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Improvement on classic narrative

The Time Machine (PG-13)

Shy inventor Alexander Hartdegen (Guy Pearce) develops a time-traveling chariot that propels him 800,000 years into the future when cannibals and pacifists roam the post-apocalyptic Earth. High-tech adaptation of the classic science fiction novel, with a late, malevolent turn by Jeremy Irons as leader of the Morlocks.

First impressions: "Not even H.G. Wells could have imagined what his great-grandson Simon Wells has done to his science fiction story The Time Machine. The author's descendant improved the narrative, goosed up the action and surpassed the cheesy 1960 version by George Pal that remains a childhood favorite.

"Best of all _ and somewhat ironic _ is the fact that Simon Wells did it with a shorter running time, barely 90 minutes before the end credits. This movie really moves, seeming much leaner than the plot detours lead a viewer to believe. When the inventor starts time-tripping, the pacing is so relentless that even an easy-out ending isn't bothersome. Before you can think of complaining, the movie's over."

Second thoughts: Not the springtime blockbuster everyone expected, but a good movie nonetheless.

Rental audience: Science fiction fans, clockwatchers.

Rent it if you enjoy: Time After Time or Pal's original version.

Crossroads (PG-13)

Pop singer Britney Spears makes her dramatic acting debut, playing an honor student and karaoke ace on a road trip to locate her estranged mother (Kim Cattrall). Along for the ride are two other young misses (Zoe Saldana, Taryn Manning) with, like, issues to deal with, and a hunky driver (Anson Mount) who looks too creepy-old to be hanging around with jail bait.

First impressions: "The nicest thing to be said about Crossroads is that it isn't Glitter. Mariah Carey's thunderous flop is still the best punch line for jokes about singers with no business in the movies. (Why didn't the chicken cross the road? Because Glitter was on the other side.) Crossroads is easier to swallow because Spears isn't ego-tripping. She looks and behaves like just another mall rat imitating her favorite singer, who happens to be her."

Second thoughts: Oops, bet she won't do it again.

Rental audience: Do you have to ask?

Rent it if you enjoy: MTV's Total Request Live. But only with Britney, of course.

"Speed' moves even faster in DVD

Speed (Five Star Edition)

Jan DeBont's 1994 thriller had a foolproof scheme: Stick a bomb on a bus that can't drop below 50 mph or else it'll explode. What a concept, a surefire way to maintain dramatic velocity with a speedometer instead of a cliched countdown clock. Especially with a dependable wacko like Dennis Hopper holding the detonator.

Speed is the essence of an expanded Five Star Edition from Fox Home Entertainment, a fitting tribute to one of the greatest action flicks ever. The story revolves around a mad bomber (Hopper) antagonizing a SWAT cop (Keanu Reeves) with a series of explosive surprises including that rigged bus, driven by a spunky woman (Sandra Bullock). But plot doesn't matter as much as the mayhem, a procession of close calls and violent escapes crafted like mini-movies.

Several of those action sequences are detailed in an appealing, interactive bonus feature. A fight scene between Reeves and Hopper in a metrorail tunnel is shown from three camera angles, up close, mid-range and overhead, with users able to change views with a remote control click. Eight cameras rolled for a daring downtown L.A. train crash and a bus leap over a dead end, at varying speeds to enhance the velocity when projected. Composites of all these angles are available at once.

The same split-screen technology enables the disc to compare storyboard sketches with the live footage they inspired, plus sketches of an unfilmed scene of a SWAT officer hanging from a helicopter in an attempt to land on the bus roof, narrowly missing an overpass only to crash through a truckload of plate glass windows. In his recorded comments, DeBont still sounds disappointed that the studio wouldn't let him do it.

Five extended scenes are presented although the film's rushed schedule and tight budget resulted in little extra footage but some makes a difference, fleshing out Bullock's character and Hopper's rage.

The disc also includes the usual previews, interviews (although only from the film's original release), production notes and photo gallery, plus an HBO behind-the-scenes special that Speed freaks should know by heart. They may not recall that Billy Idol recorded a music video of the title song, included here, promoting the movie but apparently not his career.

DeBont's audio commentary track is informative, but the other narration provided by producer Mark Gordon and screenwriter Graham Yost is constantly fascinating, if only to hear what kind of tales they tell out of school. The two artists are obviously good friends and their light-hearted banter is more candid about casting decisions and studio politics than usual in these situations.

We learn, for example, that Halle Berry was the first choice to play Bullock's role. That's better than their serious discussion of making the character a comedy driving school instructor played by Ellen DeGeneres. Hopper's bad guy was originally intended to be the triggerman for the real villain, who was to be Reeves' SWAT partner. That role ended up with Jeff Daniels but Ed Harris would have gotten it if those plans weren't scrapped.

