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'Reds' still shakes film lovers

Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press

After a recent screening at the New York Film Festival of "Reds," Warren Beatty's 1981 epic about the Bolshevik Revolution, newly remastered for the "25th Anniversary Edition" DVD (4 stars, Paramount, $19.99), Beatty recalled showing the original for Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan in the White House screening room. Considering the starkly contrasting political perspectives of Beatty and the president, the film's director and star said that he was surprised at Reagan's reaction.

"First he said he was very admiring of what we had done and how we had made it," Beatty said. "And then he said he was kind of hoping for a happy ending."

While radical American journalist John Reed dies at the conclusion of "Reds," the staunchly anticommunist president saw a happy ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent breakup of the Soviet Union.

Yet it's easy to understand why the old Hollywood hand could admire Beatty's achievement. Though "Reds" has been little referenced since it won Oscars for best direction, supporting actress (Maureen Stapleton) and Vittorio Storaro's stunning cinematography, its panoramic look at the rise of the American left and the socialist promise of post-World War I Russia has a depth and passion few historical epics ever capture.

At the center of the 194-minute saga is the politically fueled romance of Reed and writer Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton), a relationship that becomes a triangle when she leaves him to live with playwright Eugene O'Neill, played by Jack Nicholson.

But "Reds" is one of the most entertaining history lessons put on film, its relevance greatly underscored by Beatty's original and much-imitated use of real-life witnesses like author Henry Miller, historian Will Durant and Congressman Hamilton Fish, nearly all of whom have died since the film was made.

The extra material is essentially one informative production documentary titled "Witness to Reds." The new digital transfer is brilliant and probably even better in the HDTV edition; a Blu-Ray version is expected next year.

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ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

Last week's gossip columns brought news that Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn had split. They got together after they costarred in the spring hit "The Break-Up." Their parting should only bring more attention to the release of the DVD (1 star, Universal, $29.98) of the alleged comedy in which they play live-in lovers who declare psychological war when the relationship comes apart.

The only possible use I could imagine for this shrill, bitter movie is couples watching it to assure themselves that their arguments aren't that nasty. This DVD does, however, have an alternate ending; it turns out to be just as contrived as the official one.

This year's remake of the 1976 thriller "The Omen" (2 stars, Fox, $29.99) wasn't that bad; it was just pointless. The new film tracked the original film's story of a diplomat and his wife (now played by Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles) who discover their son is the devil's spawn, almost scene for scene. If you want evidence, or are just mad for bad-seed Damien, you can check out "The Complete Omen Collection" (Fox, $49.98). It contains the remake, the 2-disc "Collector's Edition" of the original (3 stars), the not-half-bad 1978 sequel "Damien: The Omen II" (3 stars), 1981's mistitled "Omen III: The Final Conflict" (2 stars) with Sam Neill as an all-grownup antichrist and "Omen IV: The Awakening," a clunky made-for-TV item in which his satanic spirit is reborn female.

A far more original taste of creepy-kid drama can be found in 1972's "The Other" (3 stars, Fox, $14.98), directed by Robert Mulligan. It's about twin brothers on a bucolic Connecticut farm who, following the death of their father and the breakdown of the mother, are kept occupied by a game invented by their grandmother, played by the great Uta Hagen. Things, of course, are not all they seem in this chiller.

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TV ON DVD:

First the good news: "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Two" (4 stars, Universal, $39.98) doesn't sacrifice quality for cost savings, as did the first box set that crammed all the episodes on double-sided discs. This one spreads the 39 episodes of the 1956-57 season of the superior suspense showcase over five platters.

The better news: This season contains an abundance of true classics. There's "One More Mile to Go," in which a burnt-out taillight puts a patrolman on David Wayne's tail at a very inconvenient time; "A Little Sleep," which has Vic Morrow hiding out in a cabin in the woods after being accused of murdering his girlfriend; and "Crackpot," about a honeymooning couple whose on-the-road encounter with a weirdo takes an uglier turn when they arrive at their hotel.

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FAMILY PICK OF THE WEEK:

"Over the Hedge" (2 stars, DreamWorks, $29.99) is neither the best nor the worst of this year's oversaturation of computer animation; those distinctions go to "Cars" and "The Wild." But this green-themed tale of a raccoon con artist (the voice of Bruce Willis ) who has earned the ire of a hungry bear and hornswoggles a gang of suburban critters into raiding the spoils of the suburbs on his behalf should tickle young ones - without making parents flee the room .

If that sounds like less than an endorsement, consider this: The DVD's loaded with extra features. A short film called "Hammy's Big Adventure" (starring the squirrel Steven Carell voices in the movie ) is more entertaining than the full-length cartoon, and there are kid-friendly games and activities.

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