- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2008

It’s been a long, strange trip from playing the bed-hopping Ted in “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” to embodying the voice of the Almighty.

At 69, Elliott Gould no longer commands top-of-the-marquee respect, and it has been decades since he graced the cover of Time magazine as the “star for an uptight age.”

Nevertheless, the Oscar-nominated actor still works steadily, from smaller features to summer blockbusters including the “Oceans 11” trilogy.

His latest project has him playing God in an animated take on The Ten Commandments (Genius Products, $19.95). The feature, which comes out on DVD Tuesday, retells the biblical saga with a cast that includes Christian Slater, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina.

The film boils down the epic to a manageable 88 minutes, making it suitable for fidgety youngsters.

With that soothing, grainy baritone, the Brooklyn native might seem a natural for voice work, yet his vocal resume is spare. For his role in “The Ten Commandments,” he sought direction in ridding “a little bit of New York” from his voice so he could speak as naturally as possible without creating a distraction.

He signed on to do “The Ten Commandments” when a friend who works with Promenade Pictures asked him about the role.

“It’s a real responsibility as well as a privilege,” he says. “People have their own perspectives, their own ideologies of what it represents. I need to be truly, honestly respectful of that.”

At his career zenith, Mr. Gould was deemed difficult, but in conversation he’s anything but confrontational. However, he does gently steer the chat in directions of his choosing, waxing eloquently, for example, on Albert Einstein.

He says he once looked up the word “career” and found one description that likened the term to a racetrack.

For a brief time he was Secretariat, an unabashedly ethnic Jewish leading man who excelled in major films including “M*A*S*H” (1970) and “The Long Goodbye” (1973) before poor role choices helped squash his stardom.

On he worked anyway, starring in everything from a pair of Muppet features to NBC’s “Friends.”

“It wasn’t my career to begin with,” he says, alluding to a need to please his parents. “I had not a clue of what I was.”

He sounds more sure of himself now as he reflects on breaking free of his dysfunctional upbringing and roller-coaster fame. Perhaps his time in psychoanalysis has given him his newfound serenity. He speaks softly as classical music plays in the background, his tumultuous life put in modest perspective.

Mr. Gould has completed work on a second biblical story for the family-oriented Promenade, based on Noah’s Ark. Working alongside him were Michael Keaton, Marcia Gay Harden and Jason Lee.

He hints that he once took parts for less noble reasons, which he fails to specify, but that his selection process has evolved.

His recent Lifetime feature “Saving Sarah Cain” typifies his new outlook. The movie, based on the Beverly Lewis novel, follows a newspaper columnist who rediscovers her life’s purpose when she’s left to raise her late sister’s children. Mr. Gould plays Sarah’s wizened editor.

He once could reason away bad film choices as mistakes of his youth, but now he doesn’t let himself off the hook so easily.

“Ignorance is no longer an excuse for me,” he says.

Christian Toto

The Brave One (Warner Home Video, $28.98 for DVD, $35.99 for Blu-ray) — Sylvester Stallone doesn’t seem to have any new ideas left. He was back on the big screen last week in “Rambo,” in which he tried to reinvigorate the decades-old franchise. He’s also planning to direct and star in a remake of 1974’s “Death Wish.” Until that hits theaters next year, you can get your dose of vigilante justice from this film, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Charles Bronson crime drama.

The talented Irish director Neil Jordan turns the story of a woman (this time) who goes after lowlifes in a quest to avenge her fiance’s death into a post-September 11 parable. Jodie Foster got a Golden Globe nomination for her turn as the vigilante. She plays a radio host, and her silky voice is the most mesmerizing thing about the genre flick. Terrence Howard is also pretty good as the cop who both befriends and suspects her. The DVD is low on extras — just a featurette and some additional scenes.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Warner Home Video, $27.95 for DVD, $35.99 for Blu-ray) — Is Warner feeling frugal these days, or was this film just too long to leave any room for extras on the DVD? The 160-minute film is accompanied by only a 30-minute documentary on Jesse James, who’s played in the film by Brad Pitt. This period piece, which is also a meditation on celebrity, is up for two Oscars this month, best cinematography and best supporting actor for Casey Affleck, who plays the coward who killed a legend.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal, $29.98 for DVD, $39.98 for HD DVD) — Thankfully, Universal hasn’t skimped on extras for this disc — lovers of period dramas always like to see how they were made. What’s striking about the deleted scenes here, though, is how essential they seem. Usually, it’s fairly obvious why certain scenes didn’t make it into the finished film. However, there are five or six here that seem to add crucial context to this film, which is a sequel to 1998’s “Elizabeth,” Shekhar Kapur’s first film about the 16th-century English queen.

One of the great failures of “The Golden Age” was its waste of Samantha Morton as Mary, Queen of Scots. Here, we see her flirt a little with her jailer and start to understand why the charmer posed such a threat to her beloved cousin’s throne.

Cate Blanchett may have gotten the Oscar nomination for her performance here, but her chemistry with Clive Owen is what makes this not particularly accurate film worth watching. There’s a nice scene with them on horseback discussing their views on love and marriage. Mr. Owen gets a few more choice lines, too, as when he tells Geoffrey Rush’s Walsingham, “You think I’m a cynical adventurer with little breeding and less education. You’re wrong. I’m a cynical adventurer with little breeding and an excellent education.”

Midnight Express (Sony, $19.94) — Before Oliver Stone became notorious as a muckraking director, he was a very successful Hollywood screenwriter. Before writing “Scarface” and “Conan the Barbarian,” he won his first Oscar for his screenplay for “Midnight Express,” which comes out next week in a 30th Anniversary Edition.

The film may be a few decades old, but this classic could have been written by Mr. Stone just yesterday. Brad Davis plays Billy Hayes, who told his real-life tale in a book on which the film is based — and later complained about the film’s depictions of the Turkish people. (Mr. Stone apologized during a visit to Turkey four years ago.) Mr. Hayes, an American, was caught trying to smuggle hashish out of the country and eventually was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

There are plenty of new extras on this bargain-priced disc: a new commentary with director Alan Parker along with his personal photo journal and a few making-of featurettes.

The Jewish Americans (PBS/Paramount, $34.99) — This PBS documentary, directed and produced by three-time Emmy winner David Grubin and narrated by actor Live Schreiber, tells 350 years of history in six hours. Focusing on individual personalities in telling the sometimes complicated story of how one group of immigrants kept their own identity while changing American life, it features interviews with such luminaries as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, comedians Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar and playwright Tony Kushner. The extras on the two-disc set include a Jewish cooking segment with Gil Marks and an interview with Mr. Grubin.

Kelly Jane Torrance

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