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View From The Couch

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NED KELLY (2004). A handsome production that never really catches fire, Ned Kelly relates the true story of the late-19th-century outlaw-hero whose popularity has endured for well over a century in Australia. A member of an Irish immigrant family that can't catch a break, Ned (Heath Ledger) is constantly harassed by the local police force until he's finally forced to fight back. Now on the run with his trusty gang at his side, he becomes Robin Hood Down Under, robbing banks, bonding with the working poor, and always trying to stay one step ahead of the police superintendent (Geoffrey Rush) and his army of officers. Director Gregor Jordan (Buffalo Soldiers) and scripter John Michael McDonagh (adapting Robert Drewe's book Our Sunshine) stick close to the historical record, and Ledger delivers an appropriately intense performance in the title role. Yet this plays like an epic tale that's been uncomfortably shrink-wrapped, as the movie never gives a sense of why this man's legend has not only persevered but grown over the ensuing decades. Even with the presence of heartthrob Orlando Bloom (as Ned's randy right-hand man), Focus Features decided to bury this one, opening it on only a couple dozen screens this past spring. DVD extras are minimal but interesting, including photos of the real Kelly Gang and Ned Kelly, Cultural Icon, a 13-minute piece that features footage from previous Ned Kelly flicks, including Tony Richardson's 1970 version starring Mick Jagger.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

PORT OF SHADOWS (1938). Director Marcel Carne's drama belongs to a style of French cinema that was known as "poetic realism" (described as "revealing the invisible poetry in everyday life"), yet many of its elements would gain wider recognition via the 40s film noir movement. As in those later staples of American cinema, Port of Shadows (and others of its ilk) features an existential anti-hero, a slinky femme fatale, words as weapons ("Your voice is nasty. Sounds like walking in muck with old sandals."), and an overriding sense that a happy ending is decidedly not in the cards. Here, the down-on-his-luck protagonist is an army deserter (Jean Gabin) who winds up in a port city where he hopes to gain passage out of the country. While he waits for his ship to come in (or pull out, as the case may be), he earns the affections of both a leggy gamine (Michele Morgan) and a stray mutt, but his rare run of good fortune keeps getting interrupted by the power plays of some local thugs. DVD extras include a photo gallery, the theatrical trailer, and a 32-page booklet featuring Carne's notes on the making of the movie.
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