My favorite film (and Oscar's, too) of last year came out this week and, to tell the truth, I'm a little disappointed.
No, not in the home version of the movie itself (Miramax: $29.99 DVD, $24.99 VHS). Director Rob Marshall's vision is a magnificent opening up of Bob Fosse's classic 1970s stage musical about the merry murderesses of Chicago's death row during the Jazz Era.
Instead, I was hoping the DVD extras would be a little more spectacular, like those of the last big Oscar-winning musical, "Moulin Rouge" (2001).
Instead of a two-disc set, all we get is one disc with the movie plus one deleted musical number ("Class" performed by Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette which is basically just snippets of the musical numbers.
To be sure, there is mention that both the movie and musical are based on a non-musical play in the 1930s, and that all of them were inspired by real-life stories by a female crime reporter.
I'd like to know more about the reporter, the real murderesses and the play.
Meanwhile, the movie (PG-13, ****) is more than just a big, gaudy, dazzling Hollywood extravaganza. It's also a brilliant and provocative social statement about America's love affair with violence, gossip, celebrity and that elusive 15 minutes of fame.
The casting is a particular surprise because nobody knew that Renee Zellweger ("Bridget Jones Diary") as Roxy, Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Zorro," "Traffic") as Velma and Richard Gere ("American Gigolo") as their scheming defense attorney Billy Flynn could sing and dance with such verve and style. Zeta-Jones even snagged an Oscar as supporting actress.
Add to them Queen Latifah as a Sophie Tucker-type prison matron and John C. Reilly as a sad-sack husband and you've got a winner.
Classics on DVD
For a change of pace, journey back to the beginnings of Hollywood two-reel comedies with digitally remastered collections of "Laurel & Hardy" and "The Little Rascals" (Artisan: $19.98 DVD).
Both came out Tuesday and the black-and-white looks great.
"Laurel & Hardy" contains five movies, including the 1932 Oscar-winning "The Music Box" where the two struggle to take a piano crate upstairs.
Other titles are "Sons of the Desert," "Another Fine Mess," "Busy Bodies" and "County Hospital," running from 15 minutes to one hour each.
The humor is obvious and silly by today's standards. It's also a little mean. But the two comics are so likably ditsy that you can't help smiling.
On "The Little Rascals" DVD are 10 rare shorts (averaging 19 minutes each). The gang made 88 silent shorts from 1922 to 1929, then switched to sound for 221 more until 1944.
All but one here -- the rarely seen "Dog Heaven" -- are from the sound era. The other nine are "Teacher's Pet," "School's Out," "Readin' and Writin'," "Spooky Hooky," "Sprucin' Up," "For Pete's Sake," "The Kid From Borneo," "Dogs Is Dogs," and "The Pooch."
This is classic kids and animals fun from a more innocent era.