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A hero's complete history

September 28, 2008|Noel Murray

Iron Man

Paramount, $34.99/$39.99; Blu-Ray, $39.99

The zippy superhero thrill ride that is "Iron Man" was one of the happiest surprises of the summer, both at the box office and in terms of how well it captured the high-flying adventure and relatable personal angst of a classic Marvel Comics character. Robert Downey Jr. gives one of 2008's best performances as cocky-but-flawed motor-mouthed playboy Tony Stark, a billionaire arms dealer who learns social responsibility when he straps on a life-saving, super-powered suit of armor.

The climactic fight between Iron Man and his equally armored arch-nemesis is relatively unspectacular compared with what comes before, but that's the only major flaw in an action movie that gives Downey and his costars -- including Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard -- the space to do some funny, off-the-cuff acting while sporting fancy duds on expensive sets. The double-disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions add deleted scenes and comprehensive featurettes about the making of the movie and the history of the hero.

Bigger, Stronger, Faster*

Magnolia, $26.98

Christopher Bell's challenging first-person documentary “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*” takes an even-handed look at the subject of steroids, asking how and why a culture that values physical power has internalized the idea that drug use in sports is a scourge. Bell adheres too closely to the wry, fast-paced Michael Moore issue-doc style, but his personal connection to the issue -- both of his brothers are steroid users -- deepens the movie considerably, and Bell does his legwork as a journalist too, covering seemingly every angle of the issue. The DVD is even more thorough, packing on almost an hour's worth of thought-provoking deleted scenes.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Universal, $29.98, $34.98; Blu-Ray, $39.98

Judd Apatow protege Jason Segel writes and stars in this raunchy comedy about a hopeless romantic who gets his heart broken by his starlet girlfriend (Kristen Bell), then keeps running into her -- even while on vacation in Hawaii. Like a lot of Apatow-backed projects, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is too long and too ragged, but Segel is an agreeable sort, and on the whole, the movie's funny moments outpace the draggy ones.

The single-disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions include a commentary track by cast and crew, plus deleted scenes, off-the-wall featurettes and an extended version of the film. A special triple-disc edition contains even more goofiness -- including puppetry.

Lou Reed's Berlin

The Miriam Collection, $24.95

Lou Reed's 1973 concept album "Berlin" is a downbeat song cycle about a drug-addicted German prostitute, and in its original incarnation was performed with reserve and polish by a band of classic rock vets including Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce. If nothing else, Julian Schnabel’s concert film “Lou Reed’s Berlin” presents the album's 10 songs with a force they've rarely held before.

Filmed over five nights in New York (and peppered with Schnabel's lo-fi reenactments of the album's story), "Lou Reed's Berlin" shows Reed at his liveliest in the record's poppier first half and at his most soulful in the bleak second half, as he describes in his inimitable voice how the decadent pleasures of the night lead to the desperate repercussions of the morning. The DVD adds a Q&A with Schnabel -- but no input from Reed, sadly.

Taxi to the Dark Side

Velocity/ThinkFilm, $27.98

Although it won an Academy Award this year for feature-length documentary, Alex Gibney's "Taxi to the Dark Side" has gotten a little lost in the shuffle of post-9/11 "What's happening to the soul of America?" docs and dramas. Now that it's out on DVD, more people should take the opportunity to absorb Gibney's persuasive examination of the uses of torture by sanctioned American peacekeepers, as filtered through the case of one Afghani cabby who was beaten to death while in U.S. custody.

The DVD includes outtakes, interviews with Gibney and a commentary track by same, but none say anything as eloquent or passionate as the documentary itself, which sums up the steps by which the once-unacceptable in foreign policy has become commonplace.

And . . .

"Beaufort" (Kino, $29.95); "Beauty and the Beast: The Complete Series" (Paramount, $89.98); "Chapter 27" (Peace Arch, $19.95); "Jellyfish" (Zeitgeist, $29.99); "Kenny" (Xenon, $24.98); "My Three Sons: The First Season, Volume One" (Paramount, $39.98); "Pulse 2: Afterlife" (The Weinstein Company, $19.98).

-- Noel Murray

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