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All Quiet on the Western Front (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

The timeless World War I movie classic gets a beautiful restoration for Universal Pictures' 100th anniversary. This 1930 movie has lost none of its sting over the years. As a kid, I was more familiar with the Ernest Borgnine/Richard Thomas version of the film—it was good—but this is clearly the superior version.

The movie offers a sympathetic portrayal of German soldiers and a distinct anti-war message. The film opens with some words on how the film isn't an "adventure," and while it boasts some amazingly elaborate battle scenes, it certainly doesn't boast the glories of war. It's a very bleak film in which all of the main characters die by the end.

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, it had a surprising amount of gore and violence for its time. In part, that's because films didn't really start getting censored until a few years later. There are surprising and shocking moments of bloodletting and even severed body parts. Having not seen this film in a long time, those moments shocked me.

This film came out during the dawn of movie sound, so some of the performances are overdone physically. Still, much of the work here by the actors is so good that their approach to the parts would work in a movie on the same subject today. (Another remake is currently kicking around, but hasn't gotten off the ground yet.)

SPECIAL FEATURES: While this version doesn't have a lot of behind-the-scenes or archival stuff, it does come with the silent-movie version of the film. Since "talkies" had just started, some studios were making silent versions of their big movies, especially for foreign markets. You also get a nice booklet with an essay by Leonard Maltin, an interesting and angry letter from the film's director about people altering his movie, and some featurettes about Universal's 100th anniversary.

J. Edgar (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This is a shockingly bad film—especially when you consider the talent involved. Leonardo DiCaprio is woefully miscast in this confused biopic from director Clint Eastwood. Eastwood usually makes good to great movies, but when he blows it, he really blows it.

DiCaprio employs an annoying voice that grates during the film's narration. The movie covers the man's early years, moves through his brushes with the Kennedys, and goes all the way to his death. It also deals with the possible homosexual relationship between Hoover and Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer). Both actors are buried under pounds of often-terrible makeup, which distracts from the proceedings in a big, sloppy way.

With this and the awful Dream House, Naomi Watts had a terrible year.

SPECIAL FEATURES: One featurette that examines Hoover's life.

Tower Heist (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy star in this routine heist film from director Brett Ratner that starts strong but has a real dud finish.

Stiller plays the manager of a building where one of its inhabitants, a rich Bernie Madoff-like skunk (Alan Alda), has stolen his pension—and the pensions of his fellow employees. Stiller conspires with a group that includes a funny Michael Peña, Matthew Broderick and Murphy to steal their money back from Alda's penthouse.

While it's cool to see Murphy in a streetwise role, he overdoes it a bit. I couldn't help but wish the film were R-rated so he could drop some mighty F-bombs. The final heist gets way out of hand, to the point of stupidity.

Pairing Murphy and Stiller was a good idea. Making their vehicle run-of-the-mill was not.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Some alternate endings and deleted scenes, a gag reel, a feature commentary with the director, and a few other things.

The Rum Diary (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Johnny Depp has his second go-round with the late Hunter S. Thompson in this flat adaptation of one of the author's earlier novels. Depp plays Kemp, a wannabe journalist (a Thompson alter ego) who moves to Puerto Rico to drink, use drugs and—oh, yeah—take a freelance newspaper job.

The film has its share of interesting supporting characters, including Giovanni Ribisi as a raging alcoholic and Aaron Eckhart as a shifty entrepreneur. But the film never goes anywhere, with Amber Heard offering nothing besides her awe-inspiring beauty as the romantic interest.

Only true Thompson fans will find any interest, and even they will have their patience tested. There's a good hallucination scene, and I like the Ribisi stuff, but this is a stale affair. It cost $45 million to make and brought in $13 million at the domestic box office, so it was a bomb.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Some pretty good making-of featurettes.

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