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DUPLEX (2003). While generally pretty good at predicting a movie's reception, I blew it completely with Duplex. What happened to the rave reviews and $100 million gross I had anticipated for director Danny De Vito's dark comedy? They were usurped by blistering pans and a paltry $9 million haul, which I suppose makes this a guilty pleasure in my book. Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore star as a young couple who believe they've found their dream house when they purchase a duplex in Brooklyn. They figure they can deal with the fact that they'll be sharing their abode with a longtime rent-controlled tenant, a 90something-year-old Irish woman (Eileen Essel), but once this seemingly harmless lady turns their lives into a living hell, they come to the conclusion that murdering her is the only viable option left. By employing the same strain of acerbic comedy found in such Ealing studio classics as The Ladykillers and Kind Hearts and Coronets, writers Larry Doyle (The Simpsons) and John Hamburg (Meet the Parents) should be commended for milking this premise for all it's worth -- there are no dry spells in this often uproarious comedy, and the resolution is especially clever. DVD extras include three deleted scenes, a brief making-of feature, and, for witless churls, a second disc containing the pan-and-scan version of the movie.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION (2003). This wildly imaginative romp in the inimitable Looney Tunes style was bombing in theaters around the same time that the insufferable Brother Bear was making millions, yet perhaps the home entertainment arena will prove to be its saving grace. Certainly, children should enjoy the cartoon antics, diehard Tunes junkies will embrace such favorites as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and film buffs will delight in the endless array of in-jokes that director Joe Dante and scripter Larry Doyle supply with relentless energy. The film does have a plot -- probably more than it needs -- as Bugs, Daffy and two human co-stars (Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman) attempt to foil a megalomaniacal nerd (Steve Martin) bent on ruling the world. Slapstick shenanigans, inspired non sequiturs and guest appearances by a dozen other LT regulars prevent the merriment from ever slowing down. The uninitiated may find it perplexing, but within its own established universe, it's as logical as a Pepe Le Pew fragrance line. DVD extras include deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes features hosted by Bugs and Daffy, and a new cartoon starring the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

MONA LISA SMILE (2003). An unlikely cross between Dead Poets Society and The Stepford Wives, this Christmas underachiever (mis)casts thoroughly modern Julia Roberts as an open-minded art teacher who arrives at Wellesley College in 1953, ready to change the world to the chorus of "Carpe Diems." Instead, she's shocked to learn that her students (including Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles) plan to never use their education, opting instead to become housewives. Naturally, it's up to Saint Julia to save the stuffy college from itself, by emphasizing contempo artists over the old masters, downing shots at the local bar while the other female profs sit at home watching TV, and flaunting her single-woman status since no man can possibly match her sheer fabulousness. Roberts is such a bundle of contemporary tics that she's as out of place in this 50s setting as Bill O'Reilly would be at a Marilyn Manson concert; then again, almost everything feels artificial in this threadbare gathering of rigid archetypes and warmed-over speeches. Roberts' character may be presented as a breath of fresh air, but the movie surrounding her is the cinematic equivalent of halitosis. DVD extras include the cast members discussing art, two interesting features comparing women's roles in 1953 and today, and the music video for Elton John's "The Heart of Every Girl."
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993). It didn't take long for Steven Spielberg's Holocaust drama to establish its foothold in the annals of American cinema: In 1998, a mere five years after the picture's release, the AFI placed it #9 on its list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time. It's doubtful the film will relinquish that spot any time in the near future, not so long as its message of hope existing within horrendous circumstances continues to resonate in a world whose inhabitants seemingly never tire of committing atrocities against each other. Like The Passion of the Christ, the brutality in this film is raw and in-your-face, yet the difference is that Spielberg and writer Steven Zaillian (adapting Thomas Keneally's book) do a better job than Gibson of instilling a sense of humanity by focusing on one positive aspect: Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a war profiteer and Nazi Party member who single-handedly saves thousands of Jews from extermination. Neeson's nicely shaded performance is expertly supported by Ben Kingley's work as mild-mannered Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern and Ralph Fiennes' career-making turn as sadistic SS commandant Amon Goeth. Many might argue that, for all its excellence, this isn't Spielberg's best movie, but it's impossible to deny its standing as his most important. DVD extras include interviews with Holocaust survivors and a feature on the Shoah Foundation, which Spielberg created in the wake of the film to archive videotaped testimonies given by Holocaust witnesses and survivors (it presently contains nearly 52,000 interviews).
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

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