AMELIA (2009). In its effort last fall to be one of the first Oscar-bait titles out of the gate, the stately but sterile Amelia ended up stumbling over its own feet. A handsome production that fusses over every detail in order to provide the proper look, this biopic forgets to include any sort of spark necessary to get its motor running. As Amelia Earhart, Hilary Swank adroitly mixes tomboy charm with feminist strength, but she's let down by a script (by Ron Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan) that doesn't allow her to burrow even an inch under her character's skin. Her Amelia is painted in broad strokes, and as such, the dramatizations of her aerial achievements don't carry the power that should automatically go with lofty historical territory of this caliber. Where the movie most succeeds in its exploration of Amelia's relationships with two distinct men. Publisher George Putnam (Richard Gere) was the person who discovered Amelia and guided her career; they eventually married, but the film posits that she embarked on an affair with fellow aviation pioneer Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor) before returning to her loving husband. Swank and Gere don't exude magnetism in their scenes together, but it's not that kind of relationship: Theirs is a partnership forged from mutual respect and common ground, and it's a credit to both performers that the union feels authentic and enviable. The final portion of the picture naturally centers on the ill-fated 1937 flight that led to the disappearance of Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) over the Pacific Ocean. Despite knowing the outcome, this segment is inherently tense, although some feeble fabrications surrounding the tragedy prove to be as daft as the cinematic theory that the Titanic sank into the chilly depths because the watchmen were too busy watching DiCaprio and Winslet smooch to notice the iceberg right in front of them.
DVD extras include 10 deleted scenes; a 23-minute making-of featurette; and seven vintage Fox Movietone News reels.
THE DAMNED UNITED (2009). Anthony Hopkins has long been heralded for playing a wide variety of historical figures – Adolf Hitler, Pablo Picasso, Richard Nixon and a dozen others – but Michael Sheen isn't exactly a slouch either when it comes to turning real life into reel life. The talented thespian who previously tackled David Frost, Tony Blair, H.G. Wells and Emperor Nero now essays the role of Brian Clough, and if most American viewers draw a blank on that name, rest assured that British soccer fans are more than familiar with his legacy. Refusing to devolve into a routine sports flick (see Invictus), The Damned United is instead more interested in the off-field clashes than the on-field skirmishes, as the talented soccer manager Clough moves up into the major leagues and ends up taking over the championship team vacated by his rival, Don Revie (Colm Meaney). The beauty of the script by Peter Morgan (The Queen) is that the feud between the two men isn't black-and-white: Clough often reveals himself to be as much of a prick as Revie (especially when ignoring the advice of his longtime friend and partner Peter Taylor, well-played by Timothy Spall), and it's this entanglement of audience emotion and expectation that allows this rollicking saga to score.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Sheen, director Tom Hooper and producer Andy Harries; a 16-minute making-of featurette; 35 minutes of deleted scenes; a 10-minute piece in which Sheen discusses his character; and a 20-minute look at the game of football during the 1970s.
GOOD HAIR (2009). Like most odysseys, Good Hair begins with a single question. "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" the little girl asks of her celebrity pop. And armed with that query, Chris Rock sets off to make a movie that turns out to be endlessly fascinating and funny. Along with director Jeff Stilson, Rock uses his documentary to examine the complex relationship that African-American women – and many men (Prince is the target of a well-timed jibe) – have with their hair. And for a movie that runs just over 90 minutes, the pair cover an extraordinary amount of ground. Interviewing both celebrities and ordinary citizens alike, Rock manages to engage participants in discussions on the dangers of hair relaxers (aka "creamy crack"), the high cost of weaves, the distribution of the wealth earned by hair products created specifically for blacks (Asians and Caucasians benefit the most), the idiocy of straightening the hair of little girls (some as young as three), and, tying it all together, the cultural significance of hairstyles for black women and the drive among many to blend in (i.e. look more white) by any means necessary. On top of all this, Rock also manages to squeeze in a trip to India, home to the vast majority of hair purchased by African-American women. Good Hair is such a marvelous movie for most of its running time that it's a shame several missteps are taken toward the end. One bit finds Rock trying to sell – to no avail – bags of black women's hair, a silly stunt that smacks of Michael Moore grandstanding. The movie's climactic set piece revolves around a gaudy show in which various oddballs compete for the honor of being deemed the best hairstylist by a panel of supercilious judges – an amusing sequence that's nevertheless too trite to anchor the home stretch. And, most jarringly, Rock unwisely chooses to end the picture with a rude remark by Ice-T, an insulting selection considering the movie is packed with choice quotes by the (female) likes of Maya Angelou and Tracie Thoms. On balance, though, Good Hair stands as an informative and entertaining documentary, and one that's pulled off with no small measure of style.
The only DVD extras are audio commentary by Rock and executive producer Nelson George, and theatrical trailers.