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12.22.07

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Phaedra

Bring me the Head of Richard M. Nixon: 'Futurama' can't be stopped.

Shiny and New

DVD picks for the stocking or the tree

By Richard von Busack and Michael S. Gant


Futurama: Bender's Big Score' (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; $29.99) The secret of Star Trek was a combination of sci-fi parables and a lot of dialect humor. This timely revival of the Matt Groening/David Cohen TV show doesn't tamper with a formula that has lasted several eons across millions of light years. In this feature-length adventure, the gang is faced with an unstoppable force: the power of spam. A trio of sniggering hackers from a nudist planet foreclose on Earth, using stealth programs and pfishing. The elderly Professor Farnsworth is fooled, too, deluded by an e-mail telling him he's the heir to the throne of Nigeria, now that the old king is dead: "I'll inherit his kingdom, his canoe and his plump young wife."

Meanwhile, the aliens dose the swaggering robot Bender with a virus and turn him into a "Dispatcherator" to raid humanity's past with a ray gun. The sometimes moan-worthy jokes are bolstered with gratuitous nudity, a trip to Neptune, an appearance by Robot Santa, a nigh suicide mission by Al Gore's head and a plausible explanation of how Bush won the '04 election. The extras include a commentary track and a long—weeks long? I lost all track of time—appearance by the ever-compelling Hypnotoad.— RvB

'The Two Jakes' (1990) and 'Chinatown' (1974), Special Collector's Editions (Paramount Home Video; $14.99 each) Godfather III was a bad idea. The same holds true for The Two Jakes , the 1990 sequel to Chinatown . But it's still an entertaining movie, even if it exists only as a gloss on Roman Polanski's 1974 masterpiece. The film picks up divorced dick J. J. Gittes (Nicholson, who also directed) in 1948, 11 years after the tragic events of Chinatown . Fatter and more respectable ("In this town, I'm the leper with the most fingers"), Gittes remains haunted by Evelyn Mulwray, the woman he couldn't save ("You can't forget the past any more than you can change it").

Sure enough, the past comes back in the form of Evelyn's daughter, Katherine (Meg Tilly), now the wife of housing developer Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel)—hence the title—and Gittes finds himself mired in a murky mystery about "old secrets, family and property and a guy doing his partner dirt." Since the story is so steeped in memories, part of the pleasure is seeing the original characters reappear, Perry Lopez as Lou Escobar most effectively. Unfortunately, some of the new characters grate, particularly an atrocious Madeleine Stowe as an oversexed widow.

Robert Towne's script is full of loose ends; buy this with the new reissue of Chinatown just to see the difference. Between the two discs, there are several illuminating "making of" documentaries, with long and candid interviews. Towne and Nicholson explain that Chinatown was originally designed to be a trilogy about the growth of L.A., and Polanski exposes the trick that made the famous nostril-slitting scene possible.— MSG

'Drunken Angel' (Criterion Collection; $39.95) Akira Kurosawa's seventh film, Drunken Angel , was his first with Toshiro Mifune. As Matsunaga, a hot-headed yazuka in postwar Tokyo, Mifune makes a riveting antihero with his slicked-back hair and American-style zoot suit. Mifune is so vivid a bad guy that the film's dialectic structure is thrown out of whack; in the wildest scene, Matsunaga tears up the dance floor while a Japanese Josephine Baker bellows a Cab Calloway-style "Jungle Boogie" (with lyrics by Kurosawa).

Kurosawa contrasts Matsunaga's destructive gangster code (echoing Japanese militarism in the war) with the selflessness of Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura), a hard-drinking but softhearted doctor who treats the poor. When Sanada discovers that Matsunaga has TB, he makes it his duty to try to cure him, just as Matsunaga swears to save a young woman from another gangster. Unfortunately, Sanada spends too much of the film yelling impotently at Mifune's unstoppable id.

Although subject to censorship by the Americans (as explained in a documentary on the disc), the film addresses Japanese soul-searching during the Occupation. The action takes place around a polluted open sewer that symbolizes the toxic aftermath of the war. Kurosawa returns again and again to this fetid bog bubbling with methane gas. This Criterion restoration also includes a Japanese documentary about Kurosawa and the making of the film (those bubbles were created by off-screen crew members blowing on very long straws).— MSG


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