|by Peter Sobczynski
In which your faithful critic manages to tear himself away from the cover of the new "Vanity Fair" to babble about a couple of last year's best films, a couple of the worst and a pair of completely unnecessary sequels and also uncovers perhaps the best Jack Nicholson movie that you've never heard of.
At the 1997 Academy Awards, Jack Nicholson scored the third Oscar of his long and illustrious career when he was named Best Actor for his crowd-pleasing turn in “As Good As It Gets.” It was a nice performance in a nice movie but the irony is that while he deserved the award that year, he won it for the wrong performance (and I suspect that if you asked him, he would probably say the same thing.) The film that he should have won it for was “Blood and Wine,” a little-seen thriller that came and, despite raves from some critics, quickly disappeared. Now it has slipped onto DVD with little advance notice and not only does it still hold up as one of the great underrated American films of recent years, the disc itself is one of the biggest bargains of the year for what you get for its relatively modest $14.95 list price.
In the film, Nicholson plays a wine merchant whose outwardly perfect-seeming life is on the skids–he is nearly broke, he constantly argues with his drunken wife (Judy Davis) and his stepson (Stephen Dorff) hates his guts. He teams up with an aging and dying British thug (Michael Caine) and, with the aid of his sexy mistress (Jennifer Lopez), steals a million-dollar necklace from a Florida millionaire. The heist goes smoothly but he gets into a violent quarrel with his wife and she stomps out on him and inadvertently takes the necklace with her. To say more about what happens next would be a sin except to say that the screenplay moves forward with grim and implacable logic without ever resorting to silly plot twists to keep viewers guessing. More importantly, this is the rare thriller that is populated with three-dimensional characters instead of puppets who exist only to be jerked around by the plot. Nicholson delivers a brilliant, schtick-free performance as a man desperately trying and failing to hold things together and Caine is simply terrifying as the partner whose brutal actions are driven less by greed than by a poignant fear of dying in jail. Even Lopez and Dorff are excellent here–this is, with the single exception of “Out of Sight,” the best and most appealing screen turn from Lopez and Dorff goes head-to-head with Nicholson in several scenes and proves himself more than equal to the task.
Even though the film didn’t do well theatrically (director Bob Rafelson, who had worked with Nicholson on several previous films, wouldn’t get to direct another theatrical release until 2003's “No Good Deed,” another neo-noir gem that deserves a revival, if only for the erotically-charged scene involving Samuel L. Jackson, Milla Jovovich and a cello), the people who were involved with it clearly regarded it as something special and thanks to them, what could have been just a bare-bones release has been transformed into a crowded package filled with substantial features. There are a number of deleted scenes and making-of featurettes featuring new interviews with many of the participants. Rafelson contributes an entertaining and informative commentary track chronicling the making of the film and, best of all, Nicholson, Caine and Dorff, along with producer Jeremy Thomas and critic Stephen Farber, turn up for a second commentary track in which they examine some of the key scenes in the film and discuss what went into performing them. (Highlight: Nicholson and Rafelson both talk about how studio bigwigs objected to a shot of Lopez’s most famous asset on the grounds that it was supposedly too big to be attractive.) Considering the quality of both the film and the supplements and its more-than-reasonable price, this disc is almost certainly going to wind up as one of the best to be released this year.
Written by Nick Villiers and Alison Cross. Directed by Bob Rafelson. Starring Jack Nicholson, Stephen Dorff, Jennifer Lopez, Judy Davis and Michael Caine. 1997. 101 minutes. Rated R. A Fox Home Entertainment release. $14.95
NEW AND NOTABLE
13 GOING ON 30-FUN AND FLIRTY EDITION (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $19.95): Help pay for another pair of booties for the offspring of Bennifer Redux by repurchasing this silly fantasy (in which a 13-year-old-girl is magically transformed into Jennifer Garner with much hilarity) in an edition that adds only an alternate beginning and ending to the previously issued disc. It’ll be like actually going to the baby shower, only without the sheet cake.
BAMBI II (Buena Vista Home Video. $29.95):
Pure and unsullied childhood memories-0.
THE BEST OF THE ELECTRIC COMPANY (Shout Factory. $49.98): Finally, Easy Reader, Fargo North, Decoder, Spider-Man and many more are available on DVD in this 4-disc collection consisting of 20 episodes of the award-winning PBS series shot during its 1971-1977 heyday.
THE BEST OF YOUTH (Miramax Home Video. $29.95): You probably didn’t catch this during its brief theatrical run last year–either because it never came to your neighborhood or because you were put off by the notion of watching a six-hour-long Italian movie (originally designed as a miniseries for Italian television). However, you should definitely carve out some time because this epic saga, chronicling the political and social upheaval in Italy circa 1965-2000 through the eyes of two brothers as they embark on wildly different paths, is a marvelous, always-compelling work that is one of the best films to emerge from Italy in a long time.
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (Paramount Home Video. $19.95): The movie in which Audrey Hepburn played the most adorable, winsome and elegant whore in film history as Holly Golightly and Mickey Rooney played perhaps the most gauche, repellent and unnecessary ethnic stereotype in film history as the wacky Japanese landlord.
DOOM (Universal Home Video. $29.98): I don’t want to say that this idiotic adaptation of the classic first-person shooter is bad but if this film were actually a videogame, it would be the old Atari 2600 “E.T.” game.
ELIZABETHTOWN (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): When Cameron Crowe’s latest film, a romantic comedy-drama about an ambitious young man (Orlando Bloom) at a personal and professional crossroads and Kirsten Dunst as the impossibly perfect stewardess who helps to guide him on his way, debuted last fall, it was lambasted by people who seemed almost offended that he dared to make a low-key personal film instead of a big, glossy entertainment. Ignore them–the film is a charmer from start to finish and I persist that it will one day be rediscovered and appreciated.
