Spike Lee's four-part doc, easily the best non-fiction film of 2006, gets a fifth part on DVD: a 105-minute epilogue that reveals just how little has changed since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in August 2005. Featuring new interviews with the displaced and displeased, it also contains among the most harrowing tidbits heretofore seldom heard: a National Weather Service bulletin, read in its entirety, that predicted the catastrophe down to the last snapped tree. Taken as a whole, When the Levees Broke is almost too much to bear; Lee, somber and furious, presents better than anyone else before or since a study of race and class—and governmental ineptitude and ignorance—and precisely how a First World country wound up with a Third World situation on its own shores.
Also released this week:
LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
There are no real deleted scenes for the warm, wry family road-tripper that wowed 'em at Sundance and did almost as well at the summer multiplex. But you will find two directors' commentaries, one of which features screenwriter Michael Arndt; now that's respect. And Arndt's a thoughtful, honest man; not two minutes into his commentary, he admits a key failure—that Greg Kinnear's motivational-speaker dad "isn't more formidable as a philosophical antagonist . . . I feel, as if he's written like he's a little too much of a clown." Which doesn't diminish the result; Little Miss Sunshine is National Lampoon's Vacation shorn of the juvenilia, bless its broken heart. The disc also contains four alternate endings, and directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris walk us through the discards, explaining how their imperfect finishes gave way to the ideal ending. (RW)
For the moment, Jet Li is the world's only mainstream martial arts superstar. And though the sticker on the box calls Fearless his "final martial arts epic," don't see it because of the hype—see it because it's an intelligent movie featuring a true artist in his prime. Even today, most kung-fu flicks have about as much plot as a Vivid video, but this one manages to shove some big ideas into its story. Based on the life of a turn-of-the-century martial artist, Fearless allows Li to expound on the deeper nature of kung fu, and without a lot of new-age hokum. Of course, there are also enough ass-whompings and beatdowns to satisfy your primal needs; swords, chain-stick thingies, fists, feet -- they're all flailing in Li's typically graceful style. The ending even delivers real emotional impact; when's the last time a porno managed that? (Jordan Harper)
THE SIMPSONS: THE COMPLETE NINTH SEASON
One day, the sun will expand and fry away Earth, leaving no trace of us at all. Depressing, yes, but not nearly so much as the passing of the Golden Age of The Simpsons. In its prime, it wasn't just the best thing on TV—it was the best thing our culture had going for it at all. Though not without its standout episodes, season nine marks the beginning of the end: the over-reliance on gimmick premises (the Lord of the Flies rip-off is a groaner), the "Simpsons Go to X" formula that would be soundly flogged in later years, and big-name guests (U2, Jay Leno) with no-name impact. Of course, the usual bevy of extras are here, from storyboards and animation tests to commentary on every damn episode. (JH)