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Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition
As far as indispensable DVDs go, it’s impossible to leave out the newly back-in-print Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition. Without a doubt, Freaks and Geeks is a series that I return to over and over again. Its lasting power lies in its ability to straddle the line between teenage angst and drama and innumerable cringe-worthy high school moments without ever going over the top. From Nick's repeatedly embarrassing attempts to woo Lindsay, to Kim's dysfunctional family, to Bill coming to terms with his mother dating his gym teacher, all the stories are told with sincerity, humor, and a great deal of affection for the characters.
Freaks and Geeks focused on the kids who existed on the fringes of high school society, the outcasts. Any series that manages to create seven distinct characters that don’t fall into the usual tropes of one-dimensional jocks, nerds, or popular kids, as well as tell their individual stories over the course of only one season, deserves high praise indeed. Even when making fools of themselves or trying too hard to fit in, there's always an element of real relatability to the characters that further sets the show apart from other teen-centered stories. For all the poignant moments, there were equal parts humor, and balancing the two without overreaching was what the show did best. And really, is there anything more hilarious than Nick's transparent ode to Lindsay, “Lady L”?
The already crammed-with-extras regular DVD set is given an even fuller treatment in the yearbook edition. Aside from almost 30 commentary tracks for 18 episodes (that range from standard writers, directors, and cast members to Freaks and Geeks fans and some of the cast's parents), tons of deleted scenes and alternate takes, and behind-the-scenes footage, this edition comes packaged as a McKinley High School yearbook complete with authentic yearbook doodles and dedications by all the characters, as well as essays, photographs, and an extra two discs of material that include table reads, auditions, and raw footage. The episodes alone would make it impossible to ever tire of the show, but when combined with the perfect packaging and enough extras to keep any fan coming back for more, the Freaks and Geeks: Yearbook Edition is, without a doubt, indispensable. Jessica Suarez
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You Can Count on Me
Director: Kenneth Lonergan
Though I'm a lifelong cinema obsessive, I have a laughably small DVD collection. Probably 15 movies, tops, as well as a smattering of music DVDs. The movies I own tend to betray my classicist love for mid-century Hollywood: Casablanca, Rebel Without a Cause, and Touch of Evil will always be there on the shelf. Still, the film in my collection I've watched more than any other -- indeed, when options are slight and plans are cancelled, I reach for it -- is You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan's 2000 directorial debut. (Eight years later, it remains his only commercially released full-length film.)
Like many people, I was initially drawn to this film by Mark Ruffalo's performance as the rudderless and occasionally estranged Terry Prescott, who returns home to upstate New York to borrow money from his sister, Sammy (Laura Linney). As Terry, Ruffalo is magnetic and almost casually self-destructive, an unreasonable and unfailingly human pulse that alternates between warm congeniality and the martyred pouting of the forsaken -- Terry's enough of a well-intentioned screw-up that he can take his young nephew fishing in the morning, and then take him to see his deadbeat father in the afternoon (and proceed to punch him out). It's my favorite performance of the aughts so far, one that Ruffalo has yet to top since.
But Ruffalo/Terry isn't the only thing You Can Count on Me has got going. Linney throws down as the more "normal" sibling by socially accepted standards, though she's just as damaged and prone to erring on a fundamentally human level. And beyond its centerpiece performances, You Can Count on Me is a humble yet resonant depiction of the stickiness of close-knit relationships, shot pragmatically by Lonergan in a style that contradicts the wham-bam ostentation of his better-known contemporaries.
It's about falling out of touch and reconnecting, about relying on people and sometimes being let down, about how mistakes and forgiveness are odd but constant bedfellows. And after all the normal storminess that Terry and Sammy find themselves weathering, this is ultimately a comforting picture, open-ended and still looking forward to increasingly positive things. Zeth Lundy
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Director: Baz Luhrmann
Visionary director Baz Luhrmann, who brought us Strictly Ballroom and William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, achieved perfection of vision and art in his 2001 release, Moulin Rouge!. It is a story about love -- it is a feast for the soul. The film stars an incredibly talented cast: Nicole Kidman, Ewan McGregor, John Leguizamo, Jim Broadbent, and Richard Roxburgh, to name a few.
Set in the time of Toulouse Lautrec in Bohemian Paris, it takes the viewer on a non-stop journey and you are instantly drawn into this new and exciting world of wonderment and reverie. It's a dazzling portrayal of what it was like to be a “child of the revolution” during the Bohemian movement of the 19th century. It exhibits the basic tenets of Bohemian ideals: truth, beauty, freedom, and above all things, love.
The totality captures the essence of the legendary Moulin Rouge. Christian (Ewan McGregor), a penniless young poet, travels to Paris to experience life, and satiate his “ridiculous obsession with love." Upon arriving in Montmartre, he is befriended by Lautrec (John Leguizamo), and through this association, he is introduced to Satine (Nicole Kidman), a courtesan at the Moulin Rouge. Christian is employed to help create a stage production for which Satine will star in. The two fall in love, and carry on a love affair in which they face difficulties until ultimately, they meet with tragic circumstances.