EROS (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Three acclaimed directors–Wong Kar-Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michaelangelo Antonioni–each contributed a short film dealing with the title subject in this odd anthology film. Of them, Wong’s is the most formally beautiful (and serves as a key link between “In the Mood for Love” and “2046"), Soderbergh’s is the strangest and funniest and Antonioni’s, with its wisp of a narrative that eventually gives way to an extended appreciation of the nude female form, is either the most poetic or the most pretentious, depending on your point of view.
GROUNDED FOR LIFE-SEASON ONE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $39.95): Put on television during that brief, largely forgotten period of American history when people though that Donal Logue was a star in the making after “The Tao of Steve,” this silly sitcom seemed to be cancelled and revived more times than “Family Guy” before it finally went off the air for good. Now, thanks to DVD, you can largely ignore it all over again.
GROWING PAINS-THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video. $29.98): You know, I have never actually seen a single episode of this show–the one that made Kirk Cameron a teen heartthrob for about six minutes and which gave Alan Thicke a career after his dismal attempt to unseat Johnny Carson–and despite having every episode of its first season now available on a group of shiny silver discs, I intend to keep it that way.
JUST LIKE HEAVEN (Dreamworks Home Entertainment. $29.95): In the single worst film of 2005, Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo glumly go through their paces in what can only be described as a romantic comedy version of the Terri Schiavo case, only with a more Republican-friendly ending. So bad that I understand that Felicity Huffman is sending copies of it to Oscar voters in an effort to boost her chances.
LAST AMERICAN HERO (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): For those of you who have listened to Bruce Springsteen’s “Cadillac Ranch” and wondered who the guy was that he mentions in the second verse alongside James Dean and Burt Reynolds, this criminally underrated 1973 biopic about Junior Johnson (played by Jeff Bridges), whose abilities behind the wheel of a car took him from being a moonshine runner to a NASCAR champion, should answer your questions.
MAKING LOVE (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): For those of you who want to be reminded of a time when Harry Hamlin wasn’t just sitting in the audience of “Dancing With the Stars,” you can enjoy this 1982 drama, in which he plays the other man who comes between married couple Michael Ontkean and Kate Jackson–the twist is that he becomes Ontkean’s lover. Sort of the “Brokeback Mountain” of its day, except for the fact that it wasn’t very good, no one went to see it and it pretty much all but disappeared from view until this week.
MOONLIGHTING-SEASON 3 (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $39.98): Generally regarded as the high-water mark for the Bruce Willis-Cybill Shepard screwball comedy series, this is the season that contains the immortal “Atomic Shakespeare” episode, in which “The Taming of the Shrew” is put through the wringer in a manner that makes the “Fractured Fairy Tales” on “Bullwinkle” look staid by comparison. The set ends with the series of episodes culminating in Willis and Shepard consummating their on-screen relationship–since that is the point where the show went all to hell, you can buy this knowing it will pretty much be the last “Moonlighting” set you need to purchase.
THE NET-2.0 (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Video. $24.95): From the home-video division that gave you “Wild Things 2,” “Cruel Intentions 3" and “8MM 2,” a quasi-sequel to a 1995 Sandra Bullock techno-thriller that I don’t think even Roger Ebert asked for. However, I must admit that lead actors Nikki DeLoach and Demet Akbag have two of the best actor names I have heard in a long time.
PRIVATE LESSONS: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $14.95): You know, back in my day–long before cable and affordable VCR’s–if we wanted to see the Good Parts of this immortal lucky-teen-seduced-by-family-maid (Sylvia Kristel) comedy, we had to sit up late at night with the TV tuned to ON TV, frantically adjusting the antenna until the wavy lines gave way to something that might have been a nipple. Now, all the kids today have to do is go down to their local electronics emporium, slap down $15 bucks and it is all right there for them. Lucky punks.
RYAN’S DAUGHTER (Warner Home Video. $26.98): David Lean’s next-to-last film (after its release in 1970, he would only complete 1984's “A Passage to India”) is a gorgeous-looking and elegant romantic epic about a triangle that develops between a steadfast and quiet Irish schoolteacher, his tempestuous young wife (Sarah Miles) and the youthful British soldier who sweeps her off his feet and into a scandal involving possible treason. There is one flaw in the film and it lies in the casting–the soldier is played by the handsome-but-shallow Christopher Jones (best known for “Wild in the Streets” and being the subject of the question, “Whatever happened to Christopher Jones?”) while the schoolteacher is played by the legendary Robert Mitchum and he blows the callow youth off the screen just by standing there. Still, the film is worth watching and the DVD contains a commentary featuring Miles, various people involved with the production, Lean’s widow, Mitchum’s daughter and fans such as John Boorman and Hugh Hudson.
WAITING (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $28.98): Imagine “Clerks” without the wit or intelligent dialogue (but with the same visual panache) and you have this worthless gross-out comedy about a group of jackasses (led, inevitably, by Ryan Reynolds) staving off boredom while working at a faux-Applebee’s restaurant. If you rent or purchase this movie willingly, you are never allowed to criticize anything I write for as long as you live.
WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT (Dreamworks Home Entertainment. $29.95): A sheer delight from the first frame to the last, British stop-motion animation genius Nick Park’s most beloved creations–a cheese-obsessed inventor and his steadfast and resolute dog–made the leap from shorts to feature-length films in a hilarious work (in which the duo go to work as humane pest controllers and inadvertently create a vegetable-ravaging were-bunny) that managed to maintain the quiet charm of the original films despite the increased size and scope. If you watch this movie without once cracking a smile, you simply must have been born without a soul and should stick with the likes of “Waiting.”
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originally posted: 02/10/06 15:38:42
last updated: 02/18/06 15:00:14