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The Devil's Backbone: Special Edition

Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Movie A-
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 9 (out of 10)

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, maker of Blade 2 and Hellboy, delivered one of the greater ghost stories of recent years with this film. Ten year-old Carlos (Fernando Tielve) comes to a boarding school during the Spanish Civil War, where he is haunted by the ghost of a drowned student--a horrible apparition roaming the hallways with blood flowing from his head. Carlos gradually finds out the secret of Santi's death, and del Toro gets us to this moment with remarkable visual flair and a tremendous sense of tension and fear. Horror fans, you must see this film.

Special Features: If you are a film student, you need to get this disc. Guillermo del Toro provides a new commentary (in English) that takes a more complicated look at the film. This combines with a Thumbnail Track, small del Toro sketches that pop up during coinciding scenes in the movie, to give great insight into his intentions with the film. An excellent documentary covers all aspects of the movie (the makeup work was tremendous) and deleted scenes feature del Toro's explanations for why they were dropped. An excellent DVD.

Sealab 2021

Warner Brothers
Show B+
Special Features C-
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

Here's another one of the bizarre animated offerings on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Captain Murphy and his somewhat unreliable crew live in a lab underneath the sea, where they do nothing of significance. Episode plots include I, Robot, in which the crew discusses whether they would want their brains in a robot body as their lab spouts a huge leak in its hull. Another episode is completely dedicated to Captain Murphy's ordeal--stuck underneath a Bebop Cola vending machine, he is attacked by a scorpion that he eventually befriends and names Ben. The animation is reminiscent of those crappy Saturday morning animation shows like The Brady Bunch and The Planet of the Apes. Perhaps the most recognizable voice on the program would be Erik "Ponch" Estrada as Marco Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar Diego Garcia Marquez (Yes, you read that right). Sad note: Harry Goz, the voice of Captain Murphy, died in 2003. This left the show with a great void and no chance for a sequel to the Bebop Cola episode.

Special Features: Relatively slim. There's the original pilot, which is gloriously shitty, and a bunch of deleted and alternate scenes. Nothing to get crazy about.

The Human Stain

Movie B+
Special Features D
DVD Geek Factor 3 (out of 10)

This one didn't get a fair shake when it was released last year, but I contend that it contains tremendous work by Nicole Kidman and Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is at his best as Coleman Slick, a college professor unjustly accused of a racial slur and let go by his university. He finds redemption in Faunia (Kidman), a younger woman dealing with recent tragedy and a psycho ex-husband (Ed Harris). Gary Sinise is solid as Slick's best friend and confidant, with Harris nice and creepy as the psycho stalker. Hopkins has been showing up in a lot of shallow fare lately, but this marks a nice return to powerful drama. Directed by Robert Benton (Nobody's Fool, Kramer vs. Kramer) and based on the novel by Philip Roth.

Special Features: A short making-of documentary, and a strange video montage tribute to the late cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (it contains too much of his work for The Crow: City of Angels) are all that you will find.

All in the Family: The Complete Third Season

Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment
Show A
Special Features Zippo
DVD Geek Factor 3.5 (out of 10)

When I was a pup, I had a couple of racist grandparents who would get pissed off at me if I tried to watch reruns of The Jeffersons on their television in their house. However, they had no problem with me watching All in the Family, and Archie Bunker the ignorant bastard (brilliantly played by the late Carroll O'Connor) seemed to be one of their heroes.

I used to secretly laugh at how they would take Archie seriously, as if the show's writers were aiming to slam anybody other than a white male on a weekly basis. Truth was, Archie was the character being slammed, as daring a depiction of racist stupidity that TV would allow in the '70s. I'll never forget Archie's perception of Sammy Davis Jr. (Sammy Davis ain't black ... he's just a good looking white guy dipped in caramel!").

The show was great when it dealt with taboo issues on a weekly basis. It lost its steam in the later years as Archie became more politically correct, but in its heyday, no show was more of a trailblazer.

Special Features: None to be had.