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THE HAUNTED MANSION (2003). Eddie Murphy, in neutered family man mode, tries to keep things hopping in this lead-footed endeavor, playing a New Orleans realtor who drags his wife (Marsha Thomason) and kids with him to inspect a majestic yet crumbling mansion on the outskirts of town. After making the acquaintance of the transparently unsettled owner (Nathaniel Parker) and his aloof manservant (Terence Stamp), the family finds itself trapped there for the night, whereupon they begin encountering all sorts of restless spirits -- some friendly, others fearsome. It's hard to believe this sort of trifle would be overplotted, but the script by Davis Berenbaum (Elf) gets so weighed down in the minutiae of its pedestrian storyline (centering on a doomed love affair from the past) that there's very little time left for pure visceral thrills. Yet even here, the movie's a bust, as director Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little) and six-time Oscar-winning effects wizard Rick Baker (finally running out of ideas) manage to make even such surefire audience grabbers as a zombie attack exceedingly dull. DVD extras include audio commentary by Minkoff and other crew members, a deleted scene, bloopers and a virtual tour.
Movie: *1/2
Extras: **

THE LAST OF SHEILA (1973). Anyone who loves mysteries -- and especially anyone who's tired of the brainless detective films being released on a regular basis these days -- absolutely needs to catch up with The Last of Sheila, a clever puzzler co-written by, of all people, Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim and Psycho star Anthony Perkins. Directed with a light touch by Herbert Ross, this pretzel of a picture begins with the hit-and-run death of its title character, a gossip columnist married to a powerful Hollywood producer (James Coburn). A year later, the producer invites a half-dozen of his friends -- all suspects -- to spend a week on his yacht playing an elaborate game (think of it as a live-action variation on Clue). But once the festivities get underway, the guests -- a director (James Mason), a movie star (Raquel Welch) and her manager-husband (Ian McShane), a screenwriter (Richard Benjamin) and his sympathetic wife (Joan Hackett), and an agent (Dyan Cannon) -- begin to suspect that something's amiss, leading to a couple more deaths and the unraveling of the real mystery. The Last of Sheila is so intricately scripted that Sondheim and Perkins actually drop clues throughout the film that can be picked up by attentive viewers; even so, chances are that few will be able to put together all the pieces. Welch is wooden as the glam queen, but the other actors nicely nail their roles, with top honors going to Benjamin and Mason. DVD extras include audio commentary by Benjamin, Cannon and Welch, and the theatrical trailer.
Movie: ***
Extras: **

3 WOMEN (1977). Robert Altman has never been a conventional moviemaker by any stretch of the imagination, but with 3 Women, the devil-may-care writer-director-producer pushed even harder against the envelope and in the process created a highly unusual and wholly original picture. This is one of his best achievements on film, a movie that manages to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal -- it's no surprise to learn that the genesis for the project came from a dream he had while his wife was in the hospital. Shelley Duvall, in a terrific performance that clearly should have landed her an Oscar nomination (the Cannes judges and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association were more attentive), stars as Millie Lammoreaux, a gangly, talkative woman blissfully unaware (or maybe pretending to be blissfully unaware) that everyone around her views her as a nuisance and a geek. Into her life comes Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), a naive youngster who idolizes Millie until she catches her fooling around with the loutish husband (Robert Fortier) of a sensitive artist (Janice Rule). By the time this film was made, Spacek had already cornered the market on playing eccentric innocents thrust into a world of hurt and deceit (see also Carrie and Badlands), but that doesn't make her work here any less riveting; she and Duvall are both sensational, playing complex women whose contradictory actions -- they can switch from endearing to annoying within seconds -- make them come achingly alive on screen. DVD extras include audio commentary by Altman, a gallery containing numerous photos (including ones of Bodhi Wind, the artist who created the disturbing images prominently featured in the film), and theatrical trailers.
Movie: ***1/2
Extras: **1/2

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