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Malcolm X: Two-Disc Special Edition

Warner Brothers
Movie A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

This is one of the finest biopics ever made, an amazing triumph for director Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. It was wrong when the Academy Awards passed over Spike for Do the Right Thing, but it was positively evil when they ignored him for this one. Washington was nominated, but denied in favor of Al Pacino for Scent of a Woman, something that looks quite lousy in retrospect. Anybody who has seen footage of Malcolm X would probably concur that Washington pretty much channels Malcolm X's power, a performance that should've automatically netted him the award over Pacino's constant barking. As for Lee, this is his best film, and it might just end up being the best one he ever makes. After a series of smaller films, Lee showed that he was right at home with an epic, delivering a picture that is as visually beautiful as it is intellectually stimulating. I'm still holding out hope that he'll get the funding for his Jackie Robinson biopic, but his box-office track record could prohibit that from ever happening (as well as crap like She Hate Me currently making him look like he can't direct for beans). Future considerations aside, this is a movie that everybody, and I mean everybody, should see. It's a story that needed to be told, with Lee and Washington doing an incredible job of telling it.

Special Features: The two-disc package contains a1972 Academy Award-nominated documentary, narrated in part by James Earl Jones and featuring astonishing historical footage of Malcolm's speeches and interviews. A recently produced documentary on the fight to make the film brings back memories of how much shit Lee had to endure to make his movie. (Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey had to kick in some bucks to get the job done.) Lee and some of his associates sit down for a terrific commentary that more than enhances the viewing experience. It's nice to see this movie get its due.


Ray

Universal Studios
Movie A-
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7.5 (out of 10)

It's not a surprise that Jamie Foxx was nominated for an Oscar. He nailed Ray Charles in very much the same way Denzel nailed Malcolm X, as if he was channeling the real thing. Director Taylor Hackford creates a film that looks great, but perhaps pulls a few punches on the darker side of Charles' celebrity. The film's minor shortfalls are not bothersome because Foxx makes the whole thing worth watching. He plays a great piano, and actually went blind as much as possible for the part. The musical scenes are as rousing as they should be, and the whole enterprise winds up being a terrific tribute to an unforgettable music pioneer. Charles died during the production, something that makes the viewing experience all the more poignant.

Special Features: The DVD contains two versions: the theatrical cut and an extended version with longer musical scenes. The disc's highlight would have to be Ray Charles sitting down with Foxx for a jam session, where Charles gets excited beyond words at the prospect of Foxx playing the role. Ray Remembered is a nice enough tribute to the master, and Hackford delivers a good feature commentary.


Friday Night Lights

Universal Studios
Movie B+
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

Here's a movie that probably just missed a lot of Top 10 lists last year. A film called Coach Carter is currently stinking up your local movie theater. It's a sports movie that tries to be so much more, and it doesn't really succeed at anything besides giving Samuel L. Jackson a chance to yell a lot. When this Billy Bob Thornton vehicle hit theaters last year, I had little hope for enjoyment, but Friday Night Lights was everything that Coach Carter is not. It gets to the spirit of the sport being played (football) and the general insanity of the people playing and watching it. The film feels "real" (aided by rough-and-tumble cinematography and an earthy score), and Thornton transcends his role as a high-school football coach who knows he must win or else. Country singer Tim McGraw delivers one of last year's more surprising performances as a football dad who knows how to make his son miserable. (I didn't realize until halfway through the film that it was actually him.) Director Peter Berg, whose previous credits include The Rundown and Very Bad Things, shows that he's the real deal with this one. The film works on many levels, with a story that is unpredictable, something that is hard to pull off in your modern day sports film.

Special Features: Some deleted scenes that feel unimportant, along with a strange feature that has director Peter Berg talking about a re-shoot, are among the supplements that feel like padding. A documentary on the real football team the movie is based on is OK, and Berg provides a semi-interesting commentary.

More by Bob Grimm

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