(Sony) including All About My Mother, Talk To Her, Law Of Desir, Women On The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, Live Flesh, Matador, The Flower Of My Secret, Bad Education D: Pedro Almodóvar. Rating: NNNN
Whether you're a veteran Pedro Almodóvar fan or new to Spain's leading director, this is a fine box for your shelf. There may be a few titles you wish were here - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, for instance - but none you'll wish were not. They're all highly rewatchable.
Almod&oactue;var's playfulness, warmth, way with actors and love of the visual medium are on display here, from the early black comedy of Matador, about serial killers in love, to the mature play of shifting identity and memory in Bad Education.
The extras disc does a first-rate job of examining the movies and the director, with an extensive appreciation of the films, covering everything from recurring themes to design, a look at the director's intense relationships with actors and an Almod&oactue;var biography. All three documentaries feature extensive interviews with the director's collaborators, particularly the female actors he's worked with repeatedly: Carmen Maura, Penélope Cruz and Maria Paredes.
EXTRAS All titles: wide-screen. Spanish soundtrack. English, French and occasionally Spanish subtitles. In addition, Talk To Her: Almod-var, Geraldine Chaplin commentary. The Flower Of My Secret: Making-of doc in Spanish. Bad Education: Almod-var commentary, making-of doc, deleted scenes. Viva Pedro: Scholarly appreciation of the films, doc on Almod-var as director, Almod-var bio, all with comments from his collaborators. Wide-screen. Spanish soundtrack. English subtitles.
(Mongrel Media, 2006) D: Heidi Ewing, Rachel Grady. Rating: NNN
It's easy to see why this got an Oscar nomination for best documentary feature. It's a very well-made, neutral, restrained movie on a very explosive subject: the movement among American evangelical Christians (read "fundamentalists") to destroy the separation of church and state via the training of children. There are some amazing moments here, a testament to the filmmakers' remarkable ability to gain their subjects' trust.
At the centre of the film are Becky Fischer, the minister who runs the summer camp, and three of the children who attend. There's a lot of chanting, jumping up and down, whipping up emotions, playing on guilt and shame, taking vows, making conversions. Anyone who knows anything about indoctrination methods will recognize them here. Anyone who doesn't will be chilled to the bone.
Becky and the children present themselves in their own words. They are high-energy, likeable people, but their ignorance is appalling, and even more appalling is their faith. The filmmakers don't take a position or reveal what got them interested in the project, either in the film or in their commentary. Too bad. It's about time we started taking a position on the foulness that fundamentalism inflicts on helpless children.
EXTRAS Directors commentary, deleted scenes. Wide-screen. Spanish subtitles.
(MGM, 2006) D: Tony Bill, w/ James Franco, Martin Henderson. Rating: NNN
Flyboys works a lot better on dvd than theatrically. On the big screen, it's a vapid bit of flag-waving with splashy aerial battles. Several Americans join the French in the first world war and become the first American fighter pilots. Hooray for the glory of war.
But the DVD commentary and extras provide a detailed look at the historical Lafayette Escadrille, the men who flew, what they accomplished and the incredibly fragile airplanes in which they performed these feats. Director Tony Bill and producer Dean Devlin take pains to point out out where their fictions derived and deviated from historical fact.
Devlin and Bill are convinced that you can't tell their CGI battles from the real thing. They're wrong. The images are technically perfect, but they're in shots that can't be achieved any way but with CGI. Again, the extras add immense value, with a detailed description of the filmmakers' commitment to complete realism and how they achieved it. This attention to accuracy changes the movie from just another CGI wankfest to a solid and thrilling historical recreation.
The cast performs well, particularly Jean Reno as the commander, and it's beautifully shot and lit. But it's too long and burdened with a clichéd love story.
EXTRAS Disc one: Bill and Devlin commentary. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish soundtracks. English, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Historical doc, miniature work production diary, lion doc, aerial battle scenes doc, historical planes doc, deleted scenes. Wide-screen.
The Fabulous Baker Boys
(MGM, 1989) D: Steve Kloves, w/ Jeff Bridges, Michelle Pfeiffer. Rating: NNNN
Call it hard-boiled romance. The dialogue has that Dashiell Hammett rhythm and icy tone, and there's a faint whiff of menace and doom. But it plays just as well as dark comedy. The Fabulous Baker Boys is also one of the handful of good movies about musicians' lives. Any way you take it, it's a remarkable exercise in severely underwritten dialogue full of deadpan putdowns and come-ons brought to life by a trio of brilliant performances. The Baker brothers have been playing piano together for 31 years. Gigs are drying up for the small-time lounge duo, so they hire a girl singer. Trouble ensues, though not in the way you might think.
Jeff Bridges plays Jack, the more talented of the brothers. Beau Bridges is Frank, fussy and so focused on grinding out a living that he doesn't notice that his brother's hipster cool conceals a profound disgust.
Michelle Pfeiffer, the hooker-turned-singer, is all awkward angles and jagged speech. She doesn't fit at all with the brothers' familiar rut.
But the cast fits together beautifully, inflaming each other's anxieties with casual unconcern while delivering such lucid subtext that we understand aspects of the story never touched on in the dialogue and action.
Remarks from director Steve Kloves and the cast would have been welcome, but, sadly, this is a bare-bones edition with a minor flaw in the transfer: subtitles occasionally appear to translate signs into French. Don't let that deter you. This movie offers fresh rewards every time you see it.
EXTRAS Wide-screen. English, French soundtracks. English, French, Spanish subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, February 6
Flags Of Our Fathers
(Paramount, 2006) Clint Eastwood directs a second world war drama about the men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.
The Science Of Sleep
(WB, 2006) Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg in a love story from Michel Gondry.
All Quiet On The Western Front
(Universal, 1930) Anti-war classic about a first-world-war soldier's disillusionment.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb