Film » View from the Couch

View From The Couch

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THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963). Forget the film school staples for a moment: If you cross off the usual suspects (Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Seventh Seal, etc.) from my list of the greatest movies ever made, this World War II adventure yarn would probably be what's left standing at the very top. Certainly, it'd be a tight race between this, The Adventures of Robin Hood and a couple products from the Spielberg/Lucas era to claim the crown of the most enjoyable, matinee-style, popcorn picture that Hollywood has ever produced -- these are masterpieces that movie buffs can watch anytime, anywhere, and instantly feel uplifted by the experience. Based on a true story, this centers on an attempt by captured Allied soldiers to escape from Germany's premiere POW camp; among the all-stars cast as prisoners taking part in the breakout are Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson (terrific as Danny "The Tunnel King") and Donald Pleasance (touching as Blythe "The Forger"). McQueen's motorcycle ride has long been the stuff of cinematic legend, but the movie is packed with countless memorable episodes of this caliber. John Sturges directs with verve, with Elmer Bernstein contributing a sensational score that clearly should have taken that year's Oscar (shamefully, the movie's sole nomination was for Best Film Editing). Long available on DVD in a bare-bones version, this has been reissued in a two-disc edition; extras include audio commentary by Garner, Coburn and others, several comprehensive documentaries about both the movie and the events that inspired it, a trivia track, and a photo gallery.
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Extras: 1/2

MONSTER (2003). Anyone who had been paying attention over the past few years already knew that Charlize Theron was more than just a pretty face (see The Devil's Advocate and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, for starters), yet her mesmerizing, Oscar-winning turn in this fact-based drama finally allowed the rest of the world to catch up. It isn't simply that Theron gained weight and thoroughly deglamorized herself to play the part of Aileen Wuornos, the prostitute who killed several men in Florida before finally being caught and executed. It's that she so completely buries herself in this woman's impetuousness, rage and vulnerability that she simply ceases to exist; it's a galvanizing performance in a difficult yet important film. Writer-director Patty Jenkins never forces us to sympathize with her protagonist but doesn't exactly throw her to the wolves, either -- rather, she presents Wuornos as both monster and victim, a woman who commits some truly heinous crimes yet who probably never really had a chance in life from the minute she was conceived. DVD extras include a making-of special, interviews with Jenkins and music composer BT, and a sound-mixing demo. Also new in stores is Nick Broomfield's Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, which features the final interviews given by Wuornos before her execution in 2002.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

PITCH BLACK (2000). Just as Universal reissued its classic horror flicks on DVD to promote the theatrical release of Van Helsing, so too has it elected to produce a new special edition DVD of Pitch Black as a precursor to the film's upcoming sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick. It's a handsome edition, but if you already own the version that was originally released back in 2000, there's no pressing reason to shell out for this upgrade. The film itself is still worthwhile: One of the best of the sci-fi spectacles cut from the Alien cloth, it features memorable turns by Vin Diesel and Radha Mitchell as two of the humans stranded on a planet inhabited by vicious creatures who attack only in total darkness. Writer-director David Twohy has crafted an exciting horror yarn filled with memorable characters and nifty effects, and this DVD, like the previous edition, offers terrific picture and sound quality (the DTS option might even shake the neighbors' houses). But the new extras are exceedingly weak: They include a threadbare Chronicles of Riddick visual encyclopedia, a dull "chase log," and plugs for not only the sequel but also the requisite video game and animated film.
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TRAINSPOTTING (1996). A pop culture sensation that drew notice to its own urgency and immediacy -- it was a gargantuan success in its UK homeland and a respectable art-house performer here in the US -- this adaptation of Irvine Welsh's acclaimed novel centers on the escapades of a gang of slackers immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene. Foremost among the group is Renton (Ewan McGregor), a heroin addict who periodically tries to tear himself away from both his destructive lifestyle and the bad influence of his buddies -- scheming Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), easy-going Spud (Ewan Bremner) and vicious Begbie (a frightening turn by Robert Carlyle). Despite Renton's boast that "if you take the best fucking orgasm you ever had and multiply it by 1,000, you're still not even close" to the highs of a heroin fix, director Danny Boyle and scripter John Hodge can hardly be accused of taking a pro-drug stance (though some clueless op-ed pieces on this side of the Atlantic nevertheless made that charge); if anything, the pair are honest enough not to take any position, preferring to tell it as they see it (complete with soiled bedsheets and hallucinatory odysseys) and then letting us make up our own minds in a soberly fashion. Extras on the two-disc DVD include audio commentary by McGregor, Boyle and Hodge, deleted scenes, retrospective features, and archival footage of the reaction to its screening at Cannes.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

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