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12 Angry Men (Blu-ray)

CRITERION

MOVIE B+

SPECIAL FEATURES B+

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 7.5

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge 12 Angry Men (Blu-ray)
  • 12 Angry Men (Blu-ray)

You've probably seen this one because some teacher in junior high made you watch it to get a clue about our criminal-justice system. Henry Fonda is great as the lone holdout juror during a murder trial in which 11 out of 12 are convinced that the defendant is guilty.

Watching it today, some of it is pretty laughable. Fonda's character manages to swing a jury consisting of Jack Klugman, Jack Warden and E.G. Marshall to his point of view within 90 minutes. Heck, I was on jury duty once, and that shit took days.

There is also the great moment in which Fonda's character takes out a switchblade and stabs it into the table. Guess they didn't check people for weapons back in the day.

Still, this is a classic for the performances, especially Lee J. Cobb as a cantankerous juror, well before he played the friendly, movie-loving investigator in The Exorcist. The film stands as a good statement about the death penalty as well.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get the entire TV version of the movie, which doesn't have the big stars, but is still cool to watch.


Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Blu-ray)

LIONSGATE

MOVIE A

SPECIAL FEATURES B+

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 8

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Blu-ray)
  • Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (Blu-ray)

Sam Rockwell is not a big-name actor at this point, but he gets a lot of respect, and much of that began with his casting in this, George Clooney's directorial debut.

Based on the "autobiography" of Chuck Barris, the film plays off the famous game-show host's wild claims that he was a CIA killer while piloting The Gong Show. Rockwell is brilliant as Barris; so is Clooney as the strange man in the shadows who recruits him to be a killing machine.

Drew Barrymore has one of her better roles as a Barris love interest, while Julia Roberts shows up in a small part. The film also features faux interviews with Dick Clark, Jaye P. Morgan and the infamous Gene Gene the Dancing Machine, giving it a slight documentary feel at times.

Overall, it's quite a piece of work. This is still Clooney's best directing achievement. He took a lot of big risks with this one, showing a genuine visual style and a crazy sense of humor. He cast Rockwell instead of someone from a list that included Ben Stiller and Johnny Depp, and while that might've hurt the box-office returns, it certainly paid artistic dividends.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a Clooney commentary and deleted scenes. Best of all, there's Rockwell's screen test, which features him doing Barris dance moves in a powder-blue tuxedo.


Cowboys and Aliens (Blu-ray)

UNIVERSAL

MOVIE B-

SPECIAL FEATURES B+

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 5.75

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge Cowboys and Aliens (Blu-ray)
  • Cowboys and Aliens (Blu-ray)

While certainly no masterwork, director Jon Favreau's strange alien adventure got a bad rap last summer. He managed to mix two genres—alien films and Westerns—quite successfully, and got a mightily enjoyable performance out of Harrison Ford. He cast Sam Rockwell, too!

Daniel Craig plays a cowboy who wakes up in the desert with a strange contraption on his arm, and Ford plays a grouchy cattle baron at odds with him. They wind up battling aliens that shoot lasers at them; the aliens also kidnap their children and loved ones (including a devilishly fun Paul Dano, as Ford's son).

The film is uneven, but it packs some thrills thanks to the performances.

It looks like Favreau is taking a break from big-effects movies after this one. His only listed upcoming project is a TV movie that is absent both Iron Man and Harrison Ford.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There are "conversations" and a commentary from Favreau, as well as a multipart documentary on the making of the movie. You also get an extended version.


The Debt (Blu-ray)

UNIVERSAL

MOVIE B-

SPECIAL FEATURES B-

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 5.25

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge The Debt (Blu-ray)
  • The Debt (Blu-ray)

A stellar cast powers this spy thriller through some rough patches and makes it something worth watching.

In 1966, three agents go on the hunt for an evil Nazi doctor, and their pursuit seemingly ends with his death. But more-recent events reveal that something else might've happened—and the mission technically isn't over yet.

Helen Mirren is good as a modern-day agent, and Jessica Chastain is excellent as her younger version. The cast also includes Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas in the 1966 timeline, with Tom Wilkinson in the latter-day scenes. Jesper Christensen is especially good as the evil doctor. The scenes in which he treats the undercover Chastain are frightening.

Directed by John Madden, the man responsible for Shakespeare in Love, the film does reasonably well with its big twists and turns. There's a romantic subplot that doesn't quite work, and some of the stuff with Mirren grows a little tiresome, but the overall experience is moderately good.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A commentary with Madden, and some behind-the-scenes stuff.

More by Bob Grimm

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