Friday, January 9, 2009

Pineapple Express (Sony, $28.96 for DVD, $34.95 for two-disc DVD, $39.95 for Blu-ray) - Last year was a pretty good one for comedies, with “In Bruges,” “Tropic Thunder,” “Choke” and the first two-thirds of “Hancock” being particularly funny entries. “Pineapple Express,” though, probably offered the purest laughs.

Seth Rogen and James Franco star as a slacker process server and his drug dealer who go on the lam together when Mr. Rogen’s character witnesses a dirty cop commit murder. It’s kind of hard to evade the bad guys when you’re totally stoned, though.

The king of contemporary comedy, Judd Apatow, co-wrote and co-produced. What sets “Pineapple Express” apart from his other films, such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” is its take on another genre - the buddy action film. Mr. Apatow’s films have often focused on male friendships, so perhaps it was only a matter of time until he rethought films like “Lethal Weapon” in his own image.

The one-disc DVD includes extended and alternate scenes, a making-of featurette, a gag reel and commentary with Mr. Apatow and Mr. Rogen. The two-disc DVD and Blu-ray up the ante, with all that plus deleted scenes, commentary with director David Gordon Green and cast members Danny McBride, Ed Begley Jr. and Rosie Perez, and 15 featurettes that include footage from rehearsals and the first table read. The Blu-ray disc also has a “Ride the Express Game” in which you can play either of the two main characters.

All editions include both the theatrical release and a naughtier, unrated version of the film.

This is also the very first film to include a free download of the movie from iTunes, on the two-disc and Blu-ray versions. Many films have included digital copies, but this is the first you can download right into the popular iTunes program. (If you don’t have it, though, you can also watch it using Windows Media Player.)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Weinstein/Genius, $28.95 for DVD, $34.99 for Blu-ray) - Another stand-out comedy from 2008 was this latest feature from writer-director Woody Allen. It’s up for best picture (comedy or musical) at the Golden Globes this weekend, as are three of its stars: Rebecca Hall for best actress (comedy or musical), Javier Bardem for best actor (comedy or musical) and Penelope Cruz for best supporting actress.

Mr. Allen has been working for decades now, but “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is his freshest film in a while. It has many familiar elements - the neurotic New Yorker, indecision about love, a sprinkling of amusing arty and intellectual conversation - but Mr. Allen’s first filmmaking trip to Spain gave his movie some real Latin passion that makes it a very fun and sexy romp.

Miss Hall and Scarlett Johansson are best friends in America who decide to spend a summer in Barcelona. Miss Hall’s Vicky is a serious scholar engaged to be married; Miss Johansson’s Cristina is a free-spirited girl who doesn’t know what she wants from love or work, except that she doesn’t want to settle down. Both women are thrown when they meet the charismatic artist played by Mr. Bardem, who’s dealing with some love troubles of his own: He’s got a fiery love-hate relationship with his ex, played by the sultry Miss Cruz putting in her best work in years.

Sadly, as is usual for Woody Allen DVD releases, this one doesn’t include any extras.

The Tudors: The Complete Second Season (Paramount, $42.99) and Dexter: The Complete First Season (Paramount, $57.99 for Blu-ray - HBO has been feeling the pinch - both in lower ratings and lower critical buzz - since their series “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” ended in the last couple of years. Showtime, meanwhile, is taking up the slack, getting record viewership for such popular and critical successes as “Dexter” and “The Tudors.”

Jonathan Rhys Meyers burns up the small screen as Henry VIII, while we’ll all miss the beautiful Natalie Dormer as the doomed and dastardly Anne Boleyn. In the event-filled second season, Henry gets divorced, excommunicated and widowed - all through his own choice, of course. Peter O’Toole is particularly good here as Pope Paul III, while Anita Briem makes her mark as the even more beautiful Jane Seymour, who is quickly lined up to take Anne’s place when the new wife can’t produce the desired male heir. “The Tudors” works so well because its performances are first-rate, its costumes are gorgeous, its mood is sexy, and the guilt is extracted from this guilty pleasure by the idea you might actually be learning something while you watch.

With its high production values, “The Tudors” seems a no-brainer for Blu-ray, but it’s only being released on standard DVD in a four-disc set. Maybe we’ll see it in high-def soon. “Dexter,” the eccentric drama about a crime investigator-by-day turned serial-killer-by-night, now has its first season out on Blu-ray - enabling you to see all that gore in glorious high-def.

- Kelly Jane Torrance

The Last Emperor (Criterion, Blu-ray $39.95) - Bernardo Bertolucci’s classic on the life of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, gets the royal treatment from the Criterion Collection on this stunning Blu-ray release. The visuals, needless to say, are of the highest quality: Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro oversaw the film’s transfer, ensuring that the luscious colors and subtle camerawork have never looked better.

The extra features are copious, and enjoying them all will take you the better part of a weekend. There’s an audio commentary with the director, producer, screenwriter and composer; four short films (one documenting the director’s geographic influences, two examining the creation of the film, and another on the decadent costume design); three interviews (one with Mr. Bertolucci, one with the composer, and one from 2008 with the historian Ian Buruma); and a fantastic appreciation by film critic David Thomson in the booklet included with the film.

As for the feature, not much needs to be said. “The Last Emperor” won nine Oscars in 1988, taking a trophy in every category it was nominated, including best picture. It’s simultaneously epic and personal, the story of a man overtaken by history’s current and his failure to understand the forces at work in his time. It’s a rare glimpse into a society infrequently examined at a moment of radical transformation. In short, it’s a must-see - and a must-own.

Swing Vote (Touchstone/Disney, $34.99 for Blu-ray, $29.99 for DVD) - There’s good schmaltz and bad schmaltz, and “Swing Vote” falls firmly into the latter camp. Kevin Costner stars as Bud, an average guy who is put in the unlikely position of getting to choose the next president of the United States, thanks to a voting booth mixup. Wacky high jinks ensue as the nominees court Bud and his daughter, Molly (Madeline Carroll), who grows disillusioned by her father’s shameful behavior.

“Swing Vote” is never sure what kind of film it wants to be. It hectors us on the wonders of voting like a cranky civics teacher but treats the political process like a corrupt freak show. It marvels at the riches of the American spirit but focuses on the gutted, broken portion of its citizenry. It preaches the importance of family but offers redemption of its failed father only by default. Now that the election is over, we can safely shelve tripe like this for at least the next three years.

- Sonny Bunch

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