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Duane Hopwood

HBO Home Video
Movie B+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 6.5 (out of 10)

The title implies that this is some sort of Western comedy, but it is nothing of the sort. It's a sweet and sad film about a man who makes a catastrophic mistake and sees his world come apart. This second directorial effort from Matt Mulhern is an indicator of some fine talent and vision. It's also an astounding showcase for actor David Schwimmer.

Schwimmer plays Duane, a lovable guy with a massive drinking problem. The film opens with a montage of him goofing around with his wife (a very good Janeane Garofalo) and kids, and at one point, we see him sipping on a beer. The action cuts to a point in the future where Duane is being pulled over for driving drunk, and now his life is going to take a downward turn.

This is a low-budget film, but Mulhern makes the most of it. The film is set in Atlantic City (Duane is a pit manager at a casino), and Mulhern takes good advantage of his locations. When Duane is relegated to his bicycle after his car is taken away, he must pedal to work in the cold (often wearing a goofy hat). There are plenty of shots with Duane pedaling on dismal, gray, foreboding streets, alone in his misery.

While the story isn't necessarily a new one, Mulhern and Schwimmer make it fresh. The film is injected with nice touches of humor (especially from Judah Friedlander, as Duane's offbeat roommate).

Schwimmer has delivered fun performances before, but this time, he has to perform a full range of emotions, and he nails it. He makes you care deeply for this dope, and while the film doesn't wrap up his predicament with a shiny little bow, it does offer some hope for Duane. He has a long road back, but the movie suggests he has a fighting chance.

Look for Dick Cavett in a funny, short appearance as Duane's neighbor. This is one of those sleeper movies that just sneaks up on you, and I highly recommend it.

Special Features: Schwimmer and Mulhern (self-proclaimed commentary virgins) discuss the film on a full-length commentary track. I especially liked Schwimmer's rant about the film's R rating for language while something like War of the Worlds, "one of the most violent films ever made," gets a PG-13. Good point.


Platoon: 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition

MGM
Movie A+
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8.5 (out of 10)

For its 20th anniversary, Platoon gets yet another DVD. It remains a remarkable picture, director Oliver Stone's best work to date.

This is a benchmark film. While directors such as Coppola and Cimino had dealt with the war in prior movies, it was Stone who truly delved into the psyche of an American soldier going through the hell of Vietnam. As Stone says in his riveting commentary, the men portrayed in this platoon (many of the characters are based on real fellow soldiers during his own tour) were not bad people. They were tired, frustrated and scared, and that had an influence on some of their actions.

The film basically introduced cinema audiences to the likes of Charlie Sheen, Willem Dafoe, Kevin Dillon and, of course, Mr. Johnny Depp. They had all worked before, but they made their marks in this movie and all went on to at least decent careers.

Watching this film with the commentary on reveals plenty of surprises. The person cast for the Charlie Sheen role in early stages of production was actually his brother, Emilio Estevez.

Special Features: There are many carryovers from the prior special-edition DVD, including the commentary by Stone. There are also some previously released documentaries, with a couple of short new ones thrown in. Of major interest are some never-before-seen deleted scenes.


Earthquake

Universal Studios
Movie D-
Special Features F
DVD Geek Factor 1 (out of 10)

Oh my, this is one bad, bad movie. There has been an influx of disaster-flick DVD reissues (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno), and now we get another version of this dreadful Charlton Heston vehicle.

I saw this in theaters when I was a pup, and I recall being blown away. Theaters were using something called Sensurround, basically a lot of speakers with the bass turned way up, and it shook the spine. It was enough to impress a 6-year-old kid, but pogo sticks impressed me in those days, so that's not a good gauge. Watching the film today is pure torture.

A big one hits Los Angeles, resulting in mass destruction, terrible overacting and some pretty shoddy editing work. Some of the special effects are semi-impressive for their time, but most of it is laughable and trashy. The melodramatic subplots, including a daredevil (Richard Roundtree) having his big ride ruined by the quake, and a grocery-store employee (Marjoe Gortner) getting a National Guard gun and going nuts, are terrible. Heck, the whole thing is terrible.

Special Features: The DVD boasts that it has Sensurround, but it sounds like regular old stereo to me.

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