Armchair Cinephile: The Cine-Mini

PICK OF THE WEEK: It's another slight week for new releases, with only one title to get very excited over (and even it is only half-new): The Mike Judge- and Don Hertzfeldt-sponsored The Animation Show (Paramount) is being offered now as a two disc set, combining the earlier first volume with a second that enjoyed a brief theatrical run but hasn't yet seen DVD. For ani-buffs who resent having to re-buy Vol. 1, I offer two consolations: a) in addition to a slew of great new shorts, you get Hertzfeldt's long-awaited The Meaning of Life, and b) if you shop around, you can find the two-disc set for what you'd realistically expect to pay for Vol. 2 by itself.

Given the dearth of new titles, how have I spent my winter holiday? Watching documentaries! I celebrated this year's release of 49 Up with a marathon of Michael Apted's complete Up Series (First Run), hung out with the late Spalding Gray in Monster in a Box (Image), and revisited a devastated New Orleans in When the Levees Broke (HBO). Not the most uplifting stuff, but always enriching.

For like-minded readers, here's a roundup of some recent doc offerings not discussed here previously:

GREAT MINDS (AND OTHERS) SPEAK: For the fluffier side of famed journalist Edward R. Murrow, see him chat with Brando, Liz Taylor, et al in The Best of Person to Person; one of cinema's (immensely quotable) giants says his piece in Billy Wilder Speaks (Kino); no Billy Wilder, but a helluva raconteur, stars in An Evening with Kevin Smith 2 (Sony); and Joseph Campbell, the popular scholar who drew connections between ancient myths and Luke Skywalker, is profiled in The Hero's Journey and caught at the lectern in Sukhavati (both Acacia/Acorn)

THE ARTS, ET CETERA: The Second City (Acorn) gives a two-hour look at the launching pad for many of the world's funniest comics, just in time to follow that epic viewing of the first Saturday Night Live box set; This Film is Not Yet Rated (IFC) shines a light on the MPAA's ugly little ratings board, and seems this week to have inspired the organization to reconsider some of their rules; the double-discer Sculptures of the Louvre (Koch Vision) is self-explanatory; the recent Andy Goldsworthy: Rivers and Tides (Docurama) has been expanded due to its popularity; the tie-in to Peter Bart's look at the blockbuster phenom, Boffo! (HBO) may not answer many questions but at least knows who to talk to.

MAKE YOUR BRAIN LARGER: Puzzling Minds (NOVA/WGBH Boston), a set of three explorations of the brain — one on a "wild child" neglected until age 13, one on serial killers, and one about tricks the brain plays on us; Atlas of the Natural World (BBC), a four-part survey of the wildlife and terrain of Antarctica and the Western Hemisphere.

RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES: Super-timely and infuriatingly compelling, Who Killed the Electric Car? (Sony) will hopefully have a happy rebirth-themed sequel soon; Cocaine Cowboys (Magnolia) takes a vicarious ride through the scene that inspired the original Miami Vice; Thin (HBO) addresses young women with eating disorders and shows the difficulties they encounter in treatment; and Jesus Camp (Magnolia) offers an intentionally provocative peek (one whose tone may sit best with those who know very little about the subject) at youth programs for the kids of fundamentalist Christians.

QUIRKSVILLE: Cowboy del Amor (Genius Entertainment) presents the PC-challenged but seriously entertaining "Cowboy Cupid," whose specialty is arranging marriages (for three grand or so) between American men and Mexican women; Female Misbehavior (First Run), a quintet of shorts about S&M pros and naughty intellectuals, features some women the Cowboy Cupid's crew would presumably have issues with; and Terrorstorm (Disinformation) offers the latest rant by Texan conspiracy enthusiast Alex Jones, who entertains the notion that 9/11 was a "self-inflicted wound"; finally, I'm not so concerned about whether Jackass Number Two (Paramount) is a doc or not — it just amuses me to see such stupidity in the company of the Louvre, the BBC, and Joseph Campbell.

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