Playing outside the multiplexes


Charlize Theron may have looked stunning accepting her Best Actress Academy Award, but The Italian Job star was nearly unrecognizable in last winter’s Monster. The film portrays the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos with a rather sympathetic approach. Instead of focusing on her crimes or victims, Monster was 2003’s sweetest romance, surrounded by dark images of murder and prostitution. At the film’s center was the bond between Aileen (Theron) and Selby (Christina Ricci) and the unfortunate set of events that separated the lovers.

The DVD is sparsely packaged, with a small selection of special features. The disc has a “making-of” featurette that gives viewers an inside look at the making of Monster and Theron’s unflattering transformation from beauty to beast. The Monster DVD also boasts an interview with writer/director Patty Jenkins that, while interesting, is particularly lifeless. See it for Theron’s awe-inspiring performance, but don’t see it for an accurate portrayal of Wuornos’s life. Monster was a highlight last year, but the flick’s summer DVD release is nothing noteworthy.

Along Came Polly

Along Came Polly not only steals Friends’s biggest star, Jennifer Aniston; even the film’s key scene is basically ripped from the uber-popular sitcom. Ben Stiller sticks to the same character he’s become accustomed to playing and the outcome is a performance that seems routine. Aniston tries her hardest to breathe life into Polly Prince’s underdeveloped character. Along Came Polly sports a talented supporting cast, with Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Debra Messing managing to challenge the two leads for the biggest laughs.

Ruben is an insurance risk analyst who seemingly has everything: a career, a wife and a recently acquired home. But, on only the second day of his honeymoon, Lisa (Messing) decides Ruben (Stiller) is too predictable and does the deal with her scuba instructor, Claude (Hank Azaria), who happens to also be a French nudist. Two weeks later, Polly walks into his life and turns it upside down with spicy food, salsa dancing and graphic children’s novels.

The supposed shocking moment in which Ruben puts both Lisa and new love Polly into the Risk Master, a software program that analyzes a person’s risk factor, is uninspired. Flash back to 1995, when Ross (David Schwimmer) is trying to decide on whom to pursue, Julie or high-school crush, Rachel (Aniston). If you’re curious as to how Along Came Polly turns out, just watch the rerun on TBS.

The DVD is well equipped with an array of special features and promotional material. The disc has a handful of deleted scenes and outtakes that are merely enjoyable. Along Came Polly gets a wonderful DVD treatment with an alternate opening, a comical featurette “Rudolfo goes to Hollywood,” and a commentary with director John Hamburg.

Along Came Polly is chock full of clichés and plot holes, but the DVD is a consistent package that, for fans of the film, will make a decent addition to their collection.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Besides sweeping the Academy Awards with 11 wins, Return of the King was simply one of 2003’s best films and a thrilling conclusion to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Every aspect of the film screamed epic, from the landscape shots to the drawn-out battles to the inspirational speeches, but ROTK captured all the glory of the last two movies and drew a warm close to fantasy’s greatest theatrical trilogy.

The movie is visually captivating, from the breathtaking action sequence to the surreal magical environment. Peter Jackson brilliantly made the LOTR films cinematic events rather than disappointing adaptations of beloved literary works.

Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) move closer to Mordor and destroying the ring. Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) prepare for war against the dark forces.

Return of the King’s two-disc release is just an appetizer for the four-disc extended edition that will hit store shelves in November. The discs come crammed with documentaries, deleted scenes and a horde of promotional materials.

The supplements are both well worth the time and complement the film, offering insights into and facts about the story behind the LOTR franchise. New Line has pulled out the stops in honoring this film with the transfers and extras the movie and its fans deserve.

The Return of the King is a stunning picture that not only matches the hype but exceeds even the most cynical person’s expectations.