DVD Recommendations

Sometimes you just can’t get to a movie theater. Or there’s nothing playing that you want to see. Or you just don’t want the hassle. That’s why we have DVDs. This week, I’m going to ignore the real thing and give you a couple of home theater recommendations.

Let’s start with the big one–in more ways than one. Amazingly enough, Best of Youth isn’t currently at the Balboa. But Miramax has released the best film of 2005 on DVD in a deluxe two-disc set containing absolutely no extras. I guess a 6-hour masterpiece doesn’t need them.

Easily the best two-part, six-hour movie since Godfather I and II, Best of Youth follows the fortunes of one family, a close circle of their friends, and the Italian people as a whole, from 1966 to 2003. Yes, six hours is a long time to spend in front of your television, but in those six hours you’ll make new friends, fall in and out of love, learn a lot of recent Italian history, and marvel at just how wonderful a story-telling medium motion pictures can be.

Despite its length, Best of Youth is best experienced in a single day. Set aside a Saturday or Sunday. Invite some friends over. Start at, say, 2:00 in the afternoon. Assuming you don’t take too many bathroom breaks, you’ll finish Part 1 a little after 5:00. Take a walk. Eat a hearty meal (Italian cuisine recommended). Start Part 2 at 6:30, and you’ll be done before 10:00.

For something lighter (and shorter), try Free Enterprise. No, it’s not another anti-corporate documentary, but a comedy about young adult, male Star Trek fanatics trying to reconcile their hobby with their life. Low-budget and independent, Free Enterprise had a very limited theatrical release in 1999 (it didn’t even get to the Bay Area), but has apparently attracted enough of a cult following to justify a two-disc set loaded with extras.

I know what you’re thinking: “A comedy about trekkies? Spare me!” But if you’ve ever been obsessed about anything, or knew someone who was, or were romantically involved with someone whose obsessions conflicted with your own, you’ll get a lot of laughs out of Free Enterprise. The movie is funny, sweet, knowledgeable about its subject, and sexy enough to earn its R rating (it contains what is probably the funniest oral-sex-in-a-moving-vehicle scene in movie history).

The best thing about Free Enterprise is William Shatner. He plays himself, in a substantial supporting role, as an insecure actor with dreams of singing Shakespeare. Shatner specializes in self-parody these days, but here he takes it to a level of real acting. Who would have thought he had the talent?

The version of Free Enterprise in this “Five Year Mission Extended Editionis six minutes longer than the theatrical version (which I’ve never seen). It will be in stores this coming Tuesday.

So much for DVDs. Here’s what’s in theaters this week.

Recommended, with Reservations: Metropolis (1927), California Theatre, San Jose, Friday, 7:30. The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch. The images–workers in a hellish, underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis have seen some of the countless films it influenced. But the beautiful imagery only make the melodramatic plot and characters seem all the more trite. The Cinequest Festival is presenting this silent movie with live organ accompaniment by Clark Wilson.

Noteworthy: Tron, Act 1 & 2, Friday and Saturday, Midnight. I haven’t seen Tron since it was a new movie showing on very big screens. I remember it being a dumb story but a entertaining light show. Whatever computer geek in-jokes it contained went over my head (although I might get some of them, now). Today, I suspect Tron would have considerable historical interest. It was the first film to extensively use what we now call CGI. It was one of only two Hollywood films shot in 65mm between 1971 and 1992. And it was probably the last big movie about computers made before they became household appliances.

Recommended: Go For Zucker, Opera Plaza and Shattuck, opening Friday. Possibly the first Jewish film from Germany in 70 years that’s not about the Holocaust, and almost certainly the funniest. Pool hall hustler and one-time Communist sportscaster Jaeckie Zucker is so not Jewish that he refuses to call his granddaughter by her given name: Sarah. Overwhelmed by financial and family woes, he sees monetary salvation in his mother’s death. But to get his half of the inheritance, he must host his hated, orthodox relatives for a week. This movie has everything: religion, death, reconciliation, pool, first-cousin incest, an orthodox Jew on ecstasy, and more laughs than anything this side of The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

Recommended: Truth or Dare, Camera 12, San Jose, Friday, 4:30, Sunday, 9:00, and Thursday, 12:00 noon. The 2005 Audience Award Winner at the Kinofest Lunen Festival speaks of youthful alienation, frustration, and, most of all, dishonesty. 18-year-old Annika (Katharina Schüttler) flunks out of school, but doesn’t have the heart to tell her parents. As the months go by and her “graduation” approaches, the lie grows out of control, alienating her not only from her parents but also from those entrusted in keeping her secret. Part of the Cinequest Festival.

Noteworthy: The Academy Awards, Balboa, Castro, Lark, Parkway, Rafael, Roxie, and your home, Sunday, 5:00. All jokes about the stupid Academy aside, they actually picked some good movies this year. And with Jon Stewart hosting, it’s bound to be entertaining.

Recommended, with Reservations: To Catch a Thief, Castro, Monday through Wednesday. Not one of Hitchcock’s best by a long shot. The story is weak, with too much mystery and not enough suspense. But it has its good points, including the only pairing of Hitchcock’s most glamorous romantic stars (Cary Grant and Grace Kelly), one of the best kisses in movie history, and wonderful French Riviera locations filmed in glorious VistaVision.