- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2009

Frost/Nixon (Universal, $29.98 for DVD, $39.98 for Blu-ray) — “‘Frost/Nixon’ is the thinking person’s ‘Rocky.’” So declares director Ron Howard on a making-of featurette included on the DVD release of one of the best films of 2008. It’s not far off the mark. Peter Morgan, who wrote the screenplay and the stage play on which it’s based, says, “I always went at it thinking, ‘How can you do a boxing match with words?’”

It’s not just that the film captures interviewer David Frost’s battle to beat out a confession — a knockout — from a disgraced president, Richard Nixon. One of the many joys of the film is watching the loyal “corner men,” played by some of our best character actors, compliment and cajole the men for whom they toil.

Mr. Morgan’s screenplay is one of his usual witty and insightful looks at politics and psychology. Michael Sheen and Frank Langella reprise their stage roles as the title characters in showy but never showoff-y, fashion. Kevin Bacon, Matthew Macfadyen, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt, Toby Jones and Rebecca Hall are the American and British actors who round out the cast and bring the story off the stage and around the world. It turns out some of them made deeper contributions to the film. Two of the most amusing scenes in the film were improvised, the making-of featurette reveals — the scene in which Mr. Frost tries to sell Weed Eater on advertising during the program, and the scene in which Mr. Platt’s researcher does a dead-on impersonation of the president. No wonder the other actors looked so real when they were laughing so hard.

The most interesting feature on this disc — which also includes deleted scenes, a commentary with Mr. Howard and a look at materials preserved in the Richard Nixon Library — is “The Real Interview,” a featurette that compares the film to the real interviews it dramatizes. You don’t often get to see a side-by-side comparison of fact and fiction, and it’s fascinating.

Mr. Langella’s performance was a tour de force, but as he says, “I was determined not to do an impression.” His performance seemed relatively restrained, but watch Mr. Nixon speak a line such as, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,” and then listen to Mr. Langella say the same thing. He certainly added a Shakespearean actor’s sense of history and drama to his performance.

Bride Wars (Fox, $29.98 for DVD, $39.99 for Blu-ray and DVD) — Ever since “Sex and the City,” chick flicks have spent more time extolling the joys of female friendship and a little less time on the intricacies of romance. “Bride Wars” was the first to show a darker — and perhaps more realistic — side of relationships between women. Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway star as best buds whose relationship unravels when their wedding planner mistakenly books their nuptials for the same day.

The three-disc release of the film comes with Blu-ray, standard DVD and digital copies of the film, plus a generous collection of extras. There are deleted scenes, including an alternate opening; three featurettes, including looks at the Vera Wang wedding dress and the Plaza Hotel; cast improvisations; and two Fox Movie Channel specials with the two stars. There’s also a pop-up wedding cost calculator: “Something Old, Something New and What That’s Gonna Cost You.” The single-disc release includes only some of the deleted scenes and the Vera Wang featurette.

Kelly Jane Torrance

The Hit (The Criterion Collection, $29.95) — A British mobster named Willie (Terence Stamp) snitches on his confederates in exchange for his own freedom, a nice little villa in the Spanish countryside and police protection. As he exits the courtroom post-testimony, his former mates sneeringly sing “We’ll Meet Again.” This being the movies and all, we can assume that’s a promise, not a threat.

The promise arrives in the form of coldblooded hit man Braddock (John Hurt) and his rookie partner, Myron (Tim Roth, in his first big screen role). After Willie is captured, the three head out into the Spanish countryside en route to Paris, where Willie is to be delivered for execution. Along the way, the trio becomes a foursome when a wily sexpot (Laura Del Sol) is added to the mix.

“The Hit” is what we would now describe as Tarantinoesque: The paid killers are alternately funny and menacing, the topics of conversation are rooted in existentialism, and the movie zips along at a quick pace. That adjective didn’t exist in 1984, when the film was released, however, and neither audiences nor critics knew what to make of the picture.

The Criterion Collection has rescued this lost classic for appreciation by a generation more familiar with the genre transgressions that likely cost director Stephen Frears the critical acclaim he so richly deserved. The extras are light but intriguing — a commentary with Messrs. Frears, Hurt and Roth as well as writer Peter Prince and editor Mick Audsley and an interview with Terence Stamp from the show “Parkinson One-to-One.” “The Hit” is a great, affordable addition to any DVD collection.

Johnny Got His Gun (Shout Factory, $19.99) — Dalton Trumbo’s antiwar ilm gets its first release on DVD, and it is chock-full of extras. There’s a documentary on Mr. Trumbo, perhaps the best-known victim of the Hollywood blacklist, an interview with star Timothy Bottoms, behind-the-scenes footage, a radio adaptation of Mr. Trumbo’s eponymous novel, and more. (The highlight for this reviewer was the inclusion of the video for Metallica’s single “One,” which was based on the movie.)

“Johnny Got His Gun” tells the story of a young man who gets blown up by an artillery shell in World War I. He has lost his arms, legs and face, and though he can think, he can’t express himself. The narrative consists of his memories, his dreams and the occasional intrusion of the outside world into his awful existence.

The movie is of questionable value. Alternately intriguing and didactic, Mr. Trumbo’s film is both antiwar and pro-commie. The characters are prone to saying things such as, “What is democracy? It’s got something to do with young men dying” and “For democracy, any man would give his only begotten son.”

Still, it might be worth watching for Donald Sutherland’s performance alone. He plays Jesus. If the idea of a 1970s-era Donald Sutherland walking around as a bearded, robed, hippie Jesus doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what will.

Sonny Bunch

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