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Published: Thursday, 10/12/2006

'Reds': Beatty at his directorial best

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Miles behind and miles to go, in coldest wind and deepest snow. And all for a lover, too.

It will forever be a profound disappointment that Seinfeld never took a shot at Reds. A TV series that had such fun with ultraserious moviegoing in New York City - the Schindler's List make-out session, for example - could have gone to town on the last studio film to be released with an intermission.

I picture Elaine trudging through Central Park, just as Diane Keaton crossed Russia on foot to visit Warren Beatty, who was locked away in prison as journalist John Reed. In the satire of my dreams, Elaine would do it for a shot at a rare rent-controlled apartment.

Anyway.

Pauline Kael dismissed it as "Zhivagooey" but time has done right by Beatty's Reds - still his finest moment as a director (though the popular vote probably goes to Heaven Can Wait). On Tuesday it's available in a relatively modest 25th Anniversary Edition (Paramount, $19.99); for a movie that nudged toward four hours, tackled a turning point in world history, and, as Kael (the hallowed New Yorker magazine critic) noted, set out to re-create the grandiosity of a Dr. Zhivago-ish Hollywood epic, extras are primarily clips of testimony by witnesses to the Russian Revolution.

In fact, when the picture was released, Kael's snarkiness couldn't have looked more awkward. In 1981, on the invitation of Beatty himself, she moved to Hollywood, set up shop at Paramount, and worked as a consultant to Beatty.

Later that year - she quit after a couple of months - she wrote about Reds, "It's a rather sad movie, because it isn't really very good." Today, its romanticism, and Jack Nicholson's turn as Eugene O'Neill, remind you ambitious, sincere Hollywood was oh, so long ago.

It's the reason Universal can get away with yet another edition of Brian DePalma's Scarface - Scarface: The Platinum Edition (Universal, $29.98), its single innovation being a counter in the corner of the screen that keeps track of the number of times Pacino says a four-letter word. Nearly 23 years old, Scarface's cynicism and mayhem is a blueprint for the knock-off gangsta flicks we get every six weeks. Just as The Fox and the Hound, now in its own 25th Anniversary Edition (Buena Vista, $29.99, available Tuesday), serves as a schematic for the maudlin, underdeveloped talking animal pics we get weekly.

It's safe to say there's nothing at all today like the World War II-era movies included in Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection, Volume II (Warner, $59.98). The offbeat selection is the goofy 1942 comedy All Through the Night; the others are a pair of espionage tales (Across the Pacific, Action in the North Atlantic).

But the keeper is the three-disc edition of 1941's Maltese Falcon - so thoroughly compiled (and cleaned-up slightly from previous murkier editions) that it includes the 1931 version and Satan Met a Lady, the Bette Davis-led stab at Dashiell Hammett's finest work. (The Falcon special edition is available separately for $39.98.)

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RADIO ON THE VIDEO: I still can't decide if the Robert Altman version of A Prairie Home Companion (New Line, $27.98) works on the small screen. You'd think it would; nearly anything that originates as a radio show is modest by nature. But perhaps the lack of a proscenium arch - a TV screen is more like a picture frame - is a reminder of how much of a movie Altman pulled out of a live stage show. The backstage material with Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin still works well on the tiny screen. But the stage program, the songs and sketches scattered throughout the film, while charming, became flattened out.

Adam Sandler's Click (Sony, $28.95), the first broad Sandler comedy in which I detected his usual audience growing restless, is all gimmick (It's a Wonderful Remote-Controlled Life) and no engagement. Over the Hedge (Paramount, $29.99), meanwhile, is a plea to end suburban sprawl.

FREAKS AND GEEKS: You know it's become a nerd's world when there are a pair of major video releases this month about awkward misfits and each plays to a different genus. Art School Confidential (Sony, $26.98) is for self-loathing nerds, the sort screenwriter Daniel Clowes drew in all their sweaty, pimply glory for comic books such as David Boring and Ghost World - the latter of which he adapted with Confidential director Terry Zwigoff to greater success.

X-Men: The Last Stand (Fox, $29.98) aims for the mainstream geek, which, considering the popularity of superhero movies at the moment, means we're all geeks. Admit it: You have an opinion of whether director Brett Ratner pulverized this series into mundane pulp or merely broadened its appeal. More importantly, can you live with the standard DVD edition or do you have to spend $39.99 for "The Stan Lee Edition"? The difference is a limited-edition comic book.

Contact Christopher Borrelli at: cborrelli@theblade.com

or 419-724-6117.



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