Payback: the Director's Cut
This is no standard-issue repackaging of a failed film, with a few scenes slapped on to justify the cynical money grab. Eight years after Paramount stole his movie and handed it to Mel Gibson to rewrite and even direct, writer-director Brian Helgeland finishes the job—by starting over from scratch, more or less, meaning he rounded up the excised footage, edited the sucker entirely on film like it was 1998, readjusted the colors, and even commissioned a brassy new score. To Gibson's credit, he helped fund the do-over and appears in the instructive making-of doc to bless this version, in which his character is even more detestable than before (he gives a woman a beatdown, after all, in a sequence no less shocking today). "It's valid," Gibson says, grinning through his thick Apocalypto beard. "It's a good film." And that's about right: It's a good film, but closer to great than anyone ever imagined. ROBERT WILONSKY
Phantom Museums: The Short Films of the Quay Brothers
Like modern dance or free jazz, stop-motion animation is one of those artistic backwaters that you either love or loathe. If your natural response to four hours of nonlinear, mostly dialogue-free inhuman strangeness is to flee in terror, well, that's understandable. But for those with a taste for it, the Quay Brothers are as good as it gets, and Phantom Museums is a fine introduction to the form. There's never been any stop motion that isn't a little creepy—it consists, after all, of things that shouldn't move moving oddly—but the Quays, with strange creatures wandering shadowy worlds, push the ick factor to the edge. Commentaries and an included booklet help decode the weirdness. But just a little. JORDAN HARPER
BBC/Warner Bros., $79.98
Roll over, Marlin Perkins, and tell Jacques Cousteau the news: There's never been another nature series like this. You will spend forever glued to this five-disc BBC collection, finding among such holy-shit discoveries a herd of never-before-photographed camels who live in the frozen wastelands, great whites dining on unsuspecting seals, swimming monkeys and flying lemurs, and polar bears struggling to survive as their world melts around them—thanks to CO2-emitting humans living thousands of miles away. As much a cry for conservation as an ode to the wonders of nature, this is an astounding, riveting, thrilling, terrifying, and altogether unforgettable collection of how'd-they-get-that footage, as must-own as anything on your shelf. All that, and piranhas, too. ROBERT WILONSKY
The greatest pleasure here—aside from the film itself, for which Helen Mirren won the Oscar for her astoundingly poignant portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II—is watching it alongside British historian Robert Lacey, who contributes a commentary track. The author of several books about the royals, Lacey expounds on each scene—each frame—of the film until this interpretation of the events following the death of Princess Diana begins to feel very much like the real thing. Already a bitterly funny and surprisingly heartbreaking endeavor, in Lacey's hands (er, voice) The Queen becomes something else: a sort of history lesson wherein we understand from the very first moments just why the queen acts as she does. We not only forgive Elizabeth her insolence toward her subjects, but we understand it, we accept it—we almost demand it. ROBERT WILONSKY
Monster moneymaker Night at the Museum will gross even more on DVD, being such a family-friendly crossover hit. There's no way to avoid the obvious joke about Déjà Vu, which is no better the second time around. HBO jumped on the natural-disaster bandwagon with Tsunami, the Aftermath (with Tim Roth, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Toni Collette washed up on the beach). Stars Lucy Liu and Cedric the Entertainer couldn't do much for Code Name: the Cleaner. More vintage Italian horror reddens the screen with Naked You Die (1968), written by Mario Bava. A lesser James Cagney collection includes The Bride Came C.O.D. John Cleese isn't much better represented by a three-pack including How to Irritate People. Criterion's box set of Louis Malle documentaries is a better bet, with Phantom India among its half-dozen offerings. Le Petit Lieutenant is a pretty good French cop flick probably bound for a Hollywood remake. For fans of the financially challenged Air America, and supporters of a certain Minnesota senatorial candidate, there's Al Franken: God Spoke. For a good mini-education in film scoring, Hollywood Sound: Music for the Movies samples all the European great who settled in L.A. during the early studio days: Max Steiner, Franz Waxman, Erich Korngold, and Alfred Newman are among the musical refugees. Music of a different stripe figures in Tears of the Black Tiger, that Thai Western with its gaudy, oversaturated colors. 10 Items or Less is pretty slight filmmaking about filmmaking, but it's fun to watch Morgan Freeman basically playing himself. And no penguins in sight.