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The Chaplin Collection: Volume Two

Warner Bros.
Movie Grade: See Review
Special Features: A+
DVD Geek Factor: 9.5 (out Of 10)

The derby, the rectangular moustache, the funky shoes and that famous waddle accompanied only by music. For many, Charles Chaplin was simply the Tramp, a silent film star with an astonishingly expressive face and huge gift for physical comedy. In truth, he was a maverick director on par with the likes of Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock who made movies well into the '60s.

The Chaplin Collection: Volume 2 includes some of Chaplin's most celebrated works, like his silent The Kid (1921) and City Lights (1931), as well as underappreciated "talkies" like Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and A King in New York (1957). With Verdoux, Chaplin (who often wrote his own screenplays and composed his scores) shocked audiences by completely jettisoning the Tramp to play a serial killer who murdered rich women for their money. That shock helped fuel a growing public and political antagonism towards the star, who fled to Europe after being labeled by many as a Communist sympathizer.

Chaplin's entire career, from his first prominent screen appearance in Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) to his death on Christmas of '77, is captured in Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin. Directed by Time magazine critic Richard Schickel, it's an engaging tribute that features interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp and Woody Allen. Also contained in the package is The Circus (featuring the silent Charlie walking a tightrope while having his nose bitten by frightened monkeys), a two-disc set featuring A Woman in Paris and A King in New York, and The Chaplin Revue, a collection of seven classic silent shorts.

If you find this intriguing, Volume One is also a must. It gathers The Gold Rush, Modern Times, The Great Dictator (his first "sound" film, in which he lampooned Hitler) and Limelight.

Film grades for Volume 2: The Circus (A-); The Chaplin Revue (A-); The Kid (B+); City Lights (A+); Monsieur Verdoux (A-); A Woman in Paris (B-); A King in New York (B-); Charlie (A).

SPECIAL FEATURES: All of the films, with the exception of the documentary, come with tons of supplements, including featurettes, outtakes, sketches, historic film reels and much more. All of the films, except Verdoux and Charlie, get double-disc treatment, although the producers managed to fit a nice amount of extras on the Verdoux disc. Watch out, because once you get started watching these movies and extras, there's no stopping. Chaplin was one marvelously entertaining bastard.


Dummy

Artisan
Movie Grade: B-
Special Features: D+
DVD Geek Factor: 3 (out of 10)

You probably missed this one during its brief theatrical run. Adrien Brody followed up his Oscar-winning performance in The Pianist with this little film about a meager man and his love for ventriloquism. Brody plays Steven, who quits his job, buys a dummy and starts trying to talk without moving his lips--an infatuation that doesn't set well with his parents (with whom he still lives) or his grouchy sister (Illeana Douglas).

The film has its flaws, but Brody's performance is good, as is Milla Jovovich's, who plays his bizarre, rock-band-fronting friend. Jessica Walter, currently of TV's Arrested Development, is very funny as Steven's imbalanced mother, as is Jared Harris as a psychotic, community theater actor.

Brody looks to have mastered the art of ventriloquism to some degree for this role, which is a pretty major commitment, because that shit is hard. I had a Charlie McCarthy doll when I was a kid; I used to attempt ventriloquist shows for my family, and I sucked ass.

SPECIAL FEATURES: While the film is enjoyable, the special features are tiresome. Ventriloquist commentary by Jeff Dunham as well as a short film called Dummies 101: Learning the Ventriloquist Dream are both tedious. Deleted and alternate scenes are a waste of time.


Pieces of April

MGM
Movie Grade: A-
Special Features: C+
DVD Geek Factor: 4 (out of 10)

Writer-director Peter Hedges manages to tell one of 2003's sweeter stories with this tale of a wayward daughter, April (Katie Holmes), trying to prepare what could be her dying mother's (Patricia Clarkson) last Thanksgiving meal. When she goes to put the turkey in the oven, she discovers the oven is broken, requiring her to beg antisocial neighbors for assistance.

Made on the most meager of budgets, the film represents a true stepping stone for Holmes, who comes into her own as April. Clarkson was given a well-deserved Oscar nomination, and supporting work from Oliver Platt and Derek Luke help to make this a terrific example of ensemble acting. The film's conclusion, a beautifully honest and surprising moment, stays with you.

Hedges, who wrote What's Eating Gilbert Grape, makes an impressive directing debut. Stephin Merritt contributes tear-inducing music.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Not loaded, but there is a decent commentary by Hedges and a "making-of" documentary called All the Pieces Together. Supplements are nothing special, but the movie is a keeper.

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