DVD: The Great Gatsby—Paramount
A great book does not necessarily make a great movie, as anyone who ever seen Demi Moore's version of The Scarlet Letter will certainly attest to. There have been three big-screen adaptations of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby since 1926; if any of them had the most potential, it was the 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. The script was written by Francis Ford Coppola (fresh off The Godfather), and the studio spared no expense on the budget required to reproduce the lavish Roaring 20s Long Island lifestyle. Unfortunately, this version of The Great Gatsby is pretentious, boring, and utterly lifeless—in other words, it's a lot like the elite socialites who make up most of the cast of characters.
DVD: Animal House: The Double Secret Probation Edition—Universal Video: 3 Audio: 3 Extras: 4 National Lampoon's Animal House may be a comedy classic that you can watch again and again, but does that also mean you have to buy it again and again? The new Double Secret Probation Edition is the third version of Animal House to hit DVD shelves, and even the gullible girls at Emily Dickinson College wouldn't fall for this scam, would they? There's no denying the greatness of the film itself, but most fans would likely already own the Collector's Edition released in 1998. Is this new version really worth buying Animal House for a second or even a third time? Surprisingly, it is.
DVD: Ararat—Buena Vista Video: 2 Audio: 3 Extras: 4 An overlooked historical tragedy—Turkey's genocide of its Armenian population during World War I—is at the heart of this drama by Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter). The atrocities that occurred take on new resonance for members of a contemporary Armenian-Canadian family involved in the filming of a movie about the holocaust, as each grasps for meaning in the events that lead to the deaths of their ancestors and, indirectly, their own fathers. The film-within-a-film structure, combined with a plot device in which one character explains the genocide to a jaded customs agent sniffing for smuggled heroin, creates a complex but oddly dispassionate canvas for this powerful story. Expect to think, even if you can't fully relate to the second-hand oppression these people feel.
DVD: Die Another Day—MGM/UA Video: 5 Audio: 5 Extras: 5 Forty years, 20 movies, and five Bonds. Technically, Die Another Day is the 22nd Bond film, as MGM/UA doesn't count the unofficial Never Say Never Again and Casino Royale. Die Another Day is one of the best in years, with picturesque locations, great action, and lots of special effects. Unfortunately, the dialogue seems to have been written by a 13-year-old boy. It's heinous and painful. Every line that doesn't directly relate to the plot is a brutally bad sexual innuendo. Not clever, just stupid. The plot is pure Bond, though, as the son of a North Korean general harnesses the sun's power to destroy all of the land mines that separate North and South Korea so that he can take over the country.
DVD: Down with Love—20th Century Fox
With a wink and a nod toward the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic romps of the 1960s, Down with Love centers on author Barbara Novak (Renée Zellweger), whose feminist tome tells women all over New York to forego love in order to get ahead in their lives. But when Novak is wooed unsuspectingly by ladies' man and magazine writer Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), her detailed plan is derailed.
An unconventional horse trainer, a disillusioned car dealer, and a jockey that's a bit too tall place their hopes on a small racehorse in Seabiscuit. Based on the true story of these three men, the film takes place during the aftermath of the 1929 stock-market crash, a time when every American needed to believe that the impossible was within reach. And when the horse that no one was betting on reached the finish line, the nation was anxiously watching.
DVD: The Guru—Universal Audio: 2 Video: 3 Extras: 2 Are there any excuses for a movie like this? The self-proclaimed romantic comedy The Guru doesn't elicit the faintest smile as it plods through a mediocre storyline that's studded with unentertaining musical sequences. We're forced to sit though the story of Ramu (Jimi Mistry), an Indian guy who dreams of a grand life in the United States buy instead gets stuck working in a restaurant once he arrives. In a desperate attempt at stardom, he takes a job on a porn flick and befriends his costar (Heather Graham), who gives him more than enough sage advice on love and sex. He then turns that advice into a career of his own—a fake sex guru for lonely rich women. Unfortunately, if there's anything entertaining here, I don't see it. They lost me when Ramu stripped to his underwear and did Tom Cruise's Risky Business number in Hindi.
DVD: Uptown Girls—MGM/UA
Eight-year-old Ray (Dakota Fanning), the daughter of a wealthy but inattentive mom and a father on his deathbed, never had a proper childhood. Molly (Brittany Murphy), the suddenly penniless daughter of a deceased rock icon, seems to have never entered adulthood. When Molly is recruited as a nanny to the obsessively clean, wise-beyond-her-years girl, they both learn how to act their ages.
DVD: Basic—Columbia TriStar Video: 4 Audio: 4 Extras: 3 John Travolta oozes duplicitous charisma, Connie Nielsen adds international gravitas, and Samuel L. Jackson shouts a lot in this confusing tale of a military exercise gone wrong, and its aftermath. Or was the entire fiasco was just an elaborate ruse? This labyrinthine-for-its-own-sake, utterly unsatisfying would-be thriller is too complicated to be entertaining and too much of a trifle for most audiences to care.