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Film Movement: Sundance Hits [12 Discs] [DVD]
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Overview

Synopsis

The Forest for the Trees
A recent college graduate on her first teaching assignment finds her initial optimism quickly dashed due to the indifference of her students and the bitter cynicism of her fellow educators. Melanie (Eva Löbau) is a fresh-faced teacher who's eager to get in the classroom and share her enthusiasm for learning, but in order to get her career off the ground she'll first have to leave all of her loved ones in the country and establish herself in the city. Despite being exceptionally well-read on all the latest educational theory, however, Melanie quickly finds herself caught up in a hopeless wave of loneliness after arriving at the high school and getting a harsh dose of reality; not only are her students more unruly than she could have ever imagined, but the worn-down staffers seem intent on ensuring that she is dragged directly down to their level of misery and general malaise. Later, Melanie attempts to strike up a relationship with her neighbor Tina (Daniela Holtz), only to find herself unable to abide by the strict social codes of her strange new surroundings. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Noise
A Melbourne police officer with impaired hearing tries to take control of his social and professional life in this drama from Australian writer-director Matthew Saville. On the same night that a grisly train shooting takes half a dozen lives, patrolman Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) collapses on a nearby escalator -- just the latest symptom of his tinnitus, a medical condition characterized by a high-pitched ringing in the ears. Considered damaged goods, McGahan is shipped off to the night shift in a police trailer set up in a sleepy suburb; he's essentially the on-duty secretary should anyone come forward with news about a different case, involving a murdered local girl. Steadily entrenching himself in this unusual community, yet frustrated by both the desk job and his growing disconnect with reality, McGahan takes it out by arguing with his live-in girlfriend (Katie Wall). Meanwhile, the lone surviving witness of the train attack (Maia Thomas) starts believing that if the gunman left her alive, it wasn't for long. As the seemingly unrelated cases intertwine and McGahan both seeks his purpose and loses his grip, the killer sends the message that he's still lurking. Noise, which uses its sound design to examine its central theme, had its world premiere at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. ~ Derek Armstrong, Rovi

Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity
Director Mina Shum re-teams with the lead actress behind her breakthrough debut film Double Happiness in this magic-realist romantic comedy. Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity stars Sandra Oh as Kin Ho, a lonely single mom living in Vancouver with her impish 12-year-old daughter, Mindy (Valerie Tian). Mindy stumbles across a corner magic store while traipsing through Chinatown one day, and begins to believe that spells and potions are the perfect means for improving her mother's life. Her purchases not achieving the desired results, Mindy resorts to more serious schemes, courtesy of a fortune teller. After a few botched efforts -- which result in good fortune for a neighborhood butcher and terrible luck for a security guard -- Mindy sets herself to the task of finding her mother a mate in the form of Alvin (Russell Yuen), a co-worker of Kin's who has long admired her from afar. Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity premiered at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival. ~ Michael Hastings, Rovi

The Drummer
Sent away to rural Taiwan after entering into a forbidden affair with the daughter of his father's most dangerous rival, the musically gifted son of a powerful Triad boss experiences a newfound sense of balance in life upon entering into an apprenticeship with a Zen drumming troupe. Sid Kwan is a reckless musician who threatens to rock the entire underworld when he makes love to the beautiful Carmen. Carmen is the daughter of Stephen Ma, perhaps the most notorious Triad leader in the Hong Kong underworld. Should Carmen's father find out about the clandestine affair, the streets would likely be ablaze with gunfire, and Sid would certainly be the first to fall. Hoping that his son's life will be spared if he is out of sight, Sid's father sends the restless boy to lie low in rural Taiwan. Shortly after his arrival, Sid stumbles across a Zen drumming troupe who live and play together deep in the forest. Their passion and athleticism instantly mesmerizing to the entranced newcomer, Sid immediately asks if he might become a part of the unique community. While Sid's apprenticeship is at first straining, the clarity that he experiences after ingratiating himself to the community helps him make sense of the chaos that nearly consumed him back in Hong Kong and discover the peace that comes from owning up to his father's dark legacy. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

