New releases available this week
Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology 1989-1997
(Warner Home Video)
There's good reason to be skeptical of an eight-disc Batman set that forces you to buy the campy Joel Schumacher movies (Batman Forever, its title a veiled threat, and Batman & Robin) when all you need are the dark Tim Burton ones (Batman and Batman Returns). But you could watch a little bit every day for a year without ever having to sniff Val Kilmer or George Clooney; it's substantial enough to warrant the $80 price tag and still seem like a bargain. Most notable among the 50 (!) docs are the Legends of the Dark Knight history lesson and the six-part Shadows of the Bat making-of series. Burton provides commentaries for his films, but more illuminating are Schumacher's comments about Batman & Robin. He insists he wanted to do an adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, which would have meant "a darker Batman," but that Warner Bros. forced him to go light and bright. OK, dude. We believe you. All is forgiven. Sorta.
--Robert Wilonsky Land of the Dead: Unrated Director's Cut (Universal)
Watching a George A. Romero zombie flick with some of the violence cut out is like watching Jenna Jameson soul kiss for just a little while; the pleasure is in the excess. So here, in all its unedited glory, is genre-creator Romero's standard stuff: ham-handed political allegory and limbs gnawed on like ham hocks by legions of grunting, shuffling dead. The best extras are all about the gore, from a short doc on effects master Greg Nicolero and the many ways he can kill you, to a short "music video" that relives the film's grodiest moments. Romero also provides an insightful commentary track for hardcore fans. --Jordan Harper
The Big Lebowski Achiever's Edition (MCA Home Video)
The Big Lebowski may not be the most critically lauded film made by Joel and Ethan Coen (Fargo; O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and certainly it's not the best (Miller's Crossing). But Jeff Bridges as "The Dude" provides just one of a half-dozen performances that make it a deserving cult classic. That said, you'd have to be quite the Kool-Aid drinker to shell out for the Achiever's Edition. Along with a new "special edition" DVD (which can be purchased separately, and which isn't all that special anyway), you'll be the proud owner of a Lebowski bowling towel, some beverage coasters with The Dude's White Russian recipe and some candid photos snapped by Bridges. Remastered and with a short documentary, the DVD itself is shockingly low on added value. But it will tie your room together. --J.H.
Festival! (Eagle Eye Media)
Murray Lerner's film about the Newport Folk Festival arrives mere weeks after excerpts from it appeared in Martin Scorsese's Dylan doc No Direction Home. In 1963, '64 and '65, Lerner lugged his gear to the non-profit shindig and came away with some sublime stuff--nothing more so than Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," plugged-in enough to turn the crowd inside-out. Problem is, there's no context, just concert, and snippets of it at that, which is fine when you're talking Peter, Paul and Mary or Joan Baez, but not when it comes to Howlin' Wolf or Johnny Cash. Lerner didn't recognize what he had--a film marking the end of an era, an exclamation point at the conclusion of a chapter with Dylan going electric. Alas, no reactions to "Maggie's Farm," just more performances...and more, yet still not enough. --R.W.
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