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THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) In the same year that Francis Coppola was writing and directing both The Godfather Part II and The Conversation, he also set aside three weeks to whip out the screenplay for this adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's great American novel (after Truman Capote was fired for turning a couple of major characters into homosexuals). With British director Jack Clayton at the helm, the film was acknowledged as a technical triumph -- it won Oscars for its costume design and Nelson Riddle's scoring -- yet dismissed on most other counts, resulting in disappointing reviews and tepid box office. Yet I've always had a soft spot for this third film version of Fitzgerald's Jazz Age tome, which at least attempts to be more faithful to its source material than most big-screen adaptations. The picture's near-insurmountable flaw is the grotesque miscasting of Mia Farrow as Daisy Buchanan, who turns her character into such a simpering nerd that it's inconceivable so many men would be falling all over themselves to bask in her company. (First choice Ali MacGraw would have been even worse; personally, I'd like to have seen Faye Dunaway give it a shot.) Yet Robert Redford offers an interesting take on mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, Bruce Dern and Karen Black offer juicy support as illicit lovers Tom Buchanan and Myrtle Wilson, and Sam Waterston is terrific as narrator/Gatsby pal/moral center Nick Carraway. The DVD doesn't include a single extra feature, not even the film's trailer.
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X2 (2003) Almost on a par with the Y2K hit X-Men, this smash sequel may not match the sense of wonder that accompanied the first picture, but it does boast a more polished script, vastly improved special effects, and a longer running time (135 minutes, a full half-hour over its predecessor) that gives more players more time to strut their stuff. This time, kindly Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and his band of superhero do-gooders find themselves teaming up with arch-villain Magneto (Ian McKellen) in an effort to bring down a ruthless military man (Brian Cox) hell-bent on eradicating every mutant on the planet. As with most sci-fi sequels, this will seem incomprehensible to folks who elected to skip the first film, but even they'll be able to glean the subtext often found in superhero sagas: A just and civilized society has no room for prejudice against those in the minority. X2 hammers that point home, with thinly veiled outbursts against warmongering right-wing administrations and raging homophobia. Hugh Jackman again excels as Wolverine, with noteworthy support by McKellen, Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler and Famke Janssen as soulful telepath Jean Grey. DVD extras on the two-disc set include a handful of deleted scenes (most so fleeting, they're hardly worth the effort to check out), several behind-the-scenes features, and a documentary that offers only a surface look at the rich history behind the comic book.
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