A Masterpiece on Canvas

Week of December 7, 2006

Dec 6, 2006 at 4:00 am
Rocky: 2-Disc Collector's Edition (MGM)

An old TV commercial for Rocky included here compares Sylvester Stallone to Pacino, De Niro, and Brando -- and though we now know this to be pure madness, it's easy to see what inspired it. Sure, Stallone (who also wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay) slowly destroyed Rocky's legacy during his rise and fall as a bloated megastar, but this is a truly great film. Among the extras is a full-length making-of doc, during which everyone involved but the moldy bones of Burgess Meredith gets on their knees to praise the movie. There's also three commentary tracks and mini-docs about the awesome score, the makeup, the Steadicam -- the docs just keep coming, till you're ready to call Rocky the best film since the Lumière brothers set up shop. Of course, the Lumières never made Arrival of a Train Part VI. -- Jordan Harper

SNL: The Complete First Season (Universal)

The sketch-comedy junkie has waited decades for this fix: all 24 episodes from Saturday Night Live's debut season, presented for the first time in their entirety. It was worth the wait; amazingly, the deadpan "Wolverines" sketch that introduced the show still holds up, as do more infamous and important sketches, and most of the musical performances (Gil Scott Heron, Randy Newman; not Anne Murray, God). Yet the junkie also craves deeper pleasures, and they're provided by the collection of screen tests. Why, precisely, can't John Belushi stop with the sniffing? Was Dan Aykroyd, spitting out characters like peanut shells, genius or savant? And how did Chevy Chase, wooden as Noah's Ark, ever get the gig? Answers provided within, with some questions left remaining -- Anne Murray, chief among them. -- Robert Wilonsky

Miami Vice: Unrated

Director's Edition (Universal)

The first thing writer-director Michael Mann tells you in his commentary is that the title of this DVD's misleading; he would have preferred "the director's extended version of the film," which would have been cumbersome and also misleading; it's been reedited too, so how's that for confusing? Not so much, actually: Mann's made a meaner and leaner version, and he figures we know enough about Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) to narrow his focus on the action. So it's bang-bang drug deals hither and yon (mostly yon -- Haiti, Cuba, Colombia), with only scant attention paid to the private lives of cops who live every second as phony public figures. There's even footage of Farrell getting punk'd by undercover-cop advisors, who scared him shitless and then some. Just to keep it, ya know, real. -- Wilonsky

Pirates of the Caribbean:

Dead Man's Chest (Disney)

Let's just put it to you straight: You don't make enough money to fully enjoy Dead Man's Chest on DVD. Unless you pony up for a high-def TV and Blu-ray player, the small screen sucks away a lot of the charm from this summer blockbuster. And while there are plenty of delights -- from Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow to creepy-crawly villain Davy Jones -- many of the action scenes are just chaotic eye candy. The plot is similarly nonsensical, and the thing drags out over an unbelievable two and a half hours. (And speaking of eye candy, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley offer nothing but cheekbones.) Still, fun is fun, and if you've got the setup to truly absorb the madness of all the flying swords and cannonballs, you're in for quite a ride. -- Harper