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EW review: 'Aviator' loses focus

Good movie drowns in minutiae of mid-1940s aviation politics

By Ty Burr
Entertainment Weekly


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(Entertainment Weekly) -- Miramax's PR approach to its Oscar hopefuls has always been pretty simple -- loudly insist a movie is brilliant until people start to believe it.

That extends to the DVD release of "The Aviator." Disc 2 serves up no fewer than 12 mini-documentaries, including a History Channel bio of Howard Hughes; a look at the man's contributions to aviation (retractable landing gear -- who knew?); features on costumes, visual effects, the score and the musical Wainwright family; and a panel discussion on obsessive-compulsive disorder with director Martin Scorsese, star Leonardo DiCaprio, UCLA's Dr. Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Hughes' widow, Terry Moore, among the talking heads.

The more fascinating tidbit, however, is an interview with Alan Alda (glowing with the news that he's just been nominated for Best Supporting Actor) and a charged-up and extremely articulate DiCaprio. When he notes that Hughes tackled outsize projects as a means of escaping his OCD rituals, the star provides more compelling psychological insight into the man he's playing than the movie ever does.

Ah, yes, the movie. It's on disc 1 and it looks fantastic; regardless of who won what, "The Aviator" was probably the best-produced film of 2004. Scorsese's knack for detail makes the first half a visual and sonic joy, and both DiCaprio and the Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett (as Kate Hepburn) do remarkable work in nearly impossible roles.

But just as Hughes became swamped by his compulsive attention to trivialities, "The Aviator" loses focus amid the minutiae of mid-'40s aviation politics. All the extras in the world can't hide that this is a very good movie that got away from its maker.

EW Grade: B

'Chappelle's Show: Season 2 Uncensored'

Reviewed by Brian M. Raftery

That long, blipping noise you hear is your TiVo sighing in relief:

With the much-delayed release of "Chappelle's Show: Season 2 Uncensored" here at last, you can finally tidy up your over-clogged DVR, safe in the knowledge that such insta-classic bits as the Rick James biog and the game-show send-up ''I Know Black People'' are permanently preserved.

Despite a few too many toilet jokes, the 13-episode run managed to jolt the near-dead sketch-comedy format back to life, infusing it with intelligence, anger and a pop-culture awareness that never resorted to lazy parody. (Need a reminder of just how funny it got? One word: "pancakes.")

But since this collection may be the last we get from Dave Chappelle for a while because of his recent personal problems, watching these three discs is ultimately a bittersweet experience.

Extras: Some solid between-sketch banter, a bunch of so-so deleted moments (including some great Dave-as-Prince hoop moves) and a few extended Charlie Murphy monologues.

The can't-miss highlight is the commentary for the infamous ''I'm Rick James, bitch!'' segment, in which a still-shocked Chappelle and cocreator Neal Brennan explain how what began as an on-the-fly bit turned into a zeitgeist-defining catchphrase machine.

EW Grade: A-

'Law & Order: The Third Year'

Reviewed by Melissa Rose Bernardo

Full of provocative plot lines -- a gay cop dies in a suspicious shootout, a sadistic gynecologist sedates and rapes his patients -- "Law & Order: The Third Year" will forever rank as one of the best seasons in the show's 15-year history.

It was also the season Jerry Orbach joined the cast as world-weary Det. Lennie Briscoe. Coincidence? We think not.

Extras: A handful of (rightly) deleted scenes, plus a mini making-of narrated by Orbach -- in which he likens "L&O" to a Tennessee Williams play! -- and a too-short tribute to the actor, who died of prostate cancer in December 2004.

Chris Noth remembers ''turbulence, chaos and animosity'' before Orbach's arrival. Recalls Dann Florek (aka Captain Cragen): ''[George] Dzundza and Noth were banging heads, [Paul] Sorvino and Noth were banging heads, everybody was banging heads with [ADA] Michael Moriarty, but when Jerry came, it was like the seas calmed down.''

Now that seasons 1, 2, 3 and 14 exist on DVD, would 4-13 be too much to hope for?

EW Grade: A

'Newsradio: The Complete First and Second Seasons'

Reviewed by Mandi Bierly

Set in New York's WNYX radio station, where one could be stalked by Santa or attend a rat's funeral, "Newsradio" -- the smart, silly sitcom with a supposed lack of heart -- was always an issue for NBC.

But the network needn't have worried: We all knew love was the only thing keeping this dysfunctional family -- acerbic anchors Bill (Phil Hartman) and Catherine (Khandi Alexander), high-strung paramours Dave (Dave Foley) and Lisa (Maura Tierney), somewhat mentally challenged outcasts Matthew (Andy Dick) and Joe (Joe Rogan), and aloof eccentrics Jimmy (Stephen Root) and Beth (Vicki Lewis) -- from killing one another.

Extras: The gag reel is fun, but nothing tops the dishy group commentaries on 20 of the 29 episodes.

While cast and crew recall the late Hartman's professionalism, Rogan and Dick's love/hate relationship and why the actors were collectively banned from an awards ceremony (Lewis blames their penchant for stealing wine from other tables and Dick's asking Helen Hunt to autograph his penis), creator Paul Simms gets some much-needed therapy: He and his writing staff finally address the fallout from Simms' overhearing the scribes' ''bitch session'' (inspiration for the episode of the same name), and then-NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield admits -- finally! -- that the network made a mistake in shuffling the show's time slot.

EW Grade: A

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