How come TV actors so rarely get a break on the big screen? The general consensus seems to be that we’ve moved beyond the age of the Movie Star–just look at how little anyone cared about Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts’ Larry Crowne–so why is it still so hard for TV actors to make great movies? Take a look at Peep World. You’ve got Michael C. Hall, who’s given stunning performances on Six Feet Under and Dexter; this man should be working with A-list directors, but instead he makes stuff like Gamer. You’ve got the trifecta of Rainn Wilson, Judy Greer, and Sarah Silverman, all of whom have done very funny work on television. The closest any of them get to cinematic greatness is Wilson’s bit part in Juno. TV’s time-consuming, I know. But when you look at a mess like Peep World, you wonder how so many talented TV people got thrown into such a bad movie. In a way, it reminds me of The Great New Wonderful, an awful movie that inexplicably starred Edie Falco, Will Arnett, Jim Gaffigan, Tony Shalhoub, and Stephen Colbert. Peep World isn’t nearly as bad, but its story of an oh so dysfunctional family feels like an unpleasant tenth-generation copy of The Royal Tenenbaums. It has no style, little wit, and the narrative is all a-shambles. With this many talented actors involved, there are bound to be some effective moments, and there are. But if a filmmaker with respect for and knowledge of the medium had been given the same budget and the same cast, something special could have happened. Extras include deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.
BOYZ N THE HOOD (Blu-ray)
At the 1991 Academy Awards, John Singleton became not just the youngest Best Director nominee in the academy’s history, but also the first African-American to be nominated for the award. Singleton has made entertaining movies (Shaft) and blockbusters (2 Fast 2 Furious) in the 20 years since its release, but Boyz n the Hood remains a singular achievement. It was the right subject at the right time: with raw honesty, it follows the lives of several young black men in South Central, Los Angeles, who desperately want to escape the city’s poverty and violence. This was before the Rodney King riots, before most people paid attention to gangland violence. It’s a message movie, but one made with power and conviction. It stars Cuba Gooding, Jr. in one of his few worthwhile roles, and it features Ice Cube post-N.W.A. but pre-family film obscurity. It’s also got Laurence Fishburne as a character named Furious Styles, so…yeah. I’ve heard others call it dated, and it might be. But hope triumphing over this kind of very real despair could never become dated. New extras include two documentaries, commentary from Singleton, deleted scenes, and a pair of music videos.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Everyone knows Disney’s animated take on the classic fable, but Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation is even better. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white by cinematographer Henri Alekan and lightly surreal, it evokes nothing less than a waking dream. Jean Marais (in impressive make-up) is the Beast, Josette Day his Beauty, and I’d hesitate to say that any two actors have ever made more of the parts. The film is a treat for movie-loving adults, but if you’ve got an older kid who doesn’t mind subtitles, this might just make for a nice first step into the wider world of cinema. Extras include Philip Glass’ opera La Belle et la Bete, two commentaries, a 1995 documentary featuring the cast, an interview with Alekan, and rare behind-the-scenes photos and publicity stills.
In the ten years since its release, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie has become one of those foreign films that’s popular even with the kind of people who don’t normally watch foreign films. It’s easy to see why: it’s a charming French pastry of a film, warm, flaky, and delightful. Audrey Tautou is charming as the overly imaginative young woman of the title, who decides to secretly do good in the lives of her lonely neighbors and co-workers. Jeunet’s visual style is, as always, a highlight, with beautiful photography by Bruno Delbonnel (who later shot Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). Extras include a few featurettes, a Q&A with Jeunet and the cast, audition tapes, and a conversation with Jeunet.