|DVD Reviews for 7/24: That’s “The Great DVD Reviews for 7/24”
|by Peter Sobczynski
Two more obscurities from one of the world’s leading filmmakers and one of 2009’s best films highlight an otherwise pokey week in the world of shiny discs.
Although I have often prided this column for its relatively free-wheeling nature, there are a couple of hard-and-fast rules that I try to maintain, especially in regards to what I choose to write the long review on, and which I generally only mention at a time when I am about to break one of them. One that I especially try to abide by is my choice to limit such reviews to one film per director per year--this allows me to avoid repeating myself and it gives me a chance to point you in the direction of some films and filmmakers that you may not have heard of. However, there are exceptions to that rule and one of them is that whenever a new DVD of a film from the great French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard comes out, it will almost certainly get the lead spot unless there is something even more significant coming out (and that is almost never the case). This week, the Criterion Collection is issuing two important titles from his still-astonishing initial burst of filmmaking that stood the cinematic world on its head during the Sixties--1966’s “Made In U.S.A.” and 1967’s “2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her”--and they are among the most significant DVD releases of the year, partly because they have been so difficult (nearly impossible in the case of “Made in U.S.A.”) and partly because they are key works from the key period in the career of one of the most important filmmakers of all time.
Always ambitious in his filmmaking plans, Godard shot these two movies at the same time--at certain point, he would shoot material for one in the morning and the other in the afternoon--and of them, “Made in U.S.A.” is the one that is marginally more conventional. Very loosely based on one of the Parker novels by Donald E. Westlake (of course, Godard never got permission from Westlake to do so and, despite the very tenuous connection between the book and film, the author successfully sued him--the reason why the film has been so hard to see in America for the last 40-odd years), the film stars Anna Karina (in her last film to date for Godard, whom she was divorcing at the time) as a writer who comes to America to find out why her ex-fiancée (never seen, though Godard himself supplies his voice on the soundtrack) has turned up dead. It seems that the fiancée was a communist and that what looks like an ordinary gangland slaying may well have serious political undertones tying into France’s misadventures in Algeria. Although the narrative occasionally veer towards the bewildering (perhaps unsurprisingly, the mundane details of the mystery are of little interest or consequence to Godard), it is still absolutely fascinating to watch today as a deconstruction of the mystery genre (one jam-packed with references to other filmmakers, actors and writers throughout), a snapshot of France’s political climate at the time and as a final cinematic Valentine (though one more barbed than usual) from Godard to Karina, the most iconic actress that he would ever work with and a key element to some of his finest films. As a bonus, Marianne Faithful pops up at one point to serenade viewers with an off-the-cuff rendition of her hit “As Tears Go By.”
Like “Made in U.S.A.,” “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her” was also inspired by something that Godard read--in this case, a newspaper article about how some housewives living in the new (and newly expensive) high-rise apartment buildings that were beginning to dot the Parisian landscape were quietly turning to prostitution during the day when their husbands were at work as a way of earning more money. Intrigued, Godard transformed that idea into a very loose and documentary-style narrative that followed one such woman (Marina Vlady) as she went about her daily routine--the irony being that the inevitable tide of “progress” has left her and others with less money and personal space and has forced them into increasingly dehumanizing circumstances as a way of simply making ends meet. At the same time, Godard also shows us how Paris itself was rapidly losing its unique personality in a swarm of bland construction projects and outdoor advertising was destroying the unique character of the area in the long run in exchange for the short-run financial benefits. There are many other ideas set forth in the film--the notion that conspicuous consumerism is a plot by governments to distract the populace with meaningless frivolity so that they don’t notice what is really going on around them being a key one--and while not all of them may make sense through today’s eyes (and they may have seemed goofy back in 1967), what is surprising is how contemporary it feels both in its approach and in its impact.; I can see people watching the DVD and debating its points and its ultimate meaning with as much fervor as they did when they emerged from screenings 42 years ago.
Although the notion of being able to see these films in gorgeous transfers that allow them to finally chuck they grey-market tapes will be enough to induce most Godard fans to pony up for these two DVDs, Criterion has put together a nice package of bonus features for each one. “Made in U.S.A.” contains interviews with Anna Karina and co-star Laszlo Szabo, a video examination of both films conducted by Godard biographers Colin MacCabe and Richard Brody, a visual guide to the numerous cultural references strewn throughout the film, trailers from both its original release and recent reissue and an essay by critic J. Hoberman. As for “2 or 3 Things I Know About Her,” it kicks off with a commentary track from scholar Adrian Martin and also includes a pair of archival interviews--one with Vlady on the set and one featuring Godard debating prostitution with a government official on a public affairs show--as well as a contemporary one with former Godard associate Antoine Bourseiller, another visual guide to the multiple references and a booklet including an essay by critic Amy Taubin and a reprint of the original letter that sparked the idea for the film in the first place.
A Criterion Collection release. $29.95 each.
NEW AND NOTABLE
BUNDY (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Parker Lewis loses his grip in this grisly and fairly unpleasant direct-to-video exploitation item in which Corin Nemec essays the role of the famous serial killer. See, you thought I was going to go for a cheap “Married With Children” joke, didn’t you. To tell you the truth, I did try to work on one for a while but finally gave up out of mild boredom.
