- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tyson (Sony, $19.99 for DVD, $26.99 for Blu-ray) - James Toback’s “Tyson” perfectly shows that picking the right subject is at least half the battle when it comes to making a successful documentary. The vast majority of the picture is just the legendary boxer sitting around his house talking to the camera, with a few clips from fights and archived material added for emphasis and to give the audience a frame of reference. It’s oddly mesmerizing: The cadence with which Iron Mike speaks and the sometimes surprising emotional depths he plumbs make for compelling viewing. This is not to sell Mr. Toback short; his probing questions and rapport with Mr. Tyson make this a must-watch for both boxing fans and those interested in the human condition.

Husbands (Sony, $16.49) - John Cassavetes’ look at the inner workings of male friendships makes its way to DVD this week. After one of their friends drops dead, three buddies (played by Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Mr. Cassavetes) go on a weekend bender, hop the pond to check out the London scene and come to grips with their friendship in the face of death.

Like much of Mr. Cassavetes’ work, the picture is overly long (142 minutes) and more than a little self-indulgent: The camera often lingers on scenes for far too long in an effort to let the actors improvise and explore their characters in ways that don’t particularly interest the audience. Those looking for plot points, three-act structure and narrative coherence will be disappointed. “Husbands” is a character study first and foremost, and the trio’s emotional journey propels the actors forward. Though sometimes tedious, the interaction between Messrs. Falk, Gazzara and Cassavetes rings true to life, as in a scene at a bar near the beginning of the film when the three get progressively more intoxicated and antagonistic. Still, one wonders whether real life is truly worth re-creating on the big screen in all its languid glory.

-Sonny Bunch

Hannah Montana: The Movie (Disney, $29.99 for DVD, $39.99 for two-disc DVD, $44.99 for three-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack) - Miley Stewart (the alter ego of superstar Miley Cyrus) has always enjoyed the best of both worlds - friends, family and a relatively normal life as Miley, and designer duds and adoring fans as pop singer Hannah Montana. The tagline for “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” the latest big-screen incarnation of the popular Disney Channel television series, implies that she’ll finally have to choose between them. But would Disney - not to mention Miley’s father, played by real-life dad and country crooner Billy Ray Cyrus - really imperil one of Disney’s most successful franchises? Miley herself seems to want to branch out - she has often sounded reluctant to keep the series that made her famous going. It’s impossible to say whether she has a big-screen career ahead of her, though. She’s really just playing herself here, and the movie is simply one very long episode of the television series, complete with the silly pranks that are the show’s mainstay.

Extras include a director’s commentary; outtakes, which kids should find pretty fun; and four deleted scenes, including an extended sequence between Miley and her father; and one that finally lifts the lid off Hannah’s wigs. In “Find Your Way Back Home,” Miley and her mother, Tish, take viewers on a tour of their hometown, Franklin, Tenn., where the film is partly set. Co-star Emily Osment also shows off her home - the more glamorous Los Angeles - while in another featurette, co-star Jason Earles interviews the cast and crew, making his own mini film school.

The two-disc DVD, unlike the single disc, includes a digital copy of the film. The Blu-ray combo pack includes Blu-ray and DVD versions of the movie, the digital copy, and a couple of additional features. “The Hoedown Throwdown Dance” teaches viewers the biggest of the film’s many musical numbers.

The Garden (Oscilloscope Laboratories, $29.99) - Michelle Obama might be encouraging the growth of community gardens with her vegetable plot on the White House’s South Lawn, but “The Garden” shows how local politics are often far dirtier than anything you’ll see at the top. This fascinating Oscar-nominated documentary - it also picked up the Sterling Award for best U.S. feature at Silverdocs - explores race, class and Los Angeles politics through the story of a 14-acre community garden in the heart of South Central. It was the nation’s largest such project, but after a decade, the 350 families who grew food there and had transformed the blighted property were served with an eviction notice - the city had reached a closed-door settlement with a developer, allowing him to buy back the land. Luminaries including Joan Baez and Daryl Hannah joined the cause, making for a fierce fight from city hall to the courtroom.

Extras include a commentary with the director, producers and one of the activists; an interview with director Scott Hamilton Kennedy; and “Back to the Garden,” an even deeper look into the background and protests.

Dexter (Paramount, $37.99 for DVD, $57.99 for Blu-ray) - Dexter Morgan finds out he’s going to be a father at the beginning of the third season of Showtime’s hit darker-than-dark drama “Dexter.” The Miami-set series stars Michael C. Hall as the titular character, whose day job is as a forensics expert working for the police and whose hobby is killing the criminals who get away. The third season also brought Jimmy Smits into the cast, as an assistant district attorney who just might get in Dexter’s way. All 12 episodes are here - on four discs with the DVD version, three discs with Blu-ray. Extras include interviews with the cast and excerpts from the Jeff Lindsay novels on which the series is based. There also are two episodes each of the Showtime series “The Tudors” and “United States of Tara.”

-Kelly Jane Torrance

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