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Synecdoche, New York (Blu-Ray)

Sony Pictures Classics
Movie A-
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Writer Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut is one of the most complicated and intricate movies of the last 20 years; it's also one of the saddest. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Caden, a theater director who decides to stage a play about, well, everything, using a huge warehouse to produce a replica of New York. Of course, the replica must contain a replica of the warehouse where his play is being staged, and on, and on ...

Kaufman pulls no punches while sharing his views of the universe: We are all going to die; we all have the same views of ourselves on our deathbeds; we are all basically the same person. I imagine one's capacity to enjoy this film rests on one's ability to not be totally depressed by these ideas.

If Kaufman were to retire from writing and directing after this, it would make sense. What can he say after this? I, for one, will be watching.

Special Features: A surprisingly candid Kaufman sits down for a screenwriting forum and discusses this and other scripts, like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. There are also multiple documentaries about the movie, including interviews with Hoffman and Kaufman.


Let the Right One In (Blu-Ray)

Magnolia
Movie A
Special Features C-
DVD Geek Factor 7.75 (out of 10)

Tomas Alfredson's Swedish Let the Right One In is a moving story about Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a young boy victimized by bullies who befriends Eli (Lina Leandersson), the new girl next door. She's only out at night and can solve a Rubik's Cube like it's no big deal. She also occasionally sucks on the necks of passers-by.

This is one of the better vampire films you will ever see. Alfredson doesn't just go for scares; he tells a heartbreaking story about adolescent struggles, and peppers it with moments of dread and violence. The two kids he has cast are brilliant; when Oskar plays in a pool near the film's end and thinks a bully is befriending him, it will tear your heart out.

The vampire action is the stuff of nightmares. When Eli latches on to somebody's neck--an action often preceded by a dog-like bark--it's scary. Even scarier is the story of her helper, an elderly man who slaughters people for their blood so Eli doesn't have to kill.

Had I seen this before, it would've made my 2008 Top 10 list for sure. Americans are remaking the film, and I'm quite sure they will screw it up.

Special Features: Some deleted scenes and a short behind-the-scenes look.


Primal Fear: Hard Evidence Edition (Blu-Ray)

Paramount
Movie B
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

Edward Norton's screen debut was a humdinger, for sure. As Aaron, a stammering murder suspect with a big secret, he set his career in motion and guaranteed himself nice roles for a long time. His performance was Oscar-nominated and critically hailed, overshadowing the work of big-name co-star Richard Gere, who also happened to deliver one of his career-best performances.

Gere plays Martin Vale, a big-time lawyer seeking fame and fortune. While he believes in justice for all, he doesn't necessarily care whether his clients are guilty or not--he just wants the publicity. When he becomes the lawyer for Norton's character, he finds himself having a crisis of conscience, because he begins believing his client is innocent. The film's final scenes are so good that they make the so-so movie that preceded it better.

Special Features: While Gere is nowhere to be seen, Norton sits down for a couple of decent retrospectives on the film and his casting. Among the revelations: Leonardo DiCaprio came pretty close to playing Aaron, and Norton went through a long trial period before landing the role.


Brokeback Mountain (Blu-Ray)

Universal
Movie A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8.5 (out of 10)

This film offers up something different each time I watch it. Sometimes, it's a beautiful forbidden love story; sometimes, it's a blunt statement about ignorance and homophobia; sometimes, it's a movie about a couple of jerky guys treating their wives like shit. Whichever way I perceive it, the movie is always very, very good.

The last time I watched it, the movie was rather sad, because Heath Ledger is dead, and his work here is just so powerful and brilliant. To know we won't get anything from him again (other than his yet-to-be-released final film with Terry Gilliam) is a downer, and his death definitely affected my experience of watching the new Blu-Ray version. The transfer is outstanding; if you have made the leap to Blu-Ray, get this disc, and pawn your standard one.

Special Features: There are some good holdovers from the standard DVD, including plenty of features about the making of the movie and its score, and a focus on director Ang Lee.

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