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Master and Commander

20th Century Fox
Movie A-
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Based on the historic novels by Patrick O'Brian, director Peter Weir's high-sea adventure is a well-modulated, serious action drama that studies kinship as much as it examines the rigors and horrors of oceanic warfare. Russell Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey, sailing the seas during the Napoleonic Wars with the sort of commanding authority that has become his trademark. Casting Paul Bettany (his co-star in A Beautiful Mind) alongside him was a brilliant move. The two give off a definite vibe of true friendship, and that gives this swashbuckler substantial heart. The attention to detail is amazing (producers purchased an existing model ship for the shoot), and the actors went through substantial naval training for authenticity's sake. Russell Boyd took home a much-deserved Oscar for his cinematography, but Crowe was snubbed in the Best Actor category in favor of another seaworthy performance, that of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. It's also a little wrong that Iva Davies, Christopher Gordon and Richard Tognetti were ignored for their stunning score. Unbelievable trivia note: Crowe learned to play the violin quite capably for the part, and that is freaking insane!

Special Features: Normally, I would bitch about a DVD not containing a director's commentary. The special edition doesn't have one, but that proves not to be a problem, because Peter Weir and crew contribute plenty to the 70-minute documentary, The Hundred Days. Weir provides all the observations on the project that any film buff will need. There are 20 minutes of deleted scenes, maps and battle-sequence studies, packed into a two-disc set. This package does what all packages for DVDs should do: provide a deeper appreciation of the film for those who seek it. For those who don't require all the bells and whistles, there's a movie-only, less-expensive version of the DVD.

The Triplets of Belleville

Columbia Tri-Star
Movie A+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Oh, Finding Nemo was pretty and cute. But it didn't deserve that Best Animated Film Oscar. That honor should've gone to this one, quite simply one of the greatest all-time animation achievements. A warped French film with a rather strange outlook, this is a movie that starts with Fred Astaire getting eaten by his own shoes and ends with three old ladies blowing up a theater inhabited by the French Mafia. The plot revolves around a concerned grandmother trying to cheer up a bored child (perhaps mourning his parents). The grandmother gets the child a bicycle, and he eventually goes on to ride in the Tour de France. An obese dog and the aforementioned three old ladies (former singing stars) enter the action, and the results are an ultra-bizarre delight. Director Sylvain Chomet puts together a movie that is the very definition of original, an artistic wonder on all fronts. Almost devoid of dialogue, often grotesque with some of its imagery, and flat-out hilarious in many moments, it has some great music to boot (including the Academy Award-nominated track, "Belleville Rende-vous"). Less patient viewers might find this one tiresome at times, but those who appreciate animation with a twist will be relishing every minute detail.

Special Features: Decent looks into the intricate animation work help make some of the featurettes interesting. Chomet delivers some scene-specific commentary, including a conversation regarding the brilliant opening musical number. The best feature would have to be a music video for "Belleville-Rende-vous." While the video could've settled for simply showing the opening number from the film, that would've been too easy. Instead, the song is a backdrop for a very strange psychiatry session, replete with a beautifully disturbing dance number.

Love Actually

Universal Studios
Movie B-
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 3 (out of 10)

Good God, this was a strange film. A sprawling romantic comedy featuring countless characters, fat stockings full of sentiment and ... porn! Hugh Grant plays a British prime minister looking for love in what stands as the story's main plot point, but there's a lot more going on in this movie, including a budding love affair between two porn actors--a relationship that starts during casual conversations while performing sex scenes. Director Richard Curtis asserts that his film originally clocked in at three hours, and considering the size of the cast and amount of subplots, that is easy to believe. Funny performances by Grant, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman help to make this one a pleasant, totally strange diversion.

Special Features: Cast members, including Grant, sit down for a commentary with Curtis. A half-hour of omitted scenes is included, and many of them are very good. There's a funny bit involving the visualization of Queen Elizabeth's farts (No, really!) and a rather provocative Christmas-time modern-art exhibit that is also chock full of, you guessed it, porn! This is one of the more hardcore family films ever made!

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