The Island
A man of faith uses his gifts in disturbing ways in this drama infused with the supernatural. In 1942, Anatoly (Timofei Tribuntzev) was a sailor in the Russian Navy when his ship was captured by German troops and Anatoly was offered a terrible choice -- he would be allowed to live, but only if he would execute his commanding officer, Captain Tikhon (Aleksei Zelenski). Anatoly impulsively shot Tikhon, and thirty-four years later, Anatoly (now played by Pyotr Mamonov) is still punishing himself for this desperate act. Anatoly lives a Spartan existence in a tumble-down shack near a monastery, where he tends to the furnaces and serves Father Filaret (Viktor Sukhorukov), who lacks Anatoly's rigorous discipline of self-denial, and Father Job (Dmitry Dyuzhev), who treats his willing servant like a slave. While the staff at the monastery prefer not to acknowledge it, Anatoly has developed an unusual reputation in the village -- it's believed he has a gift of prophecy and can heal through faith, but while Anatoly is willing to use these talents, he will only do so for those who are willing to renounce all their worldly possessions and give their lives to the Lord. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Adam's Apples
An overly-optimistic preacher with a penchant for taking in lost causes to help around his remote church finds his rose-tinted view of the world challenged by a psychotic neo-Nazi he is trying to reform in this jet black comedy from Green Butchers screenwriter/director Anders Thomas Jensen. Vicar Ivan (Mads Mikkelsen) prides himself on his efforts to help those in need by offering them a variety of odd jobs around the church and spreading the good word. After "adopting" a violent Saudi immigrant and a drunken tennis pro with a history of sexual assault, Ivan is approached by Adam (Ulrich Thomsen) -- a decidedly non-reformed neo-Nazi planning to lie low in the countryside for a spell before returning to the city to once again wreak havoc. When Ivan inquires as to what his new charge's goal will be during his stay in the countryside, the snide hooligan sarcastically states that he would like to bake a cake -- a response which prompts the gullible Ivan to place him in charge of the church's cherished apple tree. As ravens immediately descend upon the tree, Ivan concludes that Satan is attempting to prevent Adam from realizing his true potential. Meanwhile, Adam takes it upon himself to give the cheery clergyman a crash course in the harsh realities of life. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Under the Bombs
A divorced Shiite mother and a kindly Christian taxi driver venture into war-torn Lebanon on a desperate quest to locate the woman's missing six-year-old son. Zeina (Nada Abou Farhat) is an upper-class mother who was going through a divorce when she sent her son Karim to live with his aunt in the small village of Kherbet Selem, just south of Lebanon. Having sent Karim away to spare him the pain of watching his parents separate, Zeina is horrified to discover that war has broken out in Lebanon and now her child is nowhere to be found. Zeina knows that the only way to reach Lebanon is through Turkey, but her desperate trip to the port of Beirut is unexpectedly hindered by the blockade. On the day of the ceasefire, Zelna finally arrives at the port of Beirut. Though the vast majority of local taxi drivers prove reluctant make the dangerous journey south, amiable cabbie Tony sympathizes with the desperate mother and bravely agrees to act as her escort. Upon arriving in Kherbet Selem, Zeina is informed by a young boy that her sister was killed and French journalists have taken Karim away. Now, as every hour of Zeina's search becomes a monumental struggle, the Shiite mother and the Christian cab driver discover just how futile religious differences truly are when a child's life is on the line. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Monster Thursday
The surfing love story Monster Thursday stars Vegar Hoel as Even, a directionless young man who is madly in love with his best friend's wife, Karen. The friend is a champion surfer named Tord (Christian Skolmen). When Tord must head out of town, he asks Even to make sure Karen is taken care of. In an attempt to win her heart, Even begins surf lessons. Soon his affections cause a rift in the marriage, as well as his friendship. ~ Perry Seibert, Rovi

