"Iris" -- This is an exceptional, poignant, true story of British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, an extraordinary woman with an unfettered lust for life tragically blunted by the mental ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. Based on memoirs of her husband, writer-critic John Bayley, the film covers their 40-some years together from frolicking college days to the sadly clouded end. Judi Dench, terrific as usual, is the older Iris, acclaimed author of 26 books with a deep, abiding passion for words until she finds herself forgetting words and everything else, soon to be unable to write or think coherently, sliding inexorably toward a childlike helplessness. "I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness," she remarks. Counter this with the younger Iris, played with zest by Kate Winslet, a vivacious, promiscuous free spirit who falls for the bookish, inexperienced but understanding Bayley. Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent plays the older Bayley, forever devoted to Iris in whose shadow he basks until he suddenly is thrust into the role of caregiver. (Hugh Bonneville is the well-cast younger Bayley.) A powerful, affecting story with splendid acting. (The DVD version contains more about Alzheimer's.) 2001. 91 minutes. Miramax Home Entertainment. Rated R (sexuality/nudity, some language).
"We Were Soldiers" -- A tough, graphic war combat movie about America's first major battle of the Vietnam War, a bloody, costly confrontation in the appropriately dubbed "Valley of Death." Mel Gibson plays Lt. Col. Hal Moore, leader of the mission, who blends newcomers with grizzled veterans for the fight, hoping for the best but finding the worst. First one off the helicopter, Moore finds that he and about 400 of his men are immediately surrounded by 2,000 enemy troops. (The fact that this is part of the 7th Cavalry, same as Custer's regiment, is not overlooked.) Based on a book by Moore and former UPI reporter Joe Galloway (played in the movie by Barry Pepper), the film highlights not only unflinching bravery and loyalty among the soldiers but the awful burden of those back home awaiting word. There's also a brief view from the other side's perspective as Moore's North Vietnamese counterpart tries to outthink the Americans. Cast includes Madeleine Stowe as Moore's wife, Sam Elliott as his hard-as-nails right hand man and Greg Kennear as a young officer. The battle scenes are well done, brutally realistic, obviously not a movie for everyone. 2002. 138 minutes. Paramount Home Entertainment. Rated R (sustained sequences of graphic war violence, language).
"Birthday Girl" -- Nicole Kidman plays an unlikely mail order bride in this sexy comedy-drama in which things aren't what they seem -- but, in movies like this, they never are. Timid, sad-eyed John Buckingham (Ben Chaplin) is a bored bank teller in a small British town so desperate to find the right woman that he orders a bride over the Internet, using the "From Russia With Love" Web site, certainly not the wisest of ventures. When his "order" -- her name is Nadia -- arrives he discovers, to his utter dismay, that she doesn't speak English as he had insisted and he is ready to send her back -- even if she does look like Nicole Kidman. However, Nadia gets John to reconsider when, after discovering some porno magazines stashed away, begins catering to his kinky sexual preferences. But, when her boisterous "cousin" and his buddy show up he begins to realize the con is in. Implausible and a bit unsettling at times, but overall entertaining. 2002. 93 minutes. Miramax Home Entertainment. Rated R (sexuality, language).
"Dogtown and Z-Boys" -- The rise of skateboarding as a pop culture phenom makes for a lively documentary about a fascinating sport whose acrobatic influence reaches today all the way to the Olympic Winter Games. It all began in Southern California in the '70s, we are told, in a rundown section of Venice called Dogtown where a group of surfers, members of the Zephyer Team, took to skateboarding when the waves died down and, applying the same sort of assertiveness, began developing a whole new sport when the first Z-boy went airborne. Their free-form style defied gravity as they added acrobatics, devised stunts and invented vertical skateboarding on the walls of empty swimming pools whose swooping sides emulated the sweep of waves. Directed by Stacy Peralta, one of the original Z-Boys, whose interviews give an insight of what it was like in those ground-breaking days. 2002. 90 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (language, drug references).
"Return to Never Land" -- In this pleasing, kid-friendly sequel to Disney's 1953 classic "Peter Pan," Wendy, unlike Peter, has grown up, has children of her own and lives in World War II-staggered London. She tries to comfort her brood with tales of Peter and Tinker Bell and the villainous Captain Hook but her 12-year-old daughter Jane has no time for that make believe nonsense -- until, that is, Hook appears and, thinking she's Wendy, kidnaps her and spirits her back to Neverland. Peter and the boys of course rescue her after some harrowing moments and Jane learns that with faith, trust and pixie dust, anything is possible. 2002. 73 minutes. Animated. Walt Disney Home Entertainment. Rated G.
Coming up: Dennis Quaid as "The Rookie" and the Morgan Freeman-Ashley Judd thriller "High Crimes"... Arnie is No. 1 this week. Billboard says Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Collateral Damage" is the nation's top video rental movie...
Home video commemorates the silver anniversary of Elvis Presley's death with a variety of tapes and discs, including one documentary featuring a close friend assuring one and all that The King really did die on April 16, 1977, despite all those "sightings." He knows, he says, because he found the body and certainly would know if there had been a coverup. Joe Esposito, bodyguard, Army buddy and confidant, tells all in Universal's "Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers." Warner has released three of Elvis' movies on DVD for the first time, including his debut film, "Love Me Tender" (1956). Others are "Flaming Star" (1960) and "Wild In The Country" (1961). Rhino is out with a three-disc set, "Elvis: The Great Performances," containing 45 numbers and private life clips and career-tracing footage...
New on DVD: Quentin Tarantino's landmark crime caper "Pulp Fiction" and his follow-up "Jackie Brown" are being released by Miramax on Aug. 20 in two-disc collector's editions with loads of extras... "Them!" (1954), one of the best of the mutant monster movies of the '50s, dealing with an invasion of giant ants, is now on DVD, from Warner's...
The second season of "The Simpsons" is now available on DVD and the popularity of the animated TV sitcom means big bucks to Fox Home Entertainment. Variety quotes Fox Chairman Peter Chemin as saying that selling TV shows to DVD, such as "The Simpsons" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and such oldies as "MASH" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "is a $100 million business and growing." Fox will release the first full season of its hit show "24" on DVD on Sept. 17.