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THE LAST SAMURAI (2003). Director Edward Zwick had already shown his capacity to handle expansive epics with Glory and Legends of the Fall, but the picture The Last Samurai most resembled when it premiered in December was Dances With Wolves. The maxim about familiarity breeding contempt doesn't apply here: For all its recognizable trappings, this is an enormously entertaining film, with Tom Cruise cast as a disillusioned Civil War hero who accepts an assignment to help train the Japanese emperor's armies in modern forms of combat. This places him in direct conflict with the "old-school" Samurai, but after he's captured, he becomes fond of their customs and forms an alliance with their leader (Ken Watanabe). Aside from the weak epilogue, there's little to dislike in this impressive undertaking; most notable is Oscar nominee Watanabe, whose magnetic performance allowed him to swipe the picture right out from under Cruise's nose. Extras on the two-disc DVD include audio commentary by Zwick, a pair of deleted scenes, a History Channel documentary titled History vs. Hollywood: The Last Samurai, short features on the Oscar-nominated set and costume designs, and footage of the film's premiere in Japan.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

THE MARX BROTHERS COLLECTION (1935-1946). It made financial sense for Warner Bros.'s home entertainment division to split up Charlie Chaplin's masterpieces into two volumes -- that way, true fans would have to purchase both sets -- but it's simply a legal reason why they didn't cram all of the Marx Brothers' best pictures into this collection. The comedy team's earliest films (including gems like Duck Soup and Horse Feathers) were made for Paramount, leaving Warner with only the rights to the string of films the siblings made for MGM. But that doesn't mean this compilation is a bust: On the contrary, two genuine classics are included in this five-disc set, and as usual Warner has packed the DVDs with a wide array of extra material. A Night at the Opera (1935), considered by many as the pinnacle of the Marx films, finds Groucho (as Otis P. Driftwood), Chico and Harpo mixing it up behind the scenes of an opera house. Perennial foils Margaret Dumont and Sig Ruman are on hand, and classic bits include the stateroom scene and the discussion of the Sanity Clause ("You can't fool me; there ain't no Sanity Clause!"). A Day at the Races (1937) is almost its equal, with Groucho (as Hugo Z. Hackenbush) and company creating mayhem at the horse track. A Night In Casablanca (1946) is slowed down by too much plot (and a protracted madcap finale), but it still contains numerous choice bits as the boys take on the Nazis. The set also includes four lesser-known titles -- Room Service (1938), At the Circus (1939), Go West (1940) and The Big Store (1941) -- and additional features include audio commentary by Leonard Maltin, new documentaries, vintage cartoons and short features, and a 1961 TV interview with Groucho.
A Night at the Opera:
A Day at the Races: 1/2
A Night In Casablanca:
Extras: 1/2

POSSE (1975). One of the many sturdy Westerns that emerged from 1970s Hollywood sporting a chip on its shoulder, Posse, like other oaters of the modern era, offers lessons in genre revisionism that makes it a distant cousin to the cynical likes of Little Big Man and Unforgiven. Whereas Sergio Leone's seminal Once Upon a Time In the West viewed the intrusion of the railroad on virgin territory with a resigned yet hopeful eye, Posse views it as nothing less than the rape of the land, poisonous "progress" that allowed political corruption to make a clean sweep of the country from coast to coast. Kirk Douglas (also serving as producer and director) stars as a US Marshal who rests his political aspirations (he's running for the Senate) on his ability to capture a notorious bank robber (an excellent Bruce Dern) who just might be his mental match. But the lawman's self-serving ambitions, his muddy ties to the powerful railroad industry, and the ruthless behavior of the hotshots who comprise his posse end up making the outlaw's old-fashioned villainy seem preferable by comparison. There are no extras on the DVD.
Movie:
Extras:

THE TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE (2003). This animated treat from France makes Finding Nemo look as cutting-edge as a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Its jumping-off point is a lonely little boy who, thanks to the support of his kindly grandmother, grows up to become an accomplished cyclist set to take part in the Tour de France. But after the lad is kidnapped by the French Mafia, it's up to his granny and their aging pooch Bruno to rescue him; along the way, they receive unexpected aid from the title trio, elderly singing sisters who used to perform with Fred Astaire and Josephine Baker back in the day. Mere words can't convey the inventiveness of this enterprise, a melting pot of styles and storylines borrowed from (among others) Buster Keaton, Tex Avery and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. DVD extras include audio commentary on select scenes by writer-director Sylvain Chomet, a pair of making-of shorts, and a whacked-out music video.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

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