HAROLD & KUMAR ESCAPE FROM GUANTANAMO BAY (2008). 2004's Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle looks better with each passing year, but it's pretty much guaranteed that Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay won't be enjoying a similar critical ascension in the future. That's largely because the satire is less subversive and more overt, meaning that what you see is basically what you get. Kal Penn and John Cho are again an engaging team, and here, the plot requires their characters to get mistaken for terrorists, leading to an interrogation by a moronic Homeland Security honcho (Rob Corddry) who decides to send them to Guantanamo Bay to enjoy a steady diet of "cock-meat sandwiches." But before long, the boys escape and find themselves on a cross-country odyssey that involves inbred Southerners, a "bottomless" party, dim-witted Klansmen (or is that a redundancy?) and even George W. Bush himself. And yes, Neil Patrick Harris returns, again playing himself as a sex-crazed, foul-mouthed party animal. The bawdy gags aren't particularly fresh; more amusing is the dead-on parody of right-wing twits who question the patriotism of everyone who isn't exactly like them (i.e. white and pseudo-Christian); these scenes aren't exactly subtle, but they do point out the line that can barely divide satire from reality (just ask Barack "Do you believe in the American flag?" Obama). Curiously, the movie's portrayal of Dubya is a sympathetic one. As played by James Adomian, the president turns out to be a congenial, simple-minded pothead who isn't evil, just misunderstood. Coming from Hollywood, that's high praise indeed.
Extras on the unrated, two-disc DVD edition include an interactive feature that allows viewers to select alternate scenes that change the course of the movie (some in significant ways); audio commentary by Cho, Penn and directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg; a separate commentary with the directors, the real "Harold Lee," and "the guy who plays George W. Bush"; 27 deleted and alternate scenes; and a Bush PSA. The set also includes a digital copy of the film.
LONESOME DOVE (1989). It would be too limiting to merely state that this miniseries represents one of the finest achievements ever seen on television; if it hadn't been for a (necessarily) lengthy running time of 6-1/4 hours, this superb Western would have been right at home on the silver screen. Based on Larry McMurtry's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Lonesome Dove follows former Texas Rangers Gus McCrea (Robert Duvall) and Woodrow F. Call (Tommy Lee Jones) as they lead a small outfit thousands of miles to Montana with the goal of creating a new home in the largely uncharted territory. Others on the journey include their reckless friend Jake Spoon (Robert Urich), their more reliable colleague Joshua Deets (Danny Glover), prostitute Lorena Wood (Diane Lane), and naive cowhand Newt (Ricky Schroder). Rich characterizations, splendid production values and a loving (though hardly sentimental) look at the Old West provide a genuinely thrilling viewing experience, with the ensemble players expertly cast down the line (look for Steve Buscemi and Chris Cooper in supporting roles). Yet the real draw is Duvall, whose performance just might be the greatest of his long and distinguished career.
Extras in the two-disc DVD set include a 50-minute making-of featurette from 1991; new interviews with McMurtry and director Simon Wincer; and vintage on-set interviews with the cast members.
SON OF RAMBOW (2008). With all four Rambo flicks hitting DVD last May in a lavish new box set, now's as good a time as any to check out Son of Rambow, a British coming-of-age yarn whose central premise is that a Sylvester Stallone actioner can influence budding filmmakers as much as any classic ever concocted by Welles, Hitchcock or Lean. Set in a small English community in the 1980s, this sweet fable focuses on Lee Carter (Will Poulter), a mischievous lad who's always getting into trouble, and Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), a quiet boy who belongs to a strict religious sect that forbids most contact with the outside world and its trappings (such as film and television). Lee bullies the naive Will into serving as the stuntman on the action film he's creating for the sake of a TV competition (Screen Test, an actual U.K. series back in the '70s and '80s); once Will watches First Blood, Lee's inspiration for his own film, his imagination is fired by this taboo medium and he throws himself wholeheartedly into the project. It all sounds a bit precious, but Milner and especially Poulter are such charismatic young performers that they inject Son of Rambow with some genuine poignancy (both boys lack father figures, to say nothing of friends) to go along with the expected comic shenanigans. And the word is that even Sly Stallone gave this film a blessing, marking one of the few times that the person involved with the likes of Judge Dredd and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot has displayed a modicum of good taste.
DVD extras include audio commentary by writer-director Garth Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith and the two kids; Aron, Jennings' short film that inspired this one; and a making-of featurette.