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Raging Bull: Special Edition

(Part of the Martin Scorsese Collection)
Movie A
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 10 (out of 10)

A few years back, my brother spent a ton of money to get me the Raging Bull laserdisc for my birthday. It cost him hundreds of dollars to procure me something that wound up in my closet. The DVD might have my brother crying foul about ever-changing technologies, but it has me all happy and geeked out.

Raging Bull is largely regarded as the best movie of the '80s, and I think it's the best study ever put to screen of how jealousy and selfishness can ruin lives. Robert De Niro plays real-life former middleweight champion boxer Jake La Motta, a man who could deal out severe punishments in the ring, but who, for some sick reason, craved severe punishments in return. It's the story of a guy who had life by the tail but let it all go because he was convinced that his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) screwed his beautiful wife (Cathy Moriarty).

Shot in black and white (the film's only color sequence is a recreation of La Motta's home movies), this is simply one of the best-looking movies ever made. As far as film intros go, the slow-motion shadow boxing of a robed De Niro in the ring alone as the music of Pietro Mascagni plays in the background stands as Scorsese at his poetic best.

De Niro, who won an Oscar for his performance in the film, went through a legendary body transformation. Filming was shut down as he traveled to Italy and put on 60 pounds by eating pasta, pancakes and cheesecake. Scorsese had to shorten the workdays upon De Niro's return to filming because his physicality restricted him.

I remember my father renting this one for me to watch at home. He had heard it was a little rough, but my mom was out of town on vacation, so we could get away with watching an R-rated flick. By the time De Niro was screaming profanities in his prison cell, my father had to excuse himself from the room, telling me I could finish the movie if I wanted to, but that he couldn't take it anymore. (This is a guy who taught high school in New York with all those foul-mouthed kids, so consider how bad the language would have to be to force him out of the room.) I did finish the film, which made me fall in love with the art of moviemaking and taught me new and fabulous ways to utilize profanity.

The DVD can be purchased alone, or as part of The Martin Scorsese Film Collection, which also contains The Last Waltz (A-), New York, New York (C+) and Boxcar Bertha (D+), Scorsese's low-budget effort for producer Roger Corman.

Special Features: Viewers can watch the film with commentaries by the always-entertaining Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker; a cast and crew commentary that doesn't include any of the lead actors (still a good listen); and a "Storytellers" commentary that features the real LaMotta. Getting to hear LaMotta tell his boxing stories while struggling to breathe through his nose is DVD greatness. A second disc contains a series of documentaries that go into great detail about the making of the film, as well as a documentary on LaMotta himself.


Show B
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 6 (OUT OF 10)

Fox cancelled this decent series after airing just four episodes. It follows the travails of a Brown University graduate (the too-charming Caroline Dhavernas) who can only get a job working a souvenir counter at Niagara Falls after getting her degree. Puppets and toy animals speak to her, sending her sage advice and turning her into a sort of clairvoyant prophet who helps people in turmoil. The show works in large part due to Dhavernas' tremendous screen presence, and it's surprising that Fox canned it with 13 episodes ready for air. Now, fans of the first four shows get to see the entire series, and each episode offers its own quirky rewards. The four that aired happened to be the best, but the nine that were denied are far better than the average junk that dominates network broadcasting these days.

Special Features: A couple of cast and crew commentaries that are routine, and a preview documentary that explains the origins of the show. The true value of this package comes in getting all of the shows into your collection.

South Park: The Complete Fifth Season

Show A ... always an A
Special Features D
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

This season contains the infamous episode in which the residents of South Park say "shit" 162 times--a good enough reason for me to add it to my collection. It also offers the timely episode in which the kids meet up with Osama bin Laden. No need to go on too much about this one; you either love it or you don't, and those who love it will be very pleased.

Special Features: Trey Parker and Matt Stone offer brief commentaries on every episode. That's it.

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