Ali Zaoua: Prince of the Streets
A handful of street kids in Casablanca struggle to pay tribute to a fallen comrade in this drama. Ali Zaoua (Abdelhak Zhayra) is a homeless boy who runs with his friends Omar (Mustapha Hansali), Boubker (Hicham Moussane), and Kouka (Maunim Kbab), all of whom get by on their wits and often stray into petty crime to provide food, clothing, and shelter. The four boys were once under the thumb of Dib (Said Taghmaoui), a man who lords over a gang of young criminals, but under Ali's guidance they've decided to strike out on their own rather than share their meager earnings with Dib. Ali claims he's soon to sail away from this village to a better life, which his friends don't quite believe. However, after Ali is killed by Dib's goons, they learn he had indeed been hired as a cabin boy on a ship. Omar, Boubker, and Kouka pledge to arrange for a proper funeral for their late friend, whose body they're hiding from Dib and his men; however, paying for Ali's internment proves to be no easy task. Ali Zaoua received its North American premiere at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

Das Fräulein
Writer/director Andrea Staka's Das Fräulein paints an exceptionally sensitive, multilayered, and richly textured portrait of a blossoming friendship between two adult women. Mirjana Karanovic is Ruza, a Slavic émigré in her fifties, who years ago transplanted herself from her native Serbia to Zurich, Switzerland. Quiet, introverted, and stoic, she runs a canteen business in the city and trusts absolutely no one, building her life exclusively around income. She and her Croatian associate, Mila (Ljubica Jovic), are confronted with the sudden arrival of Ana (Marija Skaricic), a much younger Bosnian drifter, who enchants Ruza with her fresh spontaneity and zest for life, but still draws some coldness from the Serbian woman. Despite a shared ethnic background, Ruza initially insists on communicating with Ana in German and scarcely acknowledges their common cultural identity. Nonetheless, in time, barriers begin to recede, and a tenuous, delicate bond of friendship forms between the two women. Staka uses the bulk of the drama to explore this relationship in all of its nuances and complexities, conveying the women's inner emotional landscapes with an intelligent use of cinematic language and visual flourishes. Instead of simply using Zurich as a backdrop, Staka employs the city -- both cosmopolitan and yet somewhat distancing -- as one of the story's central characters. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

Manito
Yet another American filmmaker inspired by the storytelling economy of Dogme 95, writer/director Eric Eason shot his feature debut, Manito, on digital video with a tiny budget and cast the film predominantly with first-time actors. Native New Yorker Eason's tale takes place in the Puerto Rican community of Washington Heights. Manny (Leo Minaya) is graduating high school near the top of his class and is headed to Syracuse University on a full scholarship. His family proudly organizes a massive graduation party, paid for by his older brother, Junior (Franky G.). Junior is a habitual womanizer who's done time for dealing drugs, but now he's working as a contractor. He's still hustling -- he falsifies his insurance certificate for a new job and hires illegal Mexican workers off the street -- but he's trying to pull his life together and support his wife, Miriam (Julissa Lopez), and their little boy. But his big celebration for Manny (staged at the famous Jimmy's Bronx Café) does not go smoothly. Their father, Oscar (Manuel Cabral), a reformed crack dealer, tries to participate in the big event, but Junior, still haunted by their ugly past, chases Oscar off, threatening to kill him. Manny has a crush on a sexually mature classmate, Marisol (Jessica Morales), and when he escorts her home from the party, they're accosted on the subway by two hoods who molest Marisol and steal Manny's graduation money. Just when it seems the world might be opening up to them, Manny and Junior find their hopes for the future in jeopardy. Manito won a Special Jury Prize for its ensemble cast at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, and was shown in competition at the 2002 Tribeca Film Festival. ~ Josh Ralske, Rovi

Let the Church Say Amen
Academy Award-nominated filmmaker David Peterson directs the documentary Let the Church Say Amen. The World Missions for Christ Church exists inside a small storefront in Washington, D.C. While the city government lacks funds and power, this little church reaches out to make necessary, positive changes in the community. Homelessness, violence, and drug addiction are all faced head-on by the church members, as missionaries seek out those who have been left behind by poverty and injustice. Peterson presents faith as a force of hope and inspiration within a crumbling, neglected city. Let the Church Say Amen premiered the 2003 SilverDocs Documentary Film Festival and screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival as part of the American Spectrum competition. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, Rovi

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