DVD Picks

CORRESPONDENTApril 24, 2009 

In honor of Earth Day, why not scare yourself silly this week with the new-to-DVD 2006 documentary " Crude Impact," concerning our dependence on fossil fuels. This is a very effective film indeed -- and by effective I mean terrifying -- which makes "An Inconvenient Truth" seem like an Elmo holiday special.

Written, directed (and presumably bankrolled) by former high-tech executive James Jandak Wood, the film outlines in great specificity the various ways our modern civilization is utterly dependent on oil. It's not just a matter of gas for our cars and fuel for our homes. Our entire infrastructure of production and distribution, particularly food production, depends on oil. And that's just the beginning.

In a series of individual chapters, Wood uses narration, new and stock footage, charts and the usual array of talking-head academic types to outline the concept of "peak oil," the point at which global petroleum production enters terminal decline, even as oil demand continues to rise. The U.S. hit domestic peak oil production in the 1970s, resulting in the energy crisis and a radical new foreign policy as we were forced to import more and more.

The most optimistic estimates suggest we will reach global peak oil within 10 years. Other estimates put it at 2010, and some suggest we're already there. In any case, "Crude Impact" presents several apocalyptic scenarios, calmly stated as simple fact. It's scary all right, but as with "An Inconvenient Truth," the film ends on a welcome note of optimism regarding alternative energy initiatives. Professional and persuasive, "Crude Impact" aims to frighten and will pretty much ruin your evening. In a good way.

Of course, there are many ways to ruin your evening. If you'd like another option, consider renting " Notorious," the sadly underachieving biopic of famed New York hip hop artist Christopher Wallace, a.k.a. Biggie Smalls, a.k.a. the Notorious B.I.G.

It takes a certain sustained effort to make a movie this disappointing out of a life story as compelling as Biggie's. Like Tupac Shakur, his friend and rival, Wallace was a glorious mess of contradictions -- street poet and thug, mama's boy and womanizer, kingpin crook and local Brooklyn boy done good.

"Notorious" presents all these various facets in a film of great technical proficiency -- the concert scenes in particular fairly crackle with energy, and newcomer Jamal Woolard in the title role is a great casting coup. And what a soundtrack! The movie is at its best in the early battle rap scenes, and the later set pieces of Woolard-as-Biggie in the studio or onstage -- delivering those intricate, intimate rhymes with that impossible flow.

But director George Tillman Jr. ("Soul Food") plays it all so safe. This is a color-by-numbers musical biopic, exactly the kind of movie targeted by 2006's clever satire "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story." The film makes no attempt to explore Wallace's ambiguities and contradictions. Biggie simply switches gears from scene to scene, coming off as schizo and toxic instead of complex and contradictory.

We never get the sense that he is growing, or changing, and because that is really the core of the film -- explicitly stated by Tillman in the extras -- the movie feels hollow. In fact, it feels worse -- like one last posthumous packaging of the Biggie Smalls brand name.

Also new to DVD this week, " The Wrestler" stars on-the-rebound movie star Mickey Rourke in a role that was, quite literally, made for him. Playing the aging professional wrestler Randy "The Ram" Robinson, Rourke gives a harrowing performance, all scars and regret and tenacious, ragged nobility. (He was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, losing to Sean Penn in "Milk.")

Rourke famously detonated his own movie career in the '80s and '90s, ruining his face with an amateur boxing hobby and what appears to have been a series of ill-advised elective surgeries. Director Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream") finds a powerful resonance here in the echoes between actor and role, as Rourke's soulful eyes bore through the years of scar tissue.

But, oh, the damage that has been done. If you want to see Rourke in his prime, be sure to track down "Angel Heart," director Alan Parker's supernatural thriller featuring Rourke at his charismatic prime.

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