Ace in the Hole
I'm not sure when the phrase "media circus" entered the language, but it was certainly after Billy Wilder's scathing 1951 newsprint noir, in which reporter Kirk Douglas destroys himself—and almost everyone around him—in pursuit of a big scoop. Never before on video, let alone DVD, this Criterion release offers a second disc of extras that don't add enormously to the movie (which comes with commentary by British film scholar Neil Sinyard). Ace in the Hole—later titled The Big Carnival for European theaters—speaks for itself, with Douglas its acid-tongued antihero. Broke, disgraced, and looking for a job, he talks his way into a small-town New Mexico daily. By sheer luck, he's first on the scene when a local man gets stuck in a cave-in while raiding Indian cave dwellings. "Every second counts," says Douglas, but he's not talking about the rescue—he's talking about the exclusive. He connives and cajoles to get the locals to do his bidding, delaying the rescue so he can write national headlines.
Ace in the Hole is a great story about an unscrupulous, even ruthless, storyteller. In the extras, no one—not Douglas, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, or even Spike Lee—wants to say directly that this is Wilder's own story. But the former Berlin newspaper reporter, a Jew who correctly foresaw the Nazi rise to power and escaped for Paris and Hollywood in the '30s, was himself a canny, driven survivor who did what he must to survive. And he saw and knew of others who did worse to get ahead, make careers, and win women. His biggest hits treated that instinct comedically, as in The Apartment and Stalag 17. But there are no laughs in the New Mexico cavern, as Douglas' tub-thumping draws a clamorous crowd—the horrible, curious throng of tragedy-seekers who park their cars in neat rows as if at a drive-in movie. Ever the sour moralist, Wilder is condemning not only Douglas here but also his readers—us, in other words, the future consumers of reality TV and the FOX News Channel.
If there's a motto to the film, it's an aside from Douglas—"Bad news sells best." Only Wilder reminds us how that transaction has two sides. Which is perhaps why one still feels the shame on this side of the screen, even after 56 years. BRIAN MILLER
The second feature from writer-director Edgar Wright and writer-star Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) has been available on home video for decades: Hot Fuzz is, after all, a witty and wisecracking montage of clips from some hundred-plus A-list and bargain-bin action films, chief among them Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, Point Break, and, oh, Freebie and the Bean. Once more starring Pegg and Nick Frost as pals doing battle against baddies, this time in an allegedly idyllic town with a buried secret, Wright's film has done right by the genre: Hot Fuzz is giddy, but never stoops to parody. And there's endless fun on the DVD: copious deleted scenes, riotous outtakes. You can even ride along with the threesome as they press-tour the U.S., and the dorks will absolutely thrill along with the trivia track. ROBERT WILONSKY
As far as camp pleasures go, director Zack Snyder's Xbox adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book is a doozy—man-on-man gay porn for soccer moms, at least according to the women I know who'll watch this Persian-on-Spartan bloodbath for one more gawk at Gerard Butler's CG-enhanced abs. And as artistic achievement, well, it's more fully realized than Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of Sin City, which possessed all the warmth of a big-screen flipbook; this, at least, feels alive. The DVD version's even heavier on the testosterone; I don't recall this many butched-up brutes in the theatrical take. As for the extras, it'd be nice if a home-video exec combined the half-dozen shallow shorts, among them a Spartan history and a Frank Miller tribute, into a single decent doc. ROBERT WILONSKY
A film that might've been a lot better if John Travolta and company had played their roles in drag, the midlife biker comedy Wild Hogs debuts on disc. Two young actors who continue to impress are Ryan Gosling in the murder thriller Fracture and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the heist drama The Lookout. The documentary 51 Birch Street, made by the long-married subjects' son, proves that an ordinary suburban marriage is anything but. God Grew Tired of Us follows the lost boys of the Sudan, while the doc Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars yields somewhat less depressing (and more musical) results from war-torn Africa. Warner Bros. has an Elvis box set including the classic Jailhouse Rock, and it's reissuing several old Popeye cartoons, which are lots of fun. In the annals of sci-fi, 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) features a commentary from 87-year-old stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen. Private Fears in Public Places reminds us that Alain Resnais is also still alive. And for kids, there's TMNT (as in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for parents who need it spelled out). Lastly, for cultists, David Lynch's Inland Empire, is jam-packed full of extras personally prepared by the director—which may or may not explain any of that flick.