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Malcolm X (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Spike Lee was firing on all cylinders when he made this, his finest cinematic achievement. I hadn't watched it in a few years, and seeing it on Blu-ray is a major treat. Lee made a very colorful movie—and those colors pop on this disc.

This is one of the great American epics, and Lee gives it the full-blown treatment it deserves. However, there was no Best Picture nomination, no Best Director nomination, and no Oscar for Denzel Washington, who delivered a mind-blowing performance in the title role. He lost to Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman—a tremendous cinematic crime.

As Lee tells the triumphant story of the civil rights leader, he appears to be having more fun with this film than any he has made. His appearance as Shorty was his last real substantial acting role (though he made some smaller appearances in a few of his other films). I love the way he allows the actors to look straight into the camera.

I forgot how much time Lee spent on Malcolm X's backstory, with the zoot suits and the huge dance number. Lee went beyond three hours with this one—and it's a great thing to show Malcolm X before he found God. It makes for a mighty transformation, and it also provides a great chance for Denzel Washington to do some awesome swing dancing.

Off the subject: Spike Lee has been chosen as the director for the American remake of Oldboy, which is taking forever to get off the ground. I hope it comes to fruition; I'm anxious to see what he will do with it.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The deleted scenes are all good and worthy of the film, with fun intros from Lee. You also get a separate disc with a feature-length Malcolm X documentary, a Spike Lee commentary and a meaty featurette on the making of the movie.

Drive (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

We go from one criminally snubbed-by-Oscar movie to another. At least Malcolm X got a nod for Denzel and costumes. Drive got a nomination for sound editing—and that's it. Granted, the sound in the movie is awesome, but Ryan Gosling, director Nicolas Winding Refn, the picture itself and, most notably, Albert Brooks were all overlooked.

What?! This is a year in which Albert Brooks took home many critics' awards for Best Supporting Actor. It looked like there would be a battle between him and Christopher Plummer for the Oscar—and then Brooks got totally snubbed. Oscar goes through some phases when it seems it has its finger on the pulse of what is good, but this year, it is out of touch. Way out of touch. Brooks is super-creepy as a shady businessman who is good with a razor.

Gosling is a 100 percent-awesome movie star as Driver, a stunt-car driver and mechanic who moonlights driving getaway cars. It also seems he has a violent past, given that he is quite adept at caving in a man's head with his foot.

This film is put together so well; it feels perfect. The cinematography is among 2011's best; the soundtrack is hypnotic; and all of the performers (including Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston and Oscar Isaac in supporting roles) are noteworthy.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There is a great interview with Refn, which includes a story about meeting Gosling while sick and having a mild breakdown in Gosling's car as they drove to dinner, leading to Gosling signing on for the film. You also get some decent featurettes on the making of the movie.

To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

As part of its 100th Anniversary Collector's Series, Universal has released a nice 50th anniversary package for this Gregory Peck classic, based on the book by Harper Lee. Peck plays Atticus Finch, a mild-mannered but tough-as-nails attorney defending a black man accused of raping a white woman in the Deep South. He won an Oscar for the role, and young Mary Badham was nominated for her role as Scout.

The racially charged film has stood the test of time, and it's one of those courtroom films that work well. (It placed No. 1 in the American Film Institute's ranking of greatest courtroom dramas.) It's still a trip to see Robert Duvall (his feature debut) in the silent role of Boo Radley.

The transfer of this movie is pristine—so good that it is like seeing the film for the first time. One a trivial note, I had forgotten that the character of Dill was based on a young Truman Capote, a longtime friend of Lee.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The disc comes in a collectible booklet featuring essays and original movie art. You also get a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, interviews with Peck and Badham, a director's commentary and more.