The 2006 satire Borat has just now arrived on DVD. A monumental worldwide hit, one's personal reaction to it will depend upon one's level of tolerance for the offensive. Offensive it is, and purposely so. How much is too much? Well, I'll leave that to you. Very funny is "Borat"; very very funny, you could say. But there's a line beyond which the outrageous becomes cruel, and beyond which what is funny becomes funny, not (as Borat's humor coach might say). Sacha Baron Cohen — who will play Pirelli in the upcoming Tim Burton film version of Sweeney Todd — crosses said line over and over again; that's the point, I suppose. Just how offensive is "Borat"? I, personally, do not blanch at wicked humor; but Mr. Cohen's masterwork has its moments. I suppose you could say, succinctly, that "Borat" makes "Blazing Saddles" look like "Anne of Green Gables." Enough said.
A very different experience is to be had with Fast Food Nation. Director Richard Linklater has taken Eric Schlosser's 2002 book about the meat packing industry and turned it into what might be described as a fictional documentary. The plot follows an executive of a major fast food chain — "Mickey's," lest you confuse them with McDonalds — trying to track a report of unacceptable levels of fecal matter in the "Big One." Not to be confused with the Big Mac.
Linklater interweaves three stories in an Altman-like manner, with always interesting results. Greg Kinnear leads the acting pack, tracking down those contaminated all-beef patties (with or without their privates? as Mrs. Lovett might say). There are any number of highly interesting, brief performances from familiar faces; standing out are Kris Kristofferson, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Wilmer Valderrama, and an especially brutal Bruce Willis. Most startling is the climactic footage which follows a piece of meat through the killing room. If this doesn't put you off hamburgers, nothing will. ****
Fox has also released an "All-New, Fully Loaded, Two-Disc Fully Exposed Edition" of The Full Monty. You've seen the film before, no doubt; here we have "ten never-before-seen deleted scenes, ten all-new featurettes" and more. This British film was adapted into a Broadway musical, yes; but the original works better. Far better. Foreign, by American standards, but endearingly human.
A very different band of British lost boys comes with the "Two-Disc Platinum Edition" of Disney's Peter Pan. This is the 1953 film version, which predated the 1954 Mary Martin-Jerome Robbins stage musical. The best songs came from Sammys Fain and Cahn, including "You Can Fly! You Can Fly! You Can Fly!" If the score can't begin to compare with the songs written for the stage version by Charlap & Leigh and Styne, Comden & Green, the movie is nevertheless pretty nifty. That's Hans Conried as Captain Hook, who followed the film with his featured role in Broadway's Can-Can. Newly restored and enhanced, with deleted songs, featurettes, an alternate opening, games, you name it; all sorts of bonuses that will keep "Peter Pan" fans busy. Walt, himself, even appears to tell you just why he made "Peter Pan."
And as a change of pace we have the gripping The 49th Parallel, a 1941 World War II movie that is immensely satisfying despite the fact that it was sponsored in part by the British Ministry of Information. The story tells of a group of escaped Nazis on the run in Canada; they must get to the 49th parallel — the U.S. border, that is — and freedom. The United States was officially neutral at the time, and it was hoped that this film would help convince America to join the Allies. The film seems to have had an effect; it set a new record as the biggest-grossing foreign film in the States. And it picked up an Oscar, too, with Emeric Pressburger winning for original story (beating out "Holiday Inn," "The Pride of the Yankees," and "Yankee Doodle Dandy").
In addition to the considerable suspense generated — will the Nazis make it to freedom in America? — "The 49th Parallel" features some top-notch performers. (Given the governmental backing, this was a patriotic effort with the stars working at reduced rates.) Raymond Massey, Laurence Olivier, Leslie Howard, Anton Walbrook, Eric Portman and a teenaged Glynis Johns. Plus a stirring score by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The two-disc Criterion release features a high-definition transfer, which enhances the numerous shots of the Canadian countryside. Quite a dandy little thriller, which in dealing with enemy aliens raises questions about democracy and freedom which have new resonance 60 years later.
(Steven Suskin is author of "Second Act Trouble," "A Must See! Brilliant Broadway Artwork," "Show Tunes," and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)