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APOLLO 13 (1995). At a time when these United States remain hopelessly divided along political, social and moral lines, Apollo 13 continues to serve as a refreshing splash of water on the face in that it shows people working together tirelessly for a larger good - in this case, the lives of three American heroes who courageously sought to expand our boundaries and our imaginations. Armed with a dream cast, director Ron Howard takes the story of the ill-fated 1970 Apollo mission and turns it into an inspiring drama that illustrates in painstaking detail how teamwork and tenacity can overcome even the most demanding of situations. Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton portray the three astronauts whose trip to the moon morphs into a high-risk race to return to Earth before their damaged capsule betrays them completely, while Gary Sinise and Kathleen Quinlan offer steady support from the ground. Yet it's Ed Harris who takes top acting honors: He's sensational as Gene Kranz, the laser-focused flight director who plans to bring these guys home by any means necessary. In addition to the 140-minute theatrical version, this two-disc DVD set also includes the edited, 116-minute IMAX take. Curiously, even though a previous DVD edition presented the original movie in DTS, this one only features the IMAX cut in DTS - a major disappointment for fans of this wall-shaking audio format. DVD extras include audio commentary by Ron Howard, a separate audio track by astronaut Jim Lovell and his wife Marilyn (played by Hanks and Quinlan in the film), a making-of special, and a recap of the past 45 years in space.

Movie: 1/2
Extras:

HOTEL RWANDA (2004). Set in 1994 Rwanda, this powerful film takes place during the 100-day period when nearly one million of that country's Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutu extremists. Clearly, Hotel Rwanda is about international indifference and liberal ineffectualness, and the movie shows how all the humanitarian gestures committed by well-meaning individuals (including ones played by Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix and an unbilled Jean Reno) ultimately count for little when the global policymakers can't be bothered to cast a caring glance. Unfairly described by some reviewers as Schindler's List Lite, Hotel Rwanda is its own creation, a movie that reverberates with such topical force (Sudan, anyone?) that the ink is still drying on its condemnation of a planet that operates with blinders firmly attached. Yet for all its indignant ire, the movie is more than anything a humanist saga, and it's in this area where it draws its greatest power. At the center of this maelstrom of moral outrage rests the stabilizing performance of Don Cheadle: He exudes quiet authority as Paul Rusesabagina, the Hutu hotel manager who risked everything to save over a thousand Tutsi civilians from falling under the machete. Wyclef Jean's lovely tune "Million Voices" easily deserved the Best Original Song Oscar, but as expected, the tone-deaf octogenarians who make up the music branch didn't even nominate it. DVD extras include audio commentary by director-cowriter Terry George and Rusesabagina, select scene commentary by Cheadle, a half-hour making-of documentary, and a short piece centering on Rusesabagina's return to Rwanda.

Movie: 1/2

Extras:

SIDEWAYS (2004). Movies in which characters hit the road in search of adventure and end up discovering themselves are nothing new to American film - in fact, they're an integral part of our cinematic heritage. Yet Sideways, which dominated the awards season until Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator caught some late-breaking waves, is idiosyncratic enough to stand apart from the pack. Miles (Paul Giamatti), a chronically depressed high school teacher who collects unhappy memories the way some people collect stamps, and Jack (Thomas Haden Church), a has-been actor whose wedding to a society woman is a mere week away, decide to book pre-nuptial passage to California's Santa Ynez Valley to tour the local wineries; while there, they get involved with two women (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh) who force them to reconsider their present outlooks on life. It's clear that both these men need someone to slap them silly - Miles because of his habitual negativity, Jack because of his wandering pee-pee - yet the Election/About Schmidt team of writer-director Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor (who deservedly won Oscars for adapting Rex Pickett's book) do a marvelous job of making these two so recognizably human in all their flawed glory that our hearts go out to them time and again. Indeed, the movie displays an enormous generosity of spirit toward the sorts of characters who are often trivialized in modern American movies. It should also be noted that this lovely motion picture should itself be approached like a fine wine: Uncork it, give it time to breathe, and then luxuriate in its rich, heady flavor. DVD extras include audio commentary by Giamatti and Church, 17 minutes of deleted scenes, and a skimpy behind-the-scenes featurette.

Movie:

Extras: 1/2

- Matt Brunson

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