I didn't realize how much I missed this show until viewing this terrific DVD set during the Thanksgiving holiday. I think the sour taste its finale left in my mouth (the gang goes to jail for a year) put me off a bit, but now even that seems kind of cool in retrospect. Volumes one and two contain the first three seasons (the first season was five shows, the second 13, the third 22). Things were a little clunky when the show started out. (The original pilot, "The Seinfeld Chronicles," feels like it was the victim of network tinkering.) As Jerry Seinfeld and fiery partner Larry David gained more autonomy, the show hit its creative stride. Kramer (Michael Richards), George (Jason Alexander) and Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) will always remain three of the greatest creations in sitcom history. For me, true genius became apparent with a season two episode titled "The Jacket," which featured Jerry spending a ton of money on a jacket with an abysmal candy-striped liner, and guest star Lawrence Tierney singing Les Miserables tunes. That was followed by the classic "Chinese Restaurant" episode, one that NBC initially despised for its lack of action. Season three contains some of the ultimate Seinfeld moments, including The Boyfriend, in which Jerry develops a crush on Keith Hernandez, and a heckling incident is re-created like a scene from JFK. Seeing the shows free of commercials, one after the other, gives the true impression of a finely tuned, nicely oiled machine building up speed. Let's hope all nine seasons get treatment this good.
SPECIAL FEATURES: This package is no throwaway. A documentary entitled How It Began describes what the title implies, and that's just the beginning. Deleted scenes, multiple audio commentaries and hilarious bloopers are some of the package's many offerings. While bloopers on other DVDs are the stuff of garbage, Seinfeld bloopers are a thing of beauty. Seeing Michael Richards getting pissed off when somebody blows a take is a golden thing.
Director Robert Altman can get on my nerves. While his improv tactics with actors can be amusing in certain settings, it often results in films that are long, rambling and useless. (Gosford Park blows!) Still, his quirky style works under the right circumstances, and I'm even a sucker for some of his less-appreciated works. (Popeye rules!) I view Short Cuts as Altman at his best. Despite a three-hour running time and lots of improv, it actually feels quite breezy when compared to other Altman works. Based on the short stories of Raymond Carver, the film shows lives intertwined in Los Angeles; the film is rare in that a large cast of characters is nicely fleshed out. Tim Robbins, Madeleine Stowe, Lyle Lovett, Tom Waits and many more are given some of the best work of their careers. Chris Penn is especially chilling as a pool cleaner getting a bit fed up with his wife's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) phone-sex job. Yes, it's long, and not all of its segments work. That's of no consequence, because the stuff that works is brilliant. Matthew Modine's confrontation with his cheating wife (a shockingly naked Julianne Moore); Lyle Lovett's vengeful, yet repentant, baker; and Robbins' angry cop are all very memorable. Altman is still a busy director, but I'll be blown away if he manages to do anything as good as this again.
SPECIAL FEATURES: It's a Criterion, so that pretty much means it's an excellent package. This is a two-DVD set that includes a feature-length documentary that lets the filmmakers and cast wax poetic about the experience of making the movie. Three deleted scenes, including an alternate version of Lovett begging for forgiveness after a nasty run of phone stalking, are worthy of the film. Short Cuts comes with a book of Carver short stories.
For lovers of Adam Sandler, here's a nice reason for cash outlay. These are his first starring vehicles, and there's something very fresh about how an angry Billy Madison pelts first graders with dodgeballs, and an even angrier Happy Gilmore kicks the stuffing out of a miniature golf clown. ("You're gonna die, clown!") Sandler comedy vehicles have been steadily losing their charm since Little Nicky, but these goofy entries in which he was basically Jerry Lewis on acid are worth revisiting. Mind you, if the idea of Sandler chasing a hallucinatory giant penguin with his golf cart doesn't sound funny to you, you might be better off renting a Fellini film.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Both films feature a vast quantity of deleted scenes and outtakes, while Billy Madison features a so-so audio commentary from director Tamra Davis.