THE BROTHERS GRIMM (2005). The final gasp of Miramax Pictures (disbanded by parent company Disney, with the Brothers Weinstein heading off on their own) brought more than just Grimm tidings; among the handful of shelf-warming final releases was this unmitigated disaster, an $80 million stinkbomb that was lucky to gross back $38 million. Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python member whose peculiar brand of genius doesn't always translate comfortably to his motion picture endeavors, has concocted an overstuffed boondoggle that's miles removed from the mind-bending highs of Brazil or Twelve Monkeys. Wrestling with a muddled screenplay by workaholic Ehren Kruger (his third script this year, after The Ring Two and The Skeleton Key), Gilliam has created a noisy and nonsensical eyesore that quickly morphs from a movie into an endurance test. Matt Damon (presently faring better with Syriana) and Heath Ledger (ditto with Brokeback Mountain) are cast adrift as the title characters, con artists whose ability to fool the local yokels of Germany with their fabricated yarns gets put to the test once they encounter genuine monsters. Gilliam's dark sensibilities (the movie plays like a joyless version of Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow) would have been better served if the creatures had been lovingly crafted under the auspices of innovators like Jan Svankmajer or the Quay Brothers; instead, they're brought to cheesy life by the same unconvincing CGI effects presently being used by everybody else in Hollywood. A bright idea threatens to surface every now and then, but it's quickly bludgeoned to death by the rest of this fractured fairy tale. DVD extras include audio commentary by Gilliam, 15 minutes of deleted scenes and a look at the not-so-special effects.
Movie: Rating: *
Extras: Rating: ** 1/2
CHICAGO (2002) / SIN CITY (2005). Yes, both these movies have already been released on DVD, but only in bare-bones editions: A recurring craze among studios is to wait several months before releasing the feature-laden edition, thereby forcing devoted fans to shell out twice for the same flick. In these two instances, the extra features are worth the extra cost, so plan on marching those original discs down to your nearest "used-DVD" store.
Not only for theater aficionados, Chicago is a musical for people who don't even like musicals, weaving its deliriously dark tale with enough cyanide-laced cynicism to win over moviegoers who wouldn't know Oklahoma! from Oh! Calcutta! Director-choreographer Rob Marshall and scripter Bill Condon keep the proceedings both lively and lacerating, and if, after years of overexposure, the story's themes relating to the cult of celebrity have all the bite of a toothless gerbil, at least they're presented in an irresistibly engaging fashion. Among other things, this knockout of a musical finds Catherine Zeta-Jones in her best screen work to date, Richard Gere putting forth his finest effort since An Officer and a Gentleman and Renee Zellweger adding to her head-spinning string of unassailable performances. Zellweger, that most Kewpie doll of actresses, turns into Lethal Barbie as she handles the role of Roxie Hart, a starlet wanna-be in Prohibition-era Chicago who, like fellow singer-dancer Velma Kelly (Zeta-Jones), is behind bars for murder. Both women's public images are carefully handled by slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Gere), and all three work the angles to ensure they each land on top. The film's six Oscars include Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress for Zeta-Jones. Among the DVD extras are audio commentary by Marshall and Condon, the deleted musical number "Class," the feature From Stage to Screen: The History of Chicago and a VH1 Behind the Movie special on the film.
In Sin City, three Frank Miller graphic novels get stylishly fitted for the screen by director Robert Rodriguez, with Bruce Willis, Clive Owen and Mickey Rourke cast as the tough guys who must contend with sultry femme fatales and raging psychopaths. As a gimmick, Sin City is a beaut, as Rodriguez faithfully copied Miller's panels and in the process created a visually stunning yarn in which speckles of color add further resonance to the otherwise black-and-white imagery. Yet the movie isn't mere eye candy: In addition to nailing the scrawl-to-screen process, Rodriguez has also created a neo-film noir that -- extreme violence aside -- largely captures the mood of those time-honored flicks from the '40s and '50s. The glee with which Rodriguez films the sadism may be off-putting, but the joy with which he pays tribute to both the comic form and film noir is positively infectious. The new DVD features a recut, extended and unrated version of the film as well as the original theatrical version; extras include audio commentary by Rodriguez and Miller, a separate commentary by Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino (who directed one segment), a paperback of Miller's graphic novel The Hard Goodbye, short pieces on the cars, props, costumes and makeup effects, and a peek at Bruce Willis and his band performing at a cast party.
Chicago: Rating: *** 1/2
Extras: Rating: *** 1/2
Sin City: Rating: ***
Extras: Rating: *** 1/2
DARK WATER (2005). What were the heads at Disney's Buena Vista Pictures branch thinking when they elected to release this downbeat drama in the middle of last summer? Dark Water is the sort of brooding psychological film often embraced by discerning audiences in the fall off-season, but during the blockbuster period, it didn't stand a chance (hopefully, it will fare better on DVD). That's a shame, because as far as American remakes of Japanese horror flicks go, this one's better than either The Ring or The Grudge. It trades in those films' cheap thrills for an understated intelligence that risks boring those looking for quick shocks and easy scares; ultimately, its relative failure as a fright flick seems irrelevant in the wake of its success in most other areas. Jennifer Connelly stars as Dahlia Williams, an emotionally fragile woman whose recent divorce leaves her scrambling to find a place for her and her young daughter Ceci (Ariel Gade) to reside. They end up moving into a decrepit apartment on Roosevelt Island, just across the way from Manhattan, but it's not long before matters take an eerie turn: Ceci becomes obsessed with her new imaginary friend; the building's elevator operates according to its own schedule; and the imposing water spots on the ceiling seem to pulsate with a purpose. The horror angle isn't nearly as compelling as the other topics explored by director Walter Salles (The Motorcycle Diaries) and scripter Rafael Yglesias (Fearless), among them parental anxiety, urban decay (kudos to production designer Therese DePrez for constructing the film's dilapidated building, an unsettling character in its own right) and the indifference of strangers. Connelly anchors this with a strong performance, though the film is stolen by supporting players Pete Postlethwaite (as the building's gruff janitor), Tim Roth (as Dahlia's adept lawyer) and especially John C. Reilly (as the sleazy landlord). The film is available in a Theatrical Full Screen version and an Unrated Widescreen Edition with additional scenes. DVD extras include a making-of featurette, an interactive scene with various sound options and a piece on the movie's cast.
Movie: Rating: ***
Extras: Rating: **