Ridley Scott set out to fill some time with this comedy thriller, starring Nicolas Cage and Sam Rockwell, before embarking on big-budget epics like Kingdom of Heaven and Tripoli; he opted to helm this big screen adaptation of Eric Garcia's bestseller. While having fantastic, quirky actors as Cage and Rockwell delivering excellent performances would be enough for most movies, they actually don't deliver the film's best work. That honor goes to Alison Lohman, an incredible 24-year-old actress who does a remarkable job of portraying the 14-year-old daughter of Cage's character. Lohman, who renders herself unrecognizable in the role, pulled off one of 2003's greatest acting feats alongside Charlize Theron's physical transformation in Monster. She was my pick for the year's Best Supporting Actress and, of course, she didn't even get an Oscar nomination, probably because most Academy members figured she was actually 14 years old. Cage does some of his best work in years as an obsessive-compulsive con man forced to deal with his long-lost daughter, and the great Rockwell provides reliable comic relief as his partner in crime. While it's a smaller film, it's still a Ridley Scott film, so it looks fantastic. The film's final twist is a great kicker, and while Cage is terrific, it is Lohman who provides this film's most lasting impressions.
SPECIAL FEATURES: There is an excellent behind-the-scenes documentary entitled Tricks of the Trade. It includes such treats as Scott expressing disbelief at Lohman's age, and fascinating details like the production's use of an office building as an airport substitute due to filming restrictions after Sept. 11. Scott always does excellent audio commentaries, and this disc is no exception. Consumers can opt to buy a package that also includes the film's soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.
Kevin Costner earned back large quantities of respect with this, the best film he's ever directed. (Yes, including the overrated Dances with Wolves. ) Costner stars as Charley Waite, a quiet, somber cowboy with a dark past. Waite is driving cattle in Montana at a time when ranchers are starting to gather up land and restrict free grazing. While Waite and his partner, Boss (Robert Duvall), might understand that the times are a changin', an evil rancher's violent ways don't set well with them, and it all leads up to one helluva shootout. Costner shows that he has the eye and heart for epics as well as tense action sequences (the final shootout is historic filmmaking). It's a little slow at times, but the beautiful scenery allows for a little patience with the pacing. Annette Bening is sweet as the woman who melts Waite's cold heart. This film definitely puts Costner back on the directorial map after the mistake that was The Postman.
SPECIAL FEATURES: This is a disc that makes geeks like me so grateful for the DVD format. An extensive menu of deleted scenes includes intros, explanations and even apologies by Costner, who evidently had some great stuff cut from his movie for timing's sake. The quality of the deleted stuff stands as a good argument for Costner to re-visit his film someday with a director's cut. The two-disc set also includes the exceptional Beyond Open Range: A Director's Journal, in which Costner narrates a video depicting the creative process that was the film. Storyboards, an insightful film commentary by Costner and an historic look at the 1800s, once again narrated by the very generous Costner, make this a must purchase.
With Mr. Show off the air for the past six years and Saturday Night Live sucking wind, David Chappelle is the current owner of TV's best sketch comedy. To say Chappelle is controversial would be an understatement. Contained in this two DVD set are all 12 episodes of the first season--the show is now in its second--including should-be classics like history's meanest blind white supremacist (who happens to be black) and comedy's greatest crackhead. His humor might be too much for many, and this uncensored version of the show reveals that Chappelle might be better suited to HBO than his current home at Comedy Central. After watching this show, Chappelle has become one of my all-time comic heroes. How this guy isn't more famous is beyond me.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Chappelle and co-creator Neal Brennan provide some rather laid-back commentary for five of the episodes and a blooper reel. That blooper reel, mind you, is just as funny as the stuff that made it to the show. It's 29 minutes of outtakes that are better than anything on Saturday Night Live during the past two years.