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THE BROWNING VERSION (1951). Viewers should prepare to have their hearts, if not exactly broken, at least heavily pummeled by this exquisite adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play. Rattigan himself wrote the script, with director Anthony Asquith effectively orchestrating the proceedings so that, in spite of its limited setting, this never feels like simply a claustrophobic filmization of a stagebound piece. Michael Redgrave, in a tremendous performance that earned him the Best Actor award at Cannes (with Rattigan also a victor for Best Screenplay), stars as Andrew Crocker-Harris, a middle-aged professor at a British boarding school. Bitter that he never managed to capitalize on the promise of his younger years, Crocker-Harris long ago settled into a groove as a fussy, humorless teacher despised by practically all the pupils who pass through his classroom. Pushed into leaving his post due to ill health, and married to an odious woman (Jean Kent) who berates him at every turn, this shell of a man has resigned himself to a life of miserable complacency until one of his students (Brian Smith) reaches out to him through a charitable gesture. That such an outwardly immobile character could earn such deep sympathy is a testament both to Rattigan's writing and Redgrave's acting. Indeed, there are select moments in the film - Crocker-Harris' meltdown in front of a student, his reaction upon learning that his nickname among students and staff is "Himmler," a particularly nasty gesture by his wife that reveals the depths of her cruelty - that are as emotionally draining as anything found in Hollywood's more celebrated tearjerkers. DVD extras include audio commentary by film historian Bruce Eder, an interview with Mike Figgis (director of the 1994 remake starring Albert Finney), and a 1958 interview with Redgrave.

Movie: 1/2

Extras: 1/2

CASINO (1995). Based on Nicholas Pileggi's fact-based book (with the names changed to protect the guilty), Martin Scorsese's sprawling, three-hour epic centers on Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro), a crackerjack bookie whose knowledge of the world of gambling is so extensive that he's eventually chosen by the mob to run their outfit in Las Vegas. But Ace's empire finally collapses around him due to the emergence of two characters on the scene: Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), Ace's childhood friend who ends up organizing his own crime cartel right in the glitzy heart of the city, and Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone in a bravura, Oscar-nominated performance), a resourceful gold-digger who marries Ace but soon turns to booze, drugs, a former boyfriend (James Woods at his sleaziest) and even Nicky for dubious comfort. For roughly the first hour, Casino is a terrific movie, taking viewers behind the scenes of the gambling industry and explaining in detail how the whole system works. But once the screenplay (by Pileggi and Scorsese) zeroes in on its leading players, it finds itself in a creative rut. The movie not only seems derivative of GoodFellas but also of itself - after awhile, all of the double-dealings, gruesome executions, police busts and volatile outbursts start to blend together, subjecting the proceedings to an overriding sense of déjˆ vu. DVD extras include select audio commentary by Scorsese, Stone and Pileggi, deleted scenes, various behind-the-scenes specials, and a History Channel episode called True Crime Authors: Casino With Nicholas Pileggi.

Movie: 1/2

Extras:

CURSED (2005). Wes Craven is such a wretched director that I wouldn't even trust him to oversee an elementary school Christmas pageant. Teaming up with his partner-in-crime, scripter Kevin Williamson (they made Scream together), he takes a shot at the werewolf flick, and imagine my surprise at discovering that, after roughly 20 minutes of screen time, Cursed was turning out to be an acceptable addition to the venerable genre. But Craven being Craven, the movie then starts to self-destruct, and by the end, it's lying there in complete ruin. Christina Ricci and Jesse Eisenberg star as orphaned siblings who both sustain injuries from a ferocious creature on the same night. Eisenberg is convinced that it was a werewolf, but Ricci isn't so sure; however, once her body starts undergoing startling changes - and once mangled corpses begin dotting the LA landscape - she finds herself subscribing to her brother's theory. Good performances by Ricci and Eisenberg override a monotonous one by Joshua Jackson (as Ricci's moody boyfriend), and the early sequences reveal an appropriate reverence for the material at hand. But after this effective setup, the project becomes overbearingly jokey, replete with wisecracking werewolves, imbecilic teen shenanigans and the expected cameo by a has-been (in this case, Scott Baio playing himself as a horny dolt). The movie's troubled production resulted in a theatrical PG-13 version that few saw; the DVD offers an unrated version that would easily qualify for an R, but the additional gore fails to make this dud any more interesting. DVD extras include select audio commentary by special effects makeup supervisor Greg Nicotero and actor Derek Mears (who plays the werewolf), a making-of featurette, and a piece on creating the effects.

Movie: 1/2

Extras:

- Matt Brunson

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