Week Ending February 6, 2004 Introduction Since this is the first installment of what I hope to be a weekly submission, let me give you a little background of what I am trying to accomplish. Early last year I resigned myself from doing DVD reviews. After writing nearly 400 in the span of just over two years, I found myself burnt out, unable and unwilling to write anything further. I gave the position up to 7 unknowns who have been doing an incredible job of providing this forum with quality DVD reviews every week. What I have discovered as of late is that this is a very exciting time for DVD. From classics to New Releases, never before have there been so many really good DVD titles released to this format. I have had the chance to sit and watch some really outstanding films over the past few weeks. Most of them are titles that were personally recommended to me -- most blind purchases I took a gamble on and found myself completely enjoying. I don't want these films to be missed by those who may overlook it on their shelves just because it may not be a mainstream release. For the next few weeks, for as long as I can put a few sentences together, I am going to write about some of the "gems" that I have had the opportunity to watch. These will not be full-fledge reviews. I may only briefly touch upon transfer quality or the supplements. My main purpose is to personally recommend DVD titles to our readers. Here we go..... The Diary of Anne Frank I have grown extremely fond of the assortment of Fox Studio Classics that have been released over the past year. I have made it a point to watch just about everything the studio has released under its classic label, and have yet to be disappointed. Of all the Studio Classics that have been released, perhaps none is as important as The Diary of Anne Frank, the extraordinary story of a family who spent two years hiding from the Nazis in an Amsterdam attic. At 3 hours in length, the film manages to take its viewers through an exhaustive journey inside cramped spacing as we bear witness to the various emotions of a family confined under duress conditions. Having known very little about Anne Frank, I found this film to be very touching, and highly educational. Most of all, it stands as a powerful reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust. All the performances are outstanding here -- particularly that of Millie Perkins, a model that had no previous acting experience before this film was made. Many film veterans will recognize Shelley Winters and Ed Wynn, both providing memorable moments. I was very proud of the supplements that Fox put on this disc, particularly Echoes From The Past, a documentary that gives more insight into the Anne Frank story. You'll see interviews from her friends, as well as actresses Millie Perkins and Shelley Winters. There's also fascinating insight into director George Stevens and how his personal vision (and struggle with Fox's request to film in Cinemascope) made this film the triumph that it is. To see what a superb job Fox has done on this transfer, one only has to look at the condition of the original prints shown in the documentaries. Without a doubt, this is one to buy! Secondhand Lions I love it when the younger generation gets to appreciate the talents of film veterans like Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. In what easily can be described as a family film, Secondhand Lions manages to bring big smiles across all generations. Uncles Hub (Duvall) and Garth (Caine) are tough old codgers who are believed to be residing upon a pile of money. They spend their day sitting on their porch, taking shotgun aim at at every salesman and family member that happens along. Walter (Haley Joel Osment) isn't initially very happy his Mother dropped him off to live with his eccentric Uncles, but soon the boy bonds with his distant relatives and interesting adventures begin. Truly one of the sleeper films of the year, Secondhand Lions is terrific fun, full of laughs and surprises. Most of all, it's just great to sit back and watch Caine and Duvall having the times of their lives in very unexpected PG-RATED roles. Trust me, this is the perfect film for family gathering. American Splendor I first heard of this film early last year when a huge buzz was created at Cannes and the Sundance Film Festival. Every review I read practically raved that this was the most brilliant of the year. The critics weren't wrong. In the performance of his career, Paul Giamatti plays Harvey Pekar, a filing clerk at a local veterans hospital in Cleveland. He's a regular curmudgeon who comes into fame through his real-life story told in the American Splendor comic book. Though not a real upbeat film, American Splendor manages instead to be a fascinating look at a man filled with rage and loneliness who only looks to be loved. What I enjoyed most about this film was its stylish means of telling its story through its live action, comic book animation, and interaction with the real life people the film portrays. By the time the film is over, you can't help but to be touched by it all. That's it for this week. See you next week!