The Good Life

Thursday, September 25, 2008

DVD Spotlight: Special Edition Edition

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

It's happened to me dozens of times: you buy your favorite flick on DVD and then, a few months later, the studios release a much flashier, double-disc, special feature-loaded collector's version, making yours look like yesterday's goods. Both versions feature the same film, of course, but the new one has full-length commentary with the cast and an in-depth documentary on disc two, while all yours boasts is widescreen format and one lousy theatrical trailer.

Studios pump out these revamped special editions to, obviously, make more buck on a film that's already seen successful theatrical and home video runs and, also, to appeal to hardcore collectors who may just spring and buy the new version in addition to the old. (These distributors love anniversaries -- there might be a version of "Lawrence of Arabia for every birthday it's had since DVD became the standard format.)

And then there are those lucky few who happen to have abstained from purchasing their favorite movies up until the opportune time when it gets the special edition treatment. These folks - whom I like to call "waiters" - probably have a pristine DVD library filled with as much supplemental material as actual feature films. Lucky for them, some recently-upgraded favorites have just hit the shelves.

Curtis Hanson's "Chinatown" throwback earned raves from critics the year of its release and landed Kim Basinger a Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as a depressed hooker. The all-star cast also features Danny Devito, David Strathairn, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, and early turns from Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. The new edition comes with a photo gallery, cast interviews, interviews with Hanson, Hanson's commentary, and a number of featurettes on the production.

TWISTER (1996)
After throwing Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock on a bomb-strapped bus in "Speed," director Jan De Bont threw Helen Hunt and Bill Baxton in the path of a handful of destructive tornadoes in this effects-filled blockbuster. "Twister" has its share of absurdities and low points but its innovative FX - revolutionary in the depiction of natural disasters on celluloid - leaves it spinning in the mind. The two-disc special edition includes behind-the-scenes footage, commentary from De Bont, and a music video by Van Halen for their "Twister"-inspired track, "Humans Being."

Disney is often the exception in the home video/DVD arena, since they only offer their classic titles for a short time before taking them off the market and placing them "back in the Disney vault." So, the one-year-too-soon 50th Anniversary cut of this snoozing princess tale is becoming available to everyone - collectors, waiters, and common folk alike - at the same time, for a short time, on Oct. 7. This Platinum Edition features a short film, interactive games, photo galleries, and additional featurettes.

All DVDs can be ordered at

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Star to Watch

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent


2008 has been quite a year for this former bad boy, who's quickly regained his position as one of Hollywood's hottest commodities. First, he played a hard-drinking, paternal principal in the teen comedy "Charlie Bartlett." Then, he buffed up and donned head-to-toe metal armor to play the title role in "Iron Man," knocking it out of the park and proving all the naysayers (mainly fans of the comic who initially thought him too old) dead wrong.

As if that weren't enough, he stole the show in this summer's war film satire "Tropic Thunder" as an Aussie method actor playing a black character. "Thunder" is still in theaters, and critics and audiences alike are still raving about his comedic chops. But Downey Jr.'s stellar year is still not over.

In November, the versatile star will appear in director Joe Wright's "The Soloist" (see below), opposite Jamie Foxx. Some pundits are already predicting an Oscar nom for Downey Jr.'s performance as a struggling LA Times journalist who befriends Foxx's Juilliard-trained mental case. If he lands the nod, it'll be his first since 1993, when he scored a slot in the Best Actor race for his work in "Chaplin."

And if he doesn't, he'll still have had a bigger breakthrough than most of '08's other phenoms...and he's been in the business for nearly 40 years.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Trailer Park

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

Behold -- some of the newest trailers for some of the most exciting films in the pipe.

British director Joe Wright, who was wrongly shut out of the Oscar race last year for his brilliant handling of "Atonement," appears to have come back swinging with this seemingly heartfelt drama. Based on a true story, it tells of an L.A. Times journalist (Robert Downey Jr.) who befriends a schizophrenic skid row bum (Jamie Foxx) who happens to be a Juilliard-trained musician. Co-starring Catherine Keener and featuring a performance from Foxx that looks destined for Oscar buzz, "The Soloist" hits theaters Nov. 21.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, "Doubt" brings together the dynamite cast of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams in a tale of intrigue and moral ambiguity. Streep plays a stern Catholic School headmistress who accuses Hoffman's priest of sexual abuse against a student. Lacking proof, she resolutely seeks her own form of justice, resulting in a dramatic ripple effect. This looks like it will lead to Oscar nom #15 for Streep and also bodes well for the supporting performances by Hoffman, Adams, and Viola Davis, who portrays the mother of the supposed victim. "Doubt" debuts Dec. 12.

Those who enjoyed Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's wildly inventive comic book noir "Sin City" will likely revel in Miller's solo directorial debut, the big screen adaptation of Will Eisner's graphic novel series. Similar to "Sin City" in look and tone, "The Spirit" also takes place in a bleak, green screen-generated metropolis and focuses on a masked cop who returns from the dead to fight for justice. The film also features a bevy of beautiful dames (played by Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, and "Sin City"'s own Jamie King), who offer both passion and posion to the womanizing anti-hero. "The Spirit" screams onto screens Christmas Day.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

DVD Spotlight: Sept. 7 - 14

By R. Kurt Osenlund, film critic and correspondent

As the summer movie season comes to a close and the new crop of fall features rolls in, take a break and catch up with these recommended films on DVD:

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS (now available)
Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar Wai makes his English language debut with this sugary sweet romance, starring songstress Norah Jones, Academy Award nominees Jude Law, Natalie Portman, and David Strathairn, and Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz. The film, about Jones' character's cross-country search for self discovery and true love, is little more than shallow fluff. However, under Wai's artful direction, it pours colors out of the screen and it leaves you feeling as warm as a slice of blueberry pie.

THE FALL (available Sept. 9)
Classic storytelling and dazzling contemporary visuals come together in this new children's fantasy for adults from imaginative filmmaker Tarsem ("The Cell"). A slightly dark fairy tale in the vein of "Pan's Labyrinth," "The Fall" tells of two people, Roy (Lee Pace) and Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), who bond after they both end up in a 1920s Los Angeles hospital. Roy tells Alexandria another story, which sets the stage for a host of locations and indelible images, courtesy of Tarsem's independent and inventive style.

SEX AND THE CITY: THE MOVIE (available Sept. 23)
After you gather your gal pals to go see Diane English's catty remake of "The Women," rent this other female friendly blockbuster and have a girls' night in. A bit overly materialistic but still undeniably fun, this cinematic treatment of the hit HBO series keeps the familiar sassiness of Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda fabulously intact. Stir up a cosmo, send the guys out, and settle down with your favorite leading ladies of Manhattan one more time.

IRON MAN (available Sept. 30)
"The Dark Knight" may have ruled the box office this summer, but Jon Favreau's truly awesome take on another beloved comic ushered in a whole season of superhero flicks, with class. As the man behind the metal armor, Robert Downey Jr. rocks, proving he's made one helluva a comeback and regaining his rightful place as one of Hollywood's most sought-after stars. On board with him are Academy Award nominees Jeff Bridges and Terrence Howard and Academy Award winner Gwyneth Paltrow. Smart, slick, and super fun, it's one of the year's best films.

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