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John Adams

Movie A
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Director Tom Hooper doesn't sugarcoat American history with this excellent miniseries, which goes right alongside Angels in America as one of HBO's greatest offerings. Co-produced by Tom Hanks, John Adams is a film that does its best to present young America in an authentic way.

What struck me instantly about the series is how dirty and primitive its depiction of young America is. Much of the film is shot in the dark or candlelight, with characters who are being savaged by smallpox. It's apparent that wigs are not always being powdered, and bodies aren't always being showered.

The movie opens during the Boston Massacre, where John Adams (played amazingly by Paul Giamatti) winds up defending the British soldiers who killed rioting American colonists. (I had forgotten about that little piece of history, as had Tom Hanks.) Our march to independence and the early years of our government aren't depicted as heroic or grandiose; they are, more or less, necessary, and sometimes corrupt and ugly. The movie shows that there was room in our government for backstabbing and bad behavior--even when it was just getting off the ground.

Giamatti portrays Adams from his glory days, through his controversial presidency and up to a rather uncomfortable and sad death. I have to think an Emmy is on the way for his work. Laura Linney is his equal as Abigail Adams, John's strong-hearted wife who tries to keep her family safe as the land around her is engulfed by rebellion. David Morse makes a convincing George Washington; Tom Wilkinson is the perfect Benjamin Franklin; and the always-good Sarah Polley will break your heart as daughter Nabby Adams.

This is a great work, and many history students will surely use it instead of the Internet for reports in the future.

Special Features: There's a very decent making-of documentary, with full participation of the cast and crew. Hanks says they wanted to depict how hard it was to be alive during these times, and I think the filmmakers succeeded. Some of these actors had to do a lot of aging for this movie, and this documentary goes into great detail. However, the DVD package could've used a commentary or two.

Heathers: 20th High School Reunion Edition

Anchor Bay
Movie A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8.75 (out of 10)

The 20th anniversary of Heathers is approaching, so that means it's time for another DVD. Christian Slater ruled the world in this movie, where he played J.D., hater of jocks and stuck-up cliques (including a pack of conceited girls called the Heathers). Winona Ryder had one of her best roles as Veronica, an unofficial Heather who harbors some resentment for her so-called friends. She and J.D. hook up and accidentally kill a classmate--causing the dominoes to start to fall.

This is one nasty depiction of high school life; having gone to high school around the time Heathers was produced, I can tell you that it was very accurate. Director Michael Lehmann (who would go on to make Hudson Hawk) depicts teen cruelty with no mercy. It was the anti-John Hughes depiction of the times, and its vision most certainly endures.

It's the movie that introduced Ryder as an acting force, long before she apparently stole some shit and got herself ostracized. (Total bullshit! I want Winona back!) Slater has fallen off the charts since his glory days here, but I will always classify his work in this movie as one of the best performances of the '80s. The moment when Slater shoots blanks at two football players still stands as one of the great shocks of my film-watching career.

Special Features: A commentary and a making-of documentary are carried over from a prior edition, but there is a new and decent look back at the film called Return to Westerburg High. It's revealed that Jennifer Connelly and Justine Bateman were both up for the Ryder role. Heather Graham was up for the role of the lead Heather, but it went to somebody else (Slater's then-girlfriend, Kim Walker). Eerie facts: Walker, who proclaimed, "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?" actually died of a brain tumor in 2001. Jeremy Applegate, who played the newspaper editor in the film who proclaimed, "I couldn't handle suicide," committed suicide in 2000. Screenwriter Daniel Waters discusses his alternate endings, all three of which would've been truly awesome. Get the DVD to see what he had in mind.

The Spiderwick Chronicles (Blu-Ray)

Movie B+
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8.25 (out of 10)

Freddie Highmore makes up for the hell that was August Rush playing two brothers who move into a house besieged by fairies and goblins. This film contains some of the better CGI effects ever put to screen. Its assortment of creatures is enchanting (and sometimes frightening), and the computer characters are wonderfully integrated with their live-action counterparts. Featuring the voices of Seth Rogen and Martin Short, it's one of the better family films of the year.

Special Features: A whole lotta stuff, including commentaries, deleted scenes and many featurettes.

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