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Michael Giltz

Michael Giltz

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DVDs: Tracy and Hepburn -- The Greatest Screen Team Of All Time

Posted: 04/15/11 05:24 PM ET

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TRACY & HEPBURN: THE DEFINITIVE COLLECTION ($59.98; Warner Bros.) -- So what's your pick for the greatest screen team of them all? William Powell and Myrna Loy? (I do love The Thin Man.) Bob Hope and Bing Crosby with their nutty Road movies? Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? Laurel and Hardy? Focus on actors who made at least a few movies together. Think all you like about it -- my money is on Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. This boxed set makes the case. They made nine films together: two are pretty dull (Sea of Grass and Keeper Of The Flame) and one is well-intentioned and very dull (Guess Who's Coming To Dinner). That leaves six films that are good to great. Among the good are Desk Set and Pat & Mike and Without Love. The greats? Woman Of The Year. State Of The Union. Adam's Rib. That would be enough for any career but those are just the movies they made together. Tracy is simply the greatest screen actor of them all; his naturalness on camera is a wonder to behold. Listen to him deliver a speech in Union about the greatness of this country and see how he makes it sound so convincing and true, an idea that just popped into his head. (Please, someone get Obama to watch this film. It could have been written yesterday.) And no one ever listened better to their co-stars, fed them more energy and support. Hepburn ain't so bad herself. And together they have that chemistry that so many movies strive for but rarely reach. The way her eyes shine when looking at him in Dinner. The way they fight in Adam's Rib, in only the way people in love can truly fight. Their dynamic is still my image of what a relationship should be: two equals, holding on to their own identities and ideals just as strongly as they fight for and love the other. The capper is Hepburn's TV tribute to Tracy after he died. If you don't tear up when she reads the letter she wrote to her late love, then I don't want to know you. Now tell me your pick for the best team of them all. Or if you prefer, the runners-up to Tracy & Hepburn.


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LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD COMPLETE COLLECTION ($179.98; BBC)
DR. QUINN MEDICINE WOMAN SEASON ONE ($29.95; A&E)
HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN SEASON ONE ($29.95; A&E)

Family programming is very hard to make well, avidly looked for by audiences who don't always want edgy material when they're sitting down together with their kids to see some drama and often treated with disdain by networks even when the shows are hits. Brenda Hampton created 7th Heaven, one of the biggest drama hits of all time and yet all the networks spurned her ideas for new shows and Hampton found a new home on ABC Family. Lark Rise was -- I emphasize was -- one of the biggest hits of them all in the UK. And yet new programming heads decided they had too many period dramas and cancelled it outright in the midst of its fourth season. Fans can catch up with this solid, very well-acted show about a young woman who leaves her small village to work in the bustling town of Cranford, which itself is pretty small, so it all feels rather Little House-ish with a British accent. Dr. Quinn and Highway To Heaven are also out again in single season sets at $30 each. How did I miss Joseph Gordon-Levitt popping up in season one of Quinn? Enjoy them; major TV networks are too busy trying to find the next bloody and violent Sopranos to waste their time with TV families always want to watch.

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CASINO JACK ($29.98 BluRay or $22.98 regular DVD; FOX) -- Kevin Spacey stars in this broad, loopy look at Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who was once the toast of K Street and had direct access to the White House. We start with Spacey in prison, so we know Abramoff is headed for a fall. But while Spacey has snap in the role, it's not that interesting to see him and his partner get ballsier and more crude in their influence peddling. I wish there were more sting, either in Abramoff's self-awareness of his crimes or our awareness of how much we might enjoy similar power. But they're basically jerks with no real talent for anything but bullying and coercion, so what's the fun in that? Jon Lovitz however steals away with another movie, thanks to his droll and very funny turn as a mattress king looking to get into casinos. A movie about him? Now that would be worth gambling on.

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TAXI DRIVER ON BLURAY ($24.95; Sony) -- James Cameron and Peter Jackson have made a lot of noise about shooting movies at a higher speed (48 or 60 frames per second instead of the usual 24 fps). That might eliminate the headaches some feel when watching 3-D and definitely provides a startling increase in image quality that Jackson compared to the difference between an LP and a compact disc. Did you know that BluRays can display movies at 60 fps? You need a high quality TV to get the benefits of course, but I must say that watching Taxi Driver on BluRay has blown me away. It feels like a completely different experience, radically changed from how I saw it on what always seemed like muddy prints in the past. It's different emotionally and visually in subtle and obvious ways. Is this what Martin Scorsese was looking at on his editing deck and what he wanted us to see, the way so many classic albums sound closer to the original masters on CD than an audio cassette ever could? This comes loaded with bonus features but the real bonus is to watch a movie that may be overly familiar to you and have it seem so fresh and new.

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HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 ($35.99 BluRay combo pack; Warner Bros.) -- Yes, this movie felt like one long prelude to the whiz bang action we're going to see in the finale. (I for one can't wait to see Maggie Smith leading a charge of desks.) The Potter DVDs have always been stuffed with extras and then restuffed on more elaborate sets down the road. Surely there will be one massive boxed set when all is said and done so you know whether to dive in or wait. I will say this set offers a BluRay, a DVD and a digital copy. I's on sale for about $23, which is pretty darn good. You can get just a DVD or BluRay for $14 or $17 respectively, so they're all quite good deals and it's nice to see BluRay slowly lowering its prices to meet regular DVDs. They shouldn't be a premium, just a nice bonus for those who keep buying DVDs and want the best quality.

