|DVD Reviews For 6/5: So Long, Grasshopper
|by Peter Sobczynski
Although you should probably be spending this weekend watching the likes of “Kill Bill,” “Bound for Glory,” “Boxcar Bertha,’ “Death Race 2000” and multiple episodes of “Kung Fu” in order to pay tribute to the late David Carradine, to whom this week’s column is dedicated, the new releases do included such notable sights and sounds as Parker Posey on spring break, depressed suburbanites, a plethora of fake snakes and a long-forgotten masterpiece from one of the all-time great filmmakers.
Back in the early summer of 1964, Jean-Luc Godard was contacted by the head of the Venice Film Festival with an offer to present his latest work as part of the festivities if it would be ready to be shown. Although he had made no less than seven feature films during the previous five years (including such masterpieces as “Breathless,” “Vivre Sa Vie” and “Contempt”), he had nothing on hand to offer them. However, instead of politely declining on the basis that he didn’t actually have a film to present, he looked upon the situation as a challenge and over the course of less than one month, he managed to somehow write, direct and edit an entire feature from scratch in time to show at the festival. That he could pull off such a feat was a pretty spectacular accomplishment in and of itself--the fact that the resulting film, “Une Femme mariee” would turn out to be both one of the key works of his first major period of filmmaking in the way that it bridged the gap between his earlier character-driven films and the later and more politically oriented projects he did during this time and something that feels as fresh and relevant to watch today as it did when it first screened 45 years ago.
Subtitled “Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White,“ the film follows 24 hours in the life of Charlotte (Macha Meril), a middle class Parisian housewife torn between two men. During the days, she carries on with a lover, a vain and pretentious actor who looks at her essentially as a sex object and nothing more--during her scenes with him, she is seen almost entirely as a series of easily groped body parts that are framed to be almost indistinguishable from the sexy advertisements on display everywhere On the evenings, there is her husband, who treats her like a possession, is perfectly comfortable with forcing himself upon her or giving her the occasional slap if she gets out of line and is constantly flying off to one place or another while leaving her to raise his child from a previous marriage. Early on, Charlotte promises her lover that she will divorce her husband and go off with him but even though she says those words, there is no real sense that she means them--she seems more interested in a magazine article on increasing her bust size than in sorting out her life because that is how she senses that women of that time are supposed to act. Things come to a head quickly enough when Charlotte learns that she is pregnant--with no idea of which man is the father, she is finally forced to take her life into her well-manicured hands and take charge of her own life for the first time.
Largely overlooked in studies of Godard’s films of this period (which probably wouldn’t have been the case if Anna Karina, his then-wife and frequent star during this particular time) and relatively difficult to see, “Une Femme mariee” is a fascinatingly complex work for something that seems so simple and direct on the surface. One the one hand, he has taken the basic story of a romantic triangle in which someone is forced to choose between two very different lovers and given it several very interesting twists--for example, the central character isn’t a particularly likable person (she is selfish, vain and so clueless as to the world around here that she thinks that Auschwitz has something to do with thalidomide) and her choices aren’t exactly prizes either. It also serves as an indictment of the inequality between the sexes that was rampant at the time and the way that it was accepted without any hesitation by so many people who preferred to simply accept their prescribed lots in life--although Charlotte’s husband whines for forgiveness every time he treats her roughly, he refuses to forgive or (especially) forget an earlier infidelity while her lover develops a possessive streak that is sure to lead to bad news at some point down the line if she stays with him.
Finally, and most intriguingly from a contemporary perspective, Godard used this film as an initial exploration of a theme that he would go into greater detail on in such subsequent works as “Masculin/Feminin” and “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her”--the extent to which popular culture has invaded the lives of people and the extent to which it has transformed them into mindless consumers of whatever products or ideas it is pushing at any given time. Throughout the film, Charlotte is constantly being bombarded by ads, images and products that are trying to convince her that only by following their lead will she ever be able to find true happiness--in one of the most famous shots, the perfectly attractive Charlotte is literally dwarfed by a giant billboard informing her that only by wearing a certain bra will she become “the perfect woman.” (The joke is that when we see her in said underwear, it isn’t very alluring and the device she straps on in order to improve her posture is downright foolish.” In the early scenes of the film, this bombardment of consumerist messages has clearly helped turn Charlotte’s mind into mush but when she begins to focus on something more important regarding her own life later on, it begins to lose its hold on her in ways that allow here to think for herself about herself for what may be the first time in her life. Of course, things haven’t changed that much in this regard since 1964 and as a result, “Une Femme mariee” has a more contemporary feel than some of Godard’s other works of this period. It may not be the best place to begin for newcomers to his oeuvre (“Breathless” and “Vivre Sa Vie” are the best in that regard) but for students of his work who have long wished to witness this film, which has been fairly difficult to see over the years, this DVD, despite containing no bonus features to speak of, should go down as a major event for cinephiles everywhere.
