This week on DVD we’ve got a sweeping historical epic from Down Under (Baz Luhrmann’s Australia, plus an exclusive deleted scene), a tale of talking pooches (Beverly Hills Chihuahua), and a Certified Fresh drama starring Kristin Scott Thomas (I’ve Loved You So Long). For those whose interests are piqued by the words “direct to DVD,” we’ve also got two new animated adventures (Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic, Wonder Woman) and a titillating vengeance pic (Stiletto, starring Stana Katic, Tom Berenger, and Michael Biehn), plus a bayou thriller adapted from a James Lee Burke bestseller (In the Electric Mist, starring Tommy Lee Jones). Lastly, we offer the latest from Crow T. Robot and Co. (Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. 14) and a Blu-ray offering that will go well with some fava beans and a nice Chianti (Silence of the Lambs on Blu-ray).

1. Australia — 54%

Baz Luhrmann‘s epic tale of war and love in mid-century Australia was, to say the least, an ambitious undertaking; addressing the nation’s history of class inequality and its people’s can-do spirit against the backdrop of World War II via an opposites-attract romance and a dash of Aborigine mysticism — with an homage to The Wizard of Oz thrown in to boot — sounded complicated enough on paper, let alone brought to life onscreen. And yet, for better or worse, that is precisely what Lurhmann did.

Australia isn’t for everyone; cynics thought it cloying, while fans thought it wondrous, although all agree its nearly three-hour-runtime is an endurance test. But if you’re a fan of stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman (or want to watch young Brandon Walters’ breakthrough debut performance, a child actor debut to rival those in Slumdog Millionaire) then Australia might be your cup of tea.

Unfortunately, your options are limited as Australia is available only as a single-disc DVD (with two deleted scenes and nothing more) or on Blu-ray, with a handful of extra featurettes. Below, watch one of the deleted scenes, in which Lady Ashley (Kidman) is served a rude dinner by her angry household staff.

Next: You know you want it — Beverly Hills Chihuahua

If you, like us, secretly chuckled to yourself when those Taco Bell commercials came on, then you might get another sly kick out of Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The dog-out-of-water tale follows a spoiled LA pooch (voiced by Drew Barrymore), who gets lost in Mexico and must find her way home with the help of some canine friends. Photo realistic pups talking with the aid of CG — and, unfortunately, often in stereotypical accents — sound silly, but will no doubt warm over the kiddies (moreso than most adults). A handful of bonus extras will keep fans entertained for an extra hour or so after watching the film, including the darn-catchy “Chihuahua!” song sung by a horde of choreographed Mexican Chihuahuas.

Next: Kristin Scott Thomas in I’ve Loved You So Long

Philippe Claudel’s quiet character study reveals Kristin Scott Thomas as you’ve never seen her before, makeup-free and haggard-looking (but still gorgeous), distant and tortured (and speaking fluent French) in the role that earned her nominations from the BAFTAS, César, and Golden Globe Awards. Thomas plays Juliette, a woman struggling to re-enter society after serving a prison sentence for killing her own child; Elsa Zylberstein plays her sister Lea, a mother herself who is the only friend Juliette has left in the real world. While bonus materials are sparse, you can watch deleted scenes and access an alternate audio track dubbed in English.

Next: Our Direct-to-DVD Pick of the Week — Stiletto!

4. Stiletto — N/A

Stana Katic (The Spirit, Quantum of Solace, and the upcoming ABC show, Castle) stars in this direct-to-video action thriller as Raina, a gorgeous assassin who sets her sights on a former lover, a Greek crime boss (Tom Berenger), and a circle of ill-fated goons. Her weapon of choice? A stiletto knife, naturally. But wait, that’s not all! This R-rated vengeance flick not only hearkens back to the days of the female exploitation tales of the 1970s, it stars a veritable Walk of Fame of bad-ass actors (most of whom have seen better days): Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, Tom Sizemore, D.B. Sweeney, Kelly Hu, and Dominique Swain. Give Stiletto a rental and chalk it up as another guilty pleasure.

Next: Tommy Lee Jones Goes Direct To Video With In the Electric Mist

Joining Stiletto in direct-to-video land is In the Electric Mist, a fantasy- thriller that boasts a decidedly stellar cast led by Tommy Lee Jones. Adapted from James Lee Burke’s bestselling novel of the same name and directed by European auteur Bertrand Tavernier (‘Round Midnight), In the Electric Mist is born of impressive pedigrees, yet missed out on a theatrical release after screening at the Berlin Film Festival. In it, Detective Dave Robicheaux (Jones) is on the hunt for a serial killer in the Deep South, an investigation complicated by encounters with a band of Confederate soldiers…

Next: Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic

6. Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic — N/A

Like a visual version of a book on tape, Watchmen: The Complete Motion Comic serves up the landmark Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel as a page-by-page story, enhanced with Flash animation and narrated by actor/veteran audio book narrator Tom Stechschulte, who even does the female voices. While the appeal of this 2-disc set might extend only to Watchmen diehards — probably the only people willing to sit through this 5-hour-plus version of Watchmen — it also comes with a sneak peek at this week’s Wonder Woman and $7.50 towards a ticket for Friday’s Watchmen.

