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ALL IN THE FAMILY: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (1973). In a recent (March 23) cover story, CL writers looked at the best TV series available on DVD, and it goes without saying that this landmark series was among the anointed. The fourth season has just arrived on disc, and it's clear that creator Norman Lear and company weren't resting on the laurels (i.e., Emmy Awards, astronomical ratings) they accumulated during the first three years. If anything, the renaissance was still underway, with the deepening of character dynamics and the continuous introduction of heady topics. Audiences continued to respond favorably: All In the Family was the number one ranked TV series for five consecutive years, a record it still holds today (tied with The Cosby Show). This three-disc set includes all 24 episodes from the fourth go-around, including one of my personal favorites: "The Games People Play," in which a board game brings out the worst in "Meathead" Mike Stivic (Rob Reiner won an Emmy for this season, and one has to surmise it was largely due to his work in this episode). Notable developments this season include the introduction of next-door neighbor George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley), the black answer to Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor), as well as new friends in Irene and Frank Lorenzo (Betty Garrett and Vincent Gardenia). The only extras in the set are trailers advertising other TV DVDs.


DIVORCE ITALIAN STYLE (1962). Murder has rarely been as mirthful (cinematically speaking, of course) as in this uproarious Italian comedy that earned an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Leading actor Marcello Mastroianni and director Pietro Germi (who also co-wrote the script) both landed additional Oscar nominations for their inspired work in this yarn about Ferdinando Cefalu, a layabout baron whose impatience with Rosalia (Daniela Rocca), his clinging chatterbox of a wife, escalates the more he falls for his voluptuous teenage cousin Angela (Stefania Sandrelli). Since divorce is forbidden among the populace of this provincial Sicilian town, Ferdinando realizes that the only way he can be with Angela is to paint Rosalia as an unfaithful spouse and kill her under the socially acceptable guise of protecting his honor and his "manhood" (since nothing's more pitiful in this town than a cuckolded husband). A wry commentary on the self-centered impulses that often throw a marriage off-balance, Divorce Italian Style offers an enticing mix of sordidness and sarcasm, with Mastroianni in exceptional form as the lazy, lip-smacking lecher who only springs to life when plotting his wife's demise. Extras in the two-disc DVD set include a documentary on Germi, interviews with cast and crew members, screen tests for Rocca and Sandrelli, and a 28-page booklet with essays by Martin Scorsese and critics Stuart Klawans and Andrew Sarris.
Movie: 1/2


MEET THE FOCKERS (2004). The drop in quality between a hit movie and its sequel is usually so steep that just thinking about it could lead to a broken neck. Happily, no such falloff exists between Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers: The freshness of the premise may have dissipated, but the attention to the differences between the central characters still exists. So once again we find Greg Focker (Ben Stiller) seeking the approval of prospective father-in-law Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro), the retired CIA operative who's not exactly thrilled that his daughter (Teri Polo) has chosen this nervous Nellie to be her life partner. Yet even as Jack continues to try to get used to the idea, he finds his agitation climbing even higher after he and his more accommodating wife (Blythe Danner) are invited to spend a weekend with Greg's parents (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand), a hippie couple whose sensitive natures and open displays of affection rub Jack the wrong way. The more ribald of the many gags aren't as funny this time around, and in true sequel fashion, several story threads from the original movie are repeated here in only slightly altered forms. Yet the primary pleasure is watching Stiller once again squaring off against De Niro, whose recent attempts at shtick have only worked in this series. Unlike Billy Crystal (Analyze This) and Eddie Murphy (Showtime), Stiller brings out De Niro's best instincts, and it's their rapport that helped turn Meet the Fockers into a $278 million smash. DVD extras include audio commentary by director Jay Roach and editor Jon Poll, deleted scenes, bloopers, separate features on Jinx the cat and the "manary gland" worn by De Niro, and cast interviews.


THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (2004). The final score at the end of the 140-minute match known as The Phantom of the Opera is Women 3, Men 0. This adaptation of the eternally running Broadway smash draws its strength from the performances of the three principal actresses: the classically trained Emmy Rossum is affecting as Christine, the Phantom's obsession; Minnie Driver hams it up beautifully as obnoxious opera star La Carlotta (how else to play a diva but frantically over the top?); and Miranda Richardson adds quiet authority as Madame Giry, the only person who knows the Phantom's secrets. Their strong efforts run counter to the performances by Gerard Butler and Patrick Wilson, who are both unremittingly dull as, respectively, the disfigured Phantom and Christine's wealthy suitor Raoul. Butler is a particular disappointment: His Phantom isn't particularly mysterious or menacing, more like a disgruntled opera fan who should be asking for a refund rather than dropping chandeliers on patrons' heads. (Broadway Phantom Michael Crawford or Evita songman Antonio Banderas would have been better choices.) Writer-director Joel Schumacher's previous career as an art director serves him well on this project: If nothing else, this is a visually resplendent motion picture, and the color schemes represented by the sets and costumes practically bleed off the small screen. But ultimately, this is simply a static filmization of the stage play, with no serious attempt to open up the story and take it out of the realm of the theater. Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera is a pleasant diversion, but it still ranks behind Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera and Claude Rains' The Phantom of the Opera. The only extra on the DVD is the theatrical trailer, though a more elaborate two-disc edition (with making-of features and a deleted scene) is also available.
Movie: 1/2


- Matt Brunson

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