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BRUCE ALMIGHTY (2003) In this hit-and-miss summer blockbuster, Jim Carrey, frequently playing to the rafters in what, in anybody else's hands, would have been a fairly restrained character, stars as Bruce Nolan, a TV reporter who's tired of fluff pieces and yearns to become the new anchorman. But instead of getting his wish, he ends up enduring the worst day of his life, leading to a tirade directed at God. Faced with this outburst, God (Morgan Freeman) pays Bruce a visit and offers him a challenge: Take charge for a while, and see if you can do a better job of overseeing the planet. If, as the saying goes, God is in the details, then that's also where to look in Bruce Almighty for some of the film's finest moments, as the throwaway bits are generally funnier than the big set pieces. Naturally, Carrey is adept (if exaggerated) with the comic shtick, but the quasi-serious scenes in which he expresses self-righteous anger are actually among the movie's strongest -- it's no wonder that at one point It's a Wonderful Life is shown playing on TV, because Bruce's predicament, a decent man who's been drop-kicked by life yet given the chance to envision an alternate reality, is the same one that plagued James Stewart's George Bailey. DVD features include 30 minutes of deleted scenes, outtakes (i.e., more opportunities for Carrey to yuk it up), and an entertaining feature in which director Tom Shadyac discusses the various ways Carrey prepares for a scene.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

LA STRADA (1954) After years of presenting the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar as a special award, the Academy finally made it a regular category (complete with five nominees) in the mid-50s. So it's only fitting that one of the artists who would eventually be recognized as a giant on the international film scene -- in this case, Federico Fellini -- was the first recipient under this greater acceptance of world cinema. Fellini's winning picture was La Strada, a moving tale about a circus strongman named Zampano (Anthony Quinn) and the simple-minded woman (Giulietta Masina, Fellini's wife) who serves as his assistant, traveling companion and lover of convenience. Zampano generally treats her poorly, which is in contrast to the high-wire artist (Richard Basehart) who's cordial toward her even as he cruelly taunts the strongman at every turn. Certainly less weighty than many of Fellini's subsequent pictures, La Strada is a fairly straightforward story whose poignancy is accentuated by Masina's delicate performance and Nino Rota's exquisite score. Extras on the two-disc DVD include an introduction by Martin Scorsese, audio commentary by author Peter Bondanella (The Cinema of Federico Fellini), and the documentary Federico Fellini's Autobiography.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE TWO TOWERS (2002) Just as they did with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the folks at New Line have released a four-disc Special Extended DVD Edition that, like its predecessor, sets new standards on just how much information can be contained within one DVD set. The movie itself was universally beloved upon its premiere last Christmas, though for me, it doesn't quite match the majesty of its predecessor. That's hardly meant as a knock against this rousing, far-reaching spectacle of unlimited ambition, but whereas Fellowship did a nice job of balancing quieter moments with the bombast, this installment is largely all action all the time, with the few expository scenes practically presented as asides and too many less-than-scintillating characters introduced. The obvious exception is Gollum (voiced by Andy Serkis), a superb character as well as a superb visual effect. The DVD set adds over 40 minutes of new footage to the film, splitting the entire movie up between the first two discs. The picture quality is awesome, and as for the sound (which includes a DTS option), better check the living room wall for fissures after cranking this baby. The other two DVDs feature hours of supplemental material, including documentaries and audio commentary by many cast and crew members. The best extras include pieces on the creation of Gollum (Serkis reveals that he came up with the voice by imitating his cats hacking up furballs) as well as an interactive map that charts each character's odyssey (complete with relevant clips from the movie).
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