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Headsup for March 25, 2008

An ongoing attempt to make sense of the onslaught of new swag that people want you to buy. Should you? I’ll try and help.

Dan In Real Life DVD Cover Art
Groundhog Day 15th Anniversary Edition DVD Cover Art
Nancy Drew DVD Cover Art

Dan in Real Life is a bit of surprise: it’s a comedy that came under the radar that lacked the CG-oompah of something like Evan Almighty and as a result didn’t burn up the box office. But these days, are there small romantic comedies that demand the big screen treatment? A few. Regardless, it’s on DVD now from Touchstone and you can give it the small screen treatment as much as you’d like. Carell will no doubt return to wrecking the box office later this year in Get Smart. Anyway, in this simple but endearing comedy he falls in love with Juliette Binoche (wouldn’t you?) only to find out that she’s his brother’s new girlfriend. Don’t you hate it when that happens? Especially since he’s a relationship advice columnist. Nice. Also stars Dane Cook, John Mahoney and Dianne Wiest. Comes also with a commentary with the writer/director, deleted scenes with commentary from the same writer/director, outtakes, a making-of featurette and a music featurette. Carell fans or people who just like romantic comedies should rent before purchasing. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Granted, Groundhog Doy was in February. But the beauty of the film is that, fifteen years on, our day to day lives are even more like the day Bill Murray’s Phil Connors is doomed to repeat. It just gets better with time, as do all the classic Murray flicks. This new 15th Anniversary Edition out from Sony has only improved a little over the previous special edition, however. My copy of that version is still buried in my archives from my move to the compound here, but I’m fairly certain this commentary from director, co-writer, and all-around excellent fellow Harold Ramis, while still amusing, is not new. Neither is the “Weight of Time” docu. The only things that I don’t recall from that previous iteration of the title are the deleted scenes, an interview with Ramis, and a groundhog featurette. Still no Bill Murray in the features, sadly. But regardless, if you don’t own this title already, there’s no excuse not to. The film is good enough to nab even with a bare bones disc. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

So, Emma Roberts stars as the latest iteration of Nancy Drew. And before we even start talking about this Warner Brothers release or anything else, let’s at least be grateful for that. Why? Because the year before she was in the movie Spymate with a chimp. So you’ve come a long way in a short time, Emma. Congrats. Anyway, as we’ve said before, in this film Nancy goes to Hollywood because that’s just what they wanted to do with the character. And there–a mystery! Like that was a surprise. Anyway, young girls will probably appreciate the light (almost non-existent) touch of the film. There’s not much in the way of bonus bits, either: a gag reel, and some featurettes. For those people who want some bonus bits, though, there is a pay-per-view and on-demand exclusive version called Nancy Drew: Drew’s Clues. It’s something called “Movies That Pop” (yes, like the weasel goes) which gives you a more interactive experience with the film along with behind the scenes bits. To find out how to snag it (and it appears to be snaggable on other places like iTunes and Amazon Unbox) check out its official site here. (Click here to buy the DVD from Amazon.)

Things We Lost in the Fire DVD Cover Art
Into the Wild DVD Cover Art
The Dragon Painter DVD Cover Art

Things We Lost in the Fire, out from DreamWorks, is more than just the coolest name for a story I’ve heard in a while. It’s got Needcoffee fave Benicio Del Toro along with Halle Berry. Not to mention everybody’s fave David Duchovny. Basically Berry and her family get dealt a serious blow and have to come to grips with the aftermath. In comes Del Toro’s character, an old friend, who has his own issues but wants to support his friends in need. Thus the repair of a family begins. Is it a perfect film? No. But if you enjoy these three actors you could do a lot worse than to give this a rental, as they all turn in fine performances. The DVD itself doesn’t have much to offer beyond the feature film: you get several deleted scenes and a featurette. But as I said, it’s worth checking out the acting, which rises above any other problems. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Paramount Vantage offers up a two-disc edition of Into the Wild, the latest film from Sean Penn in the director’s and writer’s chair. It’s the story of a young man who decides to chuck everything out the window and head out for Alaska so he can leave off the land. It’s sort of like what Sam Jackson’s character did after he left the narrative in Pulp Fiction, though probably with different results. You can say what you want about the anti-establishment anti-whatever message of the film, but one thing you can’t deny are some great performances by actors that you never mind seeing grace your screen. I’m talking about William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn and of course the most excellent Hal Holbrook. The two-disc set is surprisingly sparse for being a two-disc set: first disc you get the film, second disc you get an extended making-of featurette–and that’s about it. If you’re fan of the book this is based on, or Sean Penn’s work, or even of Getting Away From it All, then you might want to give this at least a rental. Is there a better edition coming down the pike? Perhaps. But like I said, rent it before you buy to make sure it’s something you want permanently on your shelf. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

Lastly, we’ve got The Dragon Painter from Milestone. This is a 1919 film that was thought lost until a print was found in France. It’s been restored (as best as film that’s almost 90 freaking years old can be) and released with a boatload of extras. First, the film: an artist has dragons as the focus of his work. Why? Because he thinks his fiancee was captured by dragons. But what happens when he meets a woman that he falls in love with (and who isn’t either a dragon or associates with dragons)? It’s a silent film, so if you haven’t watched many you’re going to be in for a bit of an education, but for fans of silent cinema or Asian American cinema, this is a no brainer. The features, as I said, are formidable. There’s a second feature, The Wrath of the Gods. Then there’s how to create your own volcano so you too can have the climax of Wrath. The full script for Wrath and the original novel of Painter are available on DVD-ROM. There’s a short comedy film with star of both films, Sessue Hayakawa and Fatty Arbuckle. There’s some excellent galleries of artwork and photos plus more. A most excellent release. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)