"The Greatest Game Ever Played," "Brokeback Mountain," and "Casualties of War: Extended Cut"

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The Greatest Game Ever Played

Walt Disney Video
Movie B-
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 5.75 (out of 10)

This enjoyable sports movie went rather unnoticed during its theatrical run. Another piece of info that went largely unnoticed: This is actor Bill Paxton's sophomore effort as a director, following his very good debut with the horror film Frailty.

Paxton gets a nice performance out of the excellent Shia LeBeouf as Francis Ouimet, a former caddy who rose through the ranks in 1913 to take on British professional Harry Vardon at the U.S. Open in one of the greatest matches in golf history.

Paxton takes the opportunity to do some nifty computer tricks involving a golfer's line of sight when setting up drives and putts. Some of the effects are a little sub-par, but Paxton's intent to show a golfer's sense of focus usually comes through. Lovers of the game will probably have a little more fun with this film, while those who'd rather be watching tennis might find themselves mighty bored.

Paxton has joined fellow actors George Clooney and Mel Gibson in proving that he's fully capable of helming pictures.

Special Features: A decent behind-the-scenes documentary explains the history of the actual match, complete with photos of the real players. An actual interview with Ouimet (shortly before his death) has the man showing off some of his prized awards. Paxton delivers an entertaining commentary.


Brokeback Mountain

Focus Features
Movie A
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 7.5 (out of 10)

The subject of a lot of ribbing (including this week's Scary Movie 4 and our very own cover back in January), this film lost a little respect going into the Oscars, and that's a shame. Crash is a far inferior film when compared to Ang Lee's masterpiece, one of the most moving love stories ever put to film.

With so many romances being thrown at us, this film stands out as a beautifully sad testament to forbidden love and lost opportunities. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal both deserved their Oscar nominations, delivering the types of performances that will be remembered for a long time to come. Of the field nominated for directing, Lee was certainly the most deserving, and his Oscar was just (although I would argue that the snubbed Peter Jackson delivered the year's best film in King Kong).

Michelle Williams puts Dawson's Creek far behind her with her work as Ledger's long-suffering wife, who inadvertently finds out that her husband's fishing buddy is actually his lover. Anne Hathaway does plenty to make you forget The Princess Diaries, and Randy Quaid (who is currently suing producers for a big payday) is unsettling as a grouchy boss.

Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtrack offers music so effective, it is practically a character in the film (the work won him an Oscar). Rodrigo Prieto's stunning cinematography received an Oscar nomination, but not the award.

Crash had no business beating this film out for Best Picture, and time will reveal this to be true. Brokeback Mountain will endure as a classic of the genre, and Crash, while a very good film, is an Oscar goof.

Special Features: A little bit of a rush job. The DVD contains short documentaries on cowboy training and Lee as a director. A Logo television special is also included that shows the making of the movie. Lee doesn't offer up a commentary, so it's a safe bet that there will probably be another DVD in the future.


Casualties of War: Extended Cut

Sony Pictures
Movie B+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 6.5 (out of 10)

There were a lot of films about the Vietnam War during the '80s, and this one got lost in the fray. Michael J. Fox did, perhaps, career-best work as an American soldier who refuses to participate in a gang rape of a village girl perpetrated by his commander (Sean Penn). The film is based on an actual event.

Director Brian De Palma made a brutal film that isn't so much about the war as it is a morality play. Fox is convincing as a man torn between his squad and moral duty, and Thuy Thu Le is tremendous as the squad's female victim. Penn delivers an intense performance that's marred slightly by an over-the-top Brooklyn accent he should've reeled in a bit. Still, it's typically good work for Penn.

De Palma overdoes it with the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone in places, and the film gets a bit heavy-handed in parts. Still, it's an acting powerhouse, featuring supporting work from John Leguizamo and John C. Reilly.

The "Extended Cut" adds very little (about five minutes) to the original, but it's good footage. There's an extra interrogation scene involving Fox's character, and a bit more of the officer's film-ending court-martial trial.

Special Features: A conversation with Fox (filmed a few years back) has the actor commenting on the experience, including the antagonistic relationship he shared with method-actor Penn. A making-of documentary is actually very good, featuring extensive insights from De Palma, who had been trying to make the film for many years before getting the green light.

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