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THE AVIATOR (2004). Despite his standing as the architect of some of the greatest motion pictures of the past 30 years, it often feels as if Martin Scorsese's most significant contribution to cinema isn't as a moviemaker but as a movie fan, most notably his tireless efforts with film preservation. Thanks to The Aviator, the film director and the movie buff finally meet. This sprawling biopic about the notorious Howard Hughes employs all the cinematic razzle-dazzle we've come to expect from Scorsese, yet there's an added layer of excitement as the eternal cineast finally gets to step back in time via his meticulous recreations of the sights and sounds of Old Hollywood. Rather than trying to cram an overstuffed life into one motion picture, Scorsese and writer John Logan focus on Hughes' anecdote-rich period from the late 1920s through the late 1940s, when the billionaire industrialist (intense Leonardo DiCaprio) produced movies, romanced actresses like Katharine Hepburn (Cate Blanchett, winning one of the picture's five Oscars) and Ava Gardner (miscast Kate Beckinsale), made significant strides in aviation, and continued his lifelong battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Like most biopics, this plays fast and loose with many of the specifics of Hughes' life (the chronology is especially sloppy), but when it hones in on the effects of a disease so ghastly it could bring even this visionary to his knees, the historical inaccuracies suddenly seem irrelevant. At its best, the movie is a stirring tale about a man whose inner drive allowed him to climb ever higher, grazing the heavens before his inner demons seized the controls and forced the inevitable, dreary descent. Extras in this excellent two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by Scorsese, producer Michael Mann and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, a deleted scene, a History Channel documentary on Hughes, a panel discussion on OCD with Scorsese, DiCaprio and Hughes' ex-wife Terry Moore, features on the picture's technical achievements, and more.

Movie: 1/2

Extras:

HOOP DREAMS (1994). It's no surprise that this landmark documentary emerged as a critical favorite the moment it hit Sundance - Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were its most vocal supporters, with Ebert later deeming it the best film of the 90s - but its subsequent success at the box office (until Michael Moore came along, Hoop Dreams was the top-grossing doc) was instrumental in allowing the nonfiction format to gain greater acceptance by the mainstream. Certainly, this extraordinary movie shattered the illusion, once and for all, that factual films can't be as entertaining as fictional ones. There are head-spinning narrative turns in this 170-minute opus that compete with anything ever dished out by Hollywood scripters. Filmed over the course of five years, Hoop Dreams takes an in-depth look at two inner-city high school students - Arthur Agee and William Gates - who both dream of reaching the NBA. The odds against them are tremendous, as both kids must struggle with financial setbacks, personal injuries, familial conflicts and their own burgeoning self-doubts. Filmmakers Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert devoted themselves completely to this project, and their dedication paid off with a film that's crammed with ironic twists, heartbreaking developments and moments of pure jubilation. This snagged Best Documentary honors from every major critics group, then hit a brick wall when the Academy didn't even nominate it - a scandalous snub that led to reforms within the organization's documentary branch. Extras on the Criterion DVD include audio commentary with James, Marx and Gilbert, a separate commentary track with Agee and Gates, various Siskel & Ebert segments in which the pair discuss the movie, two trailers - one aimed at Middle America, the other designed for African-American audiences - and a 40-page booklet filled with essays (including a where-are-they-now piece on Agee and Gates).

Movie:

Extras: 1/2

IN GOOD COMPANY (2004). This flick works as well as it does because its central character, Dan Foreman, is a paragon of uncompromised ideals, and because Dennis Quaid plays him so perfectly that we can't help but line up behind this guy and cheer him on. Loved by his family, popular with his co-workers and respected by his clients, Dan symbolizes not the larger-than-life morality found in superhero or gladiator yarns nor the bogus morality exhibited in pieces of hypocrisy like the inexplicable hit Christmas With the Kranks; instead, it's the everyday type of morality to which we can all aspire, as decent people trying to make the right choices concerning family and career. The storyline finds Dan, the savvy ad manager for a sports magazine, demoted and subsequently forced to report to Carter Duryea (Topher Grace), a corporate golden boy half his age; matters become even more complicated when Dan's new boss begins dating his daughter (Scarlett Johansson), a college-age kid who loves her parents but also wants to begin making her own way in the world. In Good Companys narrative rarely strays far from convention, but it's hard to dislike a picture that goes out of its way to champion integrity in America. Good guy, good values, good movie. DVD extras include audio commentary with Grace and director Paul Weitz, deleted scenes and short making-of pieces.

Movie:

Extras: 1/2

POCAHONTAS (1995). The Disney renaissance that began with 1989's The Little Mermaid continued through 1995's Pocahontas; the following year, the studio's traditional animated films would begin coasting with the likes of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules, helping pave the way for the success of computer animated features. More adult in tone than most of its toon brethren, this visually resplendent movie relates the story of the Native American heroine and her (fictionalized) romance with British sea captain John Smith. The usual comic relief (including a scene-stealing raccoon named Meeko) and jaunty songs are present, but what makes this picture soar is its look at an unspoiled landscape in its final period of glory, as well as its plea for understanding among all people. This latter point is represented in "Colors of the Wind," which earns my vote as the best song ever featured in a Disney animated feature. This gorgeous, Oscar-winning tune by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwarz is at once timeless (in its open-minded expressions of solidarity) and timely (as long as Republicans are in power, the line "You think the only people who are people are the people who look and think like you" will remain relevant). Extras on the two-disc DVD include audio commentary by the directors and producer, 20 minutes of deleted scenes, a making-of feature, music videos, footage of the movie's historic premiere in Central Park, and a multi-language reel featuring "Colors of the Wind" sung in 17 different languages.

Movie: 1/2

Extras: 1/2

- Matt Brunson

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