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View From The Couch

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THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (2003). By fusing popular sci-fi concepts with religious allegories, writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski had managed to create with 1999's The Matrix perhaps the headiest fantasy excursion since 2001: A Space Odyssey. And with The Matrix Reloaded, it was clear that the brothers had more to say, deepening Neo's (Keanu Reeves) quest for the truth in his computer-generated universe, introducing a handful of exciting new characters, and staging two magnificent action set pieces. Yet in this disappointing final chapter that managed to alienate even the die-hards, only the visceral impact remains. In some ways, that's enough: The visuals are fantastic, and simply as a cinematic joyride, this one delivers the goods. But on a human level, it's clear that the Wachowskis allowed the series to get away from them. Having introduced so much compelling material in the first two films, the pair discovered too late that there simply wasn't enough time to adequately explore it all in this entry, not with so many battle royales to conduct. Thus, fascinating characters introduced in Reloaded are almost completely forgotten, while the series mainstays, Neo, Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) and Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), have largely been drained of personality, existing only to stand around mouthing the Wachowskis' increasingly vague philosophies. Extras in this two-disc DVD set include various making-of features, a piece on the Matrix Online multiplayer game, and a Matrix timeline.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

RIPLEY'S GAME (2003). With so many lackluster movies released in thousands of movie houses on a weekly basis, it's depressing whenever a good one is unceremoniously sent straight to video and cable. Briefly assigned a theatrical release last year, this adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel instead was deemed unworthy of such lofty honors (by the studio that gave us The Real Cancun and Dumb and Dumberer, no less) and is now popping up on video and DVD. Although this focuses on the same character Matt Damon played in The Talented Mr. Ripley, this picture was made by a different studio, cast and crew. Indeed, Tom Ripley is now 20 years older than in the previous film, and the role is essayed by John Malkovich in a performance that's as playful as it is perverse. His Tom Ripley doesn't suffer fools lightly, and all it takes is one verbal insult for him to decide to involve an innocent man (Dougray Scott) in a murder plot orchestrated by a boorish acquaintance (Ray Winstone). Malkovich's sly turn (love those zingers!) is more interesting to absorb than the plotline, which starts out strong but somewhat unravels in the home stretch. The DVD's menu design is extremely stylish, but the only extras are a couple of trailers.
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THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975). Woody Allen may have eventually won the long-distance race, but there was a lengthy period when Neil Simon was attached to as many movies as his fellow New Yorker: Between 1966 and 1986, there was only one year in which Simon's name was not found within the credits of at least one cinematic release. With apologies to fans of The Odd Couple and The Goodbye Girl, this is my favorite of those countless screen Simons, an often uproarious gem about a crusty comic named Willy Clark (Walter Matthau) who reluctantly agrees to appear opposite his former vaudeville partner Al Lewis (George Burns) on a TV special honoring the history of comedy. But because of the pair's immense dislike of each other -- not to mention each man's curmudgeonly attitude toward the world at large -- Willy's nephew-agent (Richard Benjamin) has his hands full trying to keep the two senior citizens in line. Burns earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his engaging turn, yet Matthau and Benjamin are no less impressive. DVD extras include audio commentary by Benjamin, the makeup test of Jack Benny (who was originally cast in the Burns part but had to leave the production because of poor health, passing away before the movie even opened), and an MGM promo reel from the mid-70s plugging upcoming pictures like Logan's Run and The Wind and the Lion.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

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