This is an indispensable film. What Lurhmann achieves through use of music is extraordinary, using current music to comment on another time period, and the best part is that it works. The music, along with the fantastic dance sequences, create a brilliant musical. The film showcases songs from some of the most beloved musicians, among them the Beatles, the Police, Elton John, and Queen, and these famous pieces, such as Marilyn Monroe’s “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend" and the Police's “Roxanne", are reconfigured in ways that work beyond one’s wildest imagination.
Moulin Rouge! enraptures the viewer from beginning to end. It is a film for anyone who appreciates beauty and artistry. Never has such a love story been so hauntingly depicted by superb acting and the haunting effect of music. The viewer is left wanting more, and more importantly, a sense that, “the greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” Katrina Wheeler
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Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
DVDs have become film lessons, toys for grown-ups, and continuations or even revisions of the film itself. But at the end of the day, it’s the movie that matters. You press play, and your TV screen opens up a larger world of light and sound. My favorite films to watch over and over, the ones I turn to in good times and bad, are larger-than-life fantasies that resonate with real-life pain. More often than not there’s a love story, some comedy, an evocative setting, an uncomplicated plot, memorable dialogue that contains truth about human behavior, and music that serves as a character itself. Those are comfort elements for me, and Punch-Drunk Love is a comfort movie.
It’s a playful, experimental film, where strange glows and flashes of light appear throughout the film, mysterious but also reminiscent of rainbows, shadows, and the glare of the sun. It’s a comedy where the jokes are about loneliness, embarrassment, and long-held resentments. It’s also an old-fashioned, big-screen romance, where the main character wears a bright blue suit at all times, and does an impromptu tap dance in a supermarket. Punch-Drunk Love is light on its feet but heavy in its heart, taking all of the bitterness, anger, and sadness wrapped up inside of human beings -- in this case, inside of Adam Sandler, not insignificantly -- and washing it away with the breeze of the ocean, the sound of a melody played on a beat-up piano, the idealized notion of a true love.
Watch a movie enough times and you come to appreciate even the tiniest moments: a facial expression, an image, a piece of music heard only briefly. One of my favorite scenes in Punch-Drunk Love comes after our lovers have joined up in Hawaii, one of those movie-dream vacation spots free from the anxiety of real life. Night has fallen, the setting is gorgeous, and the camera glides through a crowd of people watching a musical group sing a bittersweet, romantic song. At the front a woman dances, and we watch the graceful movement of her hands. She points to the right and the camera follows. There the lovers are, sharing a tender moment by candlelight, against the crashing of waves. It’s a movie moment, but also a normal human one: two people in a crowd, sharing a moment in time. In that light, even Sandler’s suit doesn’t look as Hollywood blue. They look like regular people, though the feeling in the air is absolute contentment: a momentary fiction, in the movies and in life. Dave Heaton
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In the first episode of the third season of The Office, Karen Filippelli (Rashida Jones) mockingly imitates her new co-worker Jim Halpert's (John Krasinski) wry self-aware grin, a smile that, anyone who considers himself a hardcore fan of the show, has probably attempted to replicate. It's in this moment that the characters, and the show itself, become more than just a prime-time smash, evolving into a group of people that you can readily identify with. The characters feel more like friends than subjects in your voyeuristic pleasures. And it's this ability to relate to the characters on such a personal level that makes The Office Season Three one of the best seasons of television in the last decade.
Whether or not you’ve spent extended amounts of time working in an office, it's pretty easy to identify all of the type-casts and relate them to someone in your life: the dim-witted boss (Michael Scott), the office hotties (Pam Beasley and Filippelli), the supportive mother-type (Phyllis Lapin-Vance), and of course, the obnoxious over-achiever (Dwight K. Schrute). Although many shows have this same gamut of characters, The Office eloquently ties all of their seemingly outlandish actions together, finding a way to humanize even the strangest moments (e.g., when Dwight leaves the temp, Ryan, in the middle of a beet field to teach him selling techniques).
What's truly incredible about The Office Season Three is that not only are there no weak episodes, but there are no few, if any, weak moments. The awkward times in episodes like "A Benihana Christmas" -- Michael being unable to tell which of the Asian Benihana waitresses he's fallen in love with -- are nullified by Michael's genuine heartbreak or any other number realistic personal struggles. Unlike future seasons, where the palatable passive aggression is off-putting (Season Four's "Dinner Party"), Season Three skirts these problems, creating humorous tension that is only as masterfully done in the best moments of 30 Rock.
Simply put, the third season of The Office is more craftily calculated, and frankly, funnier and more personable than any show in recent memory. It's a season that inspires hope (Jim and Pam finally getting together at the end) and shows the dramatic highs and lows of the human spectrum in a way that no television show has done in recent memory. Chris Gaerig