August 1, 2008

Ready to Play? ; It’s Dated, but Thrills Remain in ‘WarGames’


More than two decades have passed since Matthew Broderick nearly started a global thermonuclear war with his home computer. While there have been tidal waves of change in technology since then, somehow "WarGames" ($15) now available in a new 25th-anniversary DVD, remains a taut, engaging thriller.

The 1983 mix of Cold War fears and hacker tricks still works for the same reasons that any decent suspense flick does: The story is compelling, the pace is quick, and the hero in peril (a young, fresh- faced Broderick) is likable. Of course, that's not to say the movie doesn't seem laughably dated during certain scenes. What seemed revolutionary, even sexy in the early '80s -- you can use a computer to book airline tickets?! -- will induce nothing but yawns among the Facebook-and-text-messaging set. But others may appreciate the bursts of floppy-disc nostalgia.

The DVD's extras are more solid than I expected, especially the 45-minute "Loading WarGames" documentary, which reveals all the drama, including the firing of the original screenwriters and a midstream change in directors, that went on behind the movie's scenes. The major players -- including John Badham, who ultimately directed, Broderick, Ally Sheedy and others -- all appear in interviews, something that doesn't always happen on these much- touted anniversary releases. Additional featurettes explore the film's impact on hacker culture and the inner workings of NORAD, intriguing stuff for people who get their kicks from computer shenanigans and government intrigue.

A word of warning: Do not get this "WarGames" confused with "WarGames: The Dead Code" ($27), a straight-to-DVD sequel that also arrived this week that moves the "WarGames" story into modern times, replacing U.S./Soviet tensions with the war on terror. It's a shlocky effort, the sort of thing one would only watch if it were airing on Showtime at 3 a.m. So if the question is, "Shall we play a game?" then the answer is no, not with "WarGames: The Dead Code." But with the original "WarGames"? Yes, you bet your Commodore 64.


Also new

*"The Counterfeiters" ($28.96, Sony; available Tuesday): Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics) finds himself in a concentration camp where his credo of self-preservation takes on starker tones.

Sorowitsch and other Jewish prisoners with expertise in banking and printing become central to the Nazi plan to devastate English and American financial markets with a flood of forged currency. The degree to which they assist forms the moral core of director Stefan Ruzowitzky's Oscar-winning film. The film convincingly examines the complex nature of humanity under inhuman conditions.

*"My Brother Is an Only Child" ($27.98, Velocity/ThinkFilm; available Tuesday): This Italian movie set during the 1960s and '70s, centers on Accio (Elio Germano), a plucky force of nature, who walks out on seminary school (the abstinence thing doesn't work for him), then becomes enthralled with the ideology of fascism.

His political belief, and his commitment to it and anything he pursues, causes constant collision with his older, good-looking brother, Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio), a socialist. Like virtually every Italian movie, it evokes the sensual, intimate dynamics of family. In Italian with subtitles.


Coming Tuesday

"Anthony Bourdain: Collection 3" (Image Entertainment), "Experience Hendrix" (Image), "The First Olympics: Athens, 1896" (Sony), "Garfield's Fun Fest" (Fox), "The Killing of John Lennon" (Genius), "Lonesome Dove: 2-Disc Collector's Edition" (Genius/RHI), "Nim's Island" (Fox), "Queen Sized" (Anchor Bay), "Sunset Tan: Season One" (Lionsgate) and "The Super Fun Show!" (Role Model Productions).


DVD Extra

TYRONE POWER MATINEE IDOL COLLECTION: This five-disc set has 10 movies ("Cafe Metropole,""Day-Time Wife,""Girl's Dormitory,""Johnny Apollo,""I'll Never Forget You,""Love Is News,""Luck of the Irish,""Second Honeymoon,""The Wonderful Urge" and "This Above All"), four featurettes and galleries. ($49.98, 20th Century Fox; available now.)

Originally published by Washington Post.

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