Written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Starring Macha Meril, Bernard Noel, Philippe Leroy, Christophe Boursellier and Roger Leenhardt. 1964. Unrated. 94 minutes. An E1 Entertainment release. $26.98
NEW AND NOTABLE
ANACONDAS: TRAIL OF BLOOD (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): It was made by the same people who brought you “Anaconda 3,” it features more improperly rendered CGI snakes and the only actor in the cast that anyone has vaguely heard of is John Rhys-Davies. Is there anything else that you really need to know? By the way, if this film doesn’t satisfy your thirst for direct-to-video movies involving poorly executed CGI snakes wreaking vague havoc, this week also sees the release of “Silent Venom” (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98), in which Luke Perry, Krista Allen and Tom Berenger do battle with a bunch of deadly mutated snakes that get loose aboard, of all things, a submarine.
BABY ON BOARD (National Entertainment Media. $24.98): Although I have a soft spot in my heart for Heather Graham (no jokes from the peanut gallery), even her presence isn’t enough to save this hideous comedy in which she plays an ambitious businesswoman who unexpectedly finds herself bearing the foul drop of husband Jerry O’Connell, a turn of events that leads to much wackiness involving themselves and deeply unlikable pals John Corbett and Lara Flynn Boyle. I don’t want to sound harsh but if ever there was a movie that could have used an attack by a group of imperfectly rendered CGI snakes, it is this one.
DEFIANCE (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): There have, of course, been countless films about the Holocaust in recent years and for the most part, they have dealt almost exclusively with the victimization of their characters at the hands of their oppressors. By telling the true-life story of a trio of brothers (Daniel Craig, Live Schreiber and Jaime Bell) who helped to shelter over a thousand Jewish refugees in the woods while training them to fight back against their oppressors, director Ed Zwick gives us a Holocaust story that is more interested in showing its characters fighting back instead of suffering (although there is enough of that to go around here as well) and the sheer unusualness of such an approach is enough to grab one’s interest for a few minutes. Unfortunately, while one can applaud Zwick’s ambitions regarding the project--half “Schindler’s List” and half “Red Dawn”--the way he handles the material is so draggy and dully earnest in tone that the proceedings pretty much grind to a halt early on.
DIRECT CONTACT (First Look Films. $28.95): Apparently Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes were unable to make time in their busy schedules and so Dolph Lundgren gets the nod in this direct-to-video action thriller in which he plays a former Special Forces operative who is sprung from the Russian prison he has been rotting in and charged with rescuing a kidnapped American woman. He pulls this off handily--hey, he is Dolph Lundgren, after all--but soon discovers that nothing is as it seems and that everyone now seems to want to kill him for reasons that he must puzzle out for himself.
THE FOX AND THE CHILD (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): For the follow-up to his utterly loathsome award-winning international hit “March of the Penguins,” nature filmmaker Luc Jacquet returns with this tale of the adventures that are shared between a 10-year-old girl and the wild fox that she inexplicably defends. On the bright side, Morgan Freeman was apparently too busy to show up to narrate this one, so Kate Winslet has instead donated her dulcet tones to that task.
HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98): Although this all-star chick flick, based on the best-selling self-help book of the same name, will no doubt be compared to any number of similar works that have come out in the last few years, the film that I found myself comparing it to the most while watching it was, of all things, Stanley Kramer’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” Like that 1963 epic, it utilizes a multiple storyline structure in which a large cast of well-known faces stumble about in myriad ways in the pursuit of a common goal--in this case, love and happiness instead of $350,000 hidden under a giant W. However, also like “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” the film is way too long, not very funny and doesn’t really have anything interesting to say about its subject. Then again, as unspeakably bad chick movies go, it is slightly better than the likes of “Bride Wars” or “New in Town.” Then again, so was “My Bloody Valentine 3-D.”
THE HUNGER, SEASON ONE (E1 Entertainment. $39.98): In one of the weirder examples of the anthology show mini-craze that hit cable television in the 1990’s, executive producers Ridley and Tony Scott decided to take the title of the latter’s first film, a 1983 cult vampire film most famous for featuring Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in arguably the two greatest minutes in screen history, and use it as the entrance point for a show that combined the sexual content of “Red Shoe Diaries,“ the blood and guts of “Tales from the Crypt” and the format of “The Twilight Zone” (with Terrence Stamp as your host, a position he would be replaced in for the following season by another co-star of the original “The Hunger,” David Bowie). As you will quickly discover after plowing through the 22 Season One episodes on display here, which is presumably only getting a release at this time to tie in with the hype surrounding the second season of “True Blood,” the show as a whole is pretty dumb. However, if you have a taste for sex and gore (both of which are on display in abundance) and enjoy seeing future stars embarrassing themselves in early roles (Daniel Craig, Lena Heady and Colin Ferguson are among those who turn up here), you will probably have some fun with this. Other TV-related DVDs hitting store shelves this week include “Army Wives: The Complete Second Season” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $45.99), “Cannon: Season 2, Volume 1 (CBS DVD. $36.98), “The Jetsons: Season 2, Volume 1” (Turner Home Entertainment. $34.98), “Prison Break: Season Four” (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), “Quincy: Season Three” (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Raising the Bar: The Complete First Season” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99) and “Weeds: Season Four” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $39.98).
THE LAST DAYS OF THE FILLMORE (Rhino Home Video. $19.98): If you can’t wait until the release of the 40th anniversary DVD of “Woodstock” that is coming in a couple of weeks (and which is pretty damn spectacular, by the way) to let your musical freak flag fly, you might want to check out this long-unavailable 1972 documentary chronicling how some of the biggest bands of the psychedelic era helped concert impresario Bill Graham close out his famous Fillmore West concert hall in San Francisco with a bang. Among the performers on display here are the Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Santana and the Jefferson Airplane. Even better, there isn’t a smidgen of Sha-Na-Na to queer things up.
THE NEIL YOUNG ARCHIVES VOL.1: 1963-1972 (Reprise Records. $249.99): For over 20-odd years now, Neil Young has been promising/threatening to release a massive collection unreleased tracks and film footage spanning his entire career and finally, the first full set of material from that project has finally seen the light of day and it is just as mammoth as promised. The set includes 9 DVDs containing 128 songs (including demos and live versions of such favorites as “Down By the River,” “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” and “Heart of Gold”), videos, film clips, lyric sheets and much more and a 10th disc containing “Journey Through the Plants,” the 1970 documentary that marked his directorial debut. Although this may not be the best place for those unfamiliar with Young’s career to begin (that would be the fairly expansive compilation “Decade”), but for hard-core fans, this enormous collection of goodies is certainly worth the long, long wait.
THE NEW YORK YANKEES: ESSENTIAL GAMES OF YANKEE STADIUM--PERFECT GAMES AND NO-HITTERS (A&E Entertainment. $49.95): Even if you hate the Yankees with every fiber of your being, if you have any interest in the history of baseball, you are going to want to pick up this six-disc set featuring complete broadcasts (with one exception) of six of the most spectacular games ever played in Yankee Stadium--no-hitters from Dave Righetti (against the Red Sox in 1983), Jim Abbott (versus Cleveland in 1993) and Dwight Gooden (mopping the floor with Seattle in 1996) and perfect games from Don Larsen (in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers, no less), David Wells (against the Minnesota Twins in 1998) and David Cone (versus the Montreal Expos in 1999). Alas, the first inning of the Larsen game has been lost in the mists of time but to make up for it, the disc includes an alternate audio track to the original TV broadcast (featuring Mel Allen and Vin Scully) consisting of the radio broadcast from Bob Wolff as part of a cache of extras that include interviews with the players.
REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Long considered to be the unquestioned front-runner in last year’s Oscar race (at least until people actually began to see it themselves), this high-toned adaptation of the Richard Yates novel, which details the disintegration of a young couple (Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet) who find their dreams of happiness and personal fulfillment fall victim to the horrors of living an upper-middle-class suburban existence in the early 1960’s, turned out to be just as lifeless and stultifying as the milieu it was exposing. Outside of another outstanding performance from Winslet, the only thing that this film managed to accomplish was to solidify director Sam Mendes’ position as perhaps the most overrated filmmaker of our time.
SPRING BREAKDOWN (Warner Home Video. $27.99): Considering how long this comedy, in which three longtime friends (Parker Posey, Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler) get the chance to have the spring break that their geekiness denied them 20 years earlier when they are charged with accompanying the daughter of a high-ranking politician (Amber Tamblyn) to hers, has been sitting on a shelf despite its high-profile cast, you might be convinced that the film is a complete disaster. While it is far from being what anyone might consider to be a classic, the three stars bring in just enough laughs to make it worth a look and it is certainly better than such recent raunchy junk like “Fired Up” or “Sex Drive.”
AIR FORCE ONE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95)
ANACONDA (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95)
BRUCE ALMIGHTY (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)
DARK BLUE (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)
FLETCH (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)
GLORY (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95)
THE GRADUATE (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)
NAVY SEALS (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)
ROAD HOUSE (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)
TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)
WALKING TALL (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.98)
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originally posted: 06/05/09 13:06:17
last updated: 06/05/09 13:28:17