Here's a disparate collection of movies released on DVD this week.
"The Glass Shield" (Miramax, 1995, PG-13, $19.99). Underrated filmmaker Charles Burnett wrote and directed this picture, which is probably his most accessible, and which is certainly his most available. (For some reason his fine films "To Sleep With Anger," "Killer of Sheep" and "My Brother's Wedding," each of which made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival some years ago, are not available.)
The story has a young, enthusiastic, ambitious black police-academy graduate (Michael Boatman) assigned to a corrupt, racist sheriff's department somewhere in Southern California. He initially tries to fit in — even to the point of lying about evidence to aid a fellow officer — but eventually he and the precinct's only female cop (Lori Petty) team up to expose the corruption that surrounds them.
The material is familiar, but this is a character study, a serious, low-key exploration of human failings. There are no big action scenes, and the tension builds slowly with a first-rate cast, including a number of familiar faces (Ice Cube, Elliott Gould, Michael Ironside, M. Emmet Walsh, etc.).
Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (by Burnett and composer Stephen James Taylor), making-of featurettes, trailers, language options (English, Spanish), optional English subtitles, chapters.
"My Left Foot: Collector's Edition" (Miramax, 1989; R for language, violence, nude photo; $19.99). Daniel Day-Lewis won a much-deserved Oscar for his riveting portrayal of real-life Irish writer/artist Christy Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and remained enormously frustrated by the limitations placed upon him.
His left foot was the only appendage over which he had complete control, and with that foot he learned to paint, write, type and communicate. He also eventually learned to speak clearly enough to be understood.
The film is an amazing, dry-eyed portrait, with humor and sorrow and great performances by all concerned, though Day-Lewis, Brenda Fricker as his mother (who also won an Oscar) and Hugh O'Conor, who plays Christy as a boy, are absolute knockouts. (This DVD re-release includes some new features that are also of interest.)
Extras: Widescreen, making-of featurettes, photo gallery, reviews, language options (English, French), subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters.
"The Mambo Kings" (Warner, 1992; R for violence, sex, nudity, language; $19.97). Though the box is labeled "R for sexuality," this is actually an unrated, expanded (by one minute) version of the film. This is basically a soap opera with storylines that are predictable and even a bit tiresome. But the film gets a huge lift from the cast — in particular Armand Assante and Antonio Banderas in the leads — and especially from the music.
Set in the 1950s, the story has two brothers from Cuba trying to make a career of music. They both sing and play multiple instruments, but Assante has the forceful personality with business savvy, while Banderas is the sensitive artist who writes their songs and pines for his true love back home, even though she has married someone else.
Banderas is amazingly charismatic; he had not yet learned English and speaks his lines phonetically, but it doesn't show. But it's the music that will get your blood pumping, especially when such legendary performers as Tito Puente and Celia Cruz show up.
Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (by director Arne Glimcher), making-of featurette, trailer, language options (English, French, Spanish), subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters.
"Jamboree" (1957, not rated, b/w, $19.97). There's only one word for this movie: baaaaad. The story about two young pop singers whose managers come between them is dumb, the acting is practically non-existent and the direction is stagnant. This film is like nowheresville, man.
That is until the musical performances begin, introduced by a wide variety of 1950s disc jockeys — including Dick Clark. Among those who fare best are Jerry Lee Lewis (doing "Great Balls of Fire"), Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Buddy Knox, Slim Whitman (!) and a very young Frankie Avalon.
Extras: Full frame, trailer, subtitle options (English, French, Spanish), chapters.
"The Wedding Date" (Universal, 2005, PG-13, $29.98). This weak romantic comedy is a big-screen vehicle for Debra Messing (TV's "Will & Grace"), and she does demonstrate charm and a talent for slapstick. But the material doesn't serve her well. It's underwritten, overdirected and loaded with undernourished possibilities.
Messing plays an insecure woman whose sister is getting married in England, so she hires a male escort (Dermot Mulroney) who turns out to be charming and witty and even sage. She falls for him, of course, but not before there are predictable misunderstandings and silly misadventures.
Extras: Separate widescreen and full-frame editions, audio commentary (by Messing), deleted scenes, making-of featurette, language options (English, Spanish), subtitle options (English, Spanish), chapters.