By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire January 4, 2011 at 3:32AM
This week marks the at-home release of several of this year's most buzzy titles: the "Is it really real?" documentary "Catfish," the still-relevant obscenity drama of "Howl," and one of HBO's most intriguing comedies, all come home via DVD and other various forms. Here are this week's Small Screen Top 5:
1. The Ever Controversial "Catfish" (criticWIRE rating: B) Now Available to Own
When Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman's "Catfish" debuted in the Spotlight section of Sundance 2010, the critics and audiences were abuzz. Could this bizarre, tragic story of deceit, young love, fame, and social networking be real? As the film rolled out to theaters with the publicity garnered from a (slightly misleading) suspenseful trailer, audiences continued to be captivated and confused by this year's more unbelievable Facebook story. For those that didn't have a chance to see it in theaters, it's delivered in Blu-Ray, DVD, digital download, and VOD today.
2. James Franco Explores the Poet Within in "Howl" (criticWIRE rating: B-)
In a combined Blu-Ray/DVD release of "Howl," the exploration of the obscenity case against Allen Ginsberg's classic Beat poem, documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman ("Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt," "The Celluloid Closet," "Paragraph 175") try out narrative filmmaking with "Howl," which started out as a documentary project about the trial. Wrote the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday, “What could have been a trivial exercise in nostalgia instead becomes a powerful case for the cathartic power of art.”
3. Rodriguez Returns with "Machete" (criticWIRE rating: C+)
With "Machete," Robert Rodriguez returns to the big screen after "Planet Terror," part of the blockbuster double feature "Grindhouse" that never really caught on as intended, and kids thriller "Shorts." In the new film, co-directed with Ethan Maniquis, Danny Trejo stars as Machete, a former police operative, who goes renegade from the organization to provide vigilante justice in the streets of Texas. He is hired by a businessman to assassinate a corrupt senator (Robert DeNiro), and crazy action sequences, botched plans, and double crossings ensue. Rob Hunter, on Film School Rejects calls "Machete" a "tastelessly absurd, cartoonishly violent, and often ridiculously fun movie." Stephen Holden in the New York Times wrote, “Although laughter is the appropriate response to this pulpy, lighthearted gorefest, its pro-Mexican, anti-American stance is so gleefully inflammatory that some incensed nativists may refuse to get the joke.” The film comes out on Blu-Ray and DVD today.
4. French Redo "Dinner for Schmucks" Allows Steve Carrell Another Chance at the Spotlight
There was much skepticism at whether or not the very American Jay Roach could pull off the understated absurdity that carried Francis Veber's French comic classic "The Dinner Game" ("Le dîner de cons"). The concept was the same – a group of friends bring to dinner the biggest “cons” (i.e., schmucks) they can find; the one with the schmuckiest guest wins. Unfortunately, some critics would argue that the film left them feeling… well, like a schmuck. (It rates 44% rotten on Rotten Tomatoes and has a Metacritic rating of 56.). However, some found bright spots: The New York Times’ A.O. Scott concedes that it’s “not a great movie, or even a coherent one, but in nearly every scene it draws laughter from an impressively eclectic array of sources, both obvious and new.”
5. Cartoon Ricky Hits Home on Season 1 of "The Ricky Gervais Show"
A new format for the long-running gabfest facilitated by British comedy darling Gervais. Most recently popularized as a podcast with “The Office” and “Extras” collaborator Stephen Merchant and with Karl Pilkington, the first season of BBC/HBO’s animated “The Ricky Gervais Show” starts with topics chosen by the eponymous host. However, Pilkington’s streams of deadpan poppycock make him the star.