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Bend It Like Beckham, Fargo among new home entertainment releases 

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BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2003). You don't need a whole hand to count the number of American movies that have centered on women's soccer -- a single cuticle will do just fine (that lone example is 1992's dismal Ladybugs). Luckily, our mates on the other side of the pond have come through with this charming film that rocked the rest of the world (especially its native England) and did decent biz here in the US as well. Our charismatic protagonist is teenage Jess Bhamra (newcomer Parminder Nagra), a member of an Indian family living in London. Jess loves nothing so much as the game of soccer, and she's elated when her friend Jules (Pirates of the Caribbean's Keira Knightley) invites her to join the local girls' team. But her newfound happiness hits a brick wall in the form of her parents (Anupam Kher and Shaheen Khan), who prefer that she lead a more traditional lifestyle (i.e. learn to cook and marry a nice Indian boy) and eventually forbid her from playing soccer at all. "Feel-good" movies often get denigrated because they usually force audiences to shut down their brains in order to enjoy the merriment. This sharp culture-clash/coming-of-age tale doesn't share that problem: It's "feel-good" without being "feel-stupid." DVD features include audio commentary by writer-director Gurinder Chadha, 10 deleted or extended scenes, a making-of feature and a music video.

Movie: ***

FARGO (1996). For the uninitiated, Joel and Ethan Coen's best film next to Raising Arizona stars Frances McDormand as a pregnant Minnesota police chief whose investigation of a triple homicide leads back to a sad-sack car salesman (William H. Macy) and his two shady accomplices (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare). An instant critical darling and recipient of two Oscars (for McDormand's performance and the Coens' original screenplay, though Macy should have joined them in the winners' circle), this pitch-black comedy with grisly undertones was so wildly popular that when the American Film Institute announced its list in 1997 of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, this made the cut, even though it had only been released a year earlier! This is being released on DVD for the third time, though it's the first time as a Special Edition; features include audio commentary by the film's ace cinematographer Roger A. Deakins, a half-hour documentary, a trivia track, and a hidden Easter Egg (look for the snow globe).

Movie: ****

2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (2003). Never rising much above the level of a mediocrity, the 2001 sleeper smash The Fast and the Furious at least had two things going for it: the magnetic presence of co-star Vin Diesel and plenty of spectacular stunt work involving car races, car chases and car crashes. But with Diesel deciding to commit himself to other projects, this sequel's appeal was immediately cut in half when it debuted this past summer -- and it was reduced even more by the fact that the car sequences didn't match the visceral impact of the first film's auto focus. Whereas 1 Fast 1 Furious centered on illegal street racing, part deux relies on that standard plotline known to B-movie aficionados worldwide: the efforts of an undercover cop to... yawn... infiltrate a crime kingpin's inner circle and expose his corrupt ways. Returning star Paul Walker remains as dull as ever, but he's no worse than his co-stars: the hammy Tyrese as his best friend and the wooden Eva Mendes as a fellow undercover operative who may have switched allegiances. Still, even without Diesel on board, this surprised many prognosticators by earning $127 million, a more-than-acceptable drop from the original's $144 million gross. DVD extras include commentary by director John Singleton, deleted scenes, and various features on the cars and the stunts.

Movie: *1/2

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