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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Cinderella" Story on DVD

"Cinderella Man"
Director: Ron Howard
Features: Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger
5 out of 5 stars

"Cinderella Man," back in theaters and new on DVD this week, is worthy in any format. It is one of those rare, moving, true stories - if submitted in a non-fiction writing class, it would get an F for being unbelievable. The film is certainly worthy of the price of theater admission and the DVD has some really outstanding features.

"Cinderella Man" is the life story of '30s boxer James J. "Gentleman Jim" Braddock and his wife Mae, passionately portrayed by Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Renée Zellweger. Braddock had some success in the late 1920s, but after the stock market crash, the family - the couple had three children - fell on difficult times. Braddock's bad luck followed him into the ring. He lost his boxing license and struggled to find work to feed the family and keep the heat on during those frigid New Jersey winters.

That's where the story took its Cinderella-like turn. In 1934, a last-minute cancellation on an undercard fight gave Braddock an unexpected chance. And to everyone's surprise, he won and kept on winning, eventually facing the much-feared Max Baer for the title.

The movie provides a look into the life of a man who publicly rose to greatness but was driven by far simpler motivations: the love of his wife and family and the need to keep them together and fed. Directed by Ron Howard ("A Beautiful Mind," "The Missing"), "Cinderella Man" truly gives the viewer a sense of the desperate times this country faced in the Great Depression.

The film is back in theaters, presumably to give Howard, Crowe, Zellweger and company a run at the Oscars. When the movie was first released earlier this year, Universal Studios took the unusual step of offering a money-back guarantee to viewers as a show of faith in the movie.

The DVD is loaded with extras. There are three voiceover commentaries from Howard, and one by each of the writers. Howard's is the most relevant; it would have made sense to combine the two writers' tracks into one. The DVD also features a descriptive visual service (DVS) audio track for the blind.

On the flip side of the disc, there is a deleted scenes section - a must see. Often these scenes were left on the cutting room floor for a good reason. Not so with these. Each deleted scene gives even more insight into these characters as well as the actors' performances.

There are also several documentaries included. They cover casting, making the film, boxing history, and the real-life family of Braddock.

Boxing fans will enjoy the boxing history feature with Angelo Dundee, trainer of Muhammad Ali, who has a small role in the movie. Everyone will enjoy the interviews with the Braddock family. Their pride in the accomplishments of their father and grandfather as well as their love for the man comes shining through.

James Braddock was a rock-solid, good and decent man. "Cinderella Man" beautifully portrays his life and times.

First published 12/14/05 in the Valley Life Section of the L.A. Valley Star.

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