Next: DC’s Animated, Feature Length, and Feminist Wonder Woman

7. Wonder Woman — N/A

A host of Hollywood all-stars (Rosario Dawson, Virginia Madsen, and…Vicki Lewis) lend their voices to this direct-to-video animated film, which tells the origin story of DC Comics’ super-heroine, Wonder Woman, and gives her a modern-day adventure to boot. Keri Russell voices Princess Diana (AKA Wonder Woman), the heir to a race of Amazon women who is charged with returning a wayward pilot (Nathan Fillion) to New York City while defeating the evil god Ares (Alfred Molina); violent enough to earn a PG-13 rating, Wonder Woman also serves as a devoutly feminist diatribe (and is directed by a woman, Superman: Doomsday co-director Lauren Montgomery), for better or worse. Bonus episodes of Justice League, a commentary track, two feature-length documentaries and a sneak peek at DC’s next animated flick, Green Lantern, highlight the special features.

Next: Mystery Science Theater 3000 is Back!

8. Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. 14 — N/A

Joel, Tom Servo, and Crow T. Robot are back in the latest installment of the adventures in movie watching known as Mystery Science Theater 3000. Volume 14 comprises episodes with four MSTK3K classics, each with its own case: Mad Monster (the 1942 mad scientist-werewolf flick), Manhunt in Space (a multi-episode feature from the Rocky Jones, Space Ranger television series), Soultaker (starring Joe Estevez, who also gives a new interview on the disc), and Final Justice (a Joe Don Baker vehicle directed by Greydon Clark, who also graces this set with an interview).

Next: Wong Kar-Wai’s Ashes of Time Redux

Unlike many of his peers in Asian cinema, Wong Kar-Wai is not a director known for action spectacles or historical epics. But in 1994, he made just that: Ashes of Time, the story of an embittered ex-swordsman and the people who come in and out of his life, all adrift and consumed with their memories, lost loves, and their own selfishness — like an emo wuxia film, if such a hybrid could exist. A box office failure during its initial release, Ashes of Time got a shiny new redo from Wong himself in 2008, resulting in a much shorter, remastered version of the flick, also bolstered with new music from Yo-Yo Ma. Retrospective making-of interviews with Wong, longtime DP Christopher Doyle, and cast members like Tony Leung Ka-Fai highlight the DVD, along with an extensive Q&A session between Wong and Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman.

Next: Silence of the Lambs Blu-ray

9. Silence of the Lambs Blu-ray — 96%

We close this RT on DVD by recommending one of the standout Blu-ray releases of the week: MGM’s Silence of the Lambs Blu-ray, which has been delayed numerous times so far. Was it worth the wait? If you’re a Hannibal Lecter fan ravenous for tons of bonus materials and behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Jonathan Demme’s serial killer thriller, you’ll enjoy the assortment of deleted scenes (count ’em — 22 total!), featurettes, outtakes and making-of documentaries included here. Add to that the film’s lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and 1080p visual presentation, and you’ve got the perfect way to revisit this chilling classic — along with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Until next week, happy renting!

The 14th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards were given on January 8, 2009, to honor the finest achievements in 2008 filmmaking. A list of nominees follows below, with winners in bold:

Best Picture:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

The Wrestler

Best Actor:
Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler

Best Actress (Tie):
Kate Beckinsale, Nothing But the Truth
Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt

Best Supporting Actor:
Josh Brolin, Milk
Robert Downey, Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight

James Franco, Milk

Best Supporting Actress:
Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Vera Farmiga, Nothing But the Truth
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Kate Winslet, The Reader

Best Acting Ensemble:
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight

Rachel Getting Married

Best Director:
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight
Gus Van Sant, Milk

Best Writer:
Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Dustin Lance Black, Milk
Peter Morgan, Frost/Nixon
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
John Patrick Shanley, Doubt

Best Animated Feature:
Kung Fu Panda
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Waltz With Bashir

Best Young Actor/Actress:
Dakota Fanning, The Secret Life of Bees
David Kross, The Reader
Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire

Brandon Walters, Australia

Best Action Movie:
The Dark Knight

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Iron Man
Quantum of Solace

Best Comedy Movie:
Burn After Reading
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Role Models
Tropic Thunder

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Foreign Language Film:
A Christmas Tale
I’ve Loved You So Long
Let the Right One In
Waltz With Bashir

Best Documentary Feature:
Man On Wire

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired
Standard Operating Procedure
Young At Heart

Source: Broadcast Film Critics Association

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