Film » View from the Couch

View From The Couch

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THE COOLER (2003). It's not necessarily the sign of a good movie, but it is an indication of an effective one. It's that moment when you realize you've grown so attached to the central protagonists, you'd almost rather see the movie take some less-than-credible swerves than allow any harm to come to them. That's certainly the case with The Cooler, which takes an overexposed screen setting -- a Las Vegas casino -- yet populates it with enough unique characters that we're perpetually on edge waiting to see what sort of fate awaits each of them. William H. Macy stars as Bernie Lootz, a sad sack whose very presence causes everyone around him to experience bad luck. Bernie is employed by casino manager Shelly Kaplow (Alec Baldwin) to "cool" off customers enjoying a hot streak, yet once Bernie falls in love with a sympathetic cocktail waitress named Natalie (Maria Bello), his luck -- as well as that of everyone around him -- begins to change, a situation that calls for drastic measures on Shelly's part. Director-cowriter Wayne Kramer and co-scripter Frank Hannah make the romance between Bernie and Natalie both believable and extremely touching, and Macy and Bello deserve kudos for their uninhibited (in all senses of the word) performances. Yet it's Oscar-nominated Baldwin who delivers the most memorable turn: As an "old-school" Vegas bigwig whose brutality mingles uneasily with his unusual code of honor, he hasn't been this good since his pit bull act in 1992's Glengarry Glen Ross. DVD extras include commentary by Kramer and storyboard comparisons.
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THE MONSTER LEGACY COLLECTIONS (1931-1946). Approximately three years ago, Universal Studios released its eight-disc Classic Monster Collection, and folks who spent over $100 for that spectacular set will now have to decide if they're willing to shell out more dough for this new compilation even though it will result in some overlapping titles. This current series offers three sets that can be purchased separately or together, and each contains the same tantalizing extras from previous editions. The Dracula Legacy set contains five movies, including 1931's definitive (if somewhat creaky) Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, as well as 1945's new-to-DVD monster bash House of Dracula (featuring Dracula, the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man). The Frankenstein Legacy collection likewise consists of five pictures, including the immortal 1931 version (which made Boris Karloff a star) and its 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein, which is generally considered the greatest of all the Universal horrors. Finally, The Wolf Man Legacy set sports four films, including my favorite of the Universal output, 1941's splendid The Wolf Man (with Lon Chaney Jr. and Claude Rains), and the interesting 1935 misfire Werewolf of London, which was the studio's first attempt at getting a wolf man franchise off the ground. Each set is topped off with various extras, including audio commentaries by film historians, making-of documentaries, and theatrical trailers. Only debit: Since these films are being reissued to help promote the studio's Van Helsing, each set includes short plugs with director Stephen Sommers all but gushing that his new film will also be a horror classic. We'll know in a few days…
Dracula:
Frankenstein: 1/2
The Wolf Man:
All other titles: Range from (She-Wolf of London) to 1/2 (Bride of Frankenstein)
Extras: 1/2

PETER PAN (2003). Admittedly, I've never been a big fan of J.M. Barrie's classic tale in any of its numerous screen incarnations, including the 1953 Disney cartoon version routinely described as a "masterpiece." So imagine my surprise as I fell victim to the rapturous spell of this live-action retelling, which rivals A Little Princess and The Secret Garden as a prime example of adding both artistry and adult sensibilities to a family project without placing it out of reach for the youngest audience members. Certainly, the small fry will enjoy watching Peter Pan (Jeremy Sumpter) sailing through the air or the slapstick shenanigans of Tinkerbell (Swimming Pool's Ludivine Sagnier), but this PG-rated adaptation often adopts a darker tone that, indeed, may cause some parents to shuffle uncomfortably on their couches. The sense of burgeoning sexuality between pre-teens Peter and Wendy Darling (newcomer Rachel Hurd-Wood) has never before been this pronounced, while the dastardly Captain Hook (Jason Isaacs) isn't presented as a buffoon as much as a cunning warrior with an especially sadistic bent (he kills his own crew members with wanton disregard). Kudos to director P.J. Hogan and his team for creating such an eye-popping world: The cinematography by Donald M. McAlpine (Moulin Rouge) and sets by Roger Ford (Babe) are award-worthy, immersing us in a dream state in which mermaids are depicted as dangerous sirens and even the pirate ship's token parrot sports a peg leg. DVD extras include an alternate ending, a deleted sequence and various behind-the-scenes shorts.
Movie: 1/2
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