- The Washington Times - Friday, February 27, 2009

Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney, $29.99 for DVD, $34.99 for Blu-ray) — The recession hasn’t made its way to children’s movies yet. The opening scenes of last year’s live-action hit “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” look like one of the more outrageous shopping trips of “Sex in the City.” Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) carries around her dog, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) in a chic Louis Vuitton bag and dresses her in custom-made designer duds. This is one pampered pooch. So the puppy becomes a fish out of water when she’s stranded in Mexico, taken there by her young, party-hearty dog sitter, Rachel (Piper Perabo). She tries to make her way back north of the border with the help of a local dog (voiced by Andy Garcia) and, unknown to Chloe, the lowly gardener’s dog who admires her, Papi (voiced charmingly by George Lopez).

Disney, as usual, provides some fun extras on the discs. The DVD includes “Legend of the Chihuahua,” a new animated short; deleted scenes; a blooper reel; and audio commentary. Blu-ray editions don’t always come with much more, but this one does: “Pet Pals: The Voices Behind the Dogs,” “Hitting Their Bark: On Set With the Dogs of ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’” and more deleted scenes. The blooper reel and the behind-the-scenes look at the film show how difficult it might have been to make this children’s movie. Usually the blooper reel shows the actors of the film getting their lines wrong, but the filmmakers here had more trouble getting the dogs to remember their jobs. A lot of extras on children’s films seem more aimed at older children and parents, but the little ones will laugh out loud at these doggy bloopers.

Painted Lady (Acorn, $24.99) — Before her Oscar-winning performance in “The Queen,” Helen Mirren probably was best known on these shores as the hard-drinking, tough-living detective at the center of the British series “Prime Suspect.” That’s not the only hard-drinking, tough-living role in which PBS has shown her. In “Painted Lady,” a British miniseries that aired here in 1998, the actress is also on the trail of a murderer, but this time as a civilian.

Miss Mirren plays Maggie Sheridan, a well-known singer in the ‘60s who is now drinking away her life in obscurity on a friend’s country estate. When that friend is murdered and his Artemisia Gentileschi painting stolen, Maggie emerges from her shell to enter the art world to solve the crime.

This is an enjoyable 3½-hour mystery, and not just because the incomparable Miss Mirren stars. It was directed by Julian Jarrold, who went on to make the period films “Becoming Jane” and “Brideshead Revisited.” His talent for a great shot and moving detail is on evidence here.

Australia (Fox, $29.99 for DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — If you like gorgeous epics, pick up this film on Blu-ray — and watch it with the sound off. Baz Luhrmann’s love letter to his country is an uneven film despite the talents of stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman (who even made fun of the flop when he hosted the Oscars Sunday). Mr. Luhrmann was working on the film right up to its release, and it seems he never did decide what kind of movie he wanted to make.

The DVD doesn’t have many extras, just some deleted scenes. The Blu-ray apparently will have some featurettes, but the word is that these can be found free on iTunes. Those beautiful Australian vistas should look good in high-definition, but you still might want to wait before picking up this one, even if you’re a Baz Luhrmann fanatic. He apparently wants to do a special-edition version of the DVD for release later this year.

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder (Fox, $29.99 for DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray) — This is the fourth direct-to-DVD feature-length “Futurama” film; let’s hope it won’t be the last. Every one of these movies has been about as funny as episodes of the TV show on which it is based — sometimes better.

There are a slew of great extras here, including an audio commentary with creator Matt Groening (who also is responsible for “The Simpsons”), executive producer David X. Cohen, producer Lee Supercinski, director Peter Avanzino, voice actors John DiMaggio and Maurice LaMarche, and writers Patric Verrone and Michael Rowe. Other features include, but aren’t limited to, “How to Draw Futurama in 10 Very Difficult Steps,” a gallery of 3-D models, and deleted and alternate scenes.

Kelly Jane Torrance

The French Connection, The French Connection II (20th Century Fox, $34.98 each for Blu-ray). Viewing these films in high definition heightens their grittiness - the streets of Brooklyn and Marseilles look incredibly grimy, emblematic of the worst parts of 1970s urban living.

Directed by William Friedkin, “The French Connection” holds up as a police procedural almost four decades later. Devoid of any sentimentality for its NYPD protagonist, Popeye Doyle (Gene Hackman), the movie is in many ways a precursor of Michael Mann’s “Heat.” The viewer sees both cop and criminal in their daily routines, noting the substantive similarities and superficial differences in the way their lives are lived.

Loosely based on a real-life heroin bust, “The French Connection” is a demanding film in the sense that Mr. Friedkin refuses to hand-hold the audience through the action. No mustache-twirling villain shows up to explain the ins and outs of the plan; you pick it up as the cops pick it up.

The sequel, directed by John Frankenheimer, is even more dedicated to letting viewers find their own way. “The French Connection II” is set entirely in France, and large portions of the film’s French dialogue go untranslated. Popeye is a fish out of water, so the audience is a fish out of water. It’s an interesting, if occasionally frustrating, artistic choice. The original is superior, but Mr. Frankenheimer’s sequel is no slouch. The pair viewed in tandem make for a fine evening in.

Sonny Bunch

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