THE JAZZ SINGER (1927). In the annals of film history, perhaps no line proved to be more prophetic than Al Jolson exclaiming "You ain't heard nothing yet!" in The Jazz Singer. A landmark motion picture that revolutionized the industry, this introduced the concept of sound through its handful of musical numbers, even if the rest of the movie relied on the standard title cards of silent cinema (it wasn't until the following year's Lights of New York that a film featured sound from beginning to end). Unfortunately, the picture itself doesn't live up to its technical achievement, as its hoary storyline focuses on a young Jewish man (Jolson, about two decades too old for the role) who decides he would rather sing on Broadway than extend his family's five-generational run of producing cantors, a decision that breaks the heart of his father (Warner Oland). Jolson belts out a half-dozen tunes, including such hits as "Toot Toot Tootsie, Goodbye" and "Blue Skies."
Warner Bros. waited until the film's 80th anniversary before offering it on DVD, and the resultant three-disc set is a beauty. Extras include audio commentary, the feature-length documentary The Dawn of Sound: How the Movies Learned to Talk, fascinating vintage pieces about the advent of the sound era, scenes from other early talkies, vintage Al Jolson shorts and trailers, and two dozen shorts (one starring George Burns and Gracie Allen) from the early sound period. The set also contains 10 photos as well as reproductions of the film's promotional booklets.
A MIGHTY HEART (2007). Films about idealistic Americans (usually journalists) abroad work more often than not, and although it doesn't pack the punch of similar titles like Missing and Under Fire, A Mighty Heart gets the job done. Based on Mariane Pearl's book A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Danny Pearl, the film finds Angelina Jolie delivering a restrained performance as Mariane, whose husband (played by Dan Futterman), a Wall Street Journal reporter, is kidnapped while the pair are living in Pakistan in 2002. Six months pregnant, Mariane tries to stay optimistic in the face of this grim situation, using her own sources to track him down while also relying heavily on the aid of American diplomats, the FBI and the Pakistani anti-terrorism unit (Indian actor Irrfan Khan is particularly memorable as its leader). Given Hollywood's propensity for promoting American know-how and a can-do attitude even on foreign soil (see The Kingdom), it's perhaps the movie's most surprising development that the efforts of the Pakistanis, not the U.S. law officials, go the furthest toward cracking the case and bringing the terrorists to justice. As the local lawmen and their stoolies scour the streets looking for any clues that will help them find Danny, we realize this isn't like looking for a needle in a haystack – it's like looking for a needle in the Atlantic Ocean. So when their tireless efforts lead to real success (muted by the final outcome, of course), it's a testament to their determination and resourcefulness.
DVD extras include a making-of feature, a short piece on the Committee to Protect Journalists, and a PSA for the Daniel Pearl Foundation.
UNDER THE VOLCANO (1984). Malcolm Lowry's cult novel had long been deemed "unfilmable," yet that didn't stop director John Huston from filming it anyway. The result is a powerful character study featuring a mesmerizing, Oscar-nominated turn by Albert Finney as a drunken Brit whiling away the time down in Mexico. Set amidst the country's Day of the Dead celebrations, the movie finds Geoffrey Firmin, a former British diplomat, drinking himself into a stupor as he mourns the fact that his wife Yvonne (Jacqueline Bisset) has left him. But Yvonne ends up returning to him – partly to beg forgiveness for sleeping with his brother Hugh (Anthony Andrews), mainly because she truly loves Geoffrey, even when he's plastered – and although the pair seem headed toward a possible reconciliation, Geoffrey's demons won't stay still long enough for him to straighten himself out. The quickest way to a bushel of accolades and awards is to portray an alcoholic, but Finney's performance is truly remarkable, not a collection of exaggerated tics but a lived-in inebriety that seemingly seeps through every pore on the actor's body. Kudos, also, to Guy Gallo's script, Gabriel Figueroa's camerawork and Alex North's score (also an Oscar nominee).
Extras in the two-disc DVD set include various audio commentaries by Gallo, the producers and John Huston's son, actor Danny Huston, an hour-long making-of documentary, a new interview with Bisset, a 1984 audio interview with Huston, and the 1976 Oscar-nominated documentary Volcano: An Inquiry Into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry.