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View From The Couch

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LOVE ACTUALLY (2003). Many of the most enduring movie romances make us willingly suspend our disbelief, but this colossal disappointment, a multi-story piece in which various folks find love in London in the weeks leading up to Christmas, asks viewers to go to such extremes to disengage from reality, it makes Yellow Submarine look like cinema verite. There are no surprises in any of the increasingly choppy vignettes, and one segment (involving a lonely young Brit's belief that he could get laid in a heartbeat if he lived in the US) is so preposterous I was certain it would be revealed as a dream sequence (nope). None of the performances by the name players can be faulted -- Hugh Grant as the British prime minister, Emma Thompson as his sensible sister, Liam Neeson as a sensitive widower -- but it's little-known Bill Nighy who fares best, portraying a has-been rocker hoping his Christmas ditty will catapult him back to the top of the charts. DVD extras include commentary by writer-director Richard Curtis, Grant and Nighy, a half-hour of deleted scenes, and the Kelly Clarkson music video "The Trouble With Love Is."
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MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003). Working from Patrick O'Brian's popular series of novels, director Peter Weir and crew took great pains to present an ofttimes understated epic that's about the art of warfare as much as it's about the battles themselves. Russell Crowe headlines as Captain Jack Aubrey, a British naval hero assigned to bring down a formidable French vessel during the Napoleonic Wars. Aubrey has to contend not only with the trickery of his enemies but also the concerns of his crew members, who trust their leader implicitly yet frequently find themselves at the mercy of the elements, superstitious legends, and their own self-doubts. Paul Bettany, Crowe's A Beautiful Mind co-star, portrays the ship's doctor (and Aubrey's best friend), and it's the relationship between their two characters that largely drives the story (by contrast, too many of the crew members become indistinguishable once the fighting starts). Yet it's Weir's attention to minute detail that allows viewers to get swept away by this impressive undertaking that earned Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Editing. Inexplicably, the only extras on the single-disc DVD are two promos for upcoming summer films: a trailer for The Day After Tomorrow and a making-of special on I, Robot. A more expensive two-disc set includes supplemental material on Master and Commander -- would it have killed them to toss a couple of those bones onto this edition?
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WE'RE NOT MARRIED (1952). Fox has just released another wave of Marilyn Monroe titles on DVD, but despite the packaging, these aren't really MM vehicles; instead, these four features were all made before genuine stardom hit, with the actress only popping up in supporting roles. In the likable fluff We're Not Married -- one of the flicks included in this crop -- she's part of an impressive ensemble going through the paces in a slapdash comedy about five couples who learn a couple of years after the fact that their marriages aren't legal because of a judicial blunder. Thus, the couples must all decide whether to remarry or go their separate ways. Marilyn stars in one of the weaker segments, about a beauty pageant contestant constantly on the road while her husband (David Wayne) stays home taking care of the baby. Other sequences involve a couple (Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen) who constantly bicker, a couple (Eve Arden and Paul Douglas) who never talk, a GI (Eddie Bracken) forced to leave his pregnant wife (Mitzi Gaynor) when he's called away on duty (look for an unbilled Lee Marvin in this segment), and, in the most entertaining storyline, a wealthy gentleman (Louis Calhern) who doesn't realize until it's almost too late that his wife (Zsa Zsa Gabor) is a duplicitous gold-digger. The only extras are previews for numerous other Marilyn Monroe titles.
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