'Chicago 10' no conventional documentary

"Chicago 10" - Writer/director Brett Morgen takes a billy club to the conventions of documentary filmmaking in "Chicago 10," his look at the violence surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the circuslike conspiracy trial that followed.

You won't find any talking-head interviews or voice-over narration here. Instead, Morgen combines historical footage of the convention protests with re-creations of the trial filmed in motion-capture animation. The result isn't a historical document so much as a bracing call for political protest.

Fed up with President Lyndon Johnson's escalation of the war in Vietnam, thousands of protesters tried to make their voices heard during the '68 convention. With television cameras rolling, helmeted Chicago police chased, clubbed and arrested them in a series of bloody clashes in Grant Park and on Michigan Avenue.

After the convention, federal prosecutors charged eight people with conspiracy to incite a riot. The "Chicago 8" trial, as it came to be known, was a chaotic affair, marked by openly contemptuous exchanges between the counterculture defendants and the establishment judge and prosecutors.

In Morgen's hands, the grainy footage of the convention riots and the animated courtroom scenes become a dazzling visual mash-up, a documentary that feels contemporary even as it captures the spirit of a particular moment in history. (The soundtrack uses Rage Against the Machine and The Beastie Boys instead of usual '60s suspects like Bob Dylan or Joan Baez.) History buffs won't find much new information about 1968 here, but there are plenty of other sources for that. "Chicago 10" - the title refers to the eight defendants and their two lawyers - is more concerned with the need for protest in today's America.

The film looks and sounds great on DVD, but where are the extras? Virtually no special features are included, which is a shame. Might another edition be coming down the road? (R; Paramount, $29.99)

"Redbelt" - The latest from writer/director David Mamet weaves together elements from crime, samurai and boxing flicks, then threads it all through the trademark Mamet plot of lies and double-crosses. It unravels a bit in the final act, but strong acting and Mamet's sparkling dialogue make "Redbelt" an offbeat, entertaining drama.

Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mike Terry, a martial-arts expert who runs a not-quite-profitable training academy in Los Angeles. Mike views martial arts almost like a religion, and he runs his business with a samurai's honor. Then a bizarre shooting accident inside his academy plunges Mike into a sinister world of sleazy fight promoters and Hollywood stars. Mike has to fight through deception after deception into order to save his life and his soul.

"Redbelt" suffers from one double-cross too many and an ending that strains credulity. Its shortcomings are more than outweighed, though, by great writing and top-shelf performances by a stellar cast. Mamet regulars Joe Mantegna and Ricky Jay shine in supporting roles, and Tim Allen will never be as cool as he is here. Topping them all is Ejiofor, who delivers another magnetic performance. If you haven't seen this gifted actor at work yet, it's time to check him out. "Redbelt" arrives on DVD with a nice array of supplements, including a commentary and an in-depth Q-and-A with Mamet. (R; Sony, $27.96)

"Gossip Girl: The Complete First Season" - There's no reason to feel guilty about this pleasure; "Gossip Girl" rocks. The show follows a group of gorgeous, superrich prep-schoolers in Manhattan (and one gorgeous, not-so-rich one in Brooklyn) as they scheme, fight, make up and hook up. It would grow tiresome very quickly if it weren't so well-written and acted, with a few cinematic visual touches thrown in for good measure. Blake Lively leads the beautiful cast as socialite extraordinaire Serena van der Woodsen, and Ed Westwick mesmerizes as Chuck Bass, the sleaziest rich kid since James Spader's Steff from the '80s teen angstfest "Pretty in Pink." This five-disc set includes all 18 first season episodes and some nice extras. It's the perfect way to get caught up in time for the second season premiere on Sept. 1. (Warner Home Video, $59.98)

A smarmy movie star (Tim Allen), left, meets an honorable martial-arts master (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in David Mamet's "Redbelt."
Antiwar activist Abbie Hoffman (voiced by Hank Azaria) is the central figure in "Chicago 10," a partially-animated documentary about the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the ensuing conspiracy trial.
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