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On DVD: "Cowboys & Aliens"; "The Hangover Part II"; "Bobby Fischer Against the World"; "The Staircase"

By Christopher Campbell | Spout December 6, 2011 at 1:02PM

Looking for something to rent this week? Here's what we had to say about the films out now on DVD/Blu-ray today:
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Cowboys & Aliens Art

Looking for something to rent this week? Here's what we had to say about the films out now on DVD/Blu-ray today: 

One of the most disappointing movies of the year, and not just financially, is Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens," a blockbuster mash-up of the Western and the alien invasion genres. But more than the lack of great storytelling and thrilling spectacle, I was upset with the obnoxious message of the film, which is far worse than any issue one can have with "The Help" (which is also out on home video today). From my original response to "Cowboys & Aliens" on July 29:

we're getting to play the victim, and the hero, and the survivor.

Mostly, though, it's a kind of slap in the face to the Native Americans and anyone else conquered and exploited by the European invaders. Because by having white guys as the heroes, even with assistance from an Apache tribe, it's as if to say, "this is how it's done." I guess rather than today's usual white guilt, this is more an act of white innocence with a ton of white pride -- like a declaration that we're strong enough to avert invasion, and it's not our fault that others weren't. Notice that in the title "Cowboys & Aliens," it's the Indians who are substituted for new bad guys. Even if "Aliens & Cowboys" had a better ring to it, the phrasing would be incorrect. Cowboys remain first, best, top-billing. [....]

Recommended If You Like: "Battlefield Earth"; "Unknown"; "The Time Machine" (2002 version)

If that movie is not racially offensive enough, there's always Todd Phillips' "The Hangover Part II," which many simply found disappointing for its rehash of the story from the first film. Daniel Walber saw it as so much worse, noting that it does attempt to top the original, only in the wrong ways, resulting a movie that is "loud, racially insensitive and homophobic." From his review, posted May 27:

In the spirit of ratcheting up the outrageousness, it is revealed in the sequel (at almost exactly the same place in the narrative) that not only did he have sex with another stripper, but she’s got a penis. Suddenly the frame is full of them, previously unnoticed on the transgender staff, which is designed to set the target audience into a boisterous combination of laughter and retching. The rationale seems to be that the only way to outdo a drunken wedding in Vegas is to bring about the unthinkable: gay sex. In a single scene, the movie manages to reduce itself to the level of uninspired dick jokes and tired homophobic humor. [...]

Recommended if you like: "The Hangover"; "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"'; "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"

At least there are some documentaries out on home video, right? Well, even the biggest nonfiction title hitting DVD today is something of a disappointment. Though I like the look of Liz Garbus's "Bobby Fischer Against the World" and enjoyed the riveting first half, I ultimately don't see it as having a point. From my review, posted June 6:

I kind of wish the film had concentrated even more on the the time surrounding the 1972 games, even if that would mean very little address of the illegal 1992 re-match in Yugoslavia that got him in trouble with the U.S. government or his eventual return to Iceland for final years asylum. Because either the doc is a biography or it isn't. [...] Garbus doesn't seem too passionate about the game nor even the player the film is focused on. It definitely feels like a film where the filmmaker got an idea to make a doc about this intriguing person who had just recently died and then went to town researching him and pouring over whatever footage and photographs of him she could get a hold of. What's on screen is just what Garbus has learned and can now share with us as a proxy (with help from the interviewed experts). It's all as interesting as a report of that kind sounds like, but nothing more. [...]

Recommended If You Like: chess; "Man on Wire"; "Rocky IV"

I would still recommend that film for the first part alone, but if there's any documentary to rent this week it's Jean-Xavier de Lestrade's "The Staircase," a brilliantly absorbing eight-part miniseries about a man on trial for murdering his wife. I guess it's been reissued. I'm not sure what's new this time around, though. Regardless, the original material is what matters. Here's what I wrote of the work in my list of the best docs of the 2000s:

Best Doc Miniseries: Jean-Xavier de Lestrade followed up his terrific Oscar-winning courtroom documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning with the six-hour masterpiece The Staircase (2004), which follows the murder trial of Michael Peterson from his indictment to his ... The story is so full of twists and surprises, usually timed in the editing to be made cliff hangers, that no Hollywood scripted legal thriller could ever compete with it. And the length of the film allows for more intimacy and investment by the viewer than does a feature-length doc. I can't imagine watching it non-successively on television, as it's the cinematic equivalent of a page-turner.

Follow Christopher Campbell on Twitter: @thefilmcynic
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This article is related to: Home Video, Documentary, Sci-Fi, Western, Sequels