Today's DVDs: The Tempest and Bill Cunningham New York

The Tempest

stars Helen Mirren, Alfred Molina, Djimon Hounsou and Russell Brand; Julie Taymor directs.

The Helen Mirren we currently see in The Debt looks like she ran face-first into a chain saw. The Helen Mirren we see in The Tempest, admittedly looking a bit more weathered than her usual glam self, looks like a chain saw would fail to scratch her steely exterior. Mirren's turn as a former Mossad agent in The Debt is getting mixed reviews, so it's nice to get a look at her in a tour de force performance in The Tempest.

Director Julie Taymor (yes, the Lion King lady) flipped genders for the story's main character Prospero and cast Mirren as Prospera. After she's kicked out of power by her brother (Chris Cooper), Prospera winds up on a remote island with just her daughter and a beast for company. More than a decade later, her evil brother and his companions are sailing by the tiny island and Prospera whips up a tempest, crashing the ship on its shores, putting the men at her mercy. (Oh, did we mention Prospera is a hell of a powerful sorceress?)

The words are mostly by Shakespeare, so it's hard to go wrong there. (Taymor took a screenwriting credit, but we're thinking she mostly just downloaded the play and hit "print.") The sets and special effects are flawless, and while some of the supporting characters are a bit over- or underplayed, Mirren is dead-on from opening shot to end credits. Wipe The Debt from your mind and see Mirren as she was meant to be seen -- as the pissed off queen of the world.

DVD/Blu-ray extras: Rehearsal footage, audio commentary by Taymor, a making-of featurette and interviews with Shakespeare experts.

Bill Cunningham New York

stars Bill Cunningham, Anna Wintour and Kim Hastreiter; Richard Press directs.

Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham's entire wardrobe seemingly consists of a workman's jacket (the kind worn by Parisian street sweepers), a couple of pants, two or three shirts and a pair of shoes. If he's got any other clothes, we don't see him wear them in the documentary about his life and work, Bill Cunningham New York. We do see him dash out in the middle of busy streets, oblivious to oncoming traffic, to photograph someone who's caught his eye. It could be a celebrity in head-to-toe designer duds or some street kids in distressed urban attire. Both ends of the spectrum -- and everything in between -- interest Cunningham, who's been a New York Times photographer for decades. Getting around town on bike, eating $3 lunches and living in a tiny studio crammed with the negatives of every photograph he ever took, Cunningham documents a lifestyle he seems to have no interest in living.

DVD/Blu-ray extras: A 12-page collectible booklet with a statement from the director and more, enhanced sound, 20 minutes of additional scenes and enhanced widescreen viewing.

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