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WHITE MATERIAL
LE CIRCLE ROUGE ($39.95 each on BluRay; Criterion) -- Criterion presents with care the latest film from director Claire Denis. It shows a white woman in an African country who refuses to abandon the family farm even as rebels overtake the government and threaten to wipe out competing tribes and of course colonial whites (even ones born and raised there). One reads about such people and thinks, "Why would they stay?" This film does a good job of getting under the skin of one such woman, played by Isabelle Huppert. It goes off the rails at the end, but it's intelligently made, boasts a great score by Tindersticks and comes with the solid extras pne expects. Jean-Pierre Melville made so many great crime films -- Rififi, Le Samorai, Bob Le Flambeur, Le Doulos -- it's hard to know where to begin. Why not with Le Circle Rouge, featuring Alain Delon as an ex-con who pulls off an easy heist only to discover that it's just as hard to avoid mistakes after the crime as it is during it. one great bonus includes 30 minutes of on-set footage that gives you a peek at them while they work.

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ANYTHING GOES ($29.98; E One) -- If you can't make it to Broadway for the new blockbuster revival of Cole Porter's Anything Goes, check out this condensed version made for TV. It was performed live and features Ethel Merman in the role she indelibly stamped forever, along with a game Frank Sinatra and Bert Lahr. It's great fun to see them romping their way through the show and then taking bows in front of a live audience. Catnip for theater buffs.

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COUNTRY STRONG ($34.95 BluRay or $28.95 regular; Screen Gems; Sony) -- This is a curious little movie. It hits every cliche about a washed-up country singer (Gwyneth Paltrow) hoping for a comeback and watching younger and perkier women hot on her trail (Leighton Meester). And it ends terribly. But scene to scene it's actually kind of good, even though the script bungles by avoiding obvious steps like having Paltrow perform the song she writes with Garrett Hedlund at the very beginning when about to leave rehab. In fact, Paltrow's big moment in the spotlight is presented incompetently by writer-director Shana Feste, who never lets Paltrow deliver one big number for an emotional release but cuts and cuts from a piece of one song to another. Tim McGraw is fine as Paltrow's pushy husband. But the real delights were Hedlund and Meester, who have great chemistry together and sing well and even get the best musical moment: a duet called "Give In To Me," which bizarrely is only included on the second soundtrack and not the first.

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BABE ($26.98; Universal) -- Babe is one of the greats, and just in the category of family films. It makes my short list for one of the best 100 movies of all time. It comes from writer-producer George Miller, who has unquestionably been creating one of the most unique bodies of work in film history. My only complaint is that the darker, weirder sequel Babe: Pig In The City isn't also on this disc as the perfect double bill. If you've never seen the original, you're in for a treat. But be forewarned: for a week or two afterwards, your kids may insist on being vegetarians.

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H.R. PUFNSTUF: THE COMPLETE SERIES ($34.97; Vivendi) -- I can't pretend this trippy little series by Sid & Marty Krofft is actually good; I can't claim it has a subversive crazy appeal and adults will discover an unexpected treat. No, it's just very strange and makes you wonder how it ever got on the air. But it does have a perverse pull for someone like me who saw the show when it originally aired. And God knows you can have a good laugh (not at it, with it -- everyone involved clearly knew this was campy nonsense) watching an episode or two. But the novelty soon fades. I am, however, inordinately pleased by the collectible bobblehead of Mr. Pufnstuf himself.

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FIDDLER ON THE ROOF 40TH ANNIVERSARY ($29.99 BluRay and DVD combo; MGM) -- Like My Fair Lady, this film has always seemed a rather turgid capturing of a landmark Broadway musical. Still, it's good to have Topol's Oscar-nominated performance captured forever and the movie certainly looks smashing. The extras are voluminous.

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THE INCREDIBLES ($45.99 BluRay combo pack; Disney) -- After the Toy Story trilogy, this might be the ideal introduction to what makes Pixar so great. It's a tremendous action film, a great superhero movie, a warm family drama and filled with humor. The attention to detail is marvelous with characters getting just as much focus as the set-pieces that will blow you away. The combo is a little pricey and they don't offer a BluRay on its own, though for $25 on sale, it's a good buy to have a BluRay for the home theater, a DVD for the car or boat and a digital copy for laptops and iPads. If it came to $20 for the set, you'd be talking an unbeatable deal. And for a movie this good, I'd pay double. If you like Spiderman and The Dark Knight movies, you have to watch this (and probably already did).

DON'T FORGET: Let me know what your pick is for the greatest movie team of all time.

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the co-host of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It's available free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes. Link to him on Netflix and gain access to thousands of ratings and reviews.

NOTE: Michael Giltz is provided with free copies of DVDs to consider for review. He typically does not guarantee coverage and invariably receives far more screeners and DVDs than he can cover each week. Also, Michael Giltz freelances as a writer of DVD copy (the text that appears on the back of DVDs) for some titles released by IFC and other subsidiaries of MPI. It helps pay the rent, but does not obligate him in any way to speak positively or negatively of their titles.

 

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