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PEACE ARCH

MOVIE A-

SPECIAL FEATURES D

DVD GEEK FACTOR 7

(OUT OF 10)

Here's a surprise: One of last year's more moving, complicated performances was delivered by none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Playing himself in a film that passes as both a satirical comedy and a decent action thriller, Van Damme makes the most interesting of comebacks. After fighting in a Los Angeles court for custody of his daughter, Van Damme returns home to Europe, physically and financially broke. A visit to a bank goes awry, and Van Damme finds himself in a hostage situation.

Directed by Mabrouk El Mechri, the film opens with a long, extended shot that is technically marvelous and proves that Van Damme still has the goods for action, even though he does complain that the complexities of the shoot are tough, considering his age. There are a couple of improvised scenes (most notably one in a taxi) that show Van Damme's surprising range. He has a long monologue staring straight into the camera that is easily the best thing he's ever done.

El Mechri gives the film an interesting, washed-out look that goes beautifully with Van Damme's exhausted appearance. The whole film is about Van Damme's fallen status, and Van Damme seems more than willing to admit he's a fading star. However, if he can find more projects like this one, and can prove his acting here was no fluke, the man could have a decent new life in Hollywood, for sure.

Wait a minute ... it looks like his biggest upcoming film is Universal Soldiers 3. Oh, well.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A couple of deleted scenes. A Van Damme commentary would've been nice.


Walt Disney Animation Collection: Mickey and the Beanstalk

DISNEY

MOVIE B

SPECIAL FEATURES B+

DVD GEEK FACTOR 8

(OUT OF 10)

I can't remember the last time I saw this. It may've been some Sunday night on The Wonderful World of Disney when I was a kid. However, I must've watched it 100 times, because I remembered it quite vividly as I watched it recently.

This is a film from the era when Disney busted ass on everything, including short films. This sort of stuff gets the computer-animation treatment these days, but back then, these films were hand-painted masterworks. The story here has Mickey, Donald and Goofy getting some magic beans, growing a beanstalk and facing off against a dopey giant.

This is part of an animated series that includes other classics like Three Little Pigs and The Prince and the Pauper. The only reason the disc doesn't get an A is because the audio mix is off: The voices are often drowned out by the music.

SPECIAL FEATURES: More short films, including The Brave Little Tailor, Thru the Mirror and Gulliver Mickey. Everything is totally worth your time.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

PARAMOUNT/CRITERION

MOVIE A

SPECIAL FEATURES A-

DVD GEEK FACTOR 9

(OUT OF 10)

One of last year's better films is so far one of this year's best DVDs. Paramount farmed this one out to Criterion, the group with the magic touch when it comes to DVDs.

You all know this by now, but Brad Pitt stars as a man who ages backward, much to our visual delight. He's terrific, as is Cate Blanchett as the woman with whom he falls in love.

Director David Fincher, normally known for dark films, delivers his happiest film yet. That's not to say this movie doesn't have dark undercurrents, because it most certainly does. A nighttime naval battle is among the best scenes he's ever filmed.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A Fincher commentary and lots of stuff detailing how they made the film look the way it does. It's pretty damn fascinating.


Valkyrie

20TH CENTURY FOX

MOVIE B+

SPECIAL FEATURES A-

DVD GEEK FACTOR 8

(OUT OF 10)

This suffered through a lot of bad pre-release publicity, including a release-date change and rumors that Tom Cruise's performance was especially bad.

When it did finally hit screens, Valkyrie proved itself to be a captivating and capable thriller about a real attempt by German soldiers to kill Hitler during World War II. Cruise plays Col. Claus von Stauffenberg, a decorated war hero who earns the trust of the Third Reich, even though he has every intention of blowing up Hitler and his cronies in their bunker. Tom Wilkinson is especially good as a crooked general who knows what's going on, and Bill Nighy does well enough as a soft-spoken general in on the plot.

Cruise is great in the film, directed by Bryan Singer (Superman Returns and the first two X-Men). They didn't attempt authentic German accents, which probably would've been a distracting mistake.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Cruise and Singer do a commentary, and I say, "Hell, yeah!" I always like it when Cruise sits down and shares. There are also some nice documentaries, including The Valkyrie Legacy by Ken Burns, he of the baseball and Civil War docs.

More by Bob Grimm

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