What's new in the world of home entertainment.
"Sweet Home Alabama" -- A charming though highly unlikely tale of a talented young woman facing the choice of life with the bluebloods or the rednecks. Melanie Carmichael (Reece Witherspoon) is only in her 20s but already is one of New York's top fashion designers and engaged to the city's most eligible bachelor (Patrick Dempsey), the mayor's son and a John F. Kennedy Jr., lookalike. (He proposes in Tiffany's, which he has rented for the night.) But Melanie has some secret unfinished business back home in Alabama, namely a husband (Josh Lucas) who refuses to give her a divorce, so she sneaks back home to settle things. The Southern mansion she told her Big Apple friends about is actually a double-wide mobile home but once back in the rustic surroundings she grew up with, in a little casual community where everybody knows your name -- and, in Hollywood's view, living is so easy, she's not so sure what to do. Despite its flaws, an inviting film thanks largely to Witherspoon. 2002. 102 minutes. Touchstone Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (some language and sexual references).
"Igby Goes Down" -- Jason "Igby" Slocum (Kieran Culkin) is a poor little rich kid struggling to grow up despite money and a suffocating family, a whiny, confirmed drifter at 17, habitually undisciplined, thrown out of the best private schools, indifferent, bored. But despite his bravado, he eventually admits he's scared. It would seem that Igby's biggest goal in life is to break away from his self-absorbed, pill-popping mother (Susan Sarandon), his schizophrenic father (Bill Pullman), who's in a mental hospital, and his super critical brother (Ryan Phillippe). He does relate, however, with his wealthy godfather (Jeff Goldblum), whose mistress (Amanda Peet) also is quite relatable. This dark-tinged, coming of age comedy follows a well-traveled movie path but works because of a strong performance by Culkin, a solid supporting cast and an impressive directorial debut by Burr Steers who also wrote the screenplay. 2002. 98 minutes. MGM Home Entertainment. Rated R (language, sexuality and drug content).
"Little Secrets" -- A bright little family comedy set in a squeaky-clean suburb with picture-perfect children. Well, not perfect perhaps since the kids in the neighborhood, and there are a lot of them, have problems but that's where 15-year-old Emily (Evan Rachal Wood) comes in. Emily, a beautiful, poised budding violinist, runs a confessional of sorts, as the "Secret Keeper" with the kids paying 50 cents to unload their secrets and get some words of assurance back. The secrets are major ones to be sure, like the little girl hiding the kitten in her room and the little pudgy boy sneaking a forbidden candy bar on the side and the boy digging a hole to China. But some secrets do have a serious edge and that presents a problem for Emily later on. She also has other matters on her mind, like her upcoming audition for the local symphony orchestra and an expected new baby in the house. Wood is quite good as are Michael Angarano and David Gallagher as the boys next door and Vivica A. Fox stands out as Emily's violin teacher. It's all wholesome and uplifting, aimed primarily at pre-teen girls but broad enough for the whole family. 2001. 100 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated PG (thematic elements).
"Serving Sara" -- Matthew Perry plays a wily process server named Joe who tries to serve Sara (Elizabeth Hurley) with divorce papers from her conniving husband, a wealthy Texas rancher, who wants to cut her out of the fortune they built together. But, she's pretty wily, too, and out for revenge so she talks Joe into serving the husband first, thereby turning the tables on the rascal, fortune-wise. Some funny moments but overall a somewhat lame comedy. 2002. 99 minutes. Paramount Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (crude humor, sexual content, language).
"Formula 51" -- Samuel L. Jackson, decked out in a kilt, plays American chemistry genius Elmo McElroy who has invented a drug he says in "51 times stronger than cocaine." After violently rejecting his U.S. investors, he goes to London looking for a $20 million score, but a steady rain of violence follows, largely triggered by his explosive, foul-mouthed British "partner" (Robert Carlyle) and the furious U.S. gangster he left behind (Meat Loaf) who hires assassin Emily Mortimer to take him out. But complications arise when the hitter and the hittee hit it off. This is one of those "guilty pleasure" movies, a noticeably flawed film but rather entertaining nonetheless. 2002. 92 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated R (for strong violence, language, drug content and some sexuality).
Coming up: the delightful "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams," "Full Frontal," "Swept Away" and "Fast Runner"... "Signs" continues as the No. 1 video rental across the land...
New on DVD: Joan Crawford's Academy Award-winning performance in "Mildred Pierce" (1945), "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989) with Oscar-winner Jessica Tandy and "Patch of Blue" (1965) with Sidney Poitier and Best Supporting Actress Shelley Winters, from Warner, and Fox's "An Affair to Remember" (nominated for four awards in 1958) with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr... Also from Warner, "The Red Badge of Courage" (1951) starring Audie Murphy and the late Bill Mauldin... And Warner is bringing out the third season of "Friends" on April 1...
For your consideration: As Academy Award time nears, studios are sending out DVD screener copies of their Oscar hopefuls in droves in an all-out campaign to make sure every eligible voter sees their films. But, since most of the probable nominees came in a rush at the end of the year and are months away from normal video release their appearance is a natural boon for pirates. Variety says it's a longstanding problem that became more serious with the advent of DVD, the format of choice for turning a screening copy into a master for many duplications. As an official of the British Federation Against Copyright Theft put it, "You can press 10,000 copies of a DVD and each one is as good as the first. You couldn't do that with VHS." The Federation says it has seized more than 40,000 bootleg screener DVDs coming into England this year, mostly from Asia, including 10,000 copies of "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" and 2,000 to 3,000 each of "Gangs of New York" and "Chicago." There's also a demand for screener copies on the internet auction market.