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In Chill Mode? Just Unwind And Watch These DVDs!

Overjoyed that you finally get some time to lay back, gin-and-juice style? Then take a day or two to free your mind of any work-related worries, put the house work aside, and concentrate on QT with your family (or maybe some much needed “me” time). And what better way to unwind than to curl up on the couch and pop in some good DVDs? Here, a look at some new releases you might enjoy.

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The Taking of Pelham 123, $15.99 at Amazon.com

In theory, this movie should be an absolute home run. Denzel Washington and John Travolta together? A hijacked train? A villain with a sense of humor? Check, check and check. Like most good action movies, this one starts out with a bang, quickly bringing in the suspense as an armed team of hijackers infiltrate a New York City subway train, isolate a single car (watching them pull off this feat is actually quite interesting) and begin bargaining with subway station officials, the police, and even the mayor’s office, demanding that they receive a $10 million sum in exchange for not harming the subway passengers.

Travolta plays Ryder, the lead hijacker, who possesses an uncanny understanding of currency, trading, and the banking system (you learn why as they movie unfolds). Though magnetic, Travolta does overact a bit in this role — he seems to pick up where he left off in Face/Off and Swordfish and crank up the volume on the manic and over-the-top aspects of these characters. Denzel, meanwhile, plays Walter Garber, a subway dispatcher who happens to be on duty when the hijacking occurs. In the process of communicating with Ryder, the two develop a rapport, so that Ryder refuses to negotiate or communicate with anyone else — it’s certainly note the first time we’ve seen this type of dynamic (The Negotiator comes to mind), but it seems a bit forced here, given that Garber doesn’t have the power to control Ryder’s fate in any way. Instead, the screenwriters and director want us to believe that Garber feels a kinship with Ryder due to a series of events that unfolded in the dispatcher’s own professional life (he was demoted during an investigation into whether or not he took a bribe from a foreign train manufacturer).

And though the movie does take a turn towards ludicrousness about three quarters of the way through, it does manage to entertain. If you live in NYC or are intimately familiar with the subway system, just try to suspend belief  – if you analyze every detail about the hijacking, the passengers’ conduct, the dispatchers’ actions, etc., you’ll find plenty of unbelievable bits. But if you just let yourself enjoy the ride, well, you just might.

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The Ugly Truth, $14.99. Available at Amazon.com

The chick flick genre is alive and kicking, my friends. The Ugly Truth pairs Katherine Heigl and sexy Gerard Butler (of 300 fame) in an “opposites attract” tale where two people who originally despise each other wind up head over heels. Sure, it’s one of the most predictable plot lines in the history of romantic comedies (When Harry Met Sally, 10 Things I Hate About You, Someone Like You, Something’s Gotta Give, etc., etc.) but, then, we don’t exactly seek cliffhangers and unexpected endings in chick flicks — we want the characters to fall in love and live happily ever after. The important thing, then, is whether the actors display on-screen chemistry, whether the dialogue is pithy and quirky enough, and whether there is enough pushing-and-pulling to keep the plot spicy and sexy.

And The Ugly Truth hits all these marks. Heigl is adorable as a neurotic, control freak TV producer who dreams of a chivalrous, respectful, successful man, but who has absolutely no idea how to catch the attention of any such man. Butler, meanwhile, is her Achilles’ Thorn — a TV personality who offers women “the ugly truth” about how men think and feel (which often involves really crass and crude hypotheses). When he’s brought on to her network and the two are forced to work together, sparks fly — but only due to the massive friction. But things take a turn when he makes a deal with her: he will show her how to snag the man she’s been eying by solely using his methods and, if the project proves successful, she will agree to work harmoniously with him; if the project fails, however, he will resign and forever leave her life. Watching Heigl’s naiveté start to fade away as she becomes cognizant of the truth of Butler’s words is funny (at time riotously so), and Buter quickly wins you over as you start to see the more sensitive, hidden side of his personality. And don’t all women crave a man who is a brute on the outside but a total softie on the inside?

 

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Ugly Betty Season 3, $41.49 at Amazon.com

In Season 3, Betty is ready to make some major changes in her life. She’s dumped Henry and Gio, and she’s now moving into an apartment in Manhattan (how she can afford such a spacious crib on an assistant’s salary is a complete mystery, but that’s another issue altogether). This season is a complete roller coaster — filled with some near-perfect episodes and others that fall way, way, way short. If anything, the season gives us an indication of how confused the writers and producers are in terms of the direction in which they should take the show.

The plots about Faye’s mysterious death, Bradford’s affair, and Claire’s murderous actions have all been exhausted so, now, it’s time to find new sources of drama. Sure, Wilhelmina does continue to scheme to take over Meade (blackmailing Christina into being the surrogate mother of her turkey baste kid, which she cooked up by extracting some sperm from Bradford’s corpse — no, seriously), but when her ploys begin to falter, the writers seem lost as to what exactly to do with her character. The love affair she entertains this season, for one, is supposed to expose us to a different side of Wilhelmina — but, in the end, we crave the calculating, ice queen, the diva who takes no prisoners. Daniel, meanwhile, finds love in the most unexpected of places and begins to show a more adult, responsible side (though still dull as can be). Perhaps the most disappointing part of this season for me was Hilda’s character and how little the writers did with her character.

Plucky Betty keeps trying to work her way to the top while maintaining a positive attitude and abiding by her moral compass — which is starting to get mighty tired by this point. We appreciate Betty’s sense of right and wrong but it would be nice if, every so often, she’d actually trip up and make an error in judgment.

On the positive side, the two-episode ark guest starring Lindsay Lohan as Betty’s high school rival, who winds up working at Mode and trying to sabotage Betty, was sheer genius. The weakest episodes, meanwhile, involve Betty’s editorial internship program and the ridiculous season finale when Betty lands a promotion that’s the publishing equivalent of going from candy-striper to surgeon.

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The Proposal, $22.99 at Amazon.com

Who would’ve expected Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock to have such a great chemistry? And yet they do. Bullock gives a brilliant but understated performance as Margaret, a powerful book editor who is in danger of being deported back to her native Canada and who, hence, bullies her ambitious assistant Andrew (Reynolds) to marry her so that she can become a citizen. Though playing along could possibly land him in jail, Andrew worries that, if his intolerable boss leaves, he too will be fired, and so he begrudgingly agrees to move forward with the sham marriage.

With immigration officials on their trail, the “couple” has to act quickly — and the first step is introducing Margaret to Andrew’s family in Alaska and hoping that they believe their romance to be true (otherwise they would be accomplices). Since Andrew and Margaret know barely anything about one another, their weekend excursion winds up being a crash course on what makes them tick.

Though Bullock typically plays girl-next-door, free-spirited characters with boisterous personalities, she excels in this role, as a powerful but repressed and socially awkward woman. Reynolds, meanwhile,  flexes his comedic muscle here — which is particularly impressive given that his character is so subservient to Bullock’s character that he can’t fully express his contempt for her and, instead, must rely on irony, sarcasm, and subtle facial expressions to release his frustration. What makes the movie most fun is how, even as they conspire to pull off this faux marriage, they still subtly take jabs at one another, pouncing on any opportunity to potentially embarrass the other — until, that is, the lie they’d been perpetrating becomes real.

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