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‘Finding Nemo’ hooks you with family fun

/ Source: contributor

Have you ever gazed into an aquarium and wondered what the fish were thinking? Did you ever ponder the possibility that on some level they wished they were back frolicking in the deep blue sea with their extended family? Could you feel their longing, their disappointment, their frustration?

Me neither. Usually when I look in a fish bowl, I think they’re pretty lucky they’re looking at four glass walls instead of the inside of a shark. Of course, if the folks who produced “Finding Nemo” thought like me, they wouldn’t have made this fantastic little animated adventure. Never has salt water tasted so sweet.

“Finding Nemo” is out on DVD in a two-disc package filled to the gills with special extras. Naturally, the highlight is the feature itself, a tale of a dad, a son, a confused sidekick and an escape from a dentist’s office. Only the boundless imaginations of the idea anglers at Pixar could have served up this comic cioppino with such gusto.

Nemo is a stubborn little clownfish who strays and gets snagged in a diver’s net. Marlin is his dad. While Nemo plots his escape with the help of some colorful cohorts inside a tooth-puller’s office in Sydney, Marlin (the voice of Albert Brooks) enlists the aid of ditzy Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) to track down his son and bring him back home. Along the way, there is enough peril and undersea zaniness to keep the story moving like a hyperactive barracuda.

Disc One in the package includes the widescreen presentation of the feature; a look at the making of the artwork that went into “Nemo”; a making-of documentary, and commentary from the filmmakers along with deleted scenes. Disc Two is all special features and includes an exploration of the reef with Jean-Michel Cousteau and the Nemo friends as well as a “Fischarades” game.

Most of this “Finding Nemo” disk is geared toward kids, but on the other hand, some of the themes in the picture itself are a bit intense at times for tykes, especially the father-son separation and the shark attacks. For the most part, though, this is as much fun as snorkeling in the tropics amid an undersea wonderland, only a heck of a lot cheaper.

Check out this special feature: The character interviews in the “Behind the Scenes” feature on Disk Two are a lot of laughs, and they balance the relative seriousness of the Cousteau exploration of the coral reef, even if the latter has some fun with the animated characters as well. Also, if you’re a fan of Pixar as I am, you’ve probably seen the famous short, “Knick Knack,” which is also included here. If you haven’t, this is worth bringing home just for that.

“Legally Blond 2”
They should have called this “Legally Bland 2.” The first film had a certain goofy charm and some genuine laughs. Reese Witherspoon, as the irrepressible Elle Woods, created a character that was both maddeningly naive yet street-smart (as in, Rodeo Drive) and determined enough to prevail over the forces conspiring against the pinkish pixie.

Alas, “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde” is a flat, uninspired, watered-down take on the first picture, with none of the wit or freshness. It follows our heroine as she treks to Washington, D.C., to take up the cause of animal rights. The effort is so forced, you wonder if the critters involved didn’t lift their legs on the script.

I love little Bruiser, Elle’s canine companion, but don’t understand why the filmmakers decided that Bruiser and his brethren deserved to be the focus of the entire movie. Everyone would have been better served if they put their energies toward Elle’s love life and her pursuit of respect and empowerment, which she so richly deserves, and keep Bruiser in a supporting role where he belongs.

The “Special Edition” DVD has the essentials, not much more. There are deleted scenes, a gag reel (although if you watch the movie and the gag reel, you may get confused over which is which) and a “Welcome to Delta Nu” interactive quiz. All in all, unless you are fanatical about the color pink, or Chihuahuas, or pink Chihuahuas, you might want to pass, because this sequel is the cinematic equivalent of a bad dye job.

Check out this special feature: The only mildly interesting aspect of this disk is the “Blond Ambition” featurette, which involves interviews with the cast and crew. Of special note are the comments from director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, a sincere and talented guy who did much better work on the quirky and delightful, “Kissing Jessica Stein.” In fairness, we should just savor his enthusiasm, wait for his next effort, and assume that he got accidentally tethered to a little dog of a script here.

Two-disc special edition
The name Oliver Stone has forever been linked with conspiracy theories, and maybe that’s a good thing. On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, and Stone has smelled something fishy about it ever since. The result of his suspicions was “JFK,” infuriating to some, enlightening to others, provocative to all. Released in 1991, it rankled those who took the Warren Commission report as gospel, but it succeeded in setting off a national debate about whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, or if all those unanswered questions and loose ends somehow add up to a nefarious plot hatched by a panoply of shadowy culprits.

As a work of heartfelt genius, “JFK” is second only to “Salvador” on Stone’s resume. But “JFK” is the effort of an accomplished filmmaker mixing passion with wild abandon. With the assistance of cinematographer Robert Richardson (who won an Oscar for this), Stone expertly covers every angle in the maelstrom of events, using different film stocks and blending a documentarian’s clinical detachment with a deeply emotional connection to the principal players. The result is one of the most talked-about movies of the last quarter-century.

If you’ve soured on Kevin Costner lately, watch “JFK” and it may help you recall what all the fuss was once about. Before “Waterworld” and “The Postman” he had a Gary Cooperish everyman dignity that jumped off the screen. Here, as district attorney Jim Garrison, he embarks on a relentless quest for the truth, and even if you are in the camp that is somewhat dismayed by the liberties Stone takes with the facts here, there’s little doubt that Costner embodies the truth here as well as any actor could.

The rest of the cast is splendid as well. Of special note is Tommy Lee Jones as Clay Shaw and Gary Oldman as Oswald. And ordinarily filmgoers should not notice the editing, but try anyway, because Joe Hutshing and Pietro Scalia won Oscars for their work.

The Two-Disc Special Edition has so much stuff, all that’s missing is the “Second Spitter” spoof episode of “Seinfeld.” There is an audio commentary by Stone, 12 deleted/extended scenes, also with commentary, plus the usual production notes, theatrical trailer and essays. Also included for DVD-ROM PC use are articles about the JFK assassination itself.

Check out this special feature: The best extra of them all is “Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy,” which is better than any making-of doc on ordinary DVD releases. Such a feature is called for here, because “JFK” was intended by Stone to raise doubt and ask questions, and this takes the effort a step further. Be careful, because after this, you may want to construct models of the Texas Book Depository and the grassy knoll in your living room and try to figure it out for yourself.

Michael Ventre is a Los Angeles-based reporter who writes regularly for