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View From The Couch

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ELIZABETHTOWN (2005). Many directors reveal little about themselves through their motion pictures, yet Cameron Crowe clearly isn't that type. Crowe has consistently penned and/or directed movies that tap into some aspect of his personal life, with this autobiographical penchant reaching its pinnacle via his Oscar-winning screenplay for Almost Famous. With Elizabethtown, he seeks to honor the memory of his father, who died of a heart attack in 1989. It's a noble endeavor but a disappointing movie, as engaging individual scenes fail to disguise either the slackness or superficiality of the piece. Orlando Bloom, nothing special but getting the job done, stars as Drew Baylor, a failed shoe designer who temporarily shelves his own demons in order to attend the funeral of his dad back in the title Kentucky town. Along the way, he meets a chatty flight attendant (Kirsten Dunst) who stirs him out of his stupor -- she's the new constant in his life as he attempts to do right by his various relatives, including his grieving mother (Susan Sarandon). Crowe, a former Rolling Stone writer, is renowned for his films' savvy music selections, yet here he overplays his hand. The final portion of Elizabethtown is one long road trip in which Drew explores the country while his car CD blasts a multitude of diverse tunes, and the overriding feeling is that Crowe simply wanted to impress audiences with cuts from his personal music collection. DVD extras include extended scenes, a photo gallery and theatrical trailers.

Movie: Rating: **

Extras: Rating: *1/2

METROPOLITAN (1990). I'm not one to usually recommend belated sequels, but wouldn't it be fabulous to catch up with the characters of Metropolitan 16 years down the road? One of the darlings of the then-burgeoning modern indie scene -- it gained enough popular acceptance to earn a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (losing to, uh, Ghost) -- this impressive debut feature from writer-director Whit Stillman suggests what a John Hughes flick might have looked like had Hughes been weaned on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jane Austen and the works of history's great philosophers. Set within the rarefied air of New York's preppy set, the film centers on a small clique of friends who routinely gather to down cocktails, discuss literature and art-house films (you wouldn't catch these kids rushing to watch Hostel or When a Stranger Calls on opening weekend) and contemplate the future of their privileged class. Yet despite its sophisticated trappings, Metropolitan is at heart an old-fashioned love story, with meek Audrey (Carolyn Farina) pining away for the group's newest member Tom Townsend (Edward Clements), an outsider who forms his opinions about classic novels by reading literary criticism rather than the books themselves! Most unforgettable among the gang is Nick Smith (Christopher Eigeman), the group cynic whose wry -- and still relevant -- observations ("Now barbarism is cloaked with all sorts of self-righteousness and moral superiority") make him the most recognizable member of this endangered species. DVD extras include audio commentary by Stillman, Eigeman, co-star Taylor Nichols and editor Christopher Tellefsen, outtakes and, the theatrical trailer.

Movie: Rating: ***

Extras: Rating: **1/2

PROOF (2005). Proof is a movie about two beautiful minds. One has been drained dry of all creativity and inspiration, with only madness choosing to rent the suddenly available space. The other leads a life of exile, so paralyzed by fear and regret that solitude seems like the best course of action for all concerned. There's no hope for the former, but can the latter be saved? That's the pressing question at the center of this screen adaptation of David Auburn's acclaimed play, which managed to snag both the Pulitzer Prize and the Tony Award. Like Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind, the film tries to turn mathematics into a cinematically sexy beast; unfortunately, John Madden (Shakespeare In Love) possesses even less visual flair than Howard, so try as he might, he can never fully disguise this piece's stage roots. Luckily, the scripting and acting exist at such a lofty level that the picture's lack of mobility is never a drawback. Gwyneth Paltrow plays Catherine, the daughter of a brilliant math professor (Anthony Hopkins) who eventually became gripped by madness. Now that he's passed away, Catherine wonders if she inherited his genius, his insanity or both. Paltrow does exemplary work, as her character's melancholy descent into possible lunacy produces a kick that was noticeably absent in her recent Sylvia Plath biopic. More than anyone else connected with Proof, she provides this intelligent film with its winning formula. DVD extras include audio commentary by Madden, three deleted scenes and a 10-minute making-of piece.

Movie: Rating: ***

Extras: Rating: **

YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939). John Ford, as responsible as any filmmaker in shaping our view of US history, here elects to offer a peek at an icon before national events dictated his destiny and sealed his lofty reputation. Working from an Oscar-nominated script by Lamar Trotti that mixes some factual tidbits within the expected Hollywood framework, Ford has crafted a loving tribute not only to a great American but to the great American ideals that we no longer expect from our elected leaders (watch this in tandem with the same year's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington for a truly inspirational evening). Henry Fonda, his features greatly altered by a simple putty nose (though there's no mistaking that gently reassuring voice), delivers a knockout performance as the young Abe, whose easy humor, self-deprecating manner and fierce intelligence all work to his advantage when, as a budding lawyer, he defends two brothers falsely accused of murder. DVD extras in this two-disc set include a 1992 BBC series episode that centers on Ford's early career, a 1975 talk show episode (also from the BBC) with Fonda as the guest, a 1946 half-hour radio dramatization of Young Mr. Lincoln starring Fonda and a gallery of production documents, including the final draft of the script and a fan letter to Ford from Russian director Sergei Eisenstein.

Movie: Rating: ***1/2

Extras: Rating: ***

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