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The Winning Season





(OUT OF 10)

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Sam Rockwell, a great actor, labors in the role of Bill, an alcoholic ex-basketball coach who is given another chance by high school principal Terry (Rob Corddry, also a great actor).

The catch: He has to coach the girls’ varsity team. Oh, the horror!

The clichés are laid on thick in this one—so much so that the movie becomes one big, fat, bulging-assed cliché. Rockwell tries to bring his own spin to a worn-out formula, but he’s left flailing in the wind.

The basketball team is cast with a virtual who’s-who of up-and-coming actresses like Rooney Mara (soon to be Lisbeth Salander in the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Emma Roberts (star of the upcoming Scream 4). Unfortunately, everybody’s efforts are wasted.

It’s surprising they were able to get Rockwell for this one. He towers so high above the material that satellites were likely getting stuck in his ears.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A trailer ... that is all.

Avatar: Three-Disc Extended Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

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After the movie-only (no special features) Blu-ray and DVD release of the world’s most popular film earlier this year, director James Cameron promised a bigger, better Blu-ray—and this one indeed fits the bill. I still have a mild hatred for the film, but it is a fascinating project nonetheless, and this is a decent package.

You get three versions of the film, including the original theatrical version, the extended version that played in theaters this summer, and an even-more-extended version with even more scenes.

The extra stuff neither adds to nor detracts from the experience. The visuals are still top-notch, while the stuff coming out of people’s mouths is still as corrosive as sulfuric acid on a gumdrop. The script contains some of the worst dialogue in any movie in recent memory.

Still, there is no doubting its popularity, and this one should be a biggie this holiday season. There’s still no 3-D Blu-ray version, so more Avatar home entertainment is on the way in the future (not to mention two sequels being filmed back-to-back).

SPECIAL FEATURES: Hey, if you love your Avatar, this one will keep you occupied for a long time. There are a ton of incomplete deleted scenes in various forms of production. You also get a four-part feature-length documentary on the making of the film with Cameron’s full participation, loads of production art, special-effects featurettes and much more. Surprisingly, Cameron doesn’t contribute a commentary. Also available on standard DVD.

A Christmas Carol (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)





(OUT OF 10)

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Jim Carrey is fantastic as he plays the miserable Scrooge via motion-capture animation in this vivid, exciting and occasionally dark take on the Dickens classic. I’ve always thought Robert Zemeckis’ motion-capture movies (like The Polar Express) looked a little creepy—and that creepy look serves this story well.

In actuality, Dickens wrote a rather depressing and scary ghost story with a happy ending, and that’s what this film delivers. It ain’t no Mr. Magoo.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You can watch the motion-capture performances of all of the actors with a video-in-video feature, and Zemeckis provides a commentary. There’s also a making-of documentary that has a rather abrasive host, so you can just skip that one.

The Night of the Hunter (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

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This is one nutty, nutty movie.

Robert Mitchum stars as Harry, a deranged, murderous preacher/serial killer who offs widows for their money in the name of the Lord. After a prison stay with a convicted robber/killer (Peter Graves), Harry learns about $10,000 hidden at that man’s family home, where a sad soon-to-be widow (Shelley Winters) awaits.

This is the movie that gave birth to the infamous LOVE/HATE fist tattoos. (Spike Lee paid tribute to them—and Mitchum’s performance—in Do the Right Thing.) Hunter stands alongside There Will Be Blood as one of history’s best movies about religious fanaticism (and God’s name being used for sick purposes).

Director Charles Laughton’s film has a fairytale-like quality, and even a little bit of a Warner Bros. cartoon vibe. (Mitchum sounds like Bugs Bunny when he shrieks after a door closes on his hand, and a yipping Daffy Duck when he flees a shotgun-wielding Lillian Gish.).

SPECIAL FEATURES: A feature-length documentary showing behind-the-scenes footage for nearly every scene in the movie. It’s a remarkable thing to watch and hear Laughton directing his insane masterpiece, including his banter with Mitchum, and his techniques to coax performances out of children. You also get a commentary and another, newer documentary on the making of the film.

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