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View From The Couch

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IN HER SHOES (2005). Given its deft mix of humor and heartbreak, it's a mystery why this emotionally rich production from director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and Erin Brockovich scripter Susannah Grant (adapting Jennifer Weiner's bestseller) didn't fare better at the box office. An initially acrid look at sibling rivalry, this stars Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette as Maggie and Rose, two sisters who have nothing in common except their shoe size. After a falling out, irresponsible Maggie heads to Florida to meet the grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) she never knew, while insecure Rose remains in Philadelphia in an effort to get her own life back on track. It isn't hard to guess how this will play out, but the pleasures rest in the journey more than the destination. Diaz and Collette are both excellent, though they're effortlessly matched by MacLaine. Even when the movie surrounding her turns soft, this wily veteran remains its pillar of strength: Espousing tough love at every turn, she provides In Her Shoes with its own hard-won terms of endearment. DVD extras include a making-of featurette, the story behind the casting of Honeybun (the mutt that Maggie "borrows") and, best of all, a short piece on the seniors who served as extras in the retirement community scenes.

Movie: Rating: ***

Extras: Rating: **

THE LEGEND OF ZORRO (2005). Considering how long it's taking Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford to find a suitable script for their ill-advised Indiana Jones sequel, one wonders why they didn't snatch up the script for this project and modify it to their needs -- it certainly exhibits the proper measure of breathtaking adventure and dramatic derring-do. Set approximately nine years after the conclusion of 1998's The Mask of Zorro, this finds Don Alejandro de la Vega (returning star Antonio Banderas) having trouble shedding his day job as Zorro in order to spend more time with his lovely wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and rambunctious young son Joaquin (Adrian Alonso). External pressures force the couple to split, with Alejandro drowning himself in booze and Elena taking up with a Frenchman (Rufus Sewell) who's clearly up to no good. But once Alejandro learns of a criminal plan that threatens the nation, he steps back into his role as the other Man In Black. The presence of Anthony Hopkins (who played the original, aging Zorro in the first film) is sorely missed, but Banderas and Zeta-Jones remain a sexy and spirited screen couple. Their fiery passion, combined with some solid action scenes, results in an undemanding good time. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Martin Campbell and cinematographer Phil Meheux, approximately 10 minutes of deleted scenes, and two multi-angle scene deconstructions.

Movie: Rating: ***

Extras: Rating: **1/2

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960). Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic The Seven Samurai was remade in 1960 as a classic of another sort. Refashioning Kurosawa's Japanese epic as a slam-bang Western, director John Sturges and scripter William Roberts tapped Yul Brynner as their above-the-title star and surrounded him with a half-dozen relative unknowns, almost all of whom became stars in their own right. After a Mexican bandit (Eli Wallach) robs their village for the umpteenth time, the locals decide to pool their meager assets and hire a gunman to protect them. They settle on a principled gunslinger (Brynner) who proceeds to round up six other cowboys to join the fray. The broad acting by Horst Buchholz (as the group's young hothead) grows tiresome and Brad Dexter (the only cast member not to earn some measure of fame) proves to be a non-entity, but the other principals -- Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn and villain Wallach -- carve out strong characterizations. Elmer Bernstein's Oscar-nominated score, instantly recognizable wherever it's heard, is stupendous. Much of this film's key personnel -- including Sturges, Bernstein, McQueen, Bronson and Coburn -- would top themselves three years later with the marvelous WWII yarn The Great Escape. Extras in this two-disc DVD collection include audio commentary by film historian Sir Christopher Frayling, a making-of documentary, a short piece on Bernstein's score and a photo gallery.

Movie: Rating: ***1/2

Extras: Rating: ***1/2

THE VIRGIN SPRING (1960). Ingmar Bergman's dramatization of a 13th-century Swedish ballad remains one of the key films from his early period, resting just a notch below his 1950s masterpieces The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Winner of the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar (and picking up an additional nomination for Best Costume Design), this stark, spare drama focuses on the tragedy that befalls a religious farm family when the virginal teenage daughter (Birgitta Pettersson) is raped and murdered by a pair of peasants while on her way to church. The killers unwittingly end up at the home of the girl's parents (Max von Sydow and Birgitta Valberg), leading the father to exact his revenge for his daughter's senseless slaying. Fleshing out the short source material, Bergman and writer Ulla Isaksson have created a powerful examination of Old Testament ire coupled with New Testament redemption, as well as a penetrating examination of the manner in which faith can alternately confound and comfort those seeking spiritual guidance. DVD extras include audio commentary by Bergman scholar Birgitta Steene, new interviews with Pettersson and Gunnel Lindblom (who plays the pregnant pagan girl Ingeri), and an introduction by director (and fan) Ang Lee. The DVD also comes with a 32-page booklet which includes a reprint of the original ballad, an essay by Isaksson and Bergman's defense of the controversial rape scene (which was shortened upon the movie's US release but presented in its entirety on this DVD).

Movie: Rating: ***1/2

Extras: Rating: **1/2

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