COOL HAND LUKE (1967). In a career filled with iconic anti-heroes – including what I deem the "4-H Club" from the 1960s (Hud, Harper, Hombre and The Hustler) – Lucas Jackson just might be the most popular of all the societal misfits played by Paul Newman. After drunkenly destroying parking meters in a small Southern town, Newman's wisecracking loner is shipped off to a prison whose inmates break their backs working on a chain gang. The leader of the convicts is a burly fellow known as Dragline (George Kennedy), but he relinquishes his top spot after he and the other inmates get a look at Luke's anti-Establishment attitude. The camp's authority figures, on the other hand, aren't amused – least of all the prison's captain (Strother Martin), who utters the now-immortal line, "What we've got here is failure to communicate" – and they do their best to destroy both Luke's body and spirit. The Christ allegories are a stretch, but the ins and outs of prison life are depicted in vivid fashion, and Newman turns in a career Top 10 performance. Look for many familiar faces among the prisoners, including Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and Joe Don Baker. Oscar-nominated for Best Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Original Music Score, this won Kennedy a statue for Best Supporting Actor.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax; a making-of documentary; and the theatrical trailer.
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008). Yet another film from the Judd Apatow factory (the Hollywood wunderkind serves as producer here), Forgetting Sarah Marshall stars Jason Segel (who also scripted) as Peter Bretter, a nondescript guy who writes the music for the TV crime series starring his celebrity girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). After five years together, Sarah dumps Peter for self-centered and none-too-bright musician Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a rejection that sends Peter spiraling into self-pity. He flees to Hawaii to escape from it all, only to end up at the same hotel as Sarah and Aldous; it's only through the efforts of Rachel (Mila Kunis), the resort's desk clerk, that Peter's able to occasionally follow through on the title action. Apatow's films are hailed for successfully mixing raunchy moments with heartfelt ones, but their greatest strength might actually be the depth of their benches. Even the most minor characters are a joy to be around, and that's the case here as well, whether it's the brain-fried surf instructor (a very funny Paul Rudd) or the fawning waiter (Jonah Hill) or the newlywed (Jack McBrayer) who's freaked out by his wife's (Maria Thayer) bedroom prowess. As for the leads, Segel is an affable underdog, Bell displays some choice reaction shots, Kunis is talented enough to turn her role into more than just a Male Fantasy, and Brand – the MVP among strong competition – is spot-on as the British rocker who manages to turn vanity into an endearing character trait.
Extras in the three-disc DVD version include both the theatrical and unrated versions of the film (as well as a digital copy suitable for downloading); audio commentary by director Nicholas Stoller and the principal cast members; 20 minutes of deleted scenes; alternate ideas for Sarah Marshall's new TV series (including Divine Justice and Jesus H. Cop); and the sort of offbeat features we've come to expect from Apatow-sanctioned DVDs (including "Line-o-rama," "Drunk-o-rama" and "Sex-o-rama").
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997). Writer-director Curtis Hanson's adaptation of the James Ellroy novel wasn't merely one of the two or three greatest movies of the 1990s; it stands as a masterpiece for the ages, and one which wholly deserves all the Chinatown comparisons that greeted it upon its original release. Richly textured, densely plotted, and packed with marvelous characterizations, this is a multilayered movie that, among other functions, serves up meaty plot strands involving a mass homicide, a swank prostitution ring, casual racism, political maneuverings, the sins of the father being foisted onto unwilling offspring, and, just to insure that the entire picture isn't hard-boiled, a tender love story between a cop and a call girl. Set in the early 1950s, the film largely centers on three colorful figures who all work for the LAPD: good-natured Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), a celebrity cop who operates in tandem with a sleazy tabloid editor (Danny DeVito) to maintain his high profile; ambitious Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), a rookie who somehow balances his genuine integrity with his opportunistic ambitions; and brooding Bud White (Russell Crowe), a quick-tempered cop whose soft side is brought out by his romance with a high-priced hooker (Kim Basinger). All of the performances are superb, with Spacey edging out Crowe for top honors. The film deservedly steamrolled through awards season, winning Best Picture citations from over 20 critics' groups. Unfortunately, that streak ended when Oscar and Golden Globe voters collectively decided to turn into teenage girls and hand their Best Picture awards to the box office behemoth Titanic. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, L.A. Confidential did manage to win two, for Best Supporting Actress (Basinger) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Hanson and Brian Helgeland).
Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by all seven principal cast members (the aforementioned plus James Cromwell and David Strathairn), Hanson and most of the key crew members, Ellroy, and renowned film critic Andrew Sarris; a half-hour making-of feature; pieces on the ensemble cast, the shooting style and the book-to-screen adaptation; the pilot for the abandoned L.A. Confidential TV series (with Kiefer Sutherland in the Kevin Spacey role!), filmed in 1999 but only airing in 2003; and an interactive map of the film's locations. The set also includes a CD sampler featuring six period tunes used in the film.
LEATHERHEADS (2008). Football may be a rough-and-tumble sport, but Leatherheads is handled by director and star George Clooney with all the delicacy one extends toward an antique vase. Working from a first-time script by sports writers Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, Clooney offers an occasionally wistful look at the early days of professional football, when its popularity was nil and it was viewed as college football's deformed and ignored stepbrother. The year is 1925, and realizing that the league is about to fold, veteran player Dodge Connolly (Clooney) convinces Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski), the nation's most popular college football star, to put his studies on hold and join the pro ranks. With Carter – a beloved World War I hero, to boot – drawing in thousands of fans, the sport catches on, but working the sidelines is tough-talking reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), assigned to determine the authenticity of Carter's wartime exploits. As screenwriters, Brantley and Reilly are, not surprisingly, clearly more comfortable with the gridiron aspects of the story than with the ofttimes flat romance that never quiet manages to make itself at home within the film's structure. But ever the jokester, Clooney doesn't simply rely on his writers to come up with all the funny stuff. Leatherheads is full of visual sight gags, whether the humor derives from elaborate setups or merely from the repetition of the same shot for maximum potency. Admittedly, the humor is as muted as most other aspects of this low-key production. But Clooney obviously sensed that such an approach suited this material, and why mess with a winning game plan? Incidentally, the climactic game was filmed at Memorial Stadium here in Charlotte, and freelance CL writer Lew Herman can be spotted in loving close-up in one of the crowd shots (nice threads, Lew!).
DVD extras include audio commentary by Clooney and producer Grant Heslov; eight minutes of deleted scenes; a making-of featurette; and short pieces on the visual effects, the football sequences, and Clooney's on-set pranks.