"Bonnie and Clyde" was the week's big release -- check out the DVD blog's review -- but a quartet of other offbeat titles helped make this one of the better video slates of the quarter.
"Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains" comes packaged in an environmentally friendly cardboard sleeve. No surprise there, the project coming from Carter and director Jonathan Demme, both with long records of caring about things that need caring for. Demme's documentary tracks the ex-president across the U.S. in late 1996 as he promotes his hotly contested book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Carter is usually seen preaching and building houses for the poor these days, but here is a lively portrait of an international activist, intellectually super-sharp and ready for battle with his Israel-first accusers.
"God forbid he should rest on his laurels," Demme says in the DVD commentary. "He's all about bringing peace to the world."
"Jimmy Carter Man from Plains" is no one-man show. It also stars Carter's handler and friend Elizabeth Hayes, a lovely Simon & Schuster publicist who ran the book tour solo. And then there's Alan Dershowitz, the movie's bad guy, who goes after Carter's advocacy of Palestinian rights with a passion.
"I'm so proud of him," Demme says of Dershowitz, the activist lawyer from Harvard who appeared in the film without conditions -- even though it was a pro-Carter film. Many other critics of Carter refused to allow their images used.
Carter wouldn't debate the hostile Dershowitz on Israeli repression on the West Bank. Demme lets on that Dershowitz's attacks on Carter were even more severe than the docu indicated.
Demme makes no secret of his love for Carter: He's "the American Ghandi, the new Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. ... I feel he's right up there shoulder-to-shoulder with all of them.
"He's funny, he's tough, he's egotistical -- he's a tremendously complicated guy."
Demme makes beautiful movies. This one uses artfully quick-cut news clips and a world music score to keep things visually alert. The DVD's sound and audio are fine.
Demme is a big-time music lover -- one of his last efforts was the terrific "Neil Young Heart of Gold" -- and so there's a half-hour extra that looks at how the score came together.
Expat musicians from Egypt, Iraq and Palestine teamed up with the alt music stars Gillian Welch and Alejandro Escovedo. Fans of Escovedo should be delighted with the rare video of the brilliant Texan doing "Home by Eleven."
Some years ago, Demme also made a film devoted to the offbeat-cranky-cool British singer-songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, whose hits include ... nothing. Demme's "Storefront Hitchcock" was an ace concert film shot on the street, busker style.
Now comes "Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death....and Insects," a Sundance Channel special released by A&E Home Video. It's a snappy hourlong docu about Hitchcock (pictured, far right) and his new band, with plenty of satisfying concert footage that concludes in one of those "Let It Be" rooftop gigs.
The special benefits from name musicians such as R.E.M.'s Peter Buck (who tours as a sideman) as well as Nick Lowe, John Paul Jones and Gillian Welch (again).
"I love that all of the world seems available to Robyn (as a writer), Welch says. "There's no situation too mundane (to be song fodder).
Hitchcock ponders things such "how awful infinity is. There's no bottom below and no ceiling above. At least it's not claustrophobic." The band covers Hitchcock favorites such as "I Often Dream of Trains" and "Uncorrected Personality Traits," but most of the numbers come from the titular album.
Extras include Hitchcock in an extended acoustic performance of not-quite-finished songs and another rooftop number.
More U.K. oddness comes from "Suburban Shootout," another TV import from Acorn Media.
It's described repeatedly as "Desperate Housewives" meets "The Sopranos." Two rival gangs of soccer moms fight over turf in a London suburb, grinding the local punk youth under their heels while engaging in noisy shootouts that mostly claim gardens and glass windows as their victims. The ladies like their sex rough and their men clueless.
The series is seriously silly and a bit of a one-trick pony, but the performances are big fun. There are plenty of laughs in there with the flying bullets.
"Suburban Shootout" ran for a couple of seasons on Britain's Channel 5, then unspooled on the Oxygen Channel in the States. The DVD extras are routine.
From France comes the spooky movie "Them" (Ils), about a young couple from France who live in a big dark house in rural Romania. The movie takes place more or less in real time, with the couple's terror beginning as odd lights and sounds disturb their sleep. Soon they're dealing with strangers in the house, nearly invisible specialists at creating haunted house effects.
The young woman, Clementine (Olivia Bonamy), assumes alpha male duties after her lover is injured. The camera loves Bonamy, who ends up crawling, climbing, running throughout the film in horror-heroine mode.
"The Haunting" would be an influence for "Them," and Hitchcock. Sound, light and the viewers' imaginations provide much of the chills, not guys with bloody axes. The French-Romanian movie is a welcome break from genre torture and dismemberment.
The DVD's making-of looks at the laid-back style of young directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud, who had to calm and coax Bonamy as she battled real-life fears in the production's dark, dangerous and claustrophobic locations.
Another extra is "The Torture of Clementine," the title providing a hint that ultimately the horror in "Them" is no tease. The DVD comes from the reliable genre label Dark Sky Films.
Pick of the week: Jimmy Carter Man From Plains
Dog of the week: Pauly Shore: Natural Born Komics
New and notable:
Bonnie and Clyde (Warner)
Day Break (BCI Entertainment)
Frisky Dingo (Warner)
Jimmy Carter Man From Plains (Sony)
Kings of the Sun (MGM)
The Kite Runner (Paramount)
Los Angeles Dodgers 1988 World Series (A&E Home Video)
Lost Highway (Universal)
Mike Douglas Show: Moments and Memories (Kultur)
Party of Five season 3 (Sony)
Painkiller Jane (Anchor Bay)
Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food, Death .... and Insects (A&E)
Solomon and Sheba (MGM)
Suburban Shootout (Acorn Media)
Taras Bulba (MGM)
Them (aka Ils) (Dark Sky)
Walk the Line Extended Cut (FOx)
Warner Bros. Pictures Gangsters Collection 3