"Training Day" -- For rookie narcotics cop Jake Hoyt (Ethan Hawke), this opening day of on-the-street training is judgment day, a day of reckoning, a day when ambitious dreams are about to be smashed. Jake wants to catch crooks, not become one. But that's going to be hard to avoid over the next 24 hours because his new partner is Alonzo Harris (Denzel Washington), a decorated, charismatic but twisted undercover narc who just may be meaner than anybody Jake's going to meet on LA's mean streets. Alonzo gets the job done his way and Jake's stunned at what he sees and what he's being pulled into but taking a stand for his principles may mean not making it through the day. Washington is splendid in a change-of-pace, over-the-top role as the good cop gone bad and Hawke keeps up quite well. Both earned Oscar nominations for their work in this taut, suspenseful action thriller. 2001. 122 minutes. Warner Home Entertainment. Rated R (strong brutal violence, pervasive language, drug content and brief nudity).
"Focus" -- Lawrence Newman (William H. Macy), a meek office manager and near recluse, saw his life go awfully askew the day he started wearing glasses. Even his mother, with whom he lived, thought they made him look Jewish. His boss, who ordered him to get glasses, thought so, too, and promptly demoted him and moved him to a remote office. His next door neighbor, the bully Fred (Meat Loaf Aday), had always been suspicious of Newman who wouldn't join him and others in trying to run the Jews out of their Brooklyn neighborhood. And, when Newman marries Gertrude (Laura Dern), suspicions deepen because she "looks" Jewish, too. Fact is, neither is Jewish but they're discovering first-hand the horrors of runaway bigotry. This was America of more than half a century ago, as seen by Arthur Miller in his 1945 novel (he co-wrote the screenplay) and laid out by Director Neil Slavin as a strong indictment of the pervasive and uncompromising nature of hatred. Though it has its flaws, it's a fascinating yarn and Macy is a master at this sort of thing. 2001. 106 minutes. Paramount Home Video. Rated PG-13 (thematic material, violence and some sexual content).
"Donnie Darko" -- Donnie Darko lives on the dark side of life, a troubled delusional youth who gets unsettling nocturnal views of the future from a giant ghostly rabbit. Donnie (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is a middle-class high school student in 1988 suburbia with "intimidating" test scores who can be charming one moment, sardonic the next, an often strange-acting lad obsessed with time travel. He has few friends, though he does briefly have a girlfriend (Jena Malone) and earns the support of his English teacher (Drew Barrymore), who's promptly sacked. Under hypnosis Donnie tells his psychiatrist (Katherine Ross) about the grotesque rabbit that visits him at night and warns the end of the world is at hand while sending him on errands of vandalism and leading him on sleepwalking trips. Fortunately he's out on a sleepwalking excursion when a jet engine falls mysteriously from the sky and smashes into his empty bedroom. Writer-director Richard Kelly has created a disturbing, intriguing tale that's part dark, psychological thriller, part social satire but with so many twists and turns that not everything is clearly resolved in the unexpected conclusion. 2001. 122 minutes. Fox Home Entertainment. Rated R (language, some drug use, violence).
"Riding In Cars With Boys" -- In a showcase performance, Drew Barrymore stars in Penny Marshall's fact-based film of a young woman who survives a teen pregnancy, poverty and a miserable, dead-end marriage with a shiftless drunk and drug addict to make a success of her life. Barrymore portrays writer Beverly Donofrio, on whose novel this is based, over two decades encompassing lots of turmoil and finally triumph. Beverly at last pulls herself out of the debilitating rut but takes out her misery on her son, blaming him and eventually everybody else for her troubles, failing to realize she's the one to blame. After all, she's the one who went riding in cars with boys. Steve Zahn and Brittany Murphy do well as her no-account husband and best friend, respectively, and James Woods and Lorraine Bracco are her disapproving parents. 2001. 182 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, drug and sexual content).
Coming up: "Life As A House" with Kevin Kline, "K-Pak" with Kevin Spacey and "Original Sin" with no one named Kevin but a sexy number starring Antonio Banderas and Angelina Jolie... "Don't Say A Word" is still saying a lot to the nation's videoviewers, hanging on to its perch as No. 1 rental movie in the land... The Oscar-nominated "Gosford Park" has been announced for a May 28 release date...
New on DVD: "Eastwood After Hours" (Warner) is a tuneful treat saluting Clint Eastwood and his strong support of jazz music, both individually and in his movies. Filmed at a Carnegie Hall concert in 1996, and featuring some top jazz performers, it opens with the twin pianos of Kenny Barron and Barry Harris playing "Misty" and winds up with Clint himself sitting in at the piano getting down with "C.E. Blues." It's mostly jazz, mostly heard in Eastwood films, covering his career from "Rawhide" to "Unforgiven," with movie clips inserted here and there for more nostalgic punch...
Along Kid Row: Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame II" -- Quasi and his gang are back for more fun and games spliced with an adventure or two, including a beautiful new temptress, a betrayal and kidnapping. Voice cast includes Kevin Kline, Demi Moore, Haley Joel Osment and Tom Hulce as Quasi... "Tom And Jerry: The Magic Ring" (Warner), in which Tom is left with a magical ring by his young wizard master but it gets stuck on Jerry's head -- these things happen with those two -- touching off wild misadventures and their usual cartoon mayhem... Paramount's "SpongeBob Squarepants" marks the video debut of the gang at Bikini Bottom with 10 stories from the kiddie TV series.
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