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VIEW FROM THE COUCH

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DE-LOVELY (2004). There's a funny moment in De-Lovely when, after a screening of the Cole Porter biopic Night and Day (starring Cary Grant), Cole (Kevin Kline) turns to his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) and cracks, "If I can survive this movie, I can survive anything." Despite mixed reviews and soft box office, Cole Porter not only survived De-Lovely, he may well find his already lofty reputation enhanced by it -- provided a younger generation elects to check it out on home video. The movie is often as narratively suspect as Night and Day and shouldn't be taken at face value -- director Irwin Winkler has even admitted, "The songs aren't always chronologically presented or typically interpreted ... The broad outlines of Porter's life are here, but placed within the framework of imagination, not scholarship... we have followed feeling, not history." Fair enough. And Winkler is correct when he goes on to say that his film is faithful to the spirit of Cole Porter. As a musical, it's a dandy, using an innovative framing device and sharp cameos by today's music stars (Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello, Natalie Cole and more) to capture the passion that Cole poured into his tunes. Cole's homosexuality isn't MIA as it understandably was in the Grant version from 1946, and Winkler and scripter Jay Cocks paint a rich picture of a life marked by both success and excess. Kline was the perfect choice to play Cole Porter -- not up to Jamie Foxx's Ray Charles, perhaps, but miles ahead of Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin -- and Judd's sympathetic portrayal of Linda reminds us how fine an actress she can be when she tears herself away from inane thrillers. As for the music... well, the genius who created such enduring classics as "Anything Goes" and "Let's Misbehave" certainly needs no boost from me. DVD extras include audio commentary by Winkler and Kline, another audio track by Winkler and Cocks, deleted scenes, a piece on the music, and a making-of featurette.

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THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING: SPECIAL EXTENDED DVD EDITION (2004). The game plan has remained consistent: Release the three-hour theatrical cut of each chapter in the Tolkien film franchise as a two-disc DVD packed with extra features and then, a few months later, release a four-disc edition that contains roughly an extra hour of movie footage as well as even more bonus material. Thus, we come to what should be the final DVD release in this enormously popular franchise -- well, barring the inevitable 12-disc set that will house all three Extended Editions. This director's cut by Peter Jackson includes 50 minutes of new and extended scenes (including Christopher Lee's appearance, rudely chopped from the theatrical take), bringing the movie's total running time to 250 minutes. If that sounds like too much of a good thing, the truth is that, for the most part, the extra scenes on all three films aren't filler but rather help propel the story along. What does qualify as too much of a good thing are the countless extras, which differ little in tone or content from what's offered in the previous sets (i.e., different movies, same lectures). Among the extras are four audio commentaries featuring 40 participants (both cast and crew), over a dozen documentaries covering every facet of production, and interactive maps. Say what you will about Jackson's sprawling saga (frankly, I think they're enjoyable but a tad overrated, and hardly the pinnacle of fantasy filmmaking), but there's no denying that the DVDs for all three flicks are among the best on the market, with sound and picture quality that's simply breathtaking in its excellence.

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Extras: 1/2

SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004). No mere splatterfest -- its gore is rather subdued, as far as these things go -- the UK smash Shaun of the Dead instead turns out to be a horror film, a romantic comedy and a social satire all rolled into one. Shaun (played by co-scripter Simon Pegg) works a dead-end job in an electronics store, hangs around with his slacker pal Ed (Nick Frost), and spends every night downing pints at the local pub. When his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) abruptly dumps him, he's too distraught to pay attention to the zombie epidemic that has suddenly hit town, but once the flesh-eaters break into his house, he realizes that the best course of action is to rescue both Liz and his mom (Penelope Wilton), shack up in the pub, and cheerily get plastered with Ed until things revert back to normal. If George Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead was able to draw a correlation between modern suburbanites and the post-apocalyptic zombies -- both of whom spend their time mindlessly wandering through malls -- then Shaun equals that feat by presenting its humans as zombies-in-training, aimless people who shuffle through life with no ambitions, no skills and no awareness of the world surrounding them. Pegg and director-cowriter Edgar Wright take care to include the expected in-jokes for zombiephiles, yet the comedy quotient makes this more accessible to general audiences than most movies centering on the undead. After all, who won't be able to relate to the scene in which, needing weapons to fling at the attacking zombies' heads, Shaun agonizes over which albums in his prized collection can be sacrificed and which ones must be preserved? (Sorry, Sade.) DVD extras include a groovy menu design, two audio commentaries (one with Pegg and Wright, the other with Pegg and his co-stars), a Zomb-O-Meter trivia track, and deleted scenes.

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TWO BROTHERS (2004). In casting the lead roles for Two Brothers, director Jean-Jacques Annaud came up with a revolutionary idea: He used real tigers to play the parts of tigers! So forget about all those fake CGI critters that have become the norm of late (e.g., those ridiculous wolves in The Day After Tomorrow) -- Annaud's approach is so retro that it's practically progressive. Then again, Annaud was the man behind 1989's The Bear -- a movie made before computers completely took over Hollywood -- so he was already familiar with the proper protocol required when it comes to handling the wildlife. His movie's all the better for it: Two Brothers is a tremendously touching story about two tiger cubs who get separated shortly after birth and are reunited under dire circumstances one year later. The acting is shaky when it comes from anybody not named Guy Pearce (the Memento star headlines as an author-cum-hunter), and small kids may get fidgety when the tigers aren't front and center. Yet there's a complexity involved in some of the characterizations that usually isn't found in this sort of family film -- the man vs. nature theme isn't always painted in simplistic good vs. evil brushstrokes -- and some of Annaud's animal footage is simply remarkable. Two Brothers, released theatrically this past summer, is exactly the sort of uplifting, clean fare that those "moral values"-driven folks are always clamoring for, so naturally the movie died at the box office while these hypocrites dragged their children to such brain-dead kiddie fare as Garfield instead. DVD extras include audio commentary by Annaud, a half-hour documentary on tigers, entries from Annaud's journal, and several short pieces (less than 5 minutes each) on various aspects of the production.

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