CORALINE (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98): One of the finest films released so far this year, Henry Selick’s stop-motion animation adaptation of the Neil Gaiman story, in which a bored little girl with inattentive parents travels through a mysterious door in her family’s new house to a parallel world in which everything is as perfect as can be but comes at a terrible price, is a masterpiece both as a technical marvel and as a compelling narrative. The DVD includes both the 2-D and 3-D versions along with a slew of extras showing you the massive undertaking that Selick & Co. undertook to bring it to the big screen. Yes, it may be a little too creepy and intense for younger viewers (hell, it is powerful enough to freak out older ones as well) but I would say that if they have been able to handle the last couple of Harry Potter movies with no problem, they shouldn’t have any trouble here.
DAKOTA SKYE (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): Billing itself as a cross between “Juno” and “Heroes”--great if you like those two items and less so if you don’t--this veteran of the festival circuit tells the story of an acerbic teenage girl with the power to tell when people are lying to her. Instead of cleaning up at the poker tales, she uses this power to mope about until she finally meets a guy incapable of lying--the best pal of her boyfriend.
ECHELON CONSPIRACY (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): In what is essentially a dumbed-down version of “Eagle Eye”--something that I didn’t think was actually possible--hunky computer wizard Shane West comes into possession of a cell phone that helps him avoid a fatal plane flight and score big at a casino. This naturally attracts the attention of all sorts of government agents and our hero goes on the run to avoid them while trying to get to the bottom of who sent the phone and why. Among the other actors turning up here are Ed Burns, Ving Rhames and Martin Sheen.
THE GREAT BUCK HOWARD (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): In this reasonably charming comedy-drama, a dissatisfied law student (Colin Hanks) drops out of school and goes to work as a road manager for a once-popular magician (John Malkovich) who doesn’t quite seem to realize that his best days are at least twenty years behind him. There is nothing really new here but the combination of an occasionally amusing script, a game cast (which also includes Emily Blunt at her va-va-voomiest, Steve Zahn at his gawkiest and Tom Hanks, Colin’s off-screen dad, in a brief cameo as his on-screen dad) and a cheerfully over-the-top turn from Malkovich make it worth seeing.
THE MESSENGERS 2: THE SCARECROW (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Have you been sitting around wondering about how all the allegedly creepy goings-on at the haunted farmhouse from the super-lame 2007 horror hit began? No? Not at all? You barely even remember “The Messengers” at all as anything other than it now being the second-worst film starring Kristen Stewart? Well, you should have said something earlier because they went out and made a prequel that does just that and if you aren’t going to watch it, who will?
PUSHING DAISIES: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video. $39.98): After a debut season that didn’t exactly triumph in the ratings, ABC gave this ultra-quirky series about a pie baker (Lee Pace) who uses his mysterious ability to bring people temporarily back to life to solve the mysteries of how the died a second season in the hopes that it would eventually grow an audience. Alas, it didn’t and the combination of low ratings and high production costs caused the network to yank it in midseason and burn off the remaining episodes during the summer when no one is watching anything other than bad reality shows. For fans of the show who may have missed them, this set includes all of the 13 episodes of that aborted second season and various behind-the-scenes features. For those who never quite got into it, this set at least provides the not-inconsiderable sight of Anna Friel in all her Blu-ray glory. Other TV-related DVDs arriving this week include “Charlie’s Angels--The Complete Fourth Season” (Sony Home Entertainment. $39.95), “Hotel: The First Season” (CBS DVD. $49.99), “Jon and Kate Plus Eight: Season Four, Volume Two--The Big Move” (Genius Products. $19.95), “The Lucy Show: The Official First Season” (CBS DVD. $39.98), “Monk: The Complete Seventh Season” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Prison Break: The Final Break” (Fox Home Entertainment. $26.98), “Psych: The Complete Third Season” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Robot Chicken Star Wars: Episode II” (Warner Home Video. $19.98), “So You Think You Can Dance Get Fit: Cardio Funk” (Paramount Home Video. 16.99), “So You Think You Can Dance Get Fit: Tone and Groove” (Paramount Home Video. $16.99) and “This American Life: Season Two” (Showtime Entertainment. $19.99).
THE RING FINGER (Strand Releasing. $27.99): In what looks to be the oddest workplace romance to hit the big screen since “Secretary,” Olga Kurylenko (the babe from “Quantum of Solace”) plays a factory worker who leaves her job after an industrial accident almost costs her the titular digit. Instead, she takes a job as a receptionist in a mysterious clinic that transforms treasured mementos into specimens for a hefty fee for a boss who insists that she wear a single pair of extra-fetishy red shoes to work every day. Based on the novel by Yoko Ogawa, the film is weird and kinky and not entirely successful, though it does have its bright spots--the chief one being Kurylenko, who makes much more of an impression here than she did in either the Bond film or “Hitman.”
WATCHMEN: DIRECTOR’S CUT (Warner Home Video. $34.98): Although this long-awaited adaptation of the ground-breaking comic book series about a group of retired superheroes trying to figure out who is knocking off their former associates didn’t do as well as expected at the box-office, it did satisfy at least some of its fans by bringing to the screen something that many of them considered to be unfilmable. Those people will no doubt be happy with this new edit of the film that runs 24 minutes longer than the original and which fills in some of the gaps from that version. On the other hand, they probably will be slightly less happy when they bust open the package and discover that it includes a slip promoting a jumbo-sized 5-disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition that will be going on sale this December.
300--THE COMPLETE EXPERIENCE (Warner Home Video. $39.99)
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)
MIDNIGHT EXPRESS (Sony Home Entertainment. $38.96)
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originally posted: 07/24/09 05:28:50
last updated: 07/24/09 05:42:23