Thoughtful reviews, the Boulder film scene

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

" Furniture’s temporary. Education is permanent. "
— [all], Slums of Beverly Hills

MRQE Top Critic

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Everybody has a movie lover on their gift list. This year, get them a DVD they’ll really like. Below are our DVD recommendations from the past 13 months.

Click on any title to read our full DVD review (and print it out for some handy gift wrap). Next to the title is our rating of the movie itself. Over in the right-hand box is how well we liked the DVD, along with a list of features. Finally, below each capsule review is a link to the DVD’s page on Amazon.com.

There are three pages: Kid-friendly, Classics (which is this page), and Everything else.

English Patient ****

DVD****
Picture***1/2
Sound****
Extras***1/2
  • Commentary by Anthony Minghella, Saul Zaentz, and Michael Ondaatje
  • Commentary by writer-director Anthony Minghella
  • Deleted scenes
  • The Making of The English Patient
  • Featurettes with Ondaatje, Zaentz, and production designer Stuart Craig
  • A historical look at the real Count Almasy
  • “From Novel to Screenplay” - Interviews with Cast and Crew
  • Filmmaker conversations
  • The Eyes of Phil Brady - still photographer
  • Film reviews
Miramax 2-DVD set brings modern masterpiece to home video
Miramax 2-DVD set brings modern masterpiece to home video

Infused with the passion of its makers, The English Patient is a multi-layered drama that works on many levels. It’s an unabashed romance, it’s an erotic drama, and it’s also a good old-fashioned adventure of archaeology and foreign cultures set in the 1930s.

The new 2-disc Miramax Collector’s Series edition finally offers a thorough look at the making of the film, a veritable celebration of the talent and quasi-serendipity that culminated in the film’s release. This new DVD relegates the original, bare bones DVD, released during the format’s infancy, to the obsolete bin.

Across two commentary tracks, Minghella pulls off the neat feat of talking for more than five hours about the movie and only occasionally repeating himself. Disc Two spends nearly 3 ½ hours dissecting the English patient and the rest of the cast and crew via a slew of documentaries and interviews.

The Commitments ****

DVD****
Picture****
Sound***1/2
Extras****
  • Audio commentary by director Alan Parker
  • Trailers & TV spots
  • “The Making of The Commitments”
  • “The Commitments: Looking Back”
  • “Dublin Soul”: the working class and changing face of Dublin
  • Making-of featurette
  • “Treat Her Right” music video with introduction by Alan Parker and Robert Arkins
  • Original songs by cast members: “Before the Next Tear Drop Falls” by Andrew Strong and “Taking On the World” by Robert Arkins
The world’s hardest working band finally get treated right
The world’s hardest working band finally get treated right

The Commitments, the world’s hardest working band, finally get treated right on this Collector’s Edition two-disc DVD, which features the movie in an immaculate widescreen presentation.

Aladdin ****

DVD***1/2
Picture****
Sound***1/2
Extras***
  • Two new music videos
  • “Disney’s Virtual DVD Ride,” “Aladdin’s Magic Carpet Adventure,” and “3 Wishes Game” games
  • “Inside the Genie’s Lamp” 3-D tour
  • Deleted scenes and songs
  • Audio commentary by Clements, Musker and co-producer Amy Pell
  • Audio commentary by supervising animators Andreas Deja, Will Finn, Eric Goldberg and Glen Keane
  • “Pop-Up Fun Facts” text commentary
Disney does right by Aladdin, on DVD for the first time
Disney does right by Aladdin, on DVD for the first time

Of all of Disney’s recent animated features, “Aladdin” stands apart from others thanks to its almost irreverent humor and its ability to charm to adults as well as children. The DVD release has the same level of appeal with many features that outweigh the pleasure of watching just the movie.

Disney lives up to its usual high standard when it comes to remastering its features. Very few discs will come with a sharper picture. And If this is one of those discs that is going to be played over and over to keep children occupied, “Aladdin” has a lot of mileage to offer. Two commentaries as well as a text commentary round up the extras on disc one, which are full of insightful behind-the scenes information. On disc two, A full documentary on the making of “Aladdin” is longer than the actual film.

But did they really have to create new videos for this release? Did they really have to bring in Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey to perform an uninspiring “A Whole New World”?

