy Central series that delighted in the finer points of being male - like watching girls jump on trampolines.

Still, he hopes people - especially film critics - will watch his new-to-DVD film “The Hammer” without considering his comedic baggage.

“Remove my criminal past from your records and just do it based on the evidence in front of you,” Mr. Carolla says. “When I’m reading a review that says, ‘Carolla’s racist, misogynistic comedy hits below the belt,’ are you reviewing the movie or my past?”

“The Hammer,” which Mr. Carolla co-wrote and co-produced and in which he stars, is neither racist nor misogynistic. In fact, it’s the sort of warm, sweet comedy most mainstream rom-coms try but too often fail to emulate.

Mr. Carolla stars as Jerry “the Hammer” Ferro, a 40-year-old construction worker who gets one last chance to compete in the Olympic boxing trials. He may be out of shape - and out of work - but he has a killer left hook that gives him a puncher’s chance. Yet it’s his flirtation with a socially conscious lawyer (Heather Juergensen) that could send him to the canvas.

Set for a Tuesday DVD release, the movie didn’t hit many theaters nationwide when it opened earlier this year. It’s a frustrating lesson that still stings Mr. Carolla, a former boxer.

“I was naive enough to think it was going to be purely merit-based,” he says. When “The Hammer” got rejected by the Sundance Film Festival, it served as a rude awakening.

Turns out a Sundance judge wasn’t a big “Man Show” fan and voted against the film, Mr. Carolla says.

“Then, when we started showing it to potential buyers, they said, ‘Awesome movie, but what do you want us to do with it?’” he recalls. Without a big name like Adam Sandler or Mike Myers attached, simply finding a buyer was a nightmare.

“If the movie happens to be good it doesn’t mean anything to them,” he says. “It’s all about who’s attached to it. I don’t have any credentials in the movie-making department.”

Now he’s looking forward to the film’s DVD release as a way to prove his faith in the finished product. Even if rental sales are sluggish, he has done what he set out to do.

“I made this movie so I could make the next movie,” he says.

Christian Toto

•••

Burn Notice: Season One (Fox, $49.98) - “CSI: Miami” may have put the city on the modern television map, but USA Network’s “Burn Notice” has made it sizzle. Add to the beach and bikini shots a clever premise, a hunky and talented star, a gorgeous love interest plus an arsenal of tricks that would make “MacGyver” jealous, and you have summer’s hottest series, bar none.

Jeffrey Donovan (“Hitch”) stars as covert-ops agent Michael Westen. He gets a “burn notice” from the government, an official statement issued by one intelligence agency to other agencies that an individual or a group is unreliable. Westen is basically blacklisted - and, worse, he can’t even leave his hometown of Miami. With the help of his ex-girlfriend (Gabrielle Anwar, “The Tudors”) and a pal (Bruce Campbell, “Army of Darkness”), he splits his time between trying to find out why he’s been burned and using his considerable skills as a private investigator to help those in need. One more thing: He has to do all this under the watchful eye of his worried mom (Sharon Gless, “Cagney & Lacey”). It’s a witty show that constantly will leave you wondering if all those spy tips and tricks really are true.

If you’ve never seen “Burn Notice,” you can catch up before season two starts July 10. The four-disc set includes all 11 episodes as well as some extras. Every episode has scene-specific commentary, with all four main cast members and series creator Matt Nix participating. There’s also audition footage and a gag reel.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Genius Products, $23.99) - This film, the first from Romania to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes, was on dozens of critics’ top 10 lists in December. If you want to buy it, though, it’s available at only one store - Borders.

The bookstore-and-more has an exclusive. So for now, it’s the only place where you can find this film, which is well worth searching out. “4 Months” is harrowing to watch, but it’s so well-executed and gripping, you won’t be able to turn away. Anamaria Marinca stars as a student in communist Romania who spends the day helping her roommate obtain an illegal abortion. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu, in one of the most accomplished debuts of recent years, goes for the jugular but not by being preachy or melodramatic. This spare film feels all too real, which is why it’s so haunting.

In Bruges (Universal, $29.98) - It used to be that theatrical releases took months, sometimes even a year, to appear on DVD. Now studios book a DVD release date before the film has even shown up in theaters. That means that even though it’s just June, you already can watch one of the year’s funniest films in your own home.

“In Bruges” is also one of the year’s best farces, best thrillers and best gangster flicks. Playwright Martin McDonagh’s feature-film debut manages to seamlessly combine all manner of genres into one rollicking good ride. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as a couple of hit men who are told to cool their heels in the Belgian town after a job goes wrong. Mr. Farrell doesn’t much enjoy his time in the picturesque little village, but he likes it even less when he finds out he’s to be punished for making that job go awry. Ralph Fiennes is priceless and out of character as the boys’ boss, while Jordan Prentice steals scenes as the midget in the movie that’s filming in Bruges. (I told you it was a farce.) Extras include a deeper look at Bruges plus deleted scenes and a gag reel.

Xanadu: Magical Musical Edition (Universal, $19.98) - This 1980 cult musical became an unlikely Broadway success last year, so it’s no surprise the film is getting a DVD rerelease. It’s even available at a budget price: For less than $20, you get both the movie and the soundtrack on CD. In addition, the songs are catchy. (During its initial release, the soundtrack was a lot more successful than the film.) “Xanadu’s” plot: Olivia Newton-John stars as a muse sent from the stars to inspire Sonny (Michael Beck) to open a roller disco with down-on-his-luck Danny (Gene Kelly).

Cloverfield, There Will Be Blood, Bee Movie, (Paramount, all $39.99 for Blu-ray) - Fans had a tough time at the DVD store when these films were first released on the format earlier this spring. Paramount, the studio behind these movies, had chosen HD DVD for its high-definition releases, but Blu-ray ended up the winner of that format war. It took some time for Paramount to switch over, so you couldn’t buy high-def versions of these films. Monster movies such as “Cloverfield” and epics like “Blood” (this year’s Oscar-winner for best cinematography) just cried out for viewing in high-def, though. Paramount has its technology up and running, and you can get these movies - and more from the studio - on Blu-ray. When you watch that smoke rising from a burning oil rig in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, “Blood,” in glorious high-def, you’ll be glad you waited.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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