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Tropic Thunder: Unrated Director's Cut (Blu-Ray)

Dreamworks
Movie A-
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 9 (out of 10)

With this film, director Ben Stiller has made his finest movie since The Cable Guy, and actor Stiller delivered his best comedic acting job since There's Something About Mary. Stiller is in take-no-prisoners comic mode here, as opposed to the sweet moppet inhabiting family fare like Night at the Museum, Madagascar and Meet the Fockers.

Stiller plays Tugg Speedman, a fading action star who takes a role in a Vietnam War movie in a bid to be seen as a serious actor. Also in the cast is Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), who is such a method actor that he has his skin permanently darkened so he can play a black man. There's also Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), who has made a living farting on film.

The acting platoon's frazzled director, Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan), decides to take the group deep into the jungle to make the movie guerilla-style. Horrible accidents ensue, and the actors find themselves in a real conflict with a drug cartel. The whole thing is a great riff on actors who take themselves too seriously, and action films in general.

Stiller doesn't hold back on politically incorrect humor (Simple Jack, a mentally handicapped character, was the subject of real-life protests) and gore. The film has some serious, hard-core bloodletting. Speedman's encounter with a severed head and an actor's stomach wound are especially memorable.

It's good to see Stiller turning out a high-quality product both in front of and behind the camera. Downey deserves an Oscar nom for what he does here, while Black gets a chance to visit his sick and dark side. It's one of the year's funniest movies, and proof that Stiller is a director to be reckoned with.

The director's cut features an excised scene of the cast at a crew party, and some extended sequences.

Special Features: Rain of Madness is the best of the features. Justin Theroux (who co-wrote Thunder with Stiller) plays a German documentary director covering the deterioration of the Tropic Thunder production. It's a hilarious spoof on Hearts of Darkness, which covered the virtual collapse of Francis Ford Coppola on the set of Apocalypse Now. Theroux's German accent is drop-dead funny. You also get two commentaries: one with Stiller, Theroux and other production crew members, and another with Stiller and cast members. In the film, Downey's Lazarus states that he stays in character until after the DVD commentary, and he keeps his promise. You'll also find deleted scenes, an alternate ending and cast biographies.


Shrek the Halls

Paramount
Show A-
Special Features C-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

This is actually a good holiday treat that will sit comfortably next to Rudolph and Charlie Brown on your Christmas-movie shelf. Shrek (the voice of Mike Myers) looks to have his first Christmas with the kids and Fiona (Cameron Diaz), but Donkey (Eddie Murphy) has other plans. He brings over his entire family and others from the Shrek films (including the Gingerbread Man and Puss in Boots) to crash Christmas Eve. Of course, Shrek learns a heartwarming lesson about the importance of friends and family during the holidays ... and a possum gets cooked over the fire for dinner.

The Christmas special keeps a little of that warped Shrek fairy-tale vibe going. Especially good is a scene in which Santa is a nightmare to the gingerbread men, and another in which Puss in Boots becomes distracted by a ball while telling a story. This film is awfully cute, worthy of stocking-stuffer status.

Special Features: The show is great, but the features are disposable. Some Madagascar Christmas sing-alongs and a lame gingerbread-man game fail to impress. Still, the show is good, so don't sweat the paltry features.


The Who at Kilburn 1977

Image
Movie A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Who drummer Keith Moon died in 1978, and this was his second-to-last gig with the band before his untimely, but highly predictable, demise. Moon got a little sloppy during the band's layoff before the show, but a sloppy Moon is better than most rock drummers at the top of their game.

The set is great, featuring many classics and one of the first live performances of "Who Are You?" The concert was filmed for the rock biography The Kids Are Alright, but the footage was scrapped and thrown into a vault. The band came back a few months later to run through the songs again, and that's what ended up in Kids. In just those few months, Moon's appearance deteriorated greatly.

You don't have to be a Who fan to appreciate what this band puts forth. And it's an extra bonus that guitarist Pete Townshend was especially grumpy for this show, taunting the audience and proclaiming the show not worth filming. It also features him at his windmilling, leaping best.

Special Features: For good measure, you also get footage of the band performing tracks from their early career and Tommy in a 1969 London Coliseum concert.

More by Bob Grimm

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