Disney Treasures Wave 3 ***1/2

DVD***1/2
Picture***1/2
Sound***
Extras***1/2
  • Behind-the-scenes interviews
  • Trailers
  • Drawings, storyboards, publicity materials
  • Collectible tin
  • Limited edition lithograph
From the 1930s through the 1950s, as seen by Disney
From the 1930s through the 1950s, as seen by Disney

Since 1999, the Walt Disney company has been opening its vaults and releasing some of its older materials in collectible two-disc sets. The four most recent releases cover some of Disney’s work from the 1930s through the 1950s. They feature films that aren’t as well known these days and also give a look at American popular culture from those years.

The most interesting of the new DVD sets is Tomorrowland, which successfully mixes science and entertainment. Originally shown on television, the subjects include space travel, Mars and atomic energy. On the Front Lines gives a sampling of Disney’s output during World War II, from animated shorts to propaganda and educational films. Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two and The Chronological Donald, Volume One follow the careers of two of Disney’s most popular animated characters.

Ed Wood ***1/2

DVD***1/2
Picture***1/2
Sound***
Extras***1/2
  • Audio commentary
  • Deleted scenes
  • Behind-the-scenes featurette
Ten-year anniversary edition adds interesting features to a very good movie
Ten-year anniversary edition adds interesting features to a very good movie

Ed Wood is a great movie about the worst film director ever. A skillful mix of humor and drama, the film features another exceptional performance from Johnny Depp and an Oscar-winning take on Bela Lugosi by Martin Landau.

Burton and his crew go for the heart and humanize a man who has otherwise found fame only in his ultimate derision for making horrible movies. Ed Wood is a sweet tribute to Wood, a man whose star never rose, and Lugosi, whose star both rose and fell with whiplash-inducing speed.

After many delays on its way to DVD, the final cut of this Special Edition was worth the wait. Of the many supplemental materials, the best is the running commentary, which features Martin Landau (in character as Bela Lugosi as he introduces his fellow commentators).

Meet Me in St. Louis ***1/2

DVD***1/2
Picture***1/2
Sound***1/2
Extras****
  • Commentary by John Fricke, a biographer of Judy Garland
  • Trailers of Vincente Minelli films
  • Introduction by Liza Minelli (daughter of Garland and Minelli)
  • Meet Me in St. Louis: The Making of an American Classic
  • Hollywood: The Dream Factory
  • TV series pilot episode from 1966
  • Becoming Attractions: Judy Garland, a TCM production featuring trailers of Garland’s films
  • Bubbles, a 1930 short with a brief appearance by Garland
  • Skip to My Lou, short film featuring composers Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane performing the song which would be used in the film
  • Deleted song, Boys and Girls Like You and Me
  • Stills gallery
  • Radio adaptation from 1946, with the voices of Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien and Tom Drake
The two-disc set is loaded with extra features that will appeal to fans of the movie
The two-disc set is loaded with extra features that will appeal to fans of the movie

Meet Me in St. Louis is a warm-hearted Technicolor musical from 1944 that delivers nostalgia, escapism, and a stand-out performance by Judy Garland. The new two-disc DVD release from Warner Home Video features a new video transfer, a remixed soundtrack and several hours of extras for fans of the movie and of Garland.

Winsor McCay — The Master Edition ***1/2

DVD***1/2
Picture***
Sound***
Extras***
  • Commentary track
  • Remembering Winsor McCay, a documentary
  • Stills gallery
Before Mickey, Betty, or Felix, there was Gertie
Before Mickey, Betty, or Felix, there was Gertie

Before Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop or Felix the Cat, there was Gertie the Dinosaur. Gertie was brought to life by cartoonist Winsor McCay in 1914. McCay was an early pioneer in animation whose cartoons stand out for their artistry, visual inventiveness and the personality of their characters.

A new DVD from Milestone Films offers a rare opportunity to see McCay’s ten known animated films, made between 1911 and 1921. The disc’s special features give some background into his life and career.

Clerks X ***

DVD***1/2
Picture***
Sound***
Extras****
  • Theatrical and director’s cuts
  • Commentary tracks
  • Enhanced playback track on theatrical version
  • MTV spots with Jay and Silent Bob
  • Theatrical trailer
  • “The Flying Car,” short film
  • Animated lost scene
  • Cast auditions
  • Snowball Effect: The Story of Clerks, a 90-minute documentary with outtakes
  • 10th anniversary Q&A
  • Still photo gallery
  • Kevin Smith’s journals
  • News articles and reviews
  • First draft of screenplay (DVD ROM)
Miramax fills 3 discs with Kevin Smith's $27,000 debut
Miramax fills 3 discs with Kevin Smith’s $27,000 debut

Kevin Smith, a 23-year-old film school dropout and clerk, touched a chord when he used his crappy job as inspiration for a very funny, crude movie called Clerks. The surprise hit of 1994 has been released on a new 10th anniversary edition DVD. The three-disc set contains two versions of the movie and extra features that will tell the movie’s fans as much as they ever wanted to know about Clerks.

