One of the great joys of home video is inducing cognitive dissonance by scheduling an ambitious double feature night. Pick the right two films, and you can work alchemical wonders in your own mind. I was once talked into a Halloween double feature bill of Monsters, Inc. and The Exorcist. My dreams that night put me on medication for the next three years.
Still, it's good fun. This week's Cognitive Dissonance Double Feature begins with MACHINE GUN PREACHER, among the stranger movies to see semi-wide theatrical release last year. Despite the title, this is no grindhouse thriller. Instead, Preacher is a gritty redemption drama starring Gerard Butler as a heroin-addled ex-con who hits bottom, finds God, then heads over to Sudan to rescue war orphans.
The film is based on a true story, a phrase which in movie marketing often means nothing at all. But in this case, the essentials of the story are true. In the late 1990s, roughneck biker Sam Childers really did fight vicious warlords while attempting to establish a Christian missionary and orphanage in the middle of a war zone.
The movie is kind of mess, but it's an interesting mess, and more importantly it offers that rare movie commodity—a story you haven't seen before. Butler is convincing as a violent man who channels his newfound zeal into two-fisted missionary work. Michelle Monaghan and the Michael Shannon check in as Childer's wife and best friend, left behind to tend the home fires as Sam wages his holy war in Africa.
To his credit, director Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, The Kite Runner) doesn't shy away from the brutal realities of the Sudan conflict. The movie's tonal schizophrenia comes from crashing those images against the conventional redemption story arc.
After the harsh realities of Machine Gun Preacher, why not shift gears into one of TV's very best comedies? Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Eighth Season gathers 10 episodes of the rock-steady HBO series, along with a couple of interesting extras. For the uninitiated, Curb Your Enthusiasm stars Seinfeld co-creator Larry David as an exaggerated version of himself, navigating endlessly embarrassing social crises in Los Angeles.
Over the course of eight seasons, comic visionary David has turned Curb into a minor miracle of television. The show's writers and producers are all Seinfeld veterans, and the show employs a unique production system. Scenarios are loosely scripted, and scenes shot verite-style as the ace ensemble actors improvise around the story beats.
The result is a show blends the cross-pollenating storylines of Seinfeld with the nervy spontaneity of long-form improv. Season Eight finds Larry living the single life after his divorce and traveling to New York City. It's almost impossible for a show to be this funny, for this long.
Formats: Machine Gun Preacher: DVD, Blu-ray and various digital platforms; Curb Your Enthusiasm: DVD and digital.
Extras: Machine Gun Preacher: theatrical trailer and short doc on the musical score; Curb Your Enthusiasm: an interesting roundtable discussion with David and the cast, and the goofy short Leon's Guide to NYC.
Also New This Week:
Disney's box-office calamity JOHN CARTER (DVD/Blu-ray/Blu-ray 3D/digital) based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs' story and directed by Pixar's Andrew Stanton, gets the Big Event Movie multi-disc combo pack release.
Denzel Washington and Ryan Reynolds headline the spy thriller SAFE HOUSE (DVD/Blu-ray/digital).
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson cashes another family movie paycheck with the kids' adventure sequelJOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (DVD/Blu-ray/digital). Of local interest, the film was shot in Wilmington, N.C.
The indie doc HOW TO LIVE FOREVER examines aging and longevity with case studies like Phyllis Diller, the late Jake LaLanne, and a 101-year-old chain-smoking marathon runner.
New season collections from the British TV series DOC MARTIN and NEW TRICKS (DVD) also hit shelves this week. Be careful with this BBC stuff, it's easy to get hooked.
Plus: Blu-ray reissues of THE STING and THE COLOR OF MONEY, and TV-on-DVD season collections from BREAKING BAD, FALLING SKIES, PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, BURN NOTICE AND WHITE COLLAR