Dexter: The First Season (Showtime/Paramount)
Premium cable’s answer to C.S.I. is this comic crime drama about a forensics expert at the Miami police department who moonlights as a serial killer. Dexter is a real crowd-pleaser, in large part because the show’s writers have figured out how to walk a fine line between condemning Dexter’s actions and making him thoroughy likable. His victims, you see, are already guilty of their own heinous crimes — in many cases, Dexter just has to track them down before his colleagues actually get to them, or even realize what they’re looking for. The central performance by Michael C. Hall is a make-or-break proposition, veering between hammy affability and high-strung sadism. If you don’t appreciate Hall’s smirky, snarky approach to the material, Dexter is a tough sell. But Dexter boasts a strong supporting cast as well as a glossy visual style (I interviewed the HD cinematographer, Romeo Tirone, last year for Film & Video), a propulsive story arc that’ll push you easily from episode to episode, and a winning playfulness about fairly heavy psychological issues.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Dexter – The First Season
The Lives of Others (Sony)
The German film The Lives of Others is about the East German secret police, but it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to suggest certain parallels between the Stasi’s eavesdropping and intimidation tactics and certain post-9/11 tendencies in the contemporary U.S. government. Writing for the White Plains Times earlier this year, I noted that “Ulrich Mühe plays Captain Wiesler, a surveillance and interrogation specialist with big eyes and a serious, perpetual glare…. [He] is terrific as the conflicted functionary who mounts a covert, one-man struggle against the orders he’s meant to follow.” (As it turns out, Mühe — who also appeared as the father in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games — died last month of stomach cancer. He was 54.) I also complained then about writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s “mile-wide sentimental streak,” but I’ve softened a bit on that count. This is really solid filmmaking, and it should translate well to DVD.
Buy it from Amazon.com: The Lives of Others
House of Games (Criterion)
I’ve not seen House of Games in about 20 years, but at the time of its release it seemed like an awfully clever debut from this Mamet character. (Noted Mametologist Mike D’Angelo ranks it atop his top-10 list for 1987; because this list excludes Radio Days, Robocop, and Wings of Desire, this judgment is especially suspect.) The bog-standard MGM/UA edition has been out for years, but the new Criterion disc boasts what I assume will be a superior transfer, along with audio commentary by David Mamet and Ricky Jay, storyboards, a “short documentary,” and an essay by Kent Jones.
Buy it from Amazon.com: House of Games – Criterion Collection
The Milky Way (Criterion)
I’m looking forward to filling another gap in my education upon the release of this, the latest in a series of heretofore excellent Buñuel releases from Criterion. Vincent Canby said the film “goes about its business with a comic, masterly cool that is more remorseless than anything [Buñuel]’s done before.” More recently, Ed Gonzales called it “intelligent but pretentious, sardonic but callous … single-minded.” The DVD has a documentary on Buñuel and atheism.
Buy it from Amazon.com: The Milky Way (Criterion Collection)
She: Deluxe Edition (Kino)
In an amazingly sarcastic review upon its original release, The New York Times called this “a gaudy, spectacular and generally fantastic photoplay which is likely to find its greatest favor with the younger generation.” (The Times also misspelled producer Merian C. Cooper’s name.) And the Time Out Film Guide says, “It’s difficult to decide, between Helen Gahagan and Randolph Scott, the two leads, who gives the more inexpressive, uncharismatic performance.” But according to Channel4.com, which praises the “gargantuan set design” and Max Steiner’s score, it’s a “sumptuous” adaptation of a novel by fantasist H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon’s Mines) that was presumed lost until a single print was discovered in Buster Keaton’s garage. It must have been something to see this in its original engagement at Radio City Music Hall; the two-DVD special edition includes a version of the film that was colorized by Ray Harryhausen (!) as well as the monochromatic original.
Buy it from Amazon.com: She (Deluxe Two Disc Edition)
Rob Zombie: Three-Disc Collector’s Set (Lionsgate)
Nothing new here except, perhaps, an attractive price — assuming you actually want a library copy of House of 1000 Corpses. For most viewers, even horror buffs, the cheaper two-disc unrated edition of The Devil’s Rejects is a better buy; both editions of that film include a 145-minute making-of documentary, 30 Days in Hell, that’s considered definitive by Zombie fans.
Buy it from Amazon.com: Rob Zombie 3-Disc Collector’s Set