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Belle de Jour





(OUT OF 10)

In 1967, this was hot stuff. In 2012, it's still pretty hot, thanks to the timeless beauty and performance of Catherine Deneuve.

Deneuve plays Séverine, an affluent housewife who has, um, issues. She can't sleep with her husband, but she decides to start turning tricks at a local brothel. This must've shocked the piss out of people in the '60s. It's a film that must be watched while considering the context of what was going on with women and sexual politics at the time.

In many ways, it's a landmark movie. Director Luis Buñuel and Deneuve would work together again with 1970's Tristana, but this is the coupling for which they are most remembered.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a commentary by Michael Wood, author of a book about the film. There's a new piece about the movie and its significance regarding sexual politics in cinema. You also get an archival interview with Deneuve, and the usual awesome Criterion booklet.

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

The second season of this excellent series just concluded a few weeks ago, and it was a doozy. If you haven't seen an episode, know that it is addictive—and if you have seen all of Season 2, do not talk about it to friends unless you are sure they have seen it as well.

This set contains Season 1, as the saga of Enoch "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi) begins. Thompson is loosely based on a real Atlantic City politician, Enoch Lewis "Nucky" Johnson. Johnson rose to power during the Prohibition era, as does Thompson in the show.

The criminally underrated Michael Pitt stars as James "Jimmy" Darmody, a protégé of Thompson who becomes at odds with Nucky as the series progresses. There's also the mighty Michael Shannon as the conflicted Agent Nelson Van Alden, one of the more messed-up law-enforcement officers to hit screens in a long time.

Kelly Macdonald, Josh Brolin's sad wife in No Country for Old Men, scores big points as Thompson's mistress, as does Paz de la Huerta as the woman she replaces. You'll also find Dabney Coleman as Jimmy's influential father, and Gretchen Mol as his hot and troublesome mother.

One must acknowledge the amazing acting achievements of Jack Huston (grandson of John Huston), who plays Richard Harrow, a World War I veteran left with half a face who wears a creepy mask to hide his scars. Huston is one of the unsung heroes of this show.

Plot lines include Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, and while Season 1 is a good start, Season 2 is where things go completely nuts. I have no idea what direction this show will go in when it returns for a third season on HBO, but I know I will be watching.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This one is loaded with making-ofs, commentaries and featurettes on Atlantic City history. If you buy it at Best Buy, you get an extra disc containing the first episode of the second season, and more features. Most notably, you get "enhanced viewing" on all episodes, with picture-in-picture info about the history of Atlantic City and the making of the show. A lot of work went into this package.

Moneyball (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Billy Beane's turn-of-the-century baseball feats are at the core of this sports film with a big brain. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are electric in the story of how the Oakland A's were able to compete with the big-market boys while utilizing a miniscule budget.

"Moneyball" refers to the way Beane and his cronies used stats to determine what players were actually worth in dollars for runs produced. In one amazing year, Beane was able to repeat the success of a prior year while replacing big guns like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon with a combination of question marks and major league toss-offs.

Bennett Miller has put together a quiet yet rousing film that features many minutes of Pitt and Hill simply talking to each other—and it's entirely absorbing. Hill plays Peter Brand, who is actually a representation of real-life former Beane assistant Paul DePodesta. Hill is funny, but in an understated way, as opposed to his more-raucous comedy roles.

For baseball fans, it's a must see. The love of the game is palpable in every frame. If you couldn't care less about baseball, you still must see it. The strategy and risk-taking that went into Beane's scheme is an amazing thing to behold.

SPECIAL FEATURES: My favorite is a blooper of Pitt trying to deliver a serious line while facing Hill—and failing miserably. His constantly breaking up and laughing is guaranteed to induce smiles. There are plenty of making-of featurettes that delve into casting and the making of the film. There are also interviews with the real Billy Beane. A Beane commentary would've been cool, but no such luck.

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