Gordon and Yost riff on why John Woo didn't want to join the project, on Daniels being convinced that he was making a piece of junk and on how some of the film's concrete debris looks exactly like the Styrofoam it is. That bus can't go below 50, but these guys talk a mile a minute.

No brag, just fact

Having your teeth kicked out by a horse doesn't seem like a good career move but it worked for Walter Brennan. The accident occurred in 1932 when Brennan was still an unbilled stunt performer, mostly in sagebrush Westerns, and contributed both to his appearance as a man older than his years and to one of the most familiar voices ever in show business.

Before he died of emphysema in 1974 at age 80, Brennan established himself as the only actor ever to win three supporting-role Academy Awards. He was the quintessential character actor, rarely deviating from his folksy demeanor, even when playing bad guys.

Brennan was never a leading man, but a memorably limping sidekick for such Hollywood legends as John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper. Later, he was a welcomed guest in households through such television jobs as The Real McCoys and The Guns of Will Sonnett, earning him the unofficial title of America's grandpa.

Brennan was born on this date in 1894. Any of the these home video selections would be suitable celebrations of his remarkable career. As Will Sonnett often said: No brag, just fact.

Come and Get It _ Brennan won his first Oscar playing a Swedish lumberman who marries the former lover (Frances Farmer) of his best friend (Edward Arnold). Director Howard Hawks was fired during production after insulting studio chief Sam Goldwyn and replaced by William Wyler. Brennan already had nearly 100 movies to his credit.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer _ Considered by many as the definitive screen version of Mark Twain's novel. Brennan was a perfect Muff Potter, falsely charged with murder and saved by the brave testimony of a runaway scamp.

Kentucky _ Although not available on home video, this 1938 film won Brennan his second Academy Award as a horse breeder stoking a family feud. The film's shuffling stereotypes of African-Americans keeps this one off the market, just like Disney's Song of the South.

The Westerner _ Brennan portrays one of the Old West's most colorful characters, Judge Roy Bean, who never met a man he didn't like to hang. Gary Cooper stars as a horse thief heading for the gallows who exploits Bean's infatuation with the actor Lily Langtry to stay alive. Brennan earned his third Academy Award in as many nominations.

Sergeant York _ Brennan finally lost an Oscar race in 1941 after his fourth and final nomination. He played a brimstone preacher steering a farm boy (Cooper) on the right path, and counseling him when pacifist ideals conflict with World War I duties.

The Pride of the Yankees _ Cooper shines as baseball legend Lou Gehrig, the luckiest man on the face of the earth despite a life-ending illness. Brennan supported Cooper in seven films overall, this one as a sportswriter lending perspective to Gehrig's accomplishments.

To Have and Have Not _ A boat captain for hire (Humphrey Bogart) and his boozing first mate (Brennan) transport a French resistance soldier through Nazi forces. Bogart was more distracted by the screen debut of his other co-star, later his wife, Lauren Bacall.

My Darling Clementine _ Brennan snorts and fumes as Old Man Clanton, father of several victims of the famed gunfight at the OK Corral. Henry Fonda makes a great Wyatt Earp.

Red River _ Another great Western from director Howard Hawks, John Wayne plays a cattle driver losing his herd to his adopted son (Montgomery Clift), then obsessively tracking it down. Brennan, Noah Beery Jr. and Harry Caray Jr. were memorably dusty cowpokes.

Tammy and the Bachelor _ Age and gentler roles brought out the twinkle in Brennan's eyes, especially when offering grandfatherly advice to a perky, lovestruck teenager (Debbie Reynolds). The bachelor of the title is Leslie Nielsen (the Naked Gun series) when he was still trying to be taken seriously.

Rio Bravo _ Tough sheriff (Wayne) enlists a drunk (Dean Martin), a baby-faced gunfighter (Ricky Nelson) and a boozy cripple named Stumpy (Brennan) to keep a killer in jail. Brennan even sings a lick or two with Nelson, who also duets with Martin on the song My Rifle, My Pony and Me. I'm not kidding.

Support Your Local Sheriff _ A genial parody of the Western films that made Brennan famous. James Garner stars as a laid-back lawman doing it just for the pay, and Brennan is the scheming town patriarch who doesn't want him around.

The Over-the-Hill Gang _ This made-for-TV movie was a swan song for Brennan and fellow aging saddle mates Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, Pat O'Brien and Chill Wills. "We're so far over the hill," Brennan's character says, "that we don't remember seeing the hump." Each of those character actors, however, had nice rides.

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