"The Pianist" -- Roman Polanski's splendid, powerful film tells the real-life tale of a celebrated Jewish pianist whose courage, will to live and strong love of music helped him survive in the war-ravaged Warsaw ghetto. It's the nightmarish yet ultimately triumphant story of Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), one of the most acclaimed musicians of his time until World War II interrupted his career and his life, the invading Nazis taking virtually everything from him and his family and forcing them into a prison-like ghetto with the other Polish Jews. After the ghetto uprising leaves most of the compound in ruins, Szpilman manages to escape as the others are herded into death camp-bound trains and hides among the ruins, determined to make it against overwhelming odds, alone, cold and hungry, until a saving gesture comes from an unlikely source. Brody, who won the Academy Award for Best Actor, gives a strong performance, very much in the role, especially in scenes at the piano and the lengthy period in which he is the only one on camera as his character stumbles alone tortuously through the ghetto wreckage, looking for food and warmth, finding little of either, in constant danger of discovery. Polanski, who won the Oscar for Best Director and himself a Holocaust survivor as a child while losing his mother to Auchwitz, pulls no punches in his depiction of the utter brutality and despair of the time, his images often startling though fleeting, based on the pianist's memoirs which Polanski calls "a message of hope ... optimistic and uplifting despite the horror it describes." 2002. 149 minutes. Universal Studios Home Video. Rated R (violence, brief strong language).
"The Recruit" -- Senior CIA instructor Walter Burke (Al Pacino) repeatedly tells his class of spy-wannabes that "Nothing is what it seems" and then spends the rest of this twisty action thriller proving he's right. "Trust no one," he warns them and here again he knows of what he speaks, especially at "The Farm," the secretive CIA training compound at Langley, Va., where the high art of deceit is high on everybody's agenda. James Clayton (Colin Farrell), a whiz kid from M.I.T anxious to learn about the fate of his father, a former CIA agent, is personally recruited by Burke, rigorously trained to be a secret operative and assigned to root out a double agent. Meanwhile, he has fallen for a fellow trainee, Layla (Bridget Moynahan), and suddenly everything gets very complicated. For the most part, director Ronald Donaldson's film is entertaining, slumping somewhat toward the end with a surprise windup that shouldn't be all that surprising. The acting is tops, what with Pacino's gruff, weathered charm and Farrell's sleek intensity setting the tone well. 2003. 115 minutes. Touchstone Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (violence, sexuality, language).
"Love Liza" -- Philip Seymour Hoffman, whom we've seen a lot of lately, most recently in Spike Lee's "25th Hour," has center stage in Todd Louiso's piercing study of a man coming unraveled in the wake of his wife's suicide. And, Hoffman, who is in virtually every scene, makes the most of it. He plays Wilson Joel, a Web site engineer, whose suddenly emptied life sends him reeling away from life, frozen in time, as it were, hiding out at home when possible, staggering aimlessly along in public, lurching toward highly illogical and sometimes dangerous behavior, even taking to sniffing gasoline then trying to cover it up. Wilson doesn't know why his wife killed herself but he might if he would open the letter she left him. But he won't, despite the pleas of her mother (Kathy Bates) who tries to console him without much success as they head for a likely confrontation. 2002. 90 minutes. Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment. Rated R (drug use, language and brief nudity).
"A Guy Thing" -- This is one of those tepid romantic comedies in which everybody seems to be trying to act stupid and make all the wrong moves before more or less sorting things out by the final scene. The movie boasts three attractive young talents -- Jason Lee, Julia Stiles and Selma Blair -- but they have to struggle mightily to rise above mediocre material. Lee plays Paul who's about to marry Karen (Blair), but after his bachelor party he wakes up in bed with the beautiful dancer at his shindig, Becky (Stiles), who turns out to be Karen's cousin. Frantic Paul tries to cover up everything while making the aforementioned wrong moves at every turn. 2002. 101 minutes. MGM Home Entertainment. Rated PG-13 (language, crude humor, some sexual content, drug references).
Coming up: Jack Nicholson's "About Schmidt" and "Die Another Day," the latest James Bond adventure with Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry, plus the comedies "National Security" and "The Guru''... "Catch Me If You Can" is still running ahead of the pack among the nation's video rental crowd... You must remember this: Warner celebrates the 60th anniversary of the 1943 classic "Casablanca" with a two-disc special edition DVD on Aug. 5...
New on DVD:
"A Bug's Life Collectors Edition" from Disney and Pixar, described as the first DVD created directly from the digital source, brings back the lively 1998 film and its colorful creatures (voiced by Kevin Spacey. Phyllis Diller, Julia-Louis Dreyfus and others), plus a host of extras including activity games, a behind-the-scenes featurette, the Oscar-winning short "Geri's Game," a commentary and more...
A couple from TV: "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman: The Complete Season One," a five-disc set with all 17 episodes plus extras, starring Jane Seymour as a doctor in 19th century Colorado; and "Homicide: Life on the Streets," a four-disc set with 13 episodes from the first two seasons depicting life and death in a Baltimore police precinct. The fine ensemble cast includes Ned Beatty, Yaphet Kotto, Andre Braugher, Richard Belzer and Daniel Baldwin...
The folks at Disney are looking at disposable DVD discs as a possible way to stimulate business. Variety reports that Buena Vista Home Entertainment plans to test self-destructing discs designed to sell at drugstores, supermarkets and other non-traditional retail outlets. The disc would be playable for 48 hours from the time it's removed from its vacuum-sealing packaging, after which the bright red coloring on the backside turns to black and the material is erased.