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Hard Boiled: Two-Disc Ultimate Edition

The Weinstein Company
Movie B-
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

In some circles, this is regarded as director John Woo's best. On an aesthetic level, it contains some of the finest gunfights ever put to screen, full of the director's trademark slo-mo--Michael Bay stole from Woo for sure--and some decent kickfights.

As a drama, it's totally nuts, and it feels like it was written on the fly by a fifth grader. In fact, Woo wrote specific scenes and made major plot changes as he was shooting, resulting in a film that's haphazard. Much of the stuff that occurs feels "convenient," with Woo inserting ridiculous plot elements to help him along. There's a bit with a cigarette lighter that is especially ridiculous.

Chow Yun-Fat plays a grouchy cop trying to destroy various gangster elements in Hong Kong. He figures one particular gentleman is an enemy, but soon discovers there's more to him than meets the eye. There are enough plot twists in this film to power 10 movies, and they get a little annoying as the film wears on.

As for the gunfight ballets, it's quite amazing. A blast-out in a chop shop is quite memorable, as is a teahouse ambush. I would be totally fine with it if someone took out all of the exposition and left me with a reel of this film's action scenes. The storytelling is secondary when it comes to Woo action.

The final hospital sequence contains the film's best moment: Yun-Fat dispatching villains as he holds and sings to a baby. He takes a bullet in the shoulder, gets a little blood on the kid and gives him a little kiss. Woo always likes to put twists in his battles, and this one is a kick.

Hard Boiled is OK, but Face/Off remains my favorite Woo film by far.

Special Features: The package includes a decent interview with Woo, but there's no Woo commentary. There are also many interviews with castmates, but no Chow Yun-Fat. Some other stuff is of little interest, including a Hard Boiled locations guide.


Taxi Driver: Collector's Edition

Sony
Movie A+
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 10 (out of 10)

Hooray! Another Taxi Driver DVD, and another chance for me to write about how unbelievably great this film is.

Director Martin Scorsese makes even Alka-Seltzer in a glass mesmerizing with this tale of loneliness and insanity in the big city. Robert De Niro, in his greatest role, plays Travis Bickle, a Vietnam veteran with a deranged need to protect women. He falls for Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and asks her out in a scene straight out of your average romantic comedy. Then everything goes to shit, and Travis loses his grip on reality.

Sure, Scorsese got all of the accolades for The Departed, and his Raging Bull and Goodfellas are nothing short of masterpieces, but Taxi Driver remains his best. It's a movie that just gets better with repeated viewings, and it truly feels like every single second of it was mapped out by Scorsese and De Niro. It's a work of art.

I've taught some film classes over the years, and it always amazes me how few students know that the film inspired the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Does anybody younger than 25 remember who John Hinckley Jr. is, and how his obsession over Jodie Foster as a young hooker in this film resulted in Reagan taking a bullet? What are they teaching in history classes these days?

Special Features: A two-disc extravaganza, but there is still no Scorsese commentary for this film on DVD. There is one provided by writer Paul Schrader, so that's a plus. Also included is a making-of documentary, and interviews with the likes of Scorsese and De Niro. A nice treatment of a great film.


The Host: Two-Disc Collector's Edition

Magnolia
Movie A-
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 9 (out of 10)

One of the finest monster movies ever made, this one came and went quickly in cinemas this year. Here's your chance to catch up.

It's a routine day on the beach when civilians notice something strange hanging from a bridge. It falls into a river, and everybody goes about his or her business. Then, a big monstrous being shows up on shore, treating people in a most unkind fashion. A little girl gets eaten, and her father is left to deal with her untimely demise.

The twists and turns then start to kick in.

The scene where the monster is revealed is masterful filmmaking. Director Bong Joon-Ho knows what scary is for sure. He has also made a very funny movie, obvious from the first scene in which an American doctor demands that toxic chemicals get dumped into the Han River, because the bottles containing the chemicals are dusty.

Watching The Host again on DVD, I'm reminded that this is one of the year's better films.

Special Features: Packed, with making-of films, including heavy detail on the design of the creature. Also included are a director's commentary, gag reels, deleted scenes and more. A great DVD.

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