‘Hero’: Jet Li in his element
Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi
Chinese director Zhang Yimou, best known for lush period dramas such as “Raise the Red Lantern,” turns his attention to the martial arts genre in this slow but visually stunning action-drama. Jet Li, who has been wasted in American movies, gives one of his best performances as a warrior with no name who arrives at an emperor’s palace with much pomp and circumstance and three weapons, each one belonging to an assassin bent on killing the ruler.
The extras on the DVD are adequate: There is a better-than-average subtitled “making of” featurette, a storyboard to film comparison and a stilted conversation between Li and Quentin Tarantino, who “presented” the film in America.
Tim Robbins, Jack Lemmon
After a decade out of the limelight, director Robert Altman returned to the forefront in 1992 with his dark Hollywood satire “The Player.” The following year he directed “Short Cuts,” an ambitious, lengthy drama based on a collection of short stories and a poem by Raymond Carver. Altman masterfully juggles the stories of 22 characters whose lives crisscross in Los Angeles. The cast is uniformly terrific, and “Short Cuts” grows richer with each viewing.
Somewhat surprisingly, the two-disc set doesn’t feature a commentary from Altman. Still, it’s jammed with delectable extras including the feature-length documentary “Luck, Trust and Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country”; a BBC “Moving Pictures” episode that traces the development of Carver’s short story “Jerry, Molly and Sam” for the film; a PBS documentary and a 1983 audio interview with Carver; an isolated music track; and original song demos performed on the piano by Dr. John. Rounding out the extras is a fun, ribald and intelligent conversation between Altman and Tim Robbins.
Home Improvement -- The Complete First Season
Tim Allen, Patricia Richardson
Buena Vista, $50
One of the most popular sitcoms of the 1990s gets short shrift in this three-disc set.
The ABC series was an instant hit when it premiered in fall of 1991 and transformed stand-up comic Tim Allen, best known for his “Men Are Pigs” routine, into a TV superstar. But Allen as well as his costars are missing in action in the DVD extras. Why is there no retrospective documentary or commentary with Allen?
The only extras on the DVD are commentary on three episodes provided by co-creators and producers Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean (who seem like nice guys but aren’t terribly exciting) and a “most hilarious moments” compilation.
Sonny & Cher -- The Christmas Collection
Sonny & Cher, Chastity Bono
R2 Entertainment, $20
What a kitschy, fun way to ring in the holiday season. The “Christmas Collection” features the 1972 and ’73 Christmas installments of the duo’s popular CBS variety series. The comedy sketches are pretty lame but the two -- then still husband and wife -- exuded chemistry and good cheer. (Their little daughter Chastity, though, seemed ill at ease as a guest on both episodes.) William Conrad, who was starring on the CBS detective series “Cannon,” is the special guest on both shows. And look for Teri Garr as a member of the chorus in the 1973 show.
The final episode on the disc is from 1976, after Sonny and Cher had divorced but were reunited for another season. Captain Kangaroo, Bernadette Peters and mimes Shields & Yarnell are the special guests.