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How the West Was Won (Blu-Ray)

Movie C-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 4.5 (out of 10)

I guess I'm supposed to like this movie ... but I don't. While there are appealing parts, the overall package makes me sort of want to puke.

This film is notorious for being filmed in Cinerama: three cameras were used, filming simultaneously. The film was then combined in three synchronized projectors and shown on a curved, "smile" screen.

The film is broken into segments directed by Henry Hathaway, George Marshall and the great John Ford. Producers managed to attract a cast featuring the likes of James Stewart, Debbie Reynolds, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck and even John Wayne in a small role. While the movie is an interesting piece of cinematic history, and was certainly a gigantic spectacle at the time, it hasn't aged very well.

For starters, casting skin-and-bones James Stewart as a burly mountain man was perhaps a mistake. He was 54 at the time, but he looked about 10 years older than that, which made his love scenes with 31-year-old Carroll Baker an unintentional laugh riot (especially considering Baker was playing a teenager at that point). Strange casting also led to Baker playing George Peppard's mom, a funny thing considering she was actually three years younger than he was.

The Debbie Reynolds character appears in most of the segments, making her the true star of the film. She has plenty of moments where she breaks out into song and dance, a little awkward considering the film isn't actually a musical.

The most enduring memory I have of this movie is character actor Walter Brennan taking a chair to the face. It's actually quite shocking.

Special Features: The DVD pays homage to the Cinerama process by providing both a widescreen version and a "smile" Cinerama version. There's also a good documentary on the history of Cinerama, which is more interesting than the bloated feature.

Cool Hand Luke (Blu-Ray)

Movie B+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 7.75 (out of 10)

God dammit! Paul Newman died while I was watching this movie. I miss him already.

The man with the ridiculously cool blue eyes had been acting for 15 years by the time he ate 50 eggs in Cool Hand Luke, the movie that propelled his stardom to a new level. While George Kennedy took home the lone Oscar given to the film for his supporting performance, it was Newman who would eventually rise to the top after playing the title character.

It only takes a few seconds to see that Newman and director Stuart Rosenberg are up to something different and mischievous with their story. Newman's character, a war hero, is seen drunkenly and defiantly cutting the tops off parking meters. When the police shine lights on him, he almost appears glad to see them, as alcohol drips from his chin. His stunt lands him two years in a rural prison, and his refusal to "communicate" gets him into a series of big messes.

There are many familiar faces in the cast, including Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Joe Don Baker, Ralph Waite (The Waltons) and Wayne Rogers (TV's M*A*S*H).

Special Features: The DVD contains a commentary by Newman biographer Eric Lax, and a new documentary where cast members (including Kennedy) reminisce on the making of the movie. Opinions differ on the amount of hard-boiled eggs Newman actually consumed. They all agree that the set stunk to high heaven thanks to the combination of sweltering temperatures and eggs.

30 Rock: Season 2

Show A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8.75 (out of 10)

Tina Fey rules the world. She deserves the Emmy she got for this season, as does the show, as does Alec Baldwin, who now hangs up on answering machines faster than most people hang up on telemarketers.

This show hit the ground running with its first episode of the second season. Alec Baldwin's network head decides that, because the network owns Seinfeld, they can digitally place Jerry Seinfeld's image in all of their shows for a promotion called Seinfeld Vision. Seinfeld is a little perturbed, and he shows up for a hilarious guest spot that should've gotten him an Emmy, too. Al Gore's moment in a later episode, during which he senses a whale is in trouble and rushes off to help, is priceless.

I also love Tracy Morgan's insane character, who can't sleep without the sound of the ocean and the smell of bacon. This show has a joke ratio of one every 10 seconds, and they are usually pretty damned good.

I want to sneak in some props for Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live. The only thing funnier than her portrayal is Palin herself, who seriously scares the living piss out of me.

Special Features: There are lots of audio commentaries with Fey, writers and guest stars like Tim Conway and Will Arnett. Deleted scenes, a feature about Fey hosting Saturday Night Live (a great show that night) and even a table read are also included. Nice work.

More by Bob Grimm


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