CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER (1951) / BILLY BUDD (1962). Fans of nautical adventures will find much to appreciate in these two solid works -- even if they don't star Johnny Depp or Orlando Bloom. Captain Horatio Hornblower was the second of Gregory Peck's 1951 blockbusters (the first was David and Bathsheba), and it finds the stalwart actor cast as C.S. Forester's famous naval hero, here matching wits against a megalomaniacal ruler (Alec Mango) during the Napoleonic Wars. Look for Christopher Lee in a small role as a Spanish captain. Billy Budd, adapted from the Herman Melville novel, earned Terence Stamp a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his film debut; he plays the title character, an honest and naive sailor whose genuine goodness raises the hackles of the ship's sadistic master-at-arms (Robert Ryan). Peter Ustinov (who also directed) costars as the vessel's captain, a fundamentally decent man whose dedication to the word of the law leads to disastrous results. Extras on Hornblower include the Bugs Bunny cartoon Captain Hareblower and an audio-only radio show adaptation with Peck and his leading lady Virginia Mayo; extras on Budd include audio commentary by Stamp and Steven Soderbergh. Both films are available individually or as part of the boxed set titled Literary Classics Collection; the remaining pictures (all supplemented with extras) consist of both the 1937 and 1952 versions of The Prisoner of Zenda (starring Ronald Colman and Stewart Granger, respectively), the 1948 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, with Gene Kelly and Lana Turner, and the 1949 take on Madame Bovary, starring Jennifer Jones.
Both Movies: ***
CHARLOTTE'S WEB (2006). This version of E.B. White's beloved children's book is mostly faithful to its source material, although some expected -- and tiresome -- flatulence gags have been added. But because Gary Winick's direction rarely rises above the level of competent, and because 1995's similar Babe has already perfected the talking-animal feat via its Oscar-winning effects, the end result is pleasant but not much more. As the voice of Charlotte, the spider who befriends Wilbur the pig and plots to save him from the slaughterhouse, Julia Roberts is suitably soothing, while Steve Buscemi provides the proper measure of ego and arrogance as Templeton the rat. The supporting voice actors, including Oprah Winfrey as a goose and horse whisperer Robert Redford as a horse, tend to get lost in the occasional frenzy of the tale, which on screen works better in the more mature passages (e.g. Charlotte explaining the cycle of life to Wilbur) than those focusing on slapdash antics. DVD extras include audio commentary by Winick, a half-hour making-of special, deleted scenes, a gag reel, and the music video for Sarah McLachlan's "Ordinary Miracle."
LOS ANGELES LAKERS: 1984-1985 NBA CHAMPIONS (1985). The obvious problem in reviewing sports material is that one's enjoyment of the program on hand stretches only as far as that same individual's tolerance for the team being championed -- for example, the DVDs showcasing the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victories might be the most perfectly put-together discs in the history of the medium, but I personally can't think of a better definition of "living hell" than being forced to sit through them. Along those lines, this new box set will prove to be a godsend to Los Angeles Lakers fans (like me) but sheer torture to those who loathe the franchise. Yet this is sports drama at its most compelling, and having watched this championship series back in the day, it was a thrill to relive its high points. After having lost to the Boston Celtics the previous year, the L.A. Lakers were determined to wrest the championship away from Larry Bird and his teammates, and these DVDs provide ample opportunities to watch the Laker elite -- Earvin "Magic" Johnson, James Worthy and series MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- take down their hated rivals. The set includes the majority of Game 1, Games 2-6 in their entirety, and the 1985 hour-long documentary Return to Glory. There are no extras.
RE-ANIMATOR (1985). It's no match for The Evil Dead, but as far as tongue-in-bloody-cheek gorefests go, this update of the H.P. Lovecraft tale isn't bad at all. I remember first seeing this as part of an all-night Halloween triple feature at the long-defunct Town Cinema near UNC-Charlotte: After thrilling to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead and then slowly being put to sleep by some dull Italian horror yarn, the audience was awakened (re-animated?) circa 4 a.m. by the feverish opening sequence of this adrenaline-fueled exercise in splatter. Jeffrey Combs (very funny) plays Herbert West, a young medical student who discovers a way to revivify first a cat, then a cadaver, and finally deceased colleagues within his university's science department. Bruce Campbell stand-in Bruce Abbott plays Dan Cain, the nice-guy graduate student who becomes West's reluctant accomplice, Barbara Crampton costars as Cain's fiancée, and David Gale portrays the professor who plots to steal both West's discovery and Cain's girl. All of this leads to the movie's most notorious sequence, which gave a lurid new twist to the expression "giving head." Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna and four cast members, the 70-minute documentary Re-Animator Resurrectus, interviews with key personnel, deleted and extended scenes, and (included in the packaging) a green highlighter pen made to look like the needle used throughout the picture.
TWIN PEAKS: THE SECOND SEASON (1990-1991). Basically prime-time television for people who don't like prime-time television, Twin Peaks was one of the most heavily hyped shows of its decade, and for the first season and at least half of the second, it more than lived up to the advance buzz. Not since "Who shot J.R.?" had TV asked a question as compelling as "Who killed Laura Palmer?" David Lynch's startling series brought big screen innovation (and the director's patented eccentricities) to the boob tube with a murder mystery that found FBI Agent Dale Cooper (an excellent Kyle MacLachlan) sleuthing in the title town, a place as notable for its oddball citizenry as its killer cherry pie. The first season was far more focused than this second and final season, which meandered after Laura's killer was IDed and abruptly canceled with countless plotlines still unresolved. And rather than doing the right thing for the fans and giving them a two-hour flick (either theatrical or TV) to wrap up the show, Lynch instead elected to film an unnecessary prequel (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me). Incidentally, Artisan owns the rights to the first season while Paramount holds the rights to the pilot episode that set up the entire show; hence why it wasn't included in Artisan's original box set. Now that Paramount has released the second season, maybe they'll finally bother to also release that all-important pilot as a stand-alone DVD. Extras in this Second Season box set include an interactive interview grid featuring MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, David Duchovny and other regulars, and Log Lady introductions.