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Half Nelson

Sony Pictures
Movie A
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

Ryan Gosling deserved the Oscar for his breakthrough work as a crack-addict teacher who befriends one of his young students. (Actually, Leonardo DiCaprio did for The Departed, but he wasn't nominated for that role.) And Shareeka Epps deserved a nomination for portraying the young student.

Sure, Gosling has done some fine work in the past, most notably in The Notebook and Stay. (Hey, I liked that movie!) But it is this film that establishes him as one of the finest of his generation. He doesn't deliver the standard, twitchy drug-addict performance. His work has an amazing soul to it, including the way he shares the screen with his young co-star. The sequences where he's teaching history class under the influence are as startling as they are frightening.

While Gosling has received plenty of accolades for his acting turn, let it be said that director Ryan Fleck made one of last year's better movies. This is all the more remarkable because it is his feature-length film debut. (He made some documentaries and shorts in the past.) There are no new projects listed for him as yet, but I'm curious to see what this guy does next.

Special Features: Some deleted and extended scenes, and a director's commentary.

For Your Consideration

Warner Home Video
Movie A-
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7.5 (out of 10)

Director Christopher Guest jettisons the mockumentary format for a more straightforward satire of self-important Hollywood types. When a rather terrible movie called Home for Purim starts generating Oscar buzz for its stars, the cast lets it go to their heads. Catherine O'Hara deserved a real-life nomination for her stunningly funny work as Marilyn Hack, a veteran actress who receives surprise notice for playing the matriarch figure in Purim. The role she had received the most notice for before Purim was that of a blind hooker.

While the movie does poke some fun at the ridiculous process that leads up to Oscar nomination time, it also works as a skewering of filmmaking in general. Usual Guest troop actors like Harry Shearer, Parker Posey and, of course, Eugene Levy occupy funny roles and make this a good time.

While I wouldn't call it the funniest film of 2006, I do confess that it contains two moments that made me laugh harder and louder than any other moments last year. (I won't give them away.) I will go so far as to say this is my favorite of the Guest films.

Special Features: Guest and Levy deliver a funny commentary, and the disc offers over 30 minutes of extra footage, some of it quite good.

The Butcher Boy

Warner Home Video
Movie A
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

Long absent from DVD, this bizarre, strange tale from director Neil Jordan finally finds its way to the medium.

Among the pleasures in this story of a misbegotten boy suffering through a strange home life would be Sinéad O'Connor as a potty-mouthed Virgin Mary. Eamonn Owens delivers a great child performances as Francie Brady, the red-headed little bully with a drunken dad and a depressed mom. The film is the bleakest of comedies, with Francie's story being told in a jaunty style, a complete contrast to the darkness happening in the film. It co-stars Stephen Rea, a good thing.

I hadn't seen The Butcher Boy since its theatrical release 10 years ago, and there were a lot of things I forgot about. I guess I had put a psychological block on the strange priest who enjoyed jerking off to the story of a visit from the Virgin Mary, or his penchant for young boys in bonnets. I also forgot about the little boy hanging out with his father's dead corpse as it gathered flies.

Finally, this film is a fine testament to why kids shouldn't get jobs in slaughterhouses. Like I said ... it's a strange, strange movie.

Special Features: Jordan does a commentary, and the disc includes some deleted scenes.


Sony Pictures
Movie A
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 8.5 (out of 10)

Back in 1982, when this flick came out, I made my dad take me to see this, because I had a report due on Gandhi, and my teacher gave me permission to see the picture as part of my research. I went in as a grouchy 14-year-old doing his homework and emerged fully impressed. (Dad napped; it's three hours long.) This is one of the best biopics ever made, and Ben Kingsley totally rocks as one of history's all-time-greatest purveyors of peace. Kingsley transformed himself for the role, a role that still stands as his best work. Director Richard Attenborough manages something both epic and intimate.

I loved the movie, but I was still pissed off when it beat out E.T. for best picture. Hey, I was 14.

Special Features: What a great disc. Attenborough delivers a nice commentary and intro to the disc. There are also nine featurettes on the making of the movie, and a cool sit-down with Kingsley.