(Warner, 2003) D: Clint Eastwood, w/ Sean Penn, Tim Robbins. Rating: NNNN mystic river has a brooding power derived from Clint Eastwood's willingness to stay out of the way of his cast. In addition to Oscar winners Sean Penn and Tim Robbins, this includes Kevin Bacon, Laura Linney, Marcia Gay Harden and Laurence Fishburne. Adapted from Dennis Lehane's novel, this is the story of old sins surfacing and insisting on repayment in a working-class Boston neighbourhood. Eastwood seems to come up with a masterpiece a decade (The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, Unforgiven), and this is the new millennium's.
There's a single-disc and a three-disc deluxe version, which includes the soundtrack CD. The deluxe is worth a look for the full-length individual interviews with Eastwood, Bacon and Robbins from The Charlie Rose show. The Robbins/Bacon commentary, though, is erratic - it would be nice to have some insight into Sean Penn's performance, especially since Robbins directed him in Dead Man Walking. Note that the DVD is sold both in wide-screen and pan-and-scan versions, so check the banner to be sure of getting the wide-screen.
EXTRAS Actor commentary, two short making-ofs; Charlie Rose interviews with Eastwood, Bacon and Robbins; theatrical teaser and trailer; CD soundtrack. English, French, Spanish versions and subtitles.
(Criterion/Morningstar, 1963) D: Luchino Visconti w/ Burt Lancaster, Alain Delon. Rating: NNNNN the centrepiece of this three-disc edition is a new anamorphic transfer of the complete, 180-minute version of Visconti's epic adaptation of Lampedusa's novel, supervised by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. The transfer is magnificent - every frame looks like a painting. The story revolves around a Sicilian prince (Lancaster) at the moment when everything in his world changes, as Italy goes through the birth pains of the Risorgimento national independence movement. The Leopard is hugely influential - see Scorsese's Age Of Innocence and the endless social gatherings in Michael Cimino's films - and entertaining in an old-fashioned way. No one makes this kind of intimate epic any more. This edition comes with the English-dubbed, 160-minute American release version - which gives Burt Lancaster back his voice - and a full disc of documentary extras.
EXTRAS Scholarly commentary by Peter Cowie, hour-long making-of, interview with producer Gofreddo Lombardo, Italian and American trailers, production stills gallery. Italian with English subtitles.
Reality Bites: 10th Anniversary Special Edition
(Universal, 1994) D: Ben Stiller, w/ Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke. Rating: NNN
Along Came Polly
(Universal, 2004) D: John Hamburg, w/ Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston. Rating: NNN the startling thing about real- ity Bites is how well its portrait of a generation holds up - it's still painfully earnest, but the same script could be shot today with Kirsten Dunst in the Winona Ryder role. Of course, the older I get, the more my sympathies shift from Ethan Hawke's slacker to Ben Stiller's grown-up TV executive. Fun stuff on the DVD includes out-takes and a retrospective documentary where we learn that the final four actors up for the Janeane Garofalo part were Anne Heche, Parker Posey and Gwyneth Paltrow, whom Universal wanted for what remains Garofalo's signature role.
Ironically, Stiller turns out to be the biggest star to emerge from the ensemble, which brings us to Along Came Polly, where Stiller stars as a risk analyst who falls for a free spirit (Jennifer Aniston) after his bride dumps him on their honeymoon. Not a great comedy, but a classic instance of supporting players hijacking the movie from the putative leads. Alec Baldwin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Hank Azaria steal every scene that isn't nailed down.
EXTRAS Reality Bites: director/screenwriter commentary, retrospective documentary, deleted scenes, trailer, Lisa Loeb interview and video for Stay. English, French, Spanish version, French and Spanish subtitles. Along Came Polly: director commentary, deleted scenes, short making-of, outtakes. English and Spanish versions, French and Spanish subtitles.
The President's Analyst
(Paramount, 1967) D: Theodore J. Flicker, w/ James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge. Rating: NNN you could make the argument that James Coburn was the definitive American actor of the 60s - The Magnificent Seven; Charade; The Great Escape; the Flint movies; Peckinpah's Major Dundee; the worst movie of the decade, Candy; and a series of cultish oddities including Dead Heat On A Merry-Go-Round and The President's Analyst. In this last, a dated curio, Coburn plays a shrink who's hired to be on call to the president, only to be pursued by secret agents of every stripe. Coburn is brilliant as a man observing his own growing paranoia. This is a bare-bones edition - not even a trailer.
City Of God
(Miramax/Alliance Atlantis, 2002) D: Fernando Mireilles, w/ Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino. Rating: NNNN miramax worked this picture hard, despite American audiences' indifference to its portrait of criminal street life in Rio, and got four Oscar nominations - director, screenplay, editing and cinematography. Mireilles's influences jump out at you - the non-linear narrative from Tarantino, the overheated colours and fast-moving camera from Scorsese - and its voice-over narration has you wondering, "What's Portuguese for Mean Streets?"
But the locations are effective and the film moves fast through its ironically named neighbourhood. The DVD includes an excellent supplementary documentary on the Rio street wars between dealers and cops.
EXTRAS Notes From A Personal War, hour-long documentary on the Rio drug wars. Portuguese with English, Spanish and French subtitles.
READ ROBOCOP'S FINE PRINT
the new mgm box set of the three RoboCop films promises the extended version of the first film and, in very large letters, says, "Not rated." Cute, but untrue. This is the 103-minute version that played theatres, as director Paul Verhoeven points out several times during the commentary track. The extended director's cut of the film runs 107 minutes, is even more hyperbolically violent and remains available only on the out-of-print Criterion edition. The commentary track, with Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison and writer Ed Neumeier, refers to the film we're watching as the MPAA-approved cut. The unrated part, when you squint at the small print, is the DVD extras. Nevertheless, a very nice anamorphic transfer and lively 5.1 soundtrack. And to add to the fun, you have to buy the box set even if all you want is the first RoboCop film, though R2 and R3 are available singly.
Coming Tuesday, June 15
Touching The Void
(Alliance Atlantis, 2003) Docudrama about two men learning why no one had ever climbed Siula Grande in the Andes before. An astonishing true story.
The Fanny Trilogy
(Kino, 1931-1937) Marcel Pagnol's classic Marseilles trilogy comes to DVD.
Monk: Complete First Season
(Universal) All 13 episodes of the series starring Tony Shalhoub as an obsessive-compulsive detective.
50 First Dates
(Columbia, 2004) Adam Sandler comedy about a guy courting a woman with no short-term memory. Drew Barrymore commentary!
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb