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The Wind That Shakes the Barley

Movie B+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

This film provides a decent history lesson about Ireland and why it's been such a tumultuous country over the years. The surprising winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it features great work from the actors and an intriguing look into a conflict that split the country.

In early 20th-century Ireland, two brothers find themselves fighting in the Irish Republican Army against British rule. Teddy (Padraic Delaney) is the more militant of the two, leading raids and ambushes on British soldiers. Damien (Cillian Murphy) is more apprehensive about joining the fight, but after witnessing the death of a friend and the beating of an elderly man at the hands of British soldiers, he has a change of heart and joins up.

After a truce is reached between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, the IRA is split into two factions. While Teddy basically accepts the treaty, Damien refuses, and brother must fight brother.

There's a big chunk of Irish history covered in this film, and director Ken Loach does a decent job of showing the political and emotional conflicts the country endured. Murphy is an incredibly good actor, this being his second great performance of the year, alongside his role as Capa in Danny Boyle's Sunshine. (Although Barley was released internationally last year, it got its stateside release in March 2007.) Delaney is also great in the film's most conflicted and controversial role.

Special Features: As described on the disc's feature commentary (delivered by director Loach and historical adviser Prof. Donal O'Driscoll), some Britons got fired up over this film. It's easy to see why, because it pulls no punches about Irish feelings toward England. The commentary is a fine one, with O'Driscoll helping out with the historical aspects. There's also a retrospective on director Loach.

The Upright Citizens Brigade: Complete First and Second Seasons

Paramount Home Video
Show A-
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

One of the stranger comic troupes to ever get a TV show, the Upright Citizens Brigade gave Amy Poehler, now of Saturday Night Live, her start. I remember being startled when Poehler got the SNL gig, because I had seen her on this show, and I thought she was too good for Saturday Night Live. She was a totally brilliant, screwy nut with the Brigade.

Season 1 is just a repackaging of a disc that came out a couple of years ago, but Season 2 is being made available for the first time. The first season contains such moments as a frat guy dating the Lady of the Lake from King Arthur's times, only to get instantly annoyed with her "emerging" from everything (street fountains, piles of leaves, alcohol coolers). My favorite skit involves a guy telling a partygoer that he has a time machine in his bedroom, and then forcing that partygoer to wear bicycle pants and a dog collar before taking trips through time. Their goal: to shove Harry Truman.

Season 2 features a hilarious cameo by the Wu Tang Clan, a guy boxing a horse and a mugging victim who thinks his thief should honor an IOU written during the robbery. In another shocking sketch, a high-class business exec is convinced he once did crack cocaine with another rich bar patron. ("You fellated me for crack cocaine!")

Season 1 also contains a rather unfunny sketch in which a young boy, Donny, is afflicted with a 2-foot-long penis, which hangs down (blurred) from his shorts. The joke is that he isn't aware of his big penis; this might've been funny for five minutes. Instead, it lasts the whole show. It's the one truly bad sketch I've managed to see from these guys.

I recommend this for lovers of more bizarre comedy, like Monty Python and Mr. Show.

Special Features: Both seasons include some cast and crew commentaries. They also feature footage of the Brigade performing live on stage, including the aforementioned little Donny sketch (which was slightly funnier live).

The Lookout

Movie B+
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 6.5 (out of 10)

Screenwriter Scott Frank made a nice feature-directing debut earlier this year with the help of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, one of the more exciting young actors out there right now. Gordon-Levitt plays Chris, a once-promising hockey player who suffers a head injury that gives him a memory disorder. Left alone and frustrated, he falls in with a bad group of men who plan to rob the bank where he works as a night janitor.

The film is basically a showcase for Gordon-Levitt's talents, and it contains some great twists. Matthew Goode is excellent as the leader of the thugs robbing the bank, and Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers) is also good as the complicated love interest. This film has plenty in common with Memento, and that's a good thing.

Special Features: A commentary with director Frank and his cinematographer, along with a making-of featurette.

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