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Payback: Straight Up (The Director's Cut)

Paramount Home Video
Movie: B+
Special Features: A-
DVD Geek Factor: 8.5 (out of 10)

Just a few days after winning an Oscar for his L.A. Confidential screenplay, director Brian Helgeland was fired from the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback. Producers, including Gibson, felt that the director's vision wasn't commercial enough. In Helgeland's version, Gibson's character, Porter, was far more vicious. The third act was entirely different, and the finale was much bleaker.

The plot of the film involved Porter, a rather craggy street criminal, trying to get back a sum of money he lost after a double cross. Porter was cruel enough in the theatrical version, and I was surprised to find out that the director had been removed from the project during its initial production because the movie seemed rather daring for a Gibson film at the time. Audiences weren't used to the idea of Gibson as the ultimate sociopath (a notion we probably wouldn't have difficulty accepting after his recent meltdown).

A few months back, director Richard Donner released his original vision of Superman II on DVD, and now Helgeland gets to do the same with Payback. The result is an entirely different and equally good film. It seems as if approximately 50 percent of the movie is changed, with the biggest alterations occurring in the final third. In the theatrical version, Kris Kristofferson had a rather meaty role as the villain with whom Gibson's Porter has a final confrontation. Now, we never even see the villain. She's just a voice on the phone, played by Sally Kellerman.

In the new version, Porter beats up women, kills more people in cold blood, the dog dies and Porter doesn't have a happy ending. I liked the theatrical cut, but now that I've seen what Helgeland had intended, I'm thinking this is the version that really matters. The studio really screwed with him on this one, and it's a cool thing that they've righted this wrong by giving him his day on DVD.

Special Features: Some nice work has gone into this DVD. The production quality of the behind-the-scenes stuff is first-rate. Helgeland, and even Gibson, sit down to discuss what went wrong during the initial production and how the two films differ. Helgeland gives a full film commentary, pointing out how the look of the new film is radically different from the blue hues of the original. It's surprising how much has been changed from the original, and Helgeland guides you through all of those changes. I love when DVDs do stuff like this.

South Park: The Complete Ninth Season

Paramount Home Video
Show: A
Special Features: D
DVD Geek Factor: 6 (out of 10)

I've never met an episode of South Park I didn't like. This season offered up the infamous "Trapped In the Closet" episode, where one of the South Park kids is mistaken for the reincarnation of L. Ron Hubbard. Tom Cruise, upon being rejected by the South Park kid because his acting is just "OK," hides in a closet, where he is eventually joined by a hilarious John Travolta caricature and R. Kelley. Scientology is positively skewered, with the team of Trey Parker and Matt Stone in typically merciless mode.

Special Features: The usual mini-commentaries. That's all.

Nine Inch Nails Live: Beside You In Time

Show: B+
Special Features: B-
DVD Geek Factor: 6.25 (out of 10)

I saw Nine Inch Nails a couple of times on one of their recent tours. Once in a casino, where things were relatively calm. I also saw them at the Coachella music festival, where Trent Reznor said something along the lines of "You are fucking pigs!" setting the scene for a bloody mosh pit that caused me to immediately regret getting close to the stage. Some crazy bastard that looked like Andre the Giant was allowing skinheads to mash their heads into his face. Blood splattered everywhere, and a certain large person was definitely in need of major plastic surgery at night's end. It was cool.

This encapsulation of the 2006 winter tour does a nice job of capturing the concert experience minus the spraying blood. The band set a cool mood with its light show, Reznor has been reinvigorated by his workout regimen (he's huge!), and the music is quite spectacular. Fans of Reznor will find themselves very happy with this disc.

Special Features: Cool rehearsal footage allows you to view the band in "garage band" mode. In some ways, these performances are actually stronger. A couple of music videos as well.

The Pursuit of Happyness

Sony Pictures
Movie: B+
Special Features: B
DVD Geek Factor: 6.5 (out of 10)

My tragically uninformed ass managed to watch this whole film not knowing that the kid in the movie with Will Smith is actually his son. I wasn't surprised to hear the news, seeing that the two work really well together, with little Jaden Smith not lacking his father's charms. The two play a father and son forced to live on the streets of San Francisco while dad goes through an unpaid stockbroker training program. This constitutes Will Smith's best acting to date, and he deserved his Oscar nomination.

Special Features: Director commentary, a documentary about Smith and his kid and an interview with Chris Gardner, the real-life inspiration for the film.