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View From The Couch

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EIGHT BELOW (2006). Parents watching this DVD with their kids should reasonably be expecting a dog day afternoon; instead, those perky creatures known as actors keep getting in the way of total enjoyment. Based on a Japanese film that was itself inspired by a true story, Eight Below relates the tale of a scientific expedition in Antarctica and what happens when punishing weather forces its members to leave their eight sled dogs behind. As the animals spend months coping with exhaustion, starvation and a particularly nasty leopard seal, expedition guide Jerry Shephard (Paul Walker) desperately tries to find a way to rescue them. The dogs are gorgeous and wonderfully expressive (no creepy Snow Dogs-style anthropomorphizing here, thank God), and as long as director Frank Marshall and debuting scripter Dave DiGilio focus on their part of the story, the movie succeeds in the grand tradition of past Disney live-action adventures. But the picture runs an unpardonable two hours (can little kids' bladders hold out that long without frequently turning to the "pause" button?), and its length is felt in the countless scenes centering on Jerry: his romance with a pilot (Moon Bloodgood), his bantering with a coworker (Jason Biggs, heavy on the shtick) and his pity parties as he agonizes over the potential loss of his dogs (watching Walker try to convey brooding introspection and angst is never a pretty sight). At 95 minutes, this would have been a complete winner; too bad the DVD doesn't include a function that allows viewers to edit out the humans and leave only the remarkable canines. Among the actual extras are audio commentary by Marshall and producer Pat Crowley, a separate audio commentary track with Marshall, Walker and cinematographer Don Burgess, deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: **

EQUINOX (1970). In 1967, a group of young friends spent $6,500 to make an FX-heavy horror film named The Equinox ... A Journey Into the Supernatural. Three years later, producer Jack H. Harris (The Blob) bought the picture, added some new footage and released it under the moniker Equinox. This spectacular two-disc DVD from the Criterion Collection includes both cuts of the film as well as reams of supplemental material that allow film fans the opportunity to appreciate the savvy and dedication that went into the making of this picture. The movie, an engaging if erratic production about four college kids who discover a mystical book and must subsequently battle all manner of monsters, was inspired by the works of such effects pioneers as Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen and was itself an influence on later terror tales (most notably The Evil Dead). But its limited availability beginning in the 1980s allowed the film to develop a cult reputation, one which has only been enhanced by the eventual success of many of the people involved in the production. Chief among them is Dennis Muren: The principal player on the 1967 version (serving as director, producer, effects man and financier), Muren has since become a nine-time Academy Award winner for his efforts on such blockbusters as The Empire Strikes Back, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Jurassic Park. Other crew members have also met with success in the visual effects field, while actor Frank Boers Jr. (later Frank Bonner) became best known for playing Herb Tarlek on TV's WKRP In Cincinnati. And yes, the Ed Begley Jr. buried in the credits for "Assistant camera" is indeed the St. Elsewhere actor. The invaluable extras include two audio commentaries featuring key personnel from both cuts of the film (including Muren on one soundtrack and Harris on the other); a video introduction by legendary editor Forrest J Ackerman, whose seminal Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine was a cinematic Bible for Muren, George Lucas, Peter Jackson and countless other filmmakers; modern-day interviews with several of the actors; a vintage King Kong/Volkswagen commercial created by one of the Equinox effects team; and a 32-page booklet which includes intros by George Lucas and Ray Harryhausen.

Movie: **1/2

Extras: ****

KISS KISS, BANG BANG (2005). Scripter Shane Black, best known for penning Lethal Weapon, makes his directorial debut with this fast and furious yarn that isn't a buddy/action movie as much as a send-up of a buddy/action movie. The picture's main attribute is its leading duo, Hollywood bad boys Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Personal problems and off-screen eccentricities have railroaded their respective careers for long stretches at a time, but here the two look great and act great. Downey plays Harry Lockhart, a none-too-bright thief who gets mistaken for an actor, while Kilmer costars as Perry van Shrike (aka Gay Perry), the homosexual private eye assigned to prepare him for his screen test. The murder-mystery plot becomes needlessly complicated and doesn't hang together all that well, resulting in a tendency for the picture to move forward in fits and starts. But for the most part, this is sharp entertainment, as numerous Hollywood clichés -- the easy bar pickups, the finger caught in the slamming door, the lone bullet in the spun chamber, the requisite happy ending -- are all gleefully turned inside out. As scathing indictments of Tinseltown go, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang may not be The Player, but it's a player nonetheless. DVD extras include audio commentary by Black, Downey and Kilmer, a gag reel and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ***

Extras: **

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