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DADDY AND THEM (2001) Sandwiched between Billy Bob Thornton's two hits for Miramax -- Slingblade and Bad Santa -- were two Thornton projects the studio wisely decided to bury as if they were barrels of toxic waste. Waking Up In Reno, a forced comedy in which Thornton starred opposite Charlize Theron, played only a couple of cities in 2002 before heading straight to disc and tape; Daddy and Them fared even worse, popping up at a film festival in 2001 before being placed on the shelf until its recent DVD release. Playing off the most extreme of Southern stereotypes, this rambling mess casts Billy Bob as a good ole boy who's constantly fighting with his wife (Laura Dern) and other family members. Jim Varney, who died in 2000 (another sign of the film's dusty shelf life), plays Thornton's imprisoned Uncle Hazel; Andy Griffith co-stars as the family patriarch, who says things like, "I dreamed last night that Hazel was getting cornholed down at the jail by a bunch of white guys"; and Ben Affleck and Jamie Lee Curtis appear as bickering husband-and-wife lawyers. As long as yahoo endeavors like this keep getting financed, don't expect the South to rise again anytime soon. DVD extras include audio commentary by Thornton, several deleted scenes (equally as tiresome as the sequences that made the final cut) and "The Return of Karl," in which Thornton's Slingblade character appears in a mock-scene from Daddy and Them. Trust me, it's not as funny as it sounds -- and it doesn't sound funny.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003). It's hard to determine whether George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones brought out the best in each other, or whether the Coen Brothers brought out the best in both of them. At any rate, they're perfectly cast in Intolerable Cruelty, a spirited romantic comedy that from a distance doesn't look like a Coens feature until it gets rolling. Clooney, in one of his best screen turns to date, exhibits the right degree of screwball aptitude as Miles Massey, a hotshot divorce lawyer who may have finally met his match in the gold-digging Marylin Rexroth (Zeta-Jones, who hasn't been this alluring since her breakthrough in The Mask of Zorro). When he's not playing dull heroes, Clooney comes across as the class clown trapped in the class president's body, and his zest in mocking his own leading man status works to glorious advantage here. Yet he and Zeta-Jones aren't the whole show, not when they're backed by the usual assortment of Coen-kooks (you just know that a character named "Wheezy Joe" will be good for some laughs) as well as a screenplay that captures the long-established rhythms of the screwball form. DVD extras include outtakes, a making-of feature, and a short piece examining the film's costumes.
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LOST IN TRANSLATION (2003). Timed to hit stores exactly one week after the Oscar nominations were announced, the best picture of 2003 should benefit nicely from the added exposure. Writer-director Sofia Coppola has dabbled in film since she was a child -- often to deleterious effect (see The Godfather Part III) -- but any lingering whiff of nepotism officially ended when Francis' daughter elected to make this transcendent motion picture. Funny, philosophical, good-natured, heartbreaking, inspiring -- it's everything you wouldn't expect from a 32-year-old still getting her feet wet in her chosen profession. In what ranks as the finest performance of his career, Bill Murray stars as Bob Harris, an American movie star who's come to Tokyo to appear in a whiskey commercial. Initially, he appears to be suffering from jet lag, but it soon becomes apparent that this malaise isn't temporary -- on the contrary, Bob's in a perpetual gloomy funk. He befriends a young American woman (Scarlett Johansson) staying at the swanky hotel, and they eventually form a special bond. A specialized movie for a specialized audience (although enviable for an art-house flick, its $35 million gross pales next to that of the other Best Picture nominees), this is a unique, introverted gem that manages to enfold discerning viewers with its generosity of spirit. DVD extras include deleted scenes, an interview with Coppola and Murray, and a behind-the-scenes documentary.
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MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935). Speaking of the Oscars, while most of the Best Picture winners from the Academy's first decade are clunky vehicles that haven't held up particularly well, one of the exceptions is this splendid dramatization of the infamous 18th century mutiny in which first officer Fletcher Christian (Clark Gable) led a revolt against the tyrannical Captain Bligh (Charles Laughton) on the high seas. While movies like Titanic, Waterworld and The Abyss have resulted in countless articles relating the difficulties of filming on water, this is hardly a modern phenomenon, as witnessed by the legendary stories surrounding this film's numerous mishaps: on-set skirmishes between actors, an overextended budget (easily recouped upon its successful release), destroyed film stock and sets, and countless injuries (and even one death) among crew members. Unfortunately, none of this info is included on the DVD, which limits its extra features to a vintage documentary about Pitcairn Island, a brief newsreel covering the film's Oscar triumph, and theatrical trailers. The rush job even extends to the back of the DVD case, which not only includes a photo from the (ugh) colorized version of the film (Gable appears to be suffering from jaundice) but also a still from the 1962 remake starring Marlon Brando! Still, snatch this one up for the movie itself, an exciting, perfectly executed production that features Gable at his most magnetic and Laughton at his most commanding.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

SPELLBOUND (2003). This may sound like so much hyperbole, but in a movie year that was packed with reloaded action sequels and rousing ring-bearing sagas, it's shocking to note that the most exciting movie was actually a modest little documentary centering around words. Like Hoop Dreams and many of the other landmark documentaries, this gem is only ostensibly about one subject: At first glance, it's simply a piece about eight bright kids who are among the 249 finalists taking part in the 1999 National Spelling Bee competition. On this level alone, director Jeff Blitz has made a wonderful movie crammed with genuine suspense: One misspelling and they're outta there! Yet Blitz operates on other plateaus as well, forging powerful examinations of the often unrealistic pressures parents place on their offspring, the social stigma among youths of being perceived by their peers as too smart (better to be dumb and dumber), the ability of this one competition to represent different things to different families depending on their socioeconomic standing, and, especially significant in these pseudo-patriotic times, the real meaning of what it means to reach for that treasured piece of idealism known as the American Dream, blissfully ignoring the conditions that might prevent one's reach and grasp from squarely matching up. The best bonus feature on the DVD is "Where Are They Now?," which provides reassuring updates on all eight kids; other extras include audio commentary by Blitz and theatrical trailers.
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