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View From The Couch

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EYES WITHOUT A FACE (LES YEUX SANS VISAGE) (1959). To borrow from the late Rodney Dangerfield, Les Yeux Sans Visage got no respect when it premiered stateside in 1962: Trimmed and dubbed into English, it was paired with the two-headed creature cheapie The Manster and released under the title The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. The unedited French version finally opened on three US art-house screens last November, and this of course is the cut that Criterion has seen fit to preserve. Working from an adaptation by the team of Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac (known for the novels that morphed into Vertigo and Diabolique), director Georges Franju has fashioned a terror tale that's as poetic as it is horrific, buoyed by the ascetic camerawork by Eugen Shufftan (a year before he took the Oscar for The Hustler) and an early score by Lawrence of Arabia composer Maurice Jarre. Pierre Brasseur plays the disturbed doctor (named Genessier, not Faustus), whose own negligence has left his daughter (Edith Scob) facially disfigured. Determined to restore her beauty, he sends his assistant (Alida Valli) out to lure young women back to his estate, where in gruesome fashion he removes their faces in a continued (and failed) attempt to transfer their looks to his own child. The film sports an eerie elegance not unlike that of Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (an apt title for this movie as well), and if its grisly subject matter prevents it from narratively generating a comparable fairy tale ambience, the dreamlike imagery works overtime to indeed create such a mood. DVD extras include Blood of the Beasts, Franju's 1949 documentary about French slaughterhouses, an archival interview with Franju, a gallery of posters (including the double-bill ads with The Manster), and a hidden Easter egg.
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FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004) Michael Moore's Molotov cocktail of a movie took the top prize at Cannes, earned an astounding $119 million at the US box office, and currently ranks as the top-selling DVD on Amazon.com. Still, none of this may matter much if the picture doesn't accomplish Moore's ultimate goal: to help oust the insidious administration that's currently destroying our great country. As is often the case with Moore, the movie works best when he removes himself from the equation and lets his subjects hang themselves through existing news footage ("This is an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores," states President Gomer at a lavish fundraiser. "Some people call you the elite; I call you my base."). Still, for all its political pelting, this is at its most gripping when it simply focuses on the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed either by the heinous terrorists or by the abhorrent policies of the neo-Nazis in charge. DVD extras include close to a dozen new scenes, including reactions to the film's theatrical release, interviews with Iraqi civilians prior to the bombing of their country, and the experiences of Arab-American comedians after 9/11.
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THE NUTTY PROFESSOR (1963). In his entertaining book Alternate Oscars, author Danny Peary makes the case that the 1963 Academy Award for Best Actor should have gone to the non-nominated Jerry Lewis for his dual performances in The Nutty Professor. It's probably the most eyebrow-raising pick in the entire volume, yet anybody who bothers to check out the film might have trouble repudiating Peary's viewpoint. Far superior to the popular 1997 remake, this is also miles ahead of most of Lewis' other box office hits; typical of the Technicolor-saturated farces of the period (particularly those by Frank Tashlin), this one goes the extra mile thanks to Lewis' innovative direction and a particularly sharp script penned by Lewis and Bill Richmond. The comedian is at his spastic best as Julius Kelp, a nerdy high school science teacher whose potion allows him to transform, Jekyll-and-Hyde-style, into "Buddy Love," a slick stud with a beastly disposition. Stella Stevens (gorgeous beyond belief -- and the camera knows it) is a suitable co-star for Lewis as the confused romantic interest, and the laugh-out-loud moments arrive at a fast and furious rate (the hangover scene is a real "gasser," to borrow the movie's lingo). Given the age of the film, the number of vintage extras on the DVD is rather astounding; among the treats are deleted scenes, screen tests, a blooper reel (with Lewis in crude mode), and a featurette centering on Lewis' other comedies (many of which have just been released on DVD).
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VAN HELSING (2004). You don't have to be a fan of such cinematic staples as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man to take offense at this abomination: Admirers of skillful direction, intelligent writing and impeccable performances will also be feeling the pain. But never mind comparisons to the cinematic classics: Watching this film, you begin to wonder if anybody involved has ever actually held a book in their hands, let alone read one. Here, the text of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley is treated as nothing more than toilet paper in the outhouse of writer-director Stephen Sommers' imagination, soiled and shredded beyond all recognition. Van Helsing, a movie whose contempt for its predecessors is only matched by its condescension toward its audience, almost exclusively draws from modern touchstones of pop culture: It's Indiana Jones and James Bond and Star Wars and Alien and X-Men and so on, all presented as an endless video game with no human dimension but plenty of cheesy CGI effects. As Van Helsing, Hugh Jackman has been stripped of all charisma, while Richard Roxburgh arguably delivers the worst performance as Dracula in film history. DVD extras include audio commentary by Sommers and others, an interactive tour through Dracula's castle, a short piece on the visual effects, and bloopers.
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