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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Coen Brothers' 'best' work finally on DVD

By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service

Yes, I know "Fargo" is the favorite. And, yes, I understand that for the hard core, "The Big Lebowski" is their "Matrix" — the one that holds all the secrets to life. But for me, the best Coen Brothers movie is their 1990 gangster homage "Miller's Crossing," followed closely by the 1991 Hollywood allegory "Barton Fink."

Both finally are out on DVD (both 4 stars, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $19.95), in anamorphic wide screen, remixed into 4.0 Dolby Surround.

After their debut "Blood Simple," "Miller's Crossing" may be the most straightforward, traditional movie the Coens have made. But its story of a loyal lieutenant (Gabriel Byrne) to a beleaguered crime boss (Albert Finney) is as drenched in melancholy as it is in Prohibition-era detail and stylized dialogue.

"Barton Fink," meanwhile, is the Coens at their most arch and artsy, with John Turturro as the title character, a Clifford Odets-inspired lefty writer lured to 1930s Hollywood, where he suffers a horrifying case of writer's block. (One suspects Spike Jonze may have watched this before shooting "Adaptation.")

The DVD of "Fink" actually has eight brief outtakes, a surprise considering the Coens are known for their Woody Allen-like obsession of shooting only what they need. Otherwise, extras are slim on both discs, although their former cinematographer, director Barry Sonnenfeld, appears on "Miller's Crossing" to talk about how he and the Coens designed that film's shadowy beauty.

A longer Costner classic

Time has not been good to Kevin Costner, who should be about ready for that Vanity Fair profile in which he talks about how it all slipped away but he's ready to take it back. Still, even the turgid debacle that was his second official film as a director, "The Postman," can't take away from "Dances with Wolves."

The story of a cavalry officer who is befriended by a wolf and then by a tribe of Lakota Indians receives a substantial two-DVD Special Edition upgrade (3 stars, MGM Home Entertainment, $29.98) this week. It's the first DVD release of the four-hour version previously available only on laser disc, which means those who were spellbound by it will be bound longer and those who thought the three-hour version was an hour too long will be twice as convinced.

No one, however, can fault the film's physical beauty — one of its seven Oscars, which included best picture, was for cinematography — and that has been maximized by a high-definition 18-bit transfer comparable to those on Columbia-Tri-Star's Superbit titles. Nor can one fault the care given to the release, which includes two commentaries.