Dr. Strangelove, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
(Columbia/TriStar, 1964) D: Stanley Kubrick w/ Peter Sellers, Sterling Hayden, George C. Scott. Rating: NNNNN
For some reason, the earlier edition of Dr. Strangelove came full screen - that's the Columbia issue that turned up in Warner's Kubrick Collection. This 40th-anniversary edition marks a significant upgrade. It restores the film to its original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, retains the original documentary extras, putting them on a separate disc from the feature and adding a new 20-minute interview with Cold War secretary of defense Robert McNamara. Released at the height of the Cold War, Dr. Strangelove's black comic brilliance comes out of Peter Sellers's three performances, Ken Adams's production design (the White House war room foreshadowing the monumental villains' lairs he would design for the Bond films), and the fact that it's the first movie to shred the military-industrial complex.
EXTRAS No Fighting In The War Room: The Making Of Dr. Strangelove; The Art Of Stanley Kubrick: Short Films To Strangelove; Interview with Robert McNamara; contemporary interviews with Sellers and George C. Scott; booklet essay by Roger Ebert. There's a manufactured 5.1 soundtrack, but they've included the original mono soundtrack. English and French versions.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Jehane Noujaim, w/ Hassan Ibrahim, Captain Joshua Rushing. Rating: NNNN
The most complex of the year's popular political documentaries, Control Room takes us into the press centre for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, dividing its time between correspondents and producers from Al Jazeera and Captain Josh Rushing, the media liaison officer for the United States Marines. The human drama of the interplay between the naive but curious Rushing and the political sophisticates of the Arab cable network culminates in the story of how the U.S. military "inadvertently" threw some rockets into Al Jazeera's offices. Noujaim, the director of Startup.com, has a gift for being in the right place at the right time, and charts in a fascinating way the competition between the U.S. government and various media for control of the most important part of a modern war: the narrative.
The DVD offers a good transfer. I suspect they went back to video for it, bypassing the intervening film transfer and thus improving the picture over the theatrical release. It also offers three commentaries, from the director and producer, from Rushing and from Al Jazeera producers Ibrahim and Samir Khader, the man who during the film notes that if Fox News were to offer him a job, he'd take it.
EXTRAS Director/producer and star commentaries, a lot of deleted scenes. English with French, Spanish, Arabic and Spanish subtitles.
Looney Tunes: Golden Collection, Vol. Two
(Warner, 1938-1975) D: Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, Friz Freleng. Rating: NNNNN
It says something about the depth of the Warner cartoon catalogue that after eight DVDs and almost 120 cartoons, they aren't beginning to scrape bottom. They're barely scraping middle. Just when you think, "Well, that's all the great ones," you wonder, "Where's Ali Baba Bunny?" and you realize it's not. They've hardly touched the black-and-white cartoons from the 30s, there's a bunch of Foghorn Leghorns and Pepe Le Pews out there, the Robert McKimson-directed Bugs Bunny cartoons from the early 40s are still in limbo and, of course, there are the infamous "banned 11," the cartoons withdrawn in 1968 because of offensive racial stereotyping.
The four discs in the new Golden Collection are devoted to Bugs Bunny Classics: a full disc of RoadRunner/ Coyote cartoons, a full disc of cartoons by Bob Clampett, the frenetic master known as "the man who put the 'Looney' in Looney Tunes," and a disc of classic cartoons with show business themes that includes a couple of the most conspicuous absentees from Volume 1, What's Opera, Doc? and the Oscar-winning One Froggy Evening.
Excellent transfers generally (there's some slightly noticeable edge enhancement in a few of the older cartoons), with excellent colour value, and, of course, an exceedingly high funny quotient, though I freely admit that any six-minute slice of Wile E. Coyote makes me laugh uncontrollably. He's the funniest metaphor for modern man ever conceived, Sisyphus with fatally sharp comic timing.
EXTRAS Loaded. Critical/historical commentaries on half the cartoons, a dozen music-only or music-effects-only soundtracks, Looney Tunes 50th Anniversary TV Special, The Adventures Of The Road Runner TV Pilot, the ever-changing opening sequences for the four Looney Tunes shows, new documentaries on Clampett and sound effects wizard Treg Brown, Tex Avery interview, featurettes on What's Opera, Doc? and One Froggy Evening. English-, French-, Spanish-language tracks and subtitles. I have a sudden urge to check the French tracks for Elmer Fudd. "Soyez twès, twès twanquille... nous chassons le lapin...."
The More The Merrier
(Columbia/ TriStar, 1943) D: George Stevens, w/ Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea. Rating: NNN
Andrew Sarris wrote that George Stevens was a minor director with major virtues before the second world war (Alice Adams, Gunga Din) and a major director with minor virtues afterwards (A Place In The Sun, Shane, Giant). There's no question that his experiences as a war documentarian affected him. (Warner is bringing out George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey in a few weeks.) He was one of the first people into the camps. No wonder he lost his sense of humour. The More The Merrier is the last Stevens comedy, with an exquisite script by an uncredited Garson Kanin. During the wartime housing shortage in Washington, Jean Arthur rents a room in her apartment to Charles Coburn, who decides she needs to meet a nice clean-cut young fellow, who materializes in the form of Joel McCrea.
Arthur has her wonderful working-gal effervescence, and McCrea is his reliable self, and needs to be, given that Kanin's script asks the stars to negotiate dialogue that's a syntactical minefield. Kanin, who wrote Adam's Rib and Pat And Mike for Hepburn and Tracy, had the rare ability to give every character his or her own voice. The DVD transfer is good but nothing special.
Coming Tuesday, November 9
The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection
(Universal) Duck Soup, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business, Animal Crackers and The Cocoanuts. Hello, I must be going....
The W. C. Fields Comedy Collection
(Universal) International House, It's A Gift, The Bank Dick, My Little Chickadee and You Can't Cheat An Honest Man.
The Fritz Lang Epic Collection
(Kino) Metropolis and Die Niebelungen are familiar, but the first DVD issues of Spies and Woman In the Moon are not.
Ju-On - The Grudge
(Lions Gate) Fans of Takashi Shimizu's remake can now seen Shimizu's original, sort of. The first theatrical Ju-On is said to be a remake of the straight-to-video original. There are five or six of these films, and Shimizu directed all of them.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb