Directors Series: Stanley Kubrick (Warner Bros.)
Most of the old Kubrick DVDs were crap: full-screen editions with poor pictures and virtually no special features. This set makes up for them with 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut (hey, who farted?), all looking great and with enough extras to shut up the most voluble of film nerds. The best commentaries none by the very dead Kubrick include a Full Metal Jacket cast track and a charming Clockwork conversation with Malcolm McDowell. Among the other stellar bonuses: the full-length doc A Life in Pictures, a brief glimpse of Kubrick's unmade films, the FX doc on 2001, and a look at the controversy caused by Clockwork. Taken together, they prove beyond doubt that Kubrick was a genius. And also a humongous prick.
American Gangster: The Complete First Season (Paramount)
To most of us, the criminal world seems like the NFL: Most of the players are black, but the quarterbacks are white. The inaugural season of BET's American Gangster corrects that perception by introducing us to nine black criminal masterminds, from New York heroin lord Nicky Barnes to West Coast crack kingpin "Freeway" Ricky Ross. Narrated by Ving Rhames like he's auditioning for the role of Marsellus Wallace, the series goes heavy on quick cuts that make it hard for any single witness, journalist or friend of the crooks to complete a thought, though vintage photographs and footage help paint a complete picture. These are supposed to be cautionary tales none of these guys met a happy end, after all but it's hard not to smile as they stick it to The Man.
Mr. Brooks (MGM)
In the making-of doc, the filmmakers admit their motivation for a movie about a man addicted to killing: "We wanted to change our image," says co-writer Raynold Gideon, responsible for Stand By Me and Jungle 2 Jungle with co-writer-director Bruce A. Evans. Fair enough. But different doesn't mean better: What could have been great Kevin Costner as a serial killer goaded into it by his imaginary pal, a giddy William Hurt is merely so-so, a squandered opportunity that takes itself more seriously than the material deserves. Costner's good, but he's only great when allowed to sport that wicked grin. And there are two major flaws here: Dane Cook as the acolyte and Demi Moore as the wealthy cop chasing Costner's Brooks and an even more deranged, well, supervillain. Alas, she also accounts for most of the deleted scenes; shoulda been more.
Days of Heaven (Criterion)
If you saw Terrence Malick's 1978 film in revival houses last year, the difference between it and Criterion's revelatory new transfer is the difference between a yellowed photograph of your long-dead great-grandparents and suddenly seeing them in the next room. Is this mere tech-geekery? Not when you're discussing one of the most ravishing films ever made, shot by a cinematographer going blind (Néstor Almendros, supplemented by Haskell Wexler) in the fixing-to-die brilliance of sunset's magic hour. Like all of Malick's work, it polarizes viewers: Either you'll shrug off the plot a tilted turn-of-the-century triangle involving Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard, as witnessed by a poetically disaffected teen or you'll find the details of prairie desolation and biblical reckoning rhapsodic and transporting. Seeing this on TV isn't ideal, but Criterion's disc just might be.