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The Killer Inside Me (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

In this highly unpleasant but hypnotic film, Casey Affleck plays Lou Ford, a small-town sheriff who can't help but brutally kill people who treat him well. Director Michael Winterbottom goes full-tilt-nasty as Affleck's creepy, disturbingly soft-spoken mess of a man punches Jessica Alba into a bloody pulp, and does equally foul things to Kate Hudson.

This is a remake, of sorts, of the 1976 movie starring Stacy Keach as Ford, based on the controversial novel by Jim Thompson. While I've never seen the original, I have a hard time believing it reaches anything near the brutality levels of Winterbottom's take.

Affleck makes the film work by giving us a character that is ultimately fascinating in his depravity. Both Alba and Hudson do good work as unsuspecting women who love their man and find out, the hard way, that he isn't everything he seems to be. Both of them give us fleshed-out characters; they're much more than standard movie victims.

Don't watch this if kids are anywhere in sight.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Somewhat lacking, with only a few interviews.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This landmark in gay cinema stars David Bowie as a British soldier sent to a POW camp where a Japanese commander (Ryûichi Sakamoto) becomes infatuated with him. The film was quite controversial at the time of its release in 1983, and it remains an interesting film to watch while examining the evolution of attitudes in cinema—but it's not a very good movie.

Bowie and Sakamoto were both novices, yet they were asked to carry a movie. While Bowie does his job fairly well, Sakamoto (who also composed the score) seems a little lost. It's also worth noting that all of the prisoners have mighty nice hair for men without access to showers.

Some of the performances, including one by Tom Conti as a fellow prisoner, are too hammy to be taken seriously. Still, a portion of the film does work—especially a sequence early in the film in which a guard is punished for taking advantage of a prisoner. Considering when it was made, this was a gutsy movie.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A little thin by Criterion standards, but still pretty good. Features include archival set footage, new interviews with Conti and Sakamoto, and a documentary about Laurens van der Post, who wrote the novel on which the film was based.

The Thin Red Line (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

The very release of this movie was a momentous occasion. Director Terrence Malick had done a two-decade disappearing act after directing two fine films, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978).

It's the second film based on the James Jones novel of the same name, about Guadalcanal in World War II. The return of Malick attracted an incredible cast that included Sean Penn, John Travolta, George Clooney, Nick Nolte and John Cusack—and that's just a partial list. Some of their roles are blink-and-you-will-miss-them, but Penn had a meaty role. Much of the film is carried by then-relative newcomers like James Caviezel, Ben Chaplin and Donal Logue. Actors edited out of the movie included Martin Sheen, Bill Pullman and Gary Oldman.

The time off didn't dampen Malick's effectiveness; this is a masterpiece. Legend has it that the original cut of the movie clocked in at something like six hours (the final cut was closer to three), and the producers had such a falling out with Malick that they were banned from the set. In any case, the tumultuous, long and complicated shoot resulted in one of the best war movies ever made. Nolte's performance alone—as a crazed colonel pushing his men forward, with no water, for disturbingly personal reasons—makes the movie a classic.

Malick's battle scenes stand out thanks to the mental and emotional anguish of each soldier on which he focuses, and the depiction of nature and animal habitats as humans blaze away. Some of the movie's best moments include quick shots of snakes having showdowns with soldiers, and huge bats watching American soldiers as they try to advance. You get a sense of the entire world and the many conflicting feelings going on while, meanwhile, bullets are shot, and lives are in peril. There's nothing machismo about it.

Malick is fired up again, having directed the excellent The New World (2005) and the forthcoming The Tree of Life (tentatively set for release later this year). He's now working on a new project starring Ben Affleck.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A fascinating short about the casting of the movie, including glimpses of audition tapes by Josh Hartnett, Crispin Glover and Luke Perry. Among the deleted scenes is one featuring Mickey Rourke, whose performance was also left on the cutting-room floor. You get a commentary featuring members of the tech crew, and a collection of interviews from actors like Penn and Caviezel. It's another winner from Criterion.


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