When three new DVD releases landed on my desk recently, I thought at first they were early Christmas presents - all movies that I was eager to see.
Then I saw them.
Top of the pile was "Burn After Reading" (Universal, $29.98 in standard DVD, $39.98 in high-definition Blu-ray). The writer-director team of Ethan and Joel Coen made this the follow-up to the Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men," moving from the bleakness of that piece to a comedy more in keeping with "Hudsucker Proxy," "O Brother Where Are Thou?" and "The Big Lebowski."
It's a screwy little movie about love, ambition, spies and an information-laden computer disk, with a cast including George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Brad Pitt and John Malkovich.
I'm a sucker for the Coens' comedy and for about half this movie was enjoying its characters and their increasingly bizarre situations. But it takes a violent turn late in the piece and never really recovers from it - becoming ever more absurd, and using a series of dialogues between two supporting characters to tie things up.
In other words, it's minor Coen, although the DVD allows you to skip the dull parts to watch only your favorite scenes (such as just about every moment with Pitt or McDormand).
DVD extras include a making-of piece.
Another movie that benefits from DVD skipping is "Hamlet 2" (Universal, $29.98). There are three things worth seeing: the musical number "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," another segment set to a choral version of "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" and the scenes involving Elisabeth Shue (as herself).
Written by TV comedy veterans Andrew Fleming (who also directed) and Pam Brady, "Hamlet 2" stars Steve Coogan as a failed actor turned failed high school drama teacher. Trying to save his job, he mounts a production of an original piece, "Hamlet 2." It has not only Shakespeare's "Hamlet" but a time machine and, of course, Jesus. The climax of the movie is a performance of the show, and it is oddly endearing.
The DVD also includes a making-of piece, deleted scenes and a sing-along element for two of the songs.
Also this week is "Savage Grace" (Genius, $24.95), a very disturbing movie based on the awful true story of Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore), her husband Brooks (Stephen Dillane) and their son Tony (Eddie Redmayne). It's a story of misguided love, decadent sex, twisted minds and eventually violence.