Until he showed up with the funny hat as New York narcotics officer Popeye Doyle in 1971, Gene Hackman wasn't a truly big name in Hollywood. He had been around for a while, even garnering a couple of Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations (including one for Bonnie and Clyde), but he wasn't considered a bankable star.
While his performance as Popeye didn't make him a huge international face, it did get him the Best Actor Oscar, and it cemented his status as one of the game's best players. Hackman's Doyle, a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed bigot, was based upon a real narcotics officer, and the entire French drug-ring plot was based upon a real story.
Directed by William Friedkin, the film is perhaps best known for the infamous car chase underneath a Manhattan railroad track. It was an interesting concept to have a car chase a train through a metropolis in broad daylight, and it pays off nicely. There was even a real car crash when an unsuspecting motorist got in the way.
Hackman returned for a second round in French Connection II (1975). The setup was a little awkward, with Popeye going to France in an attempt to get the drug lord who evaded capture in the first film. While the plot is a little contrived, Hackman's performance is not. Popeye gets kidnapped and forced into a heroin addiction, providing Hackman with a nice opportunity to play somebody severely messed up. Director John Frankenheimer stages some nice action scenes along with the psychological drama.
The sequel looks much better on Blu-Ray than the original. That's because Friedkin supervised a strange color transfer for French Connection that results in a lot of graininess and abnormally dark scenes.
Special Features: The French Connection comes in a two-disc set full of commentaries and docs. Friedkin provides an astonishingly good account of the movie, providing numerous scenes with interesting background and history. Hackman provides "commentaries" for both films, but they are the patched-together sort (producers simply run interview audio along with the film). The sequel disc contains a holdover commentary from another edition by the late Frankenheimer, while both films contain additional interviews with Hackman. All in all, it's pretty good stuff for Connection fans.
Director David Wain delivers one of 2008's finest comedies, with Paul Rudd giving his best performance yet as an energy-drink spokesperson with a foul attitude.
Trolling high schools and pitching green-energy-drink poison to students as an alternative to drugs, Rudd's Danny is a quick-draw artist with nasty putdowns, and is yearning for change in his life. His attitude is upsetting his seminar sidekick, Wheeler (Seann William Scott), and girlfriend, Beth (Elizabeth Banks).
When Danny and Wheeler get into trouble, they are assigned to a Big Brothers-type establishment as an alternative to jail. Danny is forced to mentor Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who is obsessed with medieval role play, while Wheeler gets Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), a pipsqueak with a mouth worse than Eddie Murphy before he went all family-oriented on us.
The fantasy-role-play stuff gives Wain a chance to be outrageous on a level similar to that of his classic Wet Hot American Summer, while the relationship stuff with the kids and girlfriends is handled well. Rudd is as talented dramatically as he is with the jokes, so his character's transformation is both realistic and a little heartwarming. Scott may be reprising a little bit of his American Pie Stifler shtick, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, and his speeches about proper breast-watching techniques and Kiss' "Love Gun" are precious.
The supporting cast is a huge reason why this film works so well. Jane Lynch is scary-funny as the head counselor who used to eat cocaine for breakfast. Some Wain partners from The State contribute mightily, including Kerri Kenney and Ken Marino as Augie's parents, and Joe Lo Truglio as an absolutely insane medieval-camp enthusiast.
The unrated version contains extra boobies.
Special Features: Wain is on hand for a winning commentary, and this disc contains the funniest blooper and outtake reels I've ever seen. Watching Rudd trying to keep a straight face while the brilliant Lo Truglio riffs into the stratosphere is comic greatness.
Sally Hawkins was robbed. She won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy for this offbeat film from director Mike Leigh, but the Oscars snubbed her. Here's your chance to see one of 2008's best performances. As Poppy, the impossibly cheerful English schoolteacher, she is in a league of her own. Maybe that confused Academy voters, who perhaps couldn't handle something so new and different.
Special Features: A Leigh commentary, and a behind-the-scenes look.