"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," "Frisky Dingo: Season One," and "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: 20th Anniversary Edition"

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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Blu-Ray)

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

This is one of those films that James DiGiovanna didn't like, while I loved it. This happens sometimes.

Remember Sidney Lumet? He's the guy who directed Fail-Safe, The Pawnbroker, Network and Serpico. The last great movie the man had made was Dog Day Afternoon (I think Network is a bit overrated), and that was 33 years ago. But not only did Mr. Lumet make a great movie again with this shocker; I think it stands alongside his best.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play brothers who make an ill-advised journey into the land of crime. What's supposed to be a painless heist goes wrong, with tragic consequences for their family. Albert Finney is heartbreaking as the dad who raised two screwed-up boys, and Marisa Tomei is typically great as the woman who is screwing said boys.

The story is told in nonlinear fashion, which frees up Lumet to do all kinds of fun shit. Hoffman, as older brother Andy, is an amazing portrait of spiraling desperation. When this movie is over, you will have witnessed one of the nastiest character downfalls since Lucifer said, "This angel stuff is bullshit!" and got his ass damned to hell.

Hawke has the less-showy role, but he is no less brilliant. His interplay with Hoffman is flawless, and he creates a well-rounded character. He's desperate to provide a good life for his daughter, so desperate that he takes his brother's bad advice. Hawke has some moments in this film, including a visit to a drug den, which count among the best in his career.

Special Features: A great commentary with Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke, in which they pay close attention to the film and provide details, rather than simply chatting. In the excellent making-of documentary, it's revealed that it was Lumet's idea to make the characters brothers, completely changing the dynamics of the film. The movie was shot in high-definition video, something that liberated Lumet as a director and got him back to form. In his interview, Hoffman declares that the film was made with the youthful exuberance of a 30-year-old director, and he couldn't have been more right. The Blu-Ray transfer actually provides a better experience than the one had in theaters.


Frisky Dingo: Season One

Warner
Show B
Special Features F
DVD Geek Factor 5.75 (out of 10)

Another delightfully absurd offering from the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, this comes from the creative minds of those who gave us Sealab 2021. A villainous monster named Killface looks to market his bad-guy empire while facing off against a Bruce Wayne-like billionaire/superhero.

The plotline carries over from one episode to the next, but it really doesn't matter what's going on. This is one of those shows in which the humor is so random, you lose any sense of story and continuity. I especially like Killface's mush-mouthed son Simon, who belligerently throws bowls of cereal on the floor, and the way Killface gets rid of his marketing-team members by cutting them in half.

I confess that I never saw this show before it arrived in my mailbox. Frisky Dingo a good time for those who like their cartoons weird. For those who prefer the Flintstones ... go ahead and take a pass.

Special Features: Nada!


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: 20th Anniversary Edition (Blu-Ray)

Sony
Movie A-
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 9.25 (out of 10)

The production of this film was a legendary mess, with director Terry Gilliam delivering a film at nearly twice its original budget, followed by the movie getting dumped into a minimal art-house release. Now, through the wonders of Blu-Ray, the film can be observed in the format it deserves, 20 years later.

The movie follows the title character on a series of adventures by land and sea, and it features great performances from John Neville, Eric Idle and a very young Sarah Polley. It was one of the last great physical special-effects films before the computer-effects boom, and it garnered some technical-category Oscar nominations. It's one of the better films Gilliam has made; a sequence in which Idle's fastest-man-in-the-world character runs down a musket ball before it hits the Baron is pure genius.

There's madness to Gilliam's methods, but it has often resulted in great filmmaking. He's on a bad streak lately, having made the mediocre The Brothers Grimm and awful Tideland. Up next: He's trying to cobble together The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Heath Ledger's last film.

Special Features: Gilliam provides a five-star commentary that is both sarcastically bitter and hilarious. He even makes his writing partner and co-commentator Charles McKeown cry by calling him "old and useless." His nasty sense of humor remains heartily intact. The disc also contains some deleted scenes, and the excellent three-part documentary, The Madness and Misadventures of Munchausen. Finally, there's a Blu-Ray exclusive feature called Marvelous World of Munchausen, providing additional graphics and trivia.

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