Smile Politely

New DVDs Have Black Friday in Mind

The Christmas shopping season starts this weekend, but the disc everyone wants for their respective holiday is still two weeks away. But I’m sure that there will be no shortage of mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends wandering around Best Buy in five days, asking where they can find it. On behalf of the overworked retail employees of America, I would like to help spread the word: really, The Dark Knight isn’t out until December 9. You’ll have to use that Black Friday discount on WALL-E.

You certainly don’t want to use it on this week’s releases. For example, the beginning of the end of Vince Vaughn’s career, a.k.a. Fred Claus, bows today. Like Elf, Santa Clause and others before it, the release of Fred Claus on DVD took a year, assumedly because no one’s interested in mediocre comedies in the spring. That, or the Christmas theme.

With the possible exception of Elf, I can’t name a Christmas-themed film I’ve really enjoyed in the last couple years. Has Hollywood lost the art of the great Christmas film? Did it ever exist? Am I just too old now? Of course, my favorite Christmas film has long been Richard Donner’s almost relentlessly cynical Bill Murray flick Scrooged, which, I’m proud to say, is one of Roger Ebert’s most hated films of all time. Maybe I’m just not a good judge of these things.

New Releases From the Box

While watching the special features on the film, Hancock, that I was probably too kind on in my review this summer, I started wondering, “Just who the hell is director Peter Berg?” Turns out he’s mostly an actor I’ve seen in several things, and the director of such middling trash as The Kingdom and The Rundown. Hancock fits in with this general pattern of unoriginal and unimaginative action. As the numerous making-of documentaries on the disc reveal, little thought went into this film other than how to make the special effects work. Which is all the more frustrating, as a large portion of the film pretends to some sort of emotional significance that is ultimately flat and underdeveloped. I stand by the performances of the charismatic Will Smith and eminently relatable Jason Bateman, as well as the excitement and charm of the film’s first fifteen minutes; but overall Hancock is something of a stinker.

A Colbert Christmas
Stephen Colbert’s musical Christmas special features songs and appearances by Elvis Costello, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, Feist, John Legend and Jon Stewart, all in hilarious self-mocking roles. Jon Stewart’s sung explanation of Hannukah to the ignorant Colbert is the highlight of the special, which sends up traditional phony Christmas programs. Colbert is stuck in his cabin, unable to make it to his studio to tape his Christmas episode because a bear is stalking him from the woods outside. Typical Colbert irony and layered sarcasm ensues, as Colbert inhabits the reactionary right-wing caricature we know and love from The Colbert Report. The disc comes with several special features, including alternate endings and a video advent calendar, both of which are worthy special features, even if the advent calendar does take forever to get through.

Next Week on From the Box
Chungking Express from the Criterion Collection is probably reviewed, a week late! Then, our hero bitches about The Chronicles of Narnia, gives Step Brothers a chance, has reserved praise for Wanted and defends X -Files: I Want to Believe. Will he convince you that X-Files is okay? Will he actually make it to all of these films? All of these questions have the same answer next week on “From the Box.”

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