The extras on this DVD seem like overkill at times, as they repeatedly tell the story behind the movie. The most concise version is Snowball Effect, a 90-minute documentary on disc three. The DVD set includes both theatrical and director’s cuts of the movie, each with a commentary track.

Among the more fun features are some shorts made for MTV featuring Jay and Silent Bob and an animated version of a scene that was not filmed.

Mulan ***

DVD***1/2
Picture***1/2
Sound***1/2
Extras***1/2
  • Commentary track with the directors and producer
  • Deleted scenes
  • Mulan’s World, facts about China
  • Five music videos
  • The Ballad of Hua Mulan
  • Reels and galleries tracing the development of the movie
  • International Mulan; dubbing the movie for other countries
  • French, Spanish and Mandarin language tracks
Mulan is Disney's cartoon chop suey
Mulan is Disney’s cartoon chop suey

Mulan, Disney’s animated retelling of a Chinese legend, is filmic chop suey – a Chinese dish created in America. Though the filmmakers clearly researched ancient China, the movie’s sensibilities seem distinctively American. The imposition of Disney’s formula on the story doesn’t always work, but the movie does have some good moments. A new two-disc DVD set from Disney has in-depth special features on the making of the movie that may appeal more to adults than to younger viewers.

Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection ***

DVD***1/2
Picture***1/2
Sound***1/2
Extras***
  • Interview with McCartney
  • Behind-the-scenes featurettes about the making of Tropic Island Hum and Tuesday
  • Storyboards and line tests
Kids too young to know who McCartney is will enjoy these films, and their parents will too.
Kids too young to know who McCartney is will enjoy these films, and their parents will too.

With three short films and a few extra features, Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection DVD seems a little sparse. But Tropic Island Hum, Tuesday and Rupert and the Frog Song, all about 12 minutes each, feature high quality animation and the second two titles have the look and feel of the children’s books on which they were based. Kids who are too young to know who McCartney is will enjoy these films and their parents will too.

Splash ***1/2

DVD***
Picture**
Sound**
Extras***
  • documentary about the film,
  • audition tapes of Hanks and Hannah,
  • audio commentary by Howard, Grazer, Ganz and Mandel
Hannah, Hanks, and Disney each made a Splash in 1984
Hannah, Hanks, and Disney each made a Splash in 1984

Before Splash, everyone remembered Ron Howard fromThe Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days; Tom Hanks was just some guy who was on an obscure sitcom called Bosom Buddies; and Disney was a fading studio on life support. Splash could not have come at a better time for all three, as illustrated in Touchstone Video’s 20th anniversary edition of the movie.

Hanks plays Allen Bauer, a lonely workaholic who has taken over his family’s produce business. His older brother Freddie (Candy) is a playboy more interested in getting his letters published in Penthouse than in running the business. In a flashback, a young Bauer leaps off a ferry boat and meets a young girl underwater; it is love at first sight, quickly forgotten. That girl, a mermaid, has been hanging around Cape Cod for 20 years, when she again rescues Bauer. This time she seeks him out in New York, getting arrested for showing up naked at the Statue of Liberty.

The picture is not very sharp; it looks like it was transferred from a VHS copy, and the sound has the same feel to it. The best extra feature by far is the audio commentary by Howard, Grazer, Ganz and Mandel. They are not afraid to point out their mistakes and continuity errors and admit that some parts of the movie defy logic, but Howard states that if the story is good enough, the audience will not care.

The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll ***1/2

DVD***
Picture***
Sound**
Extras(no stars)

Five-disc set not the most impressive; luckily the movie is very good
Five-disc set not the most impressive; luckily the movie is very good

The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll covers 40 years of rock in 10 hours. While that’s the video equivalent of a Cliffs Notes edition of War and Peace, the documentary does a fine job of putting things into some sort of perspective.

While at times the series feels more like a roll call than a true historical documentary, it’s at its best when it pulls the social and cultural influences into the picture. Most of the time, the interviews put a shiny, happy glow on rock’s history. Standing out from the pack and shedding light on some of rock’s dark past are the impassioned comments from Pete Townshend as he talks about his friends who died along the way.

The series was first released in 1995. Since then, there’s been a whole decade of musical growth, experimentation, scandals, and mistakes. A new disc covering the past ten years, would have been ideal. Also, the series thumps its chest as having been assembled from 10,000 hours of live and archival footage. That leaves 9,990 hours worth of material on the cutting room floor, footage that could’ve easily formed some sort of supplemental feature. None of it is on this DVD.

A Woman is a Woman ***

DVD***
Picture***1/2
Sound**1/2
Extras***
  • Early short film by director Jean-Luc Godard “All the Boys Are Called Patrick”
  • 1966 French television interview with Karina, Brialy, and Serge Gainsbourg
  • On-set photos, a poster and stills gallery
  • Promotional audio recording
  • 24-page booklet featuring essay by film critic J. Hoberman
Godard’s tribute to the musical, "in dazzling color and Scope"
Godard’s tribute to the musical, "in dazzling color and Scope"

Godard captures the vibrant essence of musicals with rich vivid colors and a musical score that interacts with the dialogue of the protagonists, even though A Woman is a Woman can hardly be called a true musical.

One day, out of the blue, Angela decides she wants a baby. Emile is not up for a baby just now, and he tries very hard to parry her. But Angela threatens to conceive a child with someone else if Emile won’t do it. Their friend Alfred will do just fine, she says, only half joking.

Using sound and editing Godard constantly — and conspicuously — breaks the rules of cinema. More so than in his other films, these defiant gestures are played for laughs. Godard has always broken the rules, but this time it’s out of sheer fun.

Criterion, as always, presents a fine DVD. They include several extra features, choosing the rare over the slick. There are very few modern insights into A Woman is a Woman on this DVD, but there are lots of historical oddities.

Godard’s movies are often unapproachable and difficult. But A Woman is a Woman is a good choice if you want to try Godard. It has his trademark anti-movie style without seeming inscrutable. The energy, joy, and playful love of cinema make A Woman is a Woman hard not to like.

Alice in Wonderland ***

DVD***
Picture***1/2
Sound***
Extras***1/2
  • Sing-along songs
  • Virtual Wonderland Party
  • Adventures in Wonderland Set-Top Game
  • Mickey Mouse animated short
  • One Hour in Wonderland, a tv show from 1953
  • Exerpt from The Fred Waring Show, a TV show from 1951
  • Operation Wonderland, a behind-the-scenes featurette
  • Theatricals
  • Song demos
  • Gallery of sketches
Disney's Alice is a good introduction to Lewis Carroll's books
Disney’s Alice is a good introduction to Lewis Carroll’s books

Disney’s Alice in Wonderland is solid entertainment for kids, although it’s flawed as an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic books. For fans of the movie and their children, the new two-disc Masterpiece Edition DVD set is worth a look.

Cop Land **1/2

DVD***
Picture***1/2
Sound***
Extras**1/2
  • Audio commentary with director, producer, and actors (Stallone and Patrick)
  • Making-of featurette
  • Deleted scenes
  • Storyboard comparison
For a 7-year-old movie with restored footage, Cop Land looks very good
For a 7-year-old movie with restored footage, Cop Land looks very good

Released in 1997, Cop Land featured a macho constellation of stars including Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Harvey Keitel, and Robert Patrick. Sad and sensitive Stallone steals the show as the sheriff of a small New Jersey town populated with NYC cops.

The new DVD presents the director’s cut, returning 12 minutes of film to the screen, and improving the movie and enhancing Mangold’s vision of an “urban Western.” Still, my original lack of enthusiasm remains apt.

Kanal ***

DVD**1/2
Picture**
Sound**
Extras*
  • Behind-the-scenes stills
  • Gallery of international posters
  • Filmography and brief biography of Wajda
Indie label Facets releases two-thirds of Wajda's war trilogy
Indie label Facets releases two-thirds of Wajda’s war trilogy

In the final days of the Polish Uprising in September 1944, a weary company of Poles seeks one last standoff against the Germans. Even while on the run and with their days numbered, the company tries to maintain dignity. Perhaps the greatest strength of Kanal is its demonstration of the power of black-and-white photography. The film starts in broad daylight, in the middle of a devastated Warsaw, then moves to the sewers, where the group seeks safe passage to a downtown refuge. Shadowplay, mind games, and visual confusion, all happen with the slightest bit of light entering in from street vents. Kanal shuns the patriotic fervor of war epics for a sense of outrage over the inhumanity of war.