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The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

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

This is the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, at the age of 43, suffered a major stroke that resulted in "locked-in" syndrome, wherein he was completely paralyzed. He could only blink one eye, but that didn't stop him from dictating his memoirs, which inspired this film.

His therapists worked out a system where he blinked when they reached the right letter in the alphabet. He used this method to dictate his story, including his life as editor of Elle magazine and his short time trapped in his own body. He died of pneumonia about two years after his stroke.

Director Julian Schnabel, who was nominated for the Best Director Oscar and won a Golden Globe for this film, pulls off a rather amazing feat. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Bauby's one working eye (his other is sewn shut in a rather disturbing sequence). Schnabel gets incredible help from Janusz Kaminski, easily one of the best cinematographers working today. (He often works with Spielberg, and shot the new Indiana Jones film.) Every image Kaminski comes up with for the film is a work of art.

While Schnabel is an American born in Brooklyn, he's made an authentic French-language film. I wish I knew French so I could have done away with the subtitles. The starkness of Bauby's situation is interrupted by captions constantly appearing on the screen and the need to read. This, of course, isn't a criticism of the filmmakers; I just curse my choice of Italian in junior high! I think French speakers have a much different experience watching this movie than I did. Clearly, Bauby didn't see text when people were talking to him.

This is one of those films that hit me in a different way the second time I watched it. I found myself really absorbed by the technique of Schnabel's storytelling, and the major complexities of the effort. There are those who thought Schnabel should've taken home the Oscar for this, and while I don't fully agree, I think the nomination was deserved. The dream sequence alone is something quite amazing. A scene in which Max von Sydow simply gets a shave is incredible. You are a great director when you can make a von Sydow shave something so moving.

If you should see this film, be prepared to fall in love with the soundtrack. Schnabel and crew assembled some great tracks from U2, Tom Waits and an especially touching song at the film's end from the late Joe Strummer.

Special Features: An excellent documentary, with full participation from the cast and crew, reveals much about the movie. It's surprising when it first comes on, because it's in English. It's great to see the people who played the parts discussing the experience. Schnabel provides a commentary much worth taking in. There's also a segment devoted to the work of Kaminski and the difficulties of presenting a film through a protagonist's single eye.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (Blu-Ray)

20Th Century Fox
Movie B+
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7.75 (out of 10)

In some instances, Blu-Ray versions of classic films haven't looked top-notch on my big TV. However, this one looks absolutely spectacular in the new format.

Paul Newman and Robert Redford are golden in this Western, which often passes for a comedy. Newman is especially funny as Butch, a know-it-all dreamer who masterminds a series of bank robberies. Redford is the Sundance Kid, slightly irritable and a much better shot. Katharine Ross is perfection as the schoolteacher along for the ride.

If the film has a flaw, it's that some of Burt Bacharach's award-winning score is a bit dated and awkward. (The "Dub-uh-dub-uh-dah!" stuff really gets on my nerves.) Still, the bike-riding sequence to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" is a classic.

I was hoping these guys would re-team for one more ride, but it looks like Newman has called it quits. We'll just have to re-watch films like this to be reminded of their greatness together.

Special Features: Some great stuff is carried over from the standard DVD version that came out a couple of years back. Commentaries with director George Roy Hill and screenwriter William Goldman, a deleted scene and the documentary All of What Follows Is True are among the goodies.

Charlie Wilson's War

Movie B-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 5.75 (out of 10)

While Tom Hanks is good as the title character, a congressman who essentially started a covert war, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as a cantankerous CIA agent, Julia Roberts almost derails this movie. She plays a Texas socialite with a hilariously bad accent, and this counts as one of her worst performances. Hoffman got an Oscar nomination, but he was more deserving for his work in last year's The Savages.

Special Features: The Making of Charlie Wilson's War and a look at the real Charlie Wilson are OK, but not spectacular.

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