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View From The Couch

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DETECTIVE STORY (1951). Based on Sidney Kingsley's Broadway hit, Detective Story is a film that would suffer from a bad case of staginess were it not for William Wyler's fluid direction. Although practically all the action takes place at an NYC police precinct, we're never bothered by a lack of mobility because there doesn't seem to be any. Between Wyler's expert mise-en-scènes, Kingsley's crackling story (adapted for the screen by Philip Yordan and Robert Wyler), and the superlative performances, this film never slows down even for a minute. Kirk Douglas stars as Jim McLeod, the cynical detective who believes everyone's guilty even if proven innocent; his only soft spot is for his wife Mary (Eleanor Parker), yet that gets tainted by his pursuit of a doctor (George Macready) suspected of performing illegal abortions on the side. Except for Joseph Wiseman's hammy turn as a small-time crook, the entire cast excels, including Lee Grant as a neurotic shoplifter. This earned Oscar nominations for Best Director, Actress (Parker), Supporting Actress (Grant) and Screenplay; it's a mystery why Douglas wasn't invited to the party. There are no extra features on the DVD.

Movie: *** 1/2

Extras: *

THE FLY (1986) / THE FLY II (1989). For more than 30 years, David Cronenberg has ranked as a maverick filmmaker who marches to his own beat, so it's with no small degree of irony that his best picture also turns to be his most commercially successful. The minor 1958 sci-fi classic The Fly is re-imagined by Cronenberg so that it fits more snugly with his favorite themes: the relationship between man and machine, the draw of sexual perversities, and the manner in which our own bodies can betray us without a moment's notice. Yet for all its fetishistic attention to gross-out elements, what primarily distinguishes the film is its love story; I've seen this movie close to a dozen times, and the tragic romance never fails to choke me up. Jeff Goldblum is sensational as the doomed scientist who notes, "I'm an insect who dreamed he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over and the insect is awake" -- an aching, beautiful passage. He's matched by Geena Davis, cast as the journalist who's tormented by what's happening to the man she adores.

Chris Walas, who won the Best Makeup Oscar for The Fly (shared with Stephan Dupuis), assumes the role of director for The Fly II, one of those sequels nobody asked for. Eric Stoltz plays the son of the Goldblum and Davis characters; he resides at a research facility where the evil CEO (Lee Richardson) and his humorless scientists all wait to see if the lad will eventually transform into a misshapen monster like Dad. The horrible fate of a Golden Retriever is guaranteed to make dog lovers cringe, but beyond that, it's hard to invest any emotion in this shrug-inducing follow-up.

Previously available as a double feature on one DVD, each film has now been reissued as a two-disc Collector's Edition. DVD extras on The Fly include audio commentary by Cronenberg, more than two hours of documentaries, a handful of deleted scenes, texts of the original short story, Charles Edward Pogue's screenplay and Cronenberg's rewrite, and promotional materials. DVD extras on The Fly II include audio commentary by Walas and film historian Bob Burns, a pair of documentaries, a deleted scene and storyboard-to-film comparisons.

The Fly: *** 1/2

Extras: *** 1/2

The Fly II: **

Extras: ***

HERBIE: FULLY LOADED (2005). The notion of a supercharged Volkswagen beetle seems quaint in this age of gargantuan, gas-guzzling SUVs -- the first Herbie picture, The Love Bug, hit theaters back in 1969 -- yet given the sort of cacophonous kiddie dreck that routinely fills auditoriums and TV screens today, this blast of old-fashioned sentiment isn't half-bad. Lindsey Lohan, whose tight outfits continually threaten to put the kibosh on the film's G rating, stars as Maggie Peyton, a third-generation member of a NASCAR family. Forbidden by her dad (Michael Keaton) from ever taking part in races, Maggie goes against his wishes when she discovers the rusty VW she rescues from a junkyard is magically endowed. Let's leave the Freudian implications to those with more time on their hands (horny Herbie is constantly squirting fluids on people, attempting to mount other cars, and making passes at a female VW barely out of adolescence) and maintain that this is suitable fare for families with small children. The wavering quality of the special effects -- more special in some scenes than others -- will pass unnoticed by the little ones, while parents will enjoy revisiting their youth via the mix of rock oldies on the soundtrack. Still, couldn't music supervisor Howard Paar have used a smidgen of imagination by not prominently featuring Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild"? DVD extras include audio commentary by director Angela Robinson, deleted scenes, and the Lohan music video "First."

Movie: ** 1/2

Extras: ** 1/2

THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). This film long ago left the realm of being "just a movie" to emerge as a cultural touchstone for generations of Americans. The peerless Judy Garland as farm girl Dorothy, proclaiming "there's no place like home"; the Oscar-winning "Over the Rainbow," recently topping the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest Movie Songs; the flying monkeys that have scared the bejesus out of countless kids over the decades; the Munchkins pointing the way down the Yellow Brick Road -- it's all here, repackaged by Warner Bros. in a three-disc Collector's Edition that's among the most lavish this studio's home entertainment division has ever produced. Disc One showcases the movie in an eye-popping transfer (the splendor of Technicolor can never be underestimated), as well as audio commentary by film historian John Fricke and a handful of extra features (including a look at the restoration). Disc Two includes making-of documentaries, outtakes, deleted scenes, radio broadcasts, and a theatrical trailer gallery. Disc Three highlights a documentary on Oz creator L. Frank Baum as well as earlier screen versions of The Wizard of Oz, including a 1910 production and a 1925 adaptation featuring Oliver Hardy. The set also comes with 10 color photographs and reproductions of promotional material from 1939, such as the original program guide and admission ticket for the film's premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Movie: ****

Extras: ****

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