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Coriolanus (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Coriolanus was one of my least-favorite Shakespeare creations ... until now.

Ralph Fiennes, in his directing debut, stars as the title character and turns Shakespeare's rather boring play into something positively transcendent. Actually, it wasn't the play that was boring; it was my interpretation of it. Fiennes saw something in the play that was timeless, and he's put something special onscreen. His version is something to be admired.

The play was set in Rome, as is this film, although this modern Rome could be a city anywhere in the world. It's a place stricken by turmoil, with a dissatisfied lower class fighting for food and looking for sound leadership.

Leading the Roman army is Martius (Fiennes), a professional-killer general with little interest in power or fame. After a huge victory, he is renamed Coriolanus, and given a post in the government. The people support him at first, but are easily dissuaded (much like Americans tend to lose enthusiasm about our elected presidents), and he is eventually banished for his unwillingness to play ball.

Coriolanus sides with the enemy, led by Aufidius (Gerard Butler, kicking mortal ass). Everything plays out in a very Shakespearean way, with betrayal, killings and strange mother-son relationships. Vanessa Redgrave is awesome as Coriolanus' conniving mommy.

Other performers include Jessica Chastain as Coriolanus' wife; Brian Cox as Menenius, a high-ranking friend; and James Nesbitt and Paul Jesson as Sicinius and Brutus, governmental enemies of Coriolanus.

Fiennes makes this as contemporary as can be, with battle scenes reminiscent of close-quarters conflicts overseas, and television that looks an awful lot like Fox News.

Shakespeare, thanks to Fiennes, fits right in with modern times, depicting a fickle, angry public; slanted media; and government officials looking to forward nothing but their own interests. Had I seen this movie last year, when it was released, it would've ranked in my Top 20 list.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A highly recommended audio commentary features Fiennes, who does a terrific job of explaining his motivations for the film. There is plenty of passion for the subject matter in Fiennes' performance, and that passion is equaled in his directing. It's obvious from this commentary that he had total command of his set and his objectives. You also get a making-of featurette with participation from much of the cast.

The Sting (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Doesn't it seem like Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in at least five movies together? The reality is, they only shared the bill in two (this, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). They had such great screen chemistry that it just seems like they did so much more together.

This one paired them as two con men looking to take down a bad banker (Robert Shaw). Johnny Hooker (Redford) has a friend killed by Lonnegan (Shaw), so he seeks out the help of master conman Henry Gondorff (Newman), who agrees to mastermind the con of the century.

While Newman had been at it for awhile, this featured Redford at his peak, and he lights up the screen as Hooker. Newman's work, as always, is effortlessly charming. Shaw is great as a scumbag here, just two years before he would play one of cinema's all-time-great fishermen, the mighty Quint in Jaws. The big ending is still fun to watch.

There was a lot of talk about Newman and Redford reuniting for another project, but Newman died before it could happen.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The making-of documentaries are holdovers from another DVD edition, and they are very much worth watching, featuring participation from Redford and Newman. You also get some of those Universal Studios 100 Year Anniversary features, including a great one about the '70s, and another about the back lot.

Certified Copy (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

This is a beautifully made, pleasantly tricky movie from writer-director Abbas Kiarostami, starring Juliette Binoche as a woman who goes to see an author (William Shimell) give a lecture. The two meet up and start talking, and many strange and wonderful things transpire.

Rather than trying to figure out what is real and what is fantasy in this film, it's best to just relax and watch. Binoche, who won Best Actress honors at Cannes for her work here, delivers what may be her career-best performance, utilizing three languages and keeping the audience interested every step of the way. Shimell is equally good as the befuddled man who may or may not be someone important to Binoche's character.

I loved every moment of these performers together, and found the whole thing captivating.

SPECIAL FEATURES: There's a revealing interview with the director; a nearly hourlong documentary on the making of the film; The Report, another feature-length movie from the director; and a collectors' booklet.

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