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The Chocolate War

Movie B
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

I had forgotten about this film. I hadn't seen it since the late '80s and never bothered to watch it on home video. This is director Keith Gordon's feature debut, and he did a pretty decent job with a cast of unknowns and a microscopic budget.

The film is based on the banned book by Robert Cormier about Catholic schoolboys generally treating each other badly, and it features some great performances. John Glover is very funny as the deranged Brother Leon, forcing his students to sell boxes of chocolate for fundraising--and egotistical--purposes. Doug Hutchinson, who played the evil guard in The Green Mile, appears as a member of The Vigils, a cruel club making life hard for students and teachers alike.

Wallace Langham, who would later find fame as a player on The Larry Sanders Show, is greatness as The Vigils' leader, who has a memorable showdown with the film's protagonist, Jerry Renault (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), at film's end. Adam Baldwin also shows up as a student despite being 26 years old at the time.

Gordon utilizes some great '80s music, including Yaz, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel. The film is sort of an angry answer to The Breakfast Club, turning up the whole classmate-oppression factor to a much higher degree. It's a mighty slap in the face of John Hughes. Also noteworthy: an appearance by '80s enigma Jenny Wright as a rebel student. She played the groupie in The Wall and a vampire in Near Dark.

Some of you might remember Gordon from his acting days. He starred as Arnie in Christine and Rodney Dangerfield's diver son in Back to School. He's directed some interesting films since this one, including A Midnight Clear and The Singing Detective. His choices are notable, because they are utterly lacking in commercial appeal.

Special Features: An extensive interview with Gordon, who does a great job describing the rigors of his first directorial experience. He also provides a commentary.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Paramount Home Video
Movie B
Special Features C-
DVD Geek Factor 5.75 (out of 10)

I missed this one on the big screen last year, and I'm mad at myself for it. Tom Tykwer, who made the remarkably good Run, Lola, Run, adapts the seemingly impossible-to-adapt novel to screen, and it's one nutty film.

A baby born in 18th-century France has an incredible sense of smell, one that he can't really control. His name is Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw), whose need to create--and capture--smells gets carried away one night when he gets close to a woman and inadvertently kills her. He sniffs her out, distressed that he can't "capture her essence." After impressing a perfumer (Dustin Hoffman, kicking mortal thespian ass) with his ability to re-create a rival perfume in mere seconds, he lands an apprenticeship and tries to capture the scent of a cat by boiling it in the scent-oil distillery. Things generally go downhill from this point on.

Whishaw is very good in the central role, as is Alan Rickman as a man trying to protect his daughter (Rachel Hurd-Wood) from the killer. The end of this film is one of the more remarkable finales of recent memory--totally insane. Let's just say a whole lot of extras had a whole lot of fun.

The visual majesty that made Run, Lola, Run so arresting exists here; Tykwer is nothing if not unique in his approach.

Special Features: A making-of documentary that is actually quite thorough, but that's it.


Paramount Home Video
Movie A-
Special Features F
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

One of the better movies of the year as of now, with powerhouse performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Robert Downey Jr. as newspapermen investigating the Zodiac killer and his murderous reign in the '60s and '70s. Director David Fincher, who needs to make more movies because I love him, delivers again with a visual masterpiece.

Fincher does an extraordinary job of capturing the paranoia that must've existed on San Francisco streets when this guy was running loose. Gyllenhaal is at his best as a cartoonist with a love for puzzles who finds himself involved in the investigation. Downey chalks up another great one as Paul Avery, a reporter who was actually targeted by the Zodiac at one point. Mark Ruffalo is excellent as an inspector who saw his career savaged in the pursuit of the Zodiac killer, an officer devastated by the lack of progress on the case.

The film contains one of the scariest, most brutal scenes put to screen in recent years, but as always, Fincher manages to make his moments of horror far from exploitive.

Next year will see the release of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button starring Brad Pitt as a man who ages backwards. I can't wait.

Special Features: You get nothing! I imagine Paramount Home Video will release a special edition somewhere along the line, but this is a film-only disc. Rats.

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