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Delicatessen

Miramax
Movie B+
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

A post-apocalyptic black comedy about a cannibal butcher, this sick and funny film comes from the same director who gave us the sweet-natured Amelie.

Released in 1991, this French film boasts Jean-Pierre Jeunet's unique style, a cross between the works of Terry Gilliam and the Coen brothers (Jeunet co-directed this film with Marc Caro).

In a bombed-out city where lentils and dried corn are used as currency, a butcher feeds the occasional victim to the starving tenants in his apartment building. When a former clown (Dominique Pinon) takes up residence in the building, he strikes up a relationship with the butcher's daughter (Marie-Laure Dougnac), not knowing that he is destined to be on the dinner plate. The daughter decides she wants him to live, so she hires a band of rebels to rescue him.

While the plot is fun, it's the visuals that make the movie. Multiple sequences involving a squeaky bed are brilliant. There's a man who shares a flooded apartment with snails and frogs, eating the occasional snail roommate for survival. Jeunet even has fun with black-and-white circus footage with Pinon sharing time with a chimp. It's clear from the film's opening credits that the movie will be an incredible visual experience.

Special Features: Jeunet offers up a feature-length commentary without the help of his co-director, who hates the practice. A pretty worthless behind-the-scenes featurette fails to compel.


Pray

Tartan Video
Movie F
Special Features C-
DVD Geek Factor 1 (out of 10)

Until I watched this sorry excuse for a ghost story, I had found something to like about nearly every J-horror film I've watched--but this is one of the worst movies I have ever seen.

A couple kidnap a girl, intent on holding her for ransom. When they place a call to her parents and make their demands, they discover that the child they have kidnapped has supposedly been dead for a year. Also, the abandoned school they choose for a hideout is the male accomplice's former stomping grounds, which triggers bad memories and flashbacks regarding a family tragedy.

Director Yuichi Sato throws in way, way too many twists and turns, and has no concept of when enough is enough. He also fails at pacing (the movie is terribly edited), inspiring decent performances from his actors and, most of all, presenting a decent screenplay.

All of the standard J-horror clichés are here, including the spooky little girls with bad intentions and scary stares. One ghost has a trademark killing technique (chopping off a victim's hand), and the visual result of the maiming is more funny than creepy. The filmmakers can't even make a severed hand look real.

Special Features: Tartan Video has been turning out some of the better DVDs out there (A Tale of Two Sisters, Oldboy), so this misstep is easily forgiven. The packaging is, not surprisingly, better than the film. There's an interview with the director and a short featurette--not much, but it's better than actually watching the movie.


Shopgirl

Touchstone
Movie B-
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 5 (out of 10)

Steve Martin stars in the screen adaptation of his novella. He plays Ray Porter, a rich guy who falls for the much-younger Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a department-store clerk who works at a glove counter. Considering their age difference, the two try to keep their relationship relatively shallow, but deep feelings complicate matters.

Jason Schwartzman provides comic relief as the other man in Mirabelle's life, much younger and a lot poorer. The film has a strange fairy-tale vibe that is a bit distracting at times, and some of the comedy Schwartzman is forced to perform is painfully bad.

Still, the performances are quite good. Martin gets to do some of his best "serious" work in years, while Danes absolutely shines in the title role. There was some Oscar buzz surrounding her work, and it was deserved.

Special Features: A director commentary, some deleted scenes and a featurette on making the book into a movie.


The Squid and the Whale

Sony Pictures
Movie B
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

This nasty family comedy based on the life experiences of writer-director Noah Baumbach boasts what could be a career-best performance from Jeff Daniels as a failed writer who makes life ultra-complicated for his family. His grizzly performance (helped by a messed-up beard) ranks with his turns in The Purple Rose of Cairo and Something Wild.

Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline are both superb as brothers dealing with their parents' divorce in different ways. The older brother (Eisenberg) plagiarizes Pink Floyd songs for talent shows, while the younger one (Kline) takes to masturbating in public and wiping his semen on various surfaces. Laura Linney is perfect as their long-suffering mother.

One of the better ensemble films from 2005. It received a Best Screenplay Oscar nom, and deserved it.

Special Features: An engaging commentary from Baumbach is the disc's best offering.

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