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VIEW FROM THE COUCH 

THE DOOR IN THE FLOOR (2004). Based on a sizable chunk of John Irving's A Widow for One Year, this outwardly melancholy but inwardly hopeful movie reunites Nadine stars Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger as Ted and Marion Cole, silently suffering parents who, years later, are still unable to cope with the deaths of their two teenage sons. Ted, the author of popular but eerie children's books, suggests a trial separation that involves both parents shuffling back and forth between two properties to each spend time with their young daughter (Elle Fanning); this decision coincides with the arrival of Eddie (Jon Foster), a young man who's been hired for the summer to apprentice under Ted but who ends up spending more time in the sack with Marion. The Door In the Floor is one of those movies that screws up the small details while tapping into the larger issues -- we may carp over the plot-friendly fact that nobody in this household apparently understands the concept of locks (which leads to the interruption of two masturbatory exercises and one coupling between woman and boy), yet we're affected by the varying measures of cruelty and compassion that Ted and Marion fling at each other in their futile efforts to make their own pain go down a little easier. The "coming of age" angle involving Eddie is the weakest part of the story; far more potent are the sequences in which Bridges (terrific), Basinger (touching) and/or young Fanning illustrate the difficulties in holding together a family when obligations are in arrears. DVD extras include audio commentary by writer-director Tod Williams, a making-of featurette, and a piece on John Irving.

Movie:

Extras: 1/2

GUNGA DIN (1939). Based on Rudyard Kipling's poem, Gunga Din has served as the inspiration for countless adventure yarns over the decades, not the least being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Set in colonial India (the film's unquestioning embrace of British colonialism has stirred some ire during more PC times), director George Stevens' rollicking epic casts Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as three bickering soldiers who unexpectedly receive invaluable aid from water-bearer Gunga Din (Sam Jaffe) as they battle a bloodthirsty cult. DVD extras include audio commentary by film historian Rudy Behlmer, a making-of documentary, and the Porky Pig cartoon The Film Fan. In addition to Gunga Din, Warner Home Video is further celebrating the 100th anniversary of Stevens' birth (December 18, 1904) by releasing three more new-to-DVD titles: Stevens' 1948 I Remember Mama, a family drama that earned Oscar nods for four of its actors (including lead Irene Dunne); 1984's George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey, a documentary that includes recollections from Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty (among others); and 1994's George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, which features Stevens' combat footage from World War II (including extremely rare color film).

Movie: 1/2

Extras: 1/2

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (2004). The sooner fans of the 1962 version can accept some realities about this remake, the sooner they can settle down and enjoy the film. This isn't a masterpiece like the '62 edition, which still reigns as one of the finest thrillers ever made. Meryl Streep, while quite good, can't touch Angela Lansbury's bone-chilling portrayal of evil disguised as matronly concern; likewise, solid Liev Schreiber doesn't quite match Lawrence Harvey's multilayered performance as her tortured son. And a newly added plot twist may leave viewers pleasantly startled, but it leads to a disappointing conclusion that doesn't make sense no matter how it's dissected. But in most other respects, this new Candidate is that rare remake that paves its own way without exploiting or cheapening its predecessor. No longer a Cold War product, this finds the action updated to the present, with Denzel Washington in Frank Sinatra's old role as a career army officer who realizes that a former comrade (Schreiber), now a politician running for his party's Vice Presidential slot, might be the unwitting pawn of a major corporation (Manchurian Global) that's trying to seize control of the country. The film's topicality can't hurt -- this could easily have been called The Halliburton Candidate, since the company in the film is accused of price gouging and war profiteering -- yet any political posturing is vague enough that it will only register with viewers looking for it. At any rate, social commentary places a distant second to director Jonathan Demme's desire to produce a taut, efficient thriller that will keep viewers perched on the edge of their couches. DVD extras include audio commentary by Demme and co-scripter Daniel Pyne, deleted scenes, a making-of feature and Schreiber's screen test.

Movie:

Extras:

SPIDER-MAN 2 (2004). It was a given that the long-awaited Spider-Man movie, released in 2002 after a 39-year gestation period on the comic book page, would make millions, even if its hero had been played by John Travolta sporting his Battlefield Earth dreadlocks. But director Sam Raimi's surefooted adaptation turned out to be a phenomenal success with both audiences and critics, thereby raising the bar for its guaranteed sequel to a stratospheric level. By all indications, mission was accomplished. Spider-Man 2 isn't as smooth -- or even as enjoyable -- a movie as its predecessor, but it's a more ambitious one, and some ill-advised decisions don't overshadow the overall sense that we're watching a film franchise grow up right before our eyes. In this outing (set two years after the first story), Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) experiences a crisis of conscience: How can he lead a normal, happy life when his role as the masked crimefighter seems to ruin everything? He contemplates giving up his swinging lifestyle to make time for sweetheart Mary Jane (Kirsten Dunst), but the presence of a new villain in town -- the multi-tentacled Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) -- alters his plans. The picture has trouble finding a consistent tone, and the character's exaggerated powers often make him seem more like Superman than Spider-Man. But the human element that defines the comic series lives through Maguire's appealing performance, and the movie, now available on a two-disc DVD, offers enough thrills and humor to qualify as a perfect stocking stuffer. Extras include audio commentary by Raimi, Maguire and producer Avi Arad, a "Spidey Sense 2" trivia track, various making-of features, and a blooper reel.

Movie:

Extras: 1/2

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