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View From The Couch

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A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN (1969) / SNOOPY, COME HOME (1972). Buoyed by the success of a handful of Peanuts films on the small screen (most notably 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas), creator Charles M. Schulz and producers Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez elected to take a chance on bringing Charlie Brown and company to the big screen. The resultant film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown, was popular enough to warrant a few more theatrical efforts, the most famous of which is Snoopy, Come Home. Both of these moviehouse endeavors have finally been released on DVD, and they're as delightful as ever, expertly capturing the essence of the early Peanuts strips (before the comic turned rancid in its waning years). A Boy Named Charlie Brown ping-pongs between scenes that offer all the familiar touchstones from the printed page: Charlie Brown's ineptness on the pitcher's mound; Lucy's Psychiatric Help stand; Linus displaying wisdom beyond his years (always with his security blanket in hand, of course); and Snoopy valiantly fighting the Red Baron from the top of his doghouse. Snoopy, Come Home offers more sentiment and less laughs, but it's fine entertainment nonetheless, with Snoopy temporarily leaving Charlie Brown to spend time with his previous owner. There are no extra features on either DVD.

Movies: ***

Extras: *

COLUMBO: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (1974-1975). A complete season of an ordinary show can mean as many as 24 episodes, but no such luck with Columbo. Since it was but one of several rotating shows featured on The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (along with McCloud, McMillan and Wife and, for this one season only, the short-lived Amy Prentiss), its fourth season consisted of a scant six episodes. Still, those seeking quality instead of quantity won't be disappointed: For this latest go-around, Peter Falk earned the second of his four Emmy Awards for playing the sartorially rumpled but mentally agile detective, and he's backed by special guest stars like Patrick McGoohan (himself earning an Emmy for his appearance in the episode "By Dawn's Early Light"), Dick Van Dyke, George Hamilton and Robert Vaughn. The three-disc set also includes a bonus episode from the short-lived 1979 spin-off, Kate Columbo (with Star Trek: Voyager's Kate Mulgrew as the missus who solves her own mysteries on the side); beyond that, there are no other extras in the collection.

Season: ***1/2

Extras: *1/2

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA (2005). Director Rob Marshall's adaptation of the Arthur Golden novel plays like a Disney version of a Zhang Yimou movie, though the end result is nowhere near as dreadful as that designation might suggest. While set in Japan, this examines many of the same sorts of clashes as Zhang's Chinese epics, yet Marshall (Chicago) isn't able to transform his film into anything more than a lush melodrama filled with pomp and pageantry. As movie artifice, it's above average, but it goes no deeper than that. The struggles of the characters -- particularly the penniless foster child who grows up to become the legendary geisha known as Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) -- make for adequate screen entertainment, though the movie curiously mutes the tragic dimension of women being bartered over and sold like trinkets in an open-air marketplace. The entire cast is fine, but the best work comes from Gong Li as the seasoned geisha who makes life difficult for Sayuri; making her American film debut, she slices through the movie's genteel façade with a performance dripping with danger and sedition. This earned three Academy Awards in technical categories: Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction & Set Decoration and Best Costume Design. Extras on the two-disc DVD include audio commentary by Marshall and co-producer John DeLuca, 11 featurettes on various aspects of the film's production, and two picture galleries.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: ***

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). Moses may have railed against the worshipping of the Golden Calf, but Paramount executives couldn't help worshipping this cash cow, which upon its initial release became the second highest grossing picture in film history (topped only by Gone With the Wind). Cecil B. DeMille's cinematic swan song is staggering as spectacle and inspirational as a Biblical tale, but it has to labor mighty hard to overcome the lamentable dialogue and the surprisingly poor acting by virtually all of its leading players. Running three hours and 40 minutes (roughly the same length as the similar -- and superior -- Ben-Hur), this relates the story of Moses (Charlton Heston) from his birth through such significant incidents as the burning bush and the acquisition of the tablets; to stretch the running time, there are also ample amounts of footage spent on his rival Rameses (Yul Brynner) as well as Nefretiri (Anne Baxter), the princess caught between them. Few could touch DeMille in his ability to orchestrate gargantuan crowd scenes, and sequences like the parting of the Red Sea still have the power to move audiences. But lines like "Oh, Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!" have endeared this film to connoisseurs of camp cinema, and with the exception of Sir Cedric Hardwicke (as Ramses' father Sethi), the key performances are tough to digest: Heston is stiff, Brynner is hammy, and Edward G. Robinson and especially Baxter are tragically miscast. This earned seven Oscar nominations (including one for Best Picture) and won for Best Visual Effects; on the other side of the aisle, the Harvard Lampoon's annual "Movie Worsts" awards cited it Worst Picture and Baxter Worst Supporting Actress. The three-disc 50th Anniversary DVD edition also contains DeMille's 1923 silent version of The Ten Commandments; other extras include audio commentary by author (and Ten Commandments expert) Katherine Orrison, a making-of documentary and theatrical trailers.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: ***1/2

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