When I was 10 or 11, there was a record store near my house that was on its last legs, and I would ride my bike there and flip through the understocked bins, always stopping at the same place: a snow-white box of albums that cost at least $30 and no one touched (this was the early 1980s).
It was embossed with the head-spinning title “Chicago IV: At Carnegie Hall, Vols. 1-4” - and its size astonished. There were, among others, double album sets for “Kiss Alive II” and “Frampton Comes Alive!” - Chicago itself had already released three double albums, but all those turned out to be mere doodles. The idea was, if the buyer could afford it, too much “25 or 6 to 4” was never enough. Within a decade, box sets became common, and album running times went from 45 minutes to an average 60 minutes. (Curiously, fast-food serving sizes also increased - until “super-size it” graduated from menu option to verb.)
Normally I would agree that, in more ways than one, we are overfed. But DVD makes a special case for indulgence.
Perhaps the finest example to date is Black Hawk Down: The 3-Disc Deluxe Edition (Columbia, $39.95), a long-promised “definitive edition” of Ridley Scott's harrowing 2001 re-creation of a 1993 ambush in Somalia that left 18 soldiers dead.
Since the film's impact is more journalistic than emotional - a blow-by-blow account of how events went from bad to worse, laid out in exacting detail - it's no surprise a three-disc overload of historical and journalistic detail outshines the film itself - which has both lost and gained some power in the days since the second Iraq war. Disc one features three commentary tracks: one from Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who made Black Hawk Down his baby; another from author Mark Bowden, who wrote the best-selling account; and a rather fascinating must-listen track from U.S. task force soldiers who were there.
Everyone tends to agree it was more of a victory than a tragedy - a victory of courage, if nothing else. Complicating that perspective significantly is the welcome inclusion of the PBS Frontline special, Ambush in Mogadishu and the History Channel's True Story of Black Hawk Down.
You'd be best served to take a leave of absence from work if you want to make it through the remaining extras: Bruckheimer's photos of the production shoot; a feature that lets you switch among cameras during the scene where soldiers target a building; eight deleted and extended scenes, four question-and-answer sessions between the cast and filmmakers and live audiences; one making-of documentary, storyboards, an interactive timeline, and various stabs at the opening credits, movie poster, and production design.
With his high bulb of a forehead and long face, Bob Hope always looked at least 45 to me; in old movies he has Beverly Hills 90210 disease: He looks at least 15 years older than he's playing. Today he turns 100, but do not be fooled: In Bob Hope Years, that means he's actually about 204. He's the eternal vaudeville comic, which is why his movies could often be so monotonous. He was never actually in a movie, he was forever Bugs Bunny, removed from the plot and waiting to either turn coward or wisecrack. Of course, that could be occasionally very funny. Universal's Bob Hope Tribute Collection is a 12-disc ($14.95 each) reminder, and strictly for Bobaholics. Your best bets are the Road pictures he did with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour: Road to Zanzibar, Road to Singapore, Road to Morocco, Road to Utopia - Singapore is the best of the best. After that, if you can stomach only one Hope movie, make it Paleface, about a cowardly dentist (“Brave men run in my family”) in the old West and pretty much the template for every recent Woody Allen film. (It's also available as a double feature with Sorrowful Jones.) The single-movie DVDs include a smattering of newsreels and documentaries on Hope and his gig as premier USO joke teller.
Nuzzled away in the special features of the new DVD of About Schmidt (New Line, $27.95, available Tuesday), Alexander Payne's portrait of an Omaha insurance executive (Jack Nicholson), is a series of portraits of downtown Omaha and its beige wonderland of office towers and steak houses. Midwesterners might want to take a gander. In a written preamble, Payne, a Nebraska native, explains he sent his crew out to shoot the city. They came back with so much footage he asked them to assemble brief openings for the film. Some are avant-garde, some as deadpan as the montage that actually opens the film; some are silly; and, as improbable as it sounds, some would work as the opening credits for Fight Club.
If you've never quite understood the craft of editing, how it alters the look or feel of a film, here's a fascinating example of how it's the most important piece of the moviemaking puzzle to understand.
NEW ON VIDEO: Talk to Her (Director Pedro Almodovar makes a masterpiece with this touching Spanish soap about two men obsessed with their true loves, who have yet to wake up from their comas); The Recruit (Al Pacino mentors Colin Farrell in the ways of espionage and the result is an entertaining and disposable duel of the carefully mussed hairstyles); National Security (Everyone's favorite street-corner-gun-waving lunatic Martin Lawrence plays action-film buddy to Steve Zahn and the result is exactly as memorable as you would guess).
NEW ON VIDEO, NEVER PLAYED TOLEDO: Love Liza (Literally, a sad little movie. Forever-attentive, indie film favorite Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as a heartbroken man struggling to handle a suicide; as an actor's showcase it's fine, but as a drama it goes nowhere).
NEWLY REMASTERED ON DVD: Two of the Coen brothers' best, Miller's Crossing (Fox, $19.98) and Barton Fink (Fox, $19.98), movies with an awful lot of polished cherry wood furniture, now that I think of it. The Coens love trying on hats; in these they pick fedoras, delivering slightly askew film noirs (modern classics, some say) filled with careening camerawork from Barry Sonnenfeld. He's interviewed in the extras for Miller's Crossing. Barton Fink includes eight deleted scenes - but like Woody and Spielberg before